How effectively did the USA contain the spread of Communism?

America and Cuba 1959-62


The Cuban Revolution, 1959
  • Fidel Castro seizes power from the American backed dictator Batista who had run a corrupt and unpopular regime.
  • He wanted to end corruption and improve Cuban prosperity.
  • He appoints Communists to the Government and signs a trade agreement with the USSR and receives economic aid from the USSR
January 1961 The American response:
  • The USA liked to control the governments in the region and feared Castro’s revolutionary ideas would spread.
  • Castro was not yet a Communist but he had Communist support.
  • So the USA refused to buy Cuban sugar, ended all trade with Cuba, cut off diplomatic relations.
  • They also supported Cuban exiles in an attempt to dislodge Castro.
Bay of Pigs operation, April 1961 A force of 1,400 Cuban exiles armed by the US, supported by the CIA and US bombers flown by Cubans invaded at the Bay of Pigs. They were met by a Cuban force of 20,000. Although President Kennedy denied involvement it was a humiliation.
Results of the Bay of Pigs incident Castro declares himself a communist.

May 1962 the USSR publicly announced that it was supplying arms to Cuba to help with its self-defence. (And secretly promised to base Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba).


The Americans feared the spread of communism on their doorstep.


The October Crisis

October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane photographs missile sites in Cuba.


Why did Khrushchev send missiles to Cuba?

  1. No one is certain. He ran a high risk that the USA would discover the missiles but probably
    a)         hoped they would be in place before this happened
    b)         calculated Kennedy would make a weak response.
  2. Possible motives were to:
  3. a) defend Cuba following the Bay of Pigs operation
  4. b) bargain for the removal of US missiles in Turkey
  5. c) bargain for the Western powers to leave Berlin
  6. d) catch up with the USA in the arms race by placing missiles where they could hit more accurately
  7. e) score points off Kennedy by placing missiles on the USA’s doorstep.


Kennedy wanted the missiles removed. His choices were:

  1. A nuclear strike would almost certainly lead to a nuclear reply by the USSR.
  2. A conventional bombing raid, or invasions would lead to fighting with Soviet troops and start war.
  3. A naval blockade to stop the USSR from transporting more missiles to Cuba and to force them to remove those already there.


A naval blockade is put in place, turning back ships carrying Soviet missiles.


After a tense series of communications, on October 27 the USSR agree to withdraw its missiles, in exchange for guarantees from the US not to invade Cuba (and secretly agrees to withdraw US missiles from Turkey)

The Consequences of the Crisis


Claimed he had achieved his aim of preventing an American invasion of Cuba, but was attacked for backing down. He lost face at home because of his misjudgement. The episode probably contributed to his downfall two years later.


Increased his reputation at home and worldwide by managing to avoid a war, forcing Khrushchev to back down.

Superpower relations:

Realising how close to war they had come, and the difficulty of communicating quickly in a crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to set up a hotline between the Kremlin and the White House.

Both leaders attempted to improve relations. The Nuclear Test Ban treaty was one result.


Was this a success for US containment of Communism?


Because the USSR had backed down and the nuclear missiles were removed and sent home


Cuba remained a communist country and Castro continued to influence other countries in the region.

The crisis showed that intervening in Communist countries was too high risk.


America and Vietnam

Why was the USA involved in Vietnam in 1963?

  1. To contain the spread of Communism
  2. To prevent what president Eisenhower called the DOMINO THEORY coming true. He believed that if Vietnam became Communist, neighbouring countries would each fall in turn.



1.                  until 1954 supported the French against the Vietminh (the Vietminh wanted independence from French rule) with money and equipment.

2.                  in 1954 Vietnam split into north and south and the French gave them independence

3.                  1954-1960, sent aid, equipment and military advisers to South Vietnam

4.                  1960-1963, Kennedy steadily increased the amount of aid and number of ‘military advisers’ from 900 to 11,000.

North Vietnam

Was ruled by the Communist Vietminh leader, Ho Chi Minh who aimed to unit Vietnam and supplied the Vietcong (independence fighters in South Vietnam) with weapons.

South Vietnam

Ruled by the unpopular Ngo Diem who fought a civil war against the Vietcong


gave aid to North Vietnam

Communist China

Sent aid to the Vietcong via North Vietnam


How did US involvement increase 1964-65

1963 Vietcong in control of 40% of rural areas of South Vietnam. President Johnson increased American support but still without sending combat troops
August 1964 Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This gave Johnson the excuse to intervene in Vietnam militarily.
1965 Johnson started to bomb North Vietnam to try to end its support for the Vietcong.

He ordered American combat troops into action to help the army of the South Vietnamese and to quickly defeat the Vietcong


What kind of war was the Vietnam War?

Vietcong and Guerrilla tactics
  • The Vietcong were no match for the US and South Vietnamese forces. So they used GUERRILLA tactics.
  • They would retreat when the enemy attacks, raid when the enemy camps, attack when the enemy tires. Ambush, not fight in traditional battles.
  • They did not wear uniforms and blended with the civilians making it difficult for the Americans to tell who the enemy was.
  • The aim was to wear down the morale of the American troops.
  • Most importantly they were determined to carry on. They suffered an estimated 1 million casualties, much higher than the US.
US tactics
  • The US fought a high-tech war relying on the latest technology
  • Bombing was used to attack North Vietnam and the supply lines with the Vietcong in the South. It could slow down the communists but not defeat them. It has been estimated that it cost $400,000 to kill one Vietcong fight, a figure that included 75 bombs and 400 artillery shells.
  • Chemical weapons were used such as Agent Orange to destroy large areas of jungle, and Napalm which burned through both jungle and human skin
  • Search and Destroy tactics used helicopters to raid inland from heavily defended bases. These missions did kill Vietcong soldiers but many innocent civilians were also killed.


The Tet Offensive, 1968

This was a turning point. It was a surprise guerrilla attack on major South Vietnamese towns and American bases. While militarily it was a failure, the attack:

Showed the Vietcong could strike in the heart of American-held territory

Caused loss of American military morale

Suggested to the American public that the war was unwinnable and fuelled criticism of the USA’s involvement.


Losing Public Support in the US


Not only was the war on the ground going badly, but the battle for public support was also being lost. The American public became increasing uncomfortable about the war

The Vietnam war was the first war to be a TV war.   Thousands of television, radio and newspaper journalists and photographers showed the horrors of the war, prisoners being tortured, children being burnt by US chemical weapons.
The peace movement. Anti-war protestors took to the streets chanting ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’. Thousands refused to go to fight when they were conscripted (Draft dodging). Four students were killed by National Guardsmen who broke up a protest.
The My Lai massacre.   This involved the killing of 22 civilians by US soldiers. The enquiry that followed showed how the war seemed to be going wrong. In November 1969, almost 700,000 anti-war protestors demonstrated in Washington DC.


Ending the War

After the Tet Offensive President Johnson realised that the war could not be won militarily and started peace talks. Between 1969 and 1973 US involvement was reduced as the South Vietnamese forces were strengthened to take their place. By March 1973 the last US forces left. Two years later South Vietnam fell to Communist forces.


In what ways was this a failure of US containment of Communism?


Militarily The war showed that the USA’s vast military strength could not stem Communism
Politically Not only did the USA fail to stop South Vietnam going Communist, but also neighbouring countries also fell to communists – it had accelerated rather than stopped the Domino effect.
Propaganda disaster The atrocities committed by US troops damaged the US reputation. The whole campaign was shown to be flawed.
Attitudes to Communism The USA changed its policies improve relations with Communist USSR and China. The Americans became very wary about using its troops in any other dangerous conflict.