Indochina is made up of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was colonized by the French in the
late 1800’s and given up in 1939. Japan tookover France’s loss after that. After Japan’s
defeat in 1945, Vietnam’s patriot and communist, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh declared
Vietnam independent. After that, France came to claim their loss. The US supported France
fearing the “Domino Theory” would take affect after in 1949 China fell to communism. In
1950, the US sent troops to South Korea to prevent the dominos from falling. The
Vietnamese took fort Dien Bien Phoo in May of 1954, so then the French finally pulled out.
That set up 2 nations North Vietnam and South Vietnam split at the 17th parallel.
Ho Chi Minh was in the North and was a Communist
Ngo Dinh Diem was in South and disliked communism.
He argued that if there was an election to choose a leader of 1 unified nation, that Ho
would not permit fair elections.
Viet Cong Rebellion
In 1956, Diem closed all elections, and appointed local officials. That gave him less of
support. Also he didn’t win the support of the peasants, that was a major mistake… in
the south Vietminh members who were located in South Vietnam formed their own communist
party. Diem called them the Viet Cong meaning Vietnamese Communists. North Vietnam
supported the rebellion in the early parts. In 1959 the Vietminh set up a supply route to
South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia. They were then named the Ho Chi Minh trail. Also
in 1959, the first American advisors were killed during a battle. By 1960 the Vietcong had
about 10,000 troops and were threatening to overthrow Diem. Then the US sent
15,100(WorldBook) more US advisors in from 1961 – 1963. The Buddhist’s also had a hard time
with Diem, they felt he did not give enough religious freedom. The Buddhists also held the
better part of Vietnam’s population. On June 21, 1963, an old Buddhist Monk Quang Duc lit
himself on fire as a form of protest. Diem who was a Roman Catholic and his brother,
performed massive arrests on Buddhists and raided Buddhist temples. Kennedy urged Diem to
improve relationships with Diem, but he didn’t take his offering. Then a group of generals
who were against Diem formed. On Nov. 1, 1963, the generals overthrew Diem and his
brother, and Diem and Nhu were murdered. Kennedy was not for that to happen. After that,
South Vietnam’s governments kept changing, and then in 1964 The Vietcong controlled 3/4 of
South Vietnam. In 1964, 2 American destroyers sitting in the Gulf of Tonkin were blown up,
the boats were The Maddox and C. Turner Joy. The attacks were never proven, and probably
will never be proven either. By that time, Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson took power,
and he sent in troops and had congress pass a bill to let him to fight back if he was first
attacked. By August 7, 1964 Congress had passed the bill and the Gulf of Tonkin
resolution, the US did not declare war, but sent troops over. In 1965 the first US ground
troops were sent to Vietnam. By 1969 the Americans had 543,000 men in, 800,000 south
Vietnamese and 69,000 from other countries. The Vietcong had around 300,000, but in their
techniques of Guerrilla warfare and just hit and run, that number was sufficient.
During this time, there was a very heavily fought war going on. The US bombed out Vietnam,
but still didn’t decrease the enemy’s will to fight. Also, the USSR and Red China aided
them. Whenever a ground encountement came up, the US usually won, but still didn’t change
the willingness to fight. They would put in a new round of troops to pay for their loss,
usually to prevent loss, the enemy would flee to Cambodia or Laos. At home the country was
split into two sections The Hawks & The Doves. The Hawks were the people who supported the
War, and the Doves who disliked the war. The Hawks though disliked LBJ’s of the slowly
sending in the troops. When LBJ ran higher taxes to support the war, his public support
In late January(January 30, the Vietnamese new year, Tet) the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese
came up with the “Tet offensive” this plan was to bomb out the major south Vietnamese
cities. The plan did not work too well. The US and South Vietnam recovered quickly. But
as the mortality that was caused and the US citizens were watching on TV, it caused great
opposition on the war. The US started to think whether it was worth it or not. In May of
1968, LBJ stopped his proposed 207,000 more troops to come in, se up new policies, set up
peace negotiations, and announced he would not run for presidency the next term. Peace
talks began in Paris in May.
Nixon couldn’t organize any peace treaties, and he called for a new policy of
Vietnamization, this caused for a greater deal of training troops in South Vietnam. This
allowed for a greater withdrawal of troops that began in July of 1969. After the US pulled
out of the war, the invasion of Cambodia took place. This is where the US had to go and
capture large stores of arms that were in military storage for North Vietnam. The US
thought that this would only widen the war. Then major protests came about. A famous one
was the one in Kent state, where a group of Ohio students were “shot over” by soldiers, but
they ended up killing students on the other side of the campus. They killed 4 students and
wounded 9 others. This called for the dissolving of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. The US
troops in Cambodia were to be pulled out by June 30,1970.
In March of 1979, Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted of War Crimes. His unit were
charged of slaughtering 100 – 200 civilians in a small town of My Lai in South Vietnam.
Calley was sentenced to 10 years. Also pointed out was the US’ bombing of innocent
civilians and using pesticides to reveal communist hideouts and destroy the food crops.
Also the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, which were actions taken in Vietnam secretly by
the government, caused the US population to distrust the government. In 1972 another
invasion of the south occurred, North Vietnam began to organize a major invasion of South
Vietnam. Nixon then responded with renewing the bombing. He also made a very strategic
move that prevented another major invasion. He set explosives in the harbor of Haiphong.
That destroyed a critical port for supplies. That helped stop the invasion. That again
lead to more peace negotiations Henry Kissinger, one of Nixon’s major foreign advisors and
Le Duc Though of North Vietnam. A cease fire agreement was signed on January 27,1963. It
was signed by the US, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong. It set up that the
US would pull it out, and North Vietnam could leave 150,000 of their troops in South
Vietnam. Also supervised elections were set up in South Vietnam. March 23, 1973, was the
day that the last US ground troops left Vietnam. But another war broke out. The US did
not involve themselves again. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong invaded South Vietnam. They
easily took Phouc Long a city north east of Saigon, and they forced the South Vietnamese
troops back to a region named the Central Highlands around 200 miles away. Thousands of
people fled and died in the attacking or from starvation. They called the retreat Convoy
of Tears. Gerald Ford then went to congress and asked for $722 million for support to
South Vietnam. Congress only supplied $300 million. Then on April 30,1975 the South
Vietnamese surrendered at Saigon, and renamed it to Ho Chi Minh City.
About 58,000 American men and women died in the war and about 365,000 were wounded. South
Vietnamese had topped off 1,000,000 deaths. The civilians in both the north and south were
countless. In the was the US spent over $150 billion. The bombing was the most in any
war. Most of North Vietnam’s industry and transportation system was destroyed in the war.
The south suffered the most, because that is where the fighting basically took place. The
amount of war refugees amounted to half of the population, 10 million. Because of the
pesticides, the south’s cropland was destroyed permanently. Effects in Southeast Asia The
communistic half of Vietnam helped to set up Laos’ and Cambodia’s communistic governments.
In 1976 it was officially reunited into one nation. The Northern half imprisoned about one
million of the South Vietnamese due to not following cultural and social rules that were
set up by the north. Around one million Vietnamese have fled since the end of the war. Up
until the breakup of the USSR Vietnam relied on Russia for aid. Nowadays they rely on
foreign investment and are liberalizing .
Effects on the United States
The effects on the United States are of a broad range. For the most part, the Vietnam War
was the first war where the US did not achieve on what they had set up for. That had many
American’s loosing pride on the United States. It also left painful memories on the
2,700,000 people who served in the war from America. Some American veterans, when they
came back suffered major psychological problems. Others suffered from drug abuse, divorce
and other problems. In contrast to World Wars 1 and 2 the soldiers who came back were
basically ignored. Today this war set up the fact that congress will now challenge the
president on foreign moves. The war also set up comparisons on wars for the future. Today,
it is argued that we shouldn’t have jumped into the war. They feel that it was a war that
would not have affected the US’ security or vital interests in any way. But others felt it
did help in the stopping the spread of communism in South East Asia.