Vietnam War

“[Y]ou Americans, you are fighting for the biggest nothing in history.”[1]
–Hubert de Marias

The Vietnam War was one of the longest and most controversial wars in American history. Also known as the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam War arose out of the growing fear of the spread of communism. This Cold War military conflict occurred in the South Asian countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam from 1954 to 1975 between the communist North and Anti-Communist South Vietnamese governments and their subsequent allies.[2]

The onset of the Vietnam War had been going on well before the United States became involved. Following the heels of the First Indochina War, the Vietnam War was deeply involved in the conflict between France and Vietnam. With the defeat of the allied French troops at Dien Bien Phu by the communist forces in July 1954, the French quickly realized that they no longer could hold their Indochinese colonies. At the resulting Geneva Peace Accord that followed at the end of the summer of 1954, France granted independence to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Alongside independence, the delegates from Vietnam agreed to a temporary division of their country at the seventeenth parallel when pressured by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The communist superpowers did not want to incite another war with the United States so soon after the Korean War, therefore they believed, and attempted to, take over southern Vietnam solely through political action. According to the terms negotiated at the Geneva Peace Accord, Vietnam would hold national elections in 1956, ultimately ending with the reunification of the country. [3]

However, fearful of the Communist party winning the election, the United States supported the creation of a counter-revolutionary nation in southern Vietnam with the establishment of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). With the support garnered by this newly created treaty, Ngo Dinh Diem, an anti-Communist, won the election for presidency of South Vietnam in 1956. Diem, with the aid of the U.S. Intelligence Agency, immediately began a rigorous counterattack against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the North. Although the Communist Party of Vietnam actively attempted to reunite the country politically from 1956 to 1960, the Party eventually began combining their political movements with more violent tactics. This resulted in the creation of the National Liberation Front (NLF) on 20 December 1960.[4]

In 1961, President Kennedy authorizes a Special Forces operation, the “Green Berets,” to assist with counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. By the end of the summer of 1963, Diem was losing political control due to the recent successes of the NLF. On 1 November 1963, Diem and his brother were captured by generals in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and assassinated. At this time there were over 16,000 U.S. military advisors in Vietnam aiding with the war effort without the action of large combat troops. However, increasing political problems in Saigon, led the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, to take a more aggressive approach to the war. With the NLF attack of two U.S. Army installations in South Vietnam in 1965, Johnson ordered continual bombing missions over North Vietnam. The induction of U.S. military troops led the Communist Party to move toward formulating a protracted war strategy that would get the U.S. involved in a war they could not militarily win and be forced to settle. By 1968, the DRV and the NLF began launching coordinated attacks, known as Tet Offensive, on major southern cities in an attempt to break the will of the U.S. government.[5]

In the spring of 1968, Johnson began negotiations for peace with the Vietnamese. As peace negotiations continued, the new president, Richard Nixon, expanded the air war over North Vietnam and relied more on the ARVN for ground attacks instead of U.S. soldiers. By January 1973, the Paris Peace Agreement between the U.S. and the DRV was signed. This agreement, however, did not end the conflict in Vietnam and the war raged on until the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.[6]


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[1] Apocalypse Now. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 1979.
[2] Brigham, Robert K. “The Wars for Viet Nam: 1945 to 1975.” The Vietnam War: An Overview. http://vietnam.vassar.edu/overview/index.html (accessed October 28, 2010).
[3] Brigham, Robert K.
[4] Brigham, Robert K.
[5] Brigham, Robert K.
[6] Brigham, Robert K.

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