Vietnam War Summary
The Vietnam War was a long, bloody conflict that ended with the United States first major military upset. It had huge ramifications, nationally and globally.
The French had occupied Indochina since the 1800s. At the First Indochinese War, which lasted from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s, Communist forces defeated American-aided French troops in Vietnam. President Eisenhower, reacting to the Communist show of might, tried to establish an anti-Communist government just south of the 17th parallel. A pro-American named Ngo Dinh Diem came to power. Since he resisted the Communist movements insurgent tendencies, he was supported by the United States Government. Diem was also supported by Catholics in Vietnam. However, the large non-Christian population of Vietnam rebelled at Diems authoritarian manner. The U.S. began to send large amounts of military aid to Diems regime. This was done under the reasoning that force was needed to protect South Vietnam, to halt the spread of Chinese Communism, and to keep Diem in power.
By this time, anti-Diem groups had banded together to form the Viet Cong, a group against which the U.S. centered a major strategic policy program. The Viet Cong, by 1960, had evolved into the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLFSV.) Since guerrilla warfare, propaganda, and recruiting were the Viet Congs tactics, American strategists devised "strategic hamlets," relocation sites designed to keep Vietnamese isolated from Viet Cong influence. However, this plan backfired as the relocated Vietnamese became disgruntled, rebelled from the hamlets, and eventually joined the Viet Cong in droves.
With this, American military presence in the region increased dramatically. At the start of Kennedys presidency, about 2,000 American troops were in Vietnam, compared to upwards of 15,000 by 1963. Simultaneously, more military advisors, training, and equipment were being provided to Diems Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN.)
Diem was quickly becoming a strain on American and Vietnamese strategy. So when a group of top ARVN officers plotted to overthrow him, the U.S. gave covert assistance. On November 1, 1963, Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were killed in the coup.
Weeks later, President Kennedy was assassinated, leaving the formidable matter in the hands of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, two U.S. Navy vessels were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. In retaliation, (though critics claim it was to gain political support) the President ordered air strikes against North Vietnam. Johnson also gained support in Congress, which on August 7, 1964, passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, essentially granting the President limitless military power.
The air strikes increased, becoming more and more frequent, and often more deadly. Bombers used napalm, a potent jellied form of gasoline that burns long and is difficult to extinguish. Because of the nature of guerrilla warfare, it was difficult to distinguish between military and civilian targets, so both were attacked. To further the strategy of peasant isolation from Viet Cong influence, a tactic of destroying jungle and ground cover was used. Defoliant chemicals like Agent Orange were used to kill trees and thick brush, and napalm bombings were implemented to clear the countryside, causing civilians to flee to cities under U.S. and ARVN protection.
By the mid- to late 1960s, the Viet Cong was receiving generous quantities of aid from China and the Soviet Union. In 1968, they staged the Tet Offensive. A huge, well-orchestrated attack was mounted at about 120 strategic targets, including a U.S. Air Force station, 36 provincial capitals, and even the American embassy in South Vietnams capital of Saigon. The Viet Cong was repelled, suffering heavy losses, but they had made their point: The Viet Cong was able to dominate all of Vietnam, if the U.S. was taken out of the equation.
To many, the war was becoming unpopular in the United States. Massive protests and peace rallies were beginning to take place, many at major universities and colleges. The Johnson was losing its credibility with a great deal of Americans.
The military, in late 1967-early 1968, requested 100,000 more U.S. troops, with the possibility of more requests. President Johnson refused, and also cut back bombing runs on North Vietnamese targets. Johnson then, in March of 1968, announced that he would no run for reelection. Richard Nixon won the presidential election in 1968.
Nixon was able to start peace negotiations, which briefly satisfied the strong appetite for peace felt by millions. The talks were held in Paris. The United States and Vietnams internal problems, however, soon dominated the talks, which lasted until 1973. By June of 1969, the NLFSV and other rebel groups organized a Provisional Revolutionary Government, which gained the rebels a place at the bargaining table.
In the fall of 1969, Nixons administration began to withdraw troops from Vietnam. Bombing raids, though, were intensified.
The war had immense repercussions in the United States. The immense amounts of military spending caused large budget deficits, at a time when the economy was already slowing. The problem was multiplied by a weak dollar. The Vietnam War did not necessarily cause these problems, but it certainly accelerated them. The peace movement was also growing, and it eventually reached the armed forces. Protests within the rank and file led to desertion and insubordination. Racial tensions were also evident, since white officers led large numbers of black soldiers from inner cities. Drug and alcohol abuse also contributed to morale problems.
The war was soon to shift from Vietnam to neighboring Cambodia and Laos. In a coup in March of 1970, a Communist regime took power in Cambodia. In April of the same year, President Nixon ordered an invasion of Cambodia, coupled with extensive air strikes. With the invasion of Cambodia, the North Vietnamese were forced to use more supply routes through Laos. In February of 1971, ARVN troops invaded Laos in a disastrous raid. The fighting lasted for 45 days, and killed or wounded more than half of the ARVNs force.
South Vietnams president, Nguyen Van Thieu, continued the mistakes his predecessors had made, banning elections, stifling free speech, and giving himself more military authority.
Through 1971 and 1972, Nixon continued his Vietnamization plan, withdrawing troops, increasing air attacks, and stepping up naval bombardment. To force the Communists to accept American terms, Nixon again increased bombing, this time on North Vietnamese towns and ports. These bombing missions also repelled the beginning Communist invasion of South Vietnam.
On January 27, 1973, a cease-fire was signed in Paris by the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong. Two months later, the last American forces left Vietnam. Without U.S. intervention, however, the peace negotiations disintegrated, and war resumed. North Vietnam began to conquer the south. In April, President Ford asked Congress for $722 million in aid for Vietnam. However, Congress only appropriated $300 million. This money was mostly used to evacuate South Vietnamese from Communist-occupied Saigon.
The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the South Vietnamese surrender. The Communists renamed Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City. 2.7 million Americans served in the war. 58,000 of them were killed. Another 365,000 were wounded. The South Vietnamese lost upwards of one million soldiers, while the North had between 500,000 and a million deaths. Scores of civilians were killed, and 10 million became refugees. The bombs and defoliants used in the war scarred the countryside, permanently in some cases.
Vietnam still remains a poor country, with over a million people fleeing the nation since 1975. It relies heavily on Communist aid, and has hardly any economic value.