(Last Updated On: August 26, 2022)
The Vietnam War, (1954–75), was a prolonged conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States.
Also called “War Against the Americans to Save the Nation”, the war was intensified by the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Although the Vietnam War started in the 1950s, the conflict in Southeast Asia had its roots in the French colonial period of the 1800s. The United States, France, China, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Laos, and other countries over time became involved in the lengthy war.
Summary of The Vietnam War
The complex political and military issues involved in this dreadful war can be summarized in the following points:
- A nation in Southeast Asia, Vietnam had been under French colonial rule since the 19th century.
- After being invaded by Japanese forces during World War II, political leader Ho Chi Minh who was inspired by Chinese and Soviet communism, formed the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam to fight off both Japanese occupiers and the French colonial administration.
- After Japan was defeated in World War II, it withdrew its forces from Vietnam. This caused France to reassert its authority over Vietnam. Ho’s Viet Minh forces immediately rose, seeing an opportunity to seize control. The northern city of Hanoi was taken over and a Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was declared with Ho as president.
- Attempting to regain control of the region, the French installed former emperor Bao Dai as head of state in July 1949, with the city of Saigon as its capital.
- Although both sides wanted a unified Vietnam, Ho and his followers wanted a nation moulded after other communist countries. On the other hand, Bao and many others wanted a country with close economic and cultural affinities to the West.
- When The People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union formally recognized the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam, they began to supply economic and military aid to communist resistance fighters within the nation, starting January 1950.
- The involvement of the US in the war began in 1954.
- In July 1954, the Geneva Accords split Vietnam as North and South Vietnam along the latitude known as the 17th ParallelThis left Ho in control in the North and Bao in the South. The treaty also stipulated that a reunification election would be held in 1956 but it never happened.
- In 1955, however, an anti-communist politician Ngo Dinh Diem overthrew Emperor Bao to become president of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN), or South Vietnam.
- By 1955, the cold war had intensified and the US pledged its firm support to Diem and South Vietnam. On the other hand, the communist state to the north was led by Ho Chi Minh, backed up by the Soviet Union and China.
- As South Vietnam prepared for a referendum on reuniting north and south, many northern Catholics fled south while many Viet men went north. The north Vietnam regime attempted to take power away from the landlords and distribute the wealth among the peasants. Many people were executed and wrongly imprisoned during this period.
- Although the referendum was held, many were suspicious about its fairness. Diem rigged the votes, triumphing by a huge majority in keeping the South separate. Saigon was declared as its capital. It was then that Vietnam entered the longspun Vietnam war.
- Diem set about quelling any communist actions in the South, arresting some 100,000 people, many of whom were brutally tortured and executed.
- In September 1960, Ho Chi Minh was replaced by Le Duan as head of North Vietnam’s ruling communist party, because of his poor health.
- In December, communist forces and other anti-government groups in the South were organized into the National Liberation Front, or the Viet Cong as they were branded in the South. North Vietnam’s support came from Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was a supply route through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam.
- President John F. Kennedy sent helicopters and 400 Green Berets to South Vietnam and authorized secret operations against the Viet Cong as he didn’t want to face further embarrassments in front of the communists.
- In January 1962, U.S. aircraft started spraying Agent Orange and other herbicides over rural areas of South Vietnam to kill vegetation that offered cover and food for guerrilla forces.
- Despite all the aids, South Vietnam continued to suffer silly defeats at the hands of the NLF. By 1963, religious tensions ran high as the pro catholic government discriminated more and more against the Buddhists which intensified the protests.
- On November 1st, the South Vietnam army captured the leaders in a military coup. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu were brutally killed.
- President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and Lyndon B. Johnson became the president which changed a multitude of things.
- There were attacks on two U.S. destroyers by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 5, 1964, which greatly escalated U.S. military involvement in the region and led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the U.S. president new authority to wage war.
- In February 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in Operation Flaming Dart. The US soldiers who had jet bombers, tanks, and helicopters were sent to Vietnam.
- By the end of 1965, the US ground forces had swollen up to 200,000. However, troop morale was low. SO, a three-point plan was made to win the war. Then the war escalated and U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam rise to 400,000.
- The chaos continued and huge Vietnam War protests occur in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco.
- In September 1967, Nguyen Van Thieu wins the presidential election of South Vietnam under a newly enacted constitution.
- The Tet Offensive began in January 1968, encompassing a combined assault of Viet Minh and North Vietnamese armies. Attacks were carried out in more than 100 cities and outposts across South Vietnam, and the U.S. Embassy was invaded. This marked a turning point in the war and the beginning of a gradual U.S. withdrawal from the region.
- In March, President Johnson halted the bombing in Vietnam north of the 20th parallel and decided not to run for re-election.
- In November, Republican Richard Nixon won the U.S. presidential elections. The war became very unpopular and almost unwinnable.
- In September 1969, Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack at age 79.
- In December, the U.S. government instituted the first draft lottery since World War II, prompting ever more young American men to flee to Canada.
- The U.S. troops in Vietnam were reduced from 549,000 in 1969 to 69,000 in 1972.
- In 1970, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces attacked communist bases across the Cambodian border in the Cambodian Incursion which gave rise to protests. On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen fired on anti-war demonstrators at Ohio’s Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine.
- The south Vietnam army invaded Laos in 1971 in an attempt to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. However, it was a complete disaster.
- Controversies about the war started emerging, including the Pentagon Papers revealing top-secret documents that were leaked to the New York Times. It revealed the U.S. government had repeatedly and secretly increased U.S. involvement in the war. Although Nixon tried to block their publishing, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the papers.
- In December 1972, President Nixon ordered the launch of the most intense air offence of the war in Operation Linebacker. Eventually, after Hanoi and Haiphong were heavily bombed at the end of 1972, the North and South came to the negotiating table with the US.
- In Jan 1973, Former President Johnson died in Texas at age 64. Nixon suspended any attacks in North Vietnam, ended the draft, and the Paris accords were signed. This ended the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
- But as U.S. troops departed Vietnam, North Vietnamese military officials continued plotting to overtake South Vietnam. On the 30th of April, 1975, North Vietnam forcefully entered Saigon, raising the NLF flag, and the Vietnam war came to an end.
- In July 1975, North and South Vietnam were formally unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under hardline communist rule.
- By the end of the war, more than 58,000 Americans had lost their lives. An estimated 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters were killed, up to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers perished and more than 2 million civilians were killed on both sides of the war.