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Conflict in Indochina 1954 – 1979

Principal Focus: Students investigate key features and issues in the history of
the conflict in Indochina 1954-1979


• Consequences of the Vietnamese victory
against the French
• Strategic importance – major US naval and air base
• Economic importance – tin, rubber, oil, iron ore. Containment
(domino theory)
• US eventually supplying 80% France’s war costs
• Final crisis for France as they were facing defeat
• Siege began on March 13
• All supplies had to be airlifted
• Dien Bien Phu was a valley surrounded by high cliffs which the Viet
Minh climbed, dragging heavy machinery so as to have an advantageous
position over the French
• On May 7, after 8 weeks of fighting, the French surrendered
• French military influence ended and the First Indochina War was
Reasons for French Defeat
• Brought supplies in early
• Advantageous position on hillside, knew area well
• Jungle cover
• Better tactics – guerrilla over conventional
• Sheer numbers
• French arrogance
• Supplies – difficult for French, had to be flown in, easier for
Vietnamese – surrounding villagers helped
• Vietnamese fighting on their own soil for their own freedom –
“Power in defence of freedom is always greater than power
mobilised on behalf of oppression” (Felix Green, 1969)
Importance of Dien Bien Phu
• Humiliation
• 7000 French casualties
• 11,000 prisoners
• Bao Dai – French puppet, President of the South
• Cambodia and Laos gained independence as the French have
• Viet Minh stronger, greater bargaining power
• Geneva Conference
• Communism – domino theory, fear of communism grows

• Consequences of the Geneva Peace

Agreement for the Vietnamese people to 1964

Modern History -1- Conflict in Indochina

• “The experience of forty years’ relentless fighting
had convinced him that a man has never altogether won or
altogether lost…” (Jean Lacouture, 1967)
• “…the Geneva Conference produced no durable
solution to the Indochina conflict…merely an interlude between
two wars – or rather, a lull in the same war.” (Stanley Karnow,
• “…However, the State of Vietnam was virtually
powerless, and the influence of the United States was quite
limited. The American leaders themselves were by no means
confident that they would be able to prevent the reunification of
Vietnam from occurring on schedule in 1956.” (Edwin E Moise)

• Held in Geneva, Switzerland on May 8 1954 (day after French defeat

at Dien Bien Phu)
• Settle political problems in Indochina as a result of the end of
French colonialism
• Nine participants – DRV (Ho), “State of Vietnam” (Bao Dai),
Cambodia, Laos, People’s Republic of China, Soviet Union, France, Great
Britain, USA
• Delegates had conflicting objectives – conference stalled
• US opposed to giving any independence to Vietnam
• June 8 deadlock broke as govt of Hanoi made concessions –
temporary separation of N&S Vietnam, control of only about half of
Vietnamese territory. Three conditions:
 Division at 17th parallel was temporary until free elections
could be held in July 1956
 Elections by 1956 to unify the country
 Neither zone would make alliances or receive military help
• June, 1954, Bao Dai appointed Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime
Minister. He had US backing & was promised financial & other assistance
to consolidate the new state of the South Vietnam.
• July 20 - Geneva Accords signed
• Accords were a face saving device for the French while
recognising the victory of the Viet Minh.
• Accepted by all except USA & Bao Dai regime
• French govt continued to recognise Bao Dai regime – ended
cooperation between France and Hanoi
• North Vietnam cheated by the West
• Nearly 900,000 Vietnamese moved south – “voted with their feet”,
Catholics migrated south
• 300 day migration period
• Provided a military truce
• French troops to withdraw
• Laos and Cambodia established as independent states
• By 1954, after 7 years of war, 2 competing govts emerged:
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi & the Republic of Vietnam in
Saigon. Each claimed to be the only legitimate government.


Modern History -2- Conflict in Indochina

• Rigged referendum that appointed Diem as “President, PM and Minister of
Defence” – full backing of USA
• Feb 1955 – Nth proposed the restoration of normal relations between the
two zones – proposal rejected
• 1955 – Hanoi urged Sth to take part in the arrangement of details for the
1956 nationwide election – rejected. Hanoi asked repeatedly for these
conferences. US refused to allow elections as Ho would have won
“possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the
Communist Ho Chi Minh” (President Eisenhower)
• No reunification of Vietnam
• Increased US interference in Vietnam
• After US withdrew its support Diem assassinated
• North struggled to feed its population – limited agricultural resources
• Diem appeared corrupt as well after rigged elections -> animosity against
leader -> Second Indochina War
• Accords signed to make peace but ironically set the stage for a second

• Political, social, economic and military developments within

the North and South Vietnam
• “It allowed the Communist Party to strengthen and reinforce its
control over northern Vietnam and, secondly, the economic
consolidation put North Vietnam in a strong position to confront
the problem of a divided country” (James Harpur, 1991) re
difficulties of Ag Reform Tribunals, efforts of DRV to maintain
• “The Party sought, above all, to avoid errors which might renew
the corrosive class divisions that had marked its earlier, hasty
reform efforts” (Gabriel Kolko, 1986) re Co-op program
• “The regime, seeking a scapegoat, placed the blame on…Truong
Chinh…years later, the Vietnamese Communists would contend
that they had been pushed into the program by Chinese advisors”
(Stanley Karnow, 1983)
• “…to label the NLF as simply a satellite of Ho…was to miss a key
point. For there were serious divergences between the northern
and southern Communists in a society as pluralistic as Vietnam”
(Stanley Karnow, 1983)
• “The NLF controlled the timing and terms of combat in almost
four-fifths of the engagements. Technological fetishism was to
fail, and the United States military machine could perform
barbarous acts but not victorious ones…” (Gabriel Kolko, 1986)

• Lao Dong led by Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam Worker’s Party). Hoped to
promote the socialist revolution.
o 1951, ICP and Vietminh combined to form Lao Dong. It would create
a wider base for Ho’s revolutionary movement.
o All groups within society under strict party control
o Ho believed creating a workers’ party not exclusively named as
‘communist’ would gain more support.

Modern History -3- Conflict in Indochina

o Anti-colonialist and communist-inspired.
o Was above the Politburo, Secretariat, etc – could control the North.
• Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV)
• Holistic Communism was woven into Vietnamese social, cultural and
historical traditions – ideals of freedom, victory, prosperity and loyalty.
Propaganda was widespread.
• Francophiles targeted
• All resources nationalised by state
• Ho Chi Minh personified nation -> national cohesion
• Party controlled groups within society
• Agricultural Reform Tribunals – Giap and Truong Chinh’s opposing views
• Vietminh (People’s Army) supported the Party’s actions
• Terror of Ag Reform Tribunals, denunciation, death
• Ideals of communism – Lao Dong
• Food production
• Unity in support of HCM
• Land Reform
o Agricultural reform tribunals – oversee reform, get rid of disloyal
and pro-French people – 100 000 died.
o 1956 – 1.5m peasants had approx half hectare as a result of land
o Divisions in Nth over what path of reform to take – Giap argued for
moderate reform, Truong Chinh wanted rapid reform. Latter won.
o Tribunals became a byword for terror, denunciation and death.
People were accused, given quick trials and then just as quickly
o Many people sentenced without trial
o Over 1 million died during this purge
o Panic and fear as many denounced friends, Viet Minh fighters who
had fought the French were subject to accusations as were
thousands of innocent people
o Food production declined, leadership faced violent opposition –
1956 peasant uprisings
o Ho stepped in – 1958 Cooperativisation program – villagers shared
out labour and responsibilities. Many people who had been purged
were released, violence didn’t cease immediately
o DRV managed to turn situation around & by 1960 over 85% of Nth’s
peasant population was participating in the Co-op Program -> food
production increased -> living standards rose and internal political
position stabilised
• Ruined ag infrastructure, short of capital for investment
• Loss of skilled workers in the 300 day migration
• Food shortages
• Nationalisation of industry
o Coal and textiles
o Banks and public utilities
o Other large businesses
o Govt imposed regulations on small businesses under private control
e.g. prices, wages and output
• 3 Year Economic Plan – 1958

Modern History -4- Conflict in Indochina

o Followed Soviet model
• Economic aid from Soviet Union and China
• By 1960 national income had grown, transportation capacity double and
Nth Vietnam had highest eco growth rate of any Asian economy
• Vietminh/NVA (North in the North)
o Originally army that defeated French at DBP
o Militia, guerrilla warfare tactics, booby traps, tunnels, better
knowledge of terrain
o No badges, ranks
o “Every day the guerrilla fighter remains uncaptured, he is
winning, if it takes twenty years to regain our freedom, we
will wait” (Ho Chi Minh)
• NLF/VC (North in the South) – received much support from Nth, received
logistical support from Nth via HCM Trail. Wanted to overthrow Diem, anti-
US culture, ethnic and gender equality, anti-imperialists. Seen as
liberators, led the Sth to become on verge of collapse. 1967 had 300 000
military and paramilitary

• “The repression, however, spread to people who simply opposed
their regime, such as heads or spokesmen of other political
parties, and against individuals who were resisting extortion by
some of the government officials.” (Michael Maclear, 1981)
• “By 1960 the South’s internal security problems continued to
grow despite (or because of) Diem’s repression” (Brawley, S;
Dixon, C; Green; J, 2005)
• Re Diem’s policies esp Agroville “to ‘legalise’ the situation, the
infamous law 10/59 was passed. This provided for two
punishments only, death by guillotine or life imprisonment, for
anyone suspected of harbouring an intent to commit a crime
against the ‘security of the State’” (H G Slingsby, 1966)

• Bao Dai instated as Emperor by the French – puppet figure
• Diem (President) – Catholic, nepotism, bought loyalty

Modern History -5- Conflict in Indochina

• Can Lao
• US advisors – Colonel Lansdale $$
• Agroville Policy
• Diem bought opponents’ loyalty – Binh Xuyen, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao
• Diem and his brother assassinated on 2 Nov – murdered and mutilated.
Prior to assassination military members began to organise plot against
Diem – USA wouldn’t take part but wouldn’t stand in way of Diem’s forced
removal. 1st Nov a coup staged against Diem by army and air force
• After assassination Revolutionary Military Council set up to run country led
by Big Minh
• Kennedy assassinated only 3 weeks after Diem – change in US policy as
Johnson took over.
• Next 18mths – complete instability.

Modern History -6- Conflict in Indochina

• Propaganda – exploit fear of communism
• Routine censorship
• Lack of unity for leader
• Individualism
• Diem was “the miracle man of Asia” (President Eisenhower, 1957)
• Receive aid from US -> booming economy. However, were entirely reliant
on US largesse
• Saigon westernised
• Bankrupt -> French angry
• Agroville program
o Counter support for Ho in rural communities
o Villagers relocated to ‘govt protected’ sites known as Agrovilles
o Reduced farm output, increased rural poverty as land was poor
o Connection lost between peasants and ancestors as they were
forced from home
• Increased polarisation between rich and poor as US aid didn’t reach
• Corruption
• Capitalist
• ARVN – trained and supported by US
• Opposition to NLF – Diem called them the Vietcong
• Cao Dai, Hoa Hao militia


• Political and social issues in Indochina by 1960
• “The Kennedy administration was a party to the coup and hence
to the assassinations of Diem and Nhu” (Howard Jones, 2003)
• “Attitudes arose from a remarkable arrogance that not only took
for granted America’s right to intervene in Vietnamese affairs,
but also never questioned Washington’s ability to control events
after Diem’s overthrow” (Ellen J Hammer, 1987)
• Political issues:
o Both DRV & RVN relied on foreign aid.
o RVN refuses to hold elections > knew Ho Chi Minh held the majority;
the Sth couldn’t win an election.
o Communist propaganda spread throughout Viet by Vietminh & after
1966, NLF.
o Diem creates ‘strategic hamlets’ to counter communist infiltration.
Villagers forced off land into these hamlets.
o Many Catholic refugees were experienced bureaucrats. NV left with
inexperienced, inefficient bureaucracy.
• Social issues:
o NV: land redistribution.
o SV: Local hill tribes displaced by Catholics.
o Religious tensions: Catholic/Buddhists.

Modern History -7- Conflict in Indochina

o Low levels of literacy hampered attempts to increase popular
involvement in govt.

Growing opposition to Diem

• By the early 1960s Diem had managed to turn almost every section of
society against him.
• Opposition by the early 1960s:
o Binh Xuyen, Cao Dai, Vietminh forces, peasantry, general populace,
Buddhists, military
• His consolidation of power in 1955-56 secured his position, but didn’t
eliminated dissent.
• Binh Xuyen and religious sects e.g. Cao Dai had gone underground. Diem
bought their support
• Remaining Vietminh would obviously be hostile to Diem – NLF presented
Diem as nothing more than a US puppet
• Peasant opposition due to:
o Reversal of pre-1954 Vietminh land reforms
o Agroville program (extremely unpopular)
o Strategic Hamlet program, supported by US but alienated peasant
o Government economic policy favoured cities at the expense of the
o Thousands of civilians killed
• Diem’s power rested upon the support of the police and the military.
However, even the military was becoming agitated:
o Regime’s nepotism extended into military ranks
o Military coup attempt in November 1960 – failed after intervention
of US
• Diem’s brutality, nepotism and corruption alienated workers, peasants and
• Greed and materialism contrasted the apparent selflessness and sense of
purpose in the North.
• 1963 – opposition started to show amongst the Buddhist community.
o Diem gave Catholic population best land, escaped obligations and
tax payments.
o 11 June – Buddhist monk Quang Duc self-immolated at a busy
Saigon intersection:
 Stanley Karnow: “He pressed his palms together in prayer
as a sheet of flame the colour of his orange robe enveloped
him…by the time the ambulance arrived, the old man had
fallen over, still burning as the fire consumed his flesh”
• Images of self immolation broadcast around world -> criticism of Diem’s
• Military members began to organise a plot against Diem.
• No decision to remove Diem could be made without US consultation (due
to incredible amount of US aid).
o US position was made clear – it would not take part but it would not
stand in the way of a forceful removal of Diem from power.

• Political issues:

Modern History -8- Conflict in Indochina

- Independent since 1953.
- After independence – fighting occurred between the Royal Lao forces and
Communist Pathet Lao
- Pathet Lao (communist) forces integrated into army of Laos – uneasy
coalition govt with conservative parties in 1957.
- 1958 elections: Pathet Laos won 13 of 21 seats.
- USA withdraws aid to communist dominated govt & civil war breaks out in

• Political issues:
- Independent since 1953.
- Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s govt tried to maintain neutral relations with
both communist & non-communist countries (see notes below for issues in
- Sihanouk’s govt popular with the people therefore communist propaganda
had limited success before 1960.

• Nature and development of US policy towards Indochina

generally and Vietnam in particular
Containme m–
Loss of
nt pressure to
China, cold
be tough on
war tensions

US for US Domino
Idealism nt

US belief
in US eco/mil
Prestige monolithic investmen
communis t
Cold War Period m
• Fear, suspicion and paranoia.
• Ideological struggle between east and west. Soviet Union desired an
egalitarian utopia, US and western allies sought democracy and
capitalism, also a power struggle – arms race, space race.
• March 1947 – ‘Truman Doctrine’ established policy of containment
whereby the USA promised to support any state threatened by communist
• ‘Fall’ of China in 1949 traumatised Truman administration
• 1950-53 Korean War – spread of communism
• USA helping France economically in Indochina – by end of 1st Indo War USA
was paying up to 80% of French war expenses
• Communism spreading throughout Indochina as seen in French defeat at
• 1948-60 Malayan Crisis

Modern History -9- Conflict in Indochina

• 1959-62 Cuba – Fidel Castro, ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco, Cuban Missile Crisis
• Berlin Wall
• Monolithic communism i.e. all communist activity was directed by Moscow

US Presidents
• Harry Truman (Apr 1945 – Jan 1953)
• Dwight D Eisenhower (Jan 1953 – Jan 1961)
• John F Kennedy (Jan 1961 – Nov 1963)
• Lyndon Johnson (Nov 1963 – Jan 1969) – Americanisation
• Richard Nixon (Jan 1969 – Aug 1974) – Vietnamisation
• Gerald Ford (Aug 1974 – Jan 1977)

• USA viewed Ho as part of a worldwide communist campaign of aggression.
• Decided to back Sth Vietnam and later escalate US military intervention
• Definition of containment seen above
• Widespread domestic support – large fear of communism, necessary and

Domino Theory
• President Eisenhower’s theory – “You have a row of dominoes
set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one
is certainty that it will go over very quickly”
• If SVN fell so too could Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaya, etc
• Eisenhower determined to stop communism at the 17th
parallel – meant US involvement in SVN
• “Although Kennedy and his advisors were pressing forward with
their New Frontier, their roots were still in Cold War rhetoric and
in many respects it was a case of ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la
meme chose (roughly, the more things change, the more things
remain the same)’” (Moya Ann Ball (1992)

• “Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in South East Asia”
• JFK referred to the US as ‘godparents’ if not the parents of
Sth and that USA had responsibility to sustain the country “This is our
offspring, we cannot abandon it, we cannot ignore its needs”

• Losing Sth meant the loss of a huge economic investment – also, facilities
could fall into Soviet hands if Sth fell to communism
• Sth acted as a “bulwark against international communism” (Webb,
• America’s stake in Vietnam “can be measured in the last analysis, in
terms of American lives and American dollars” (JFK, 1956)
• “Like Kennedy, Johnson had repeatedly drawn a scenario of
aggressive monolithic communism on the march, with South

Modern History - 10 - Conflict in Indochina

Vietnam as a measure of the free world’s determination.”
(Michael Machlear, 1981)

• US National Security Council stated – The US must protect its position and
restore its prestige in the Far East by a new initiative in South East Asia
• Key factor motivating US policy
• Pentagon Papers (published June 1971) – showed that Johnson
administration had deliberately escalated the conflict in Vietnam, often
against advice of intelligence authorities
• “There may be a tendency to underestimate the real margin of
influence on the outcome which flows from the simple fact that at
this stage of history we are the greatest power in the world – if
we behave like it” (Walt Rostow - Extract from Pentagon Papers,
• John McNaughton (Assistant Secretary of Defence) wrote at the time that
US motives were:
o 10% for the welfare of South Vietnamese people
o 20% to keep South Vietnam out of China’s hands
o 70% to avoid a humiliating US defeat

• USA involved during First Indochina War – helping French

• Geneva Conference – USA refused to compromise with
Vietminh and Chinese delegates
• US increasing involvement during Diem’s reign – affected
almost all aspects of life.
o US govt aid and investment
o WHAM (winning hearts and minds) – develop social infrastructure
for South including health services, education and subsidised rice
o US support for Strategic Hamlet program – failure
o Tacit American support for eventual removal of Diem
• $322m aid package to Sth
• US backed rigged referendum of Oct 1955 which ousted
Emperor Bao Dai, supported cancellation of national elections
• 1961 – 3200 US advisors – train ARVN in counterinsurgency
(strategy for fighting against guerrillas) – these trainers were known as
‘The Green Beret’ units.
• US involvement in coup against Diem
• “If President Kennedy so clearly supported the phased
withdrawal plan, why did it fail? His assassination…was a key
factor” (Howard Jones, 2003)

President Johnson
• Elected on 22 Nov 1963
• Americanisation of war i.e. go full throttle
• Shared view that communism was being directed from Moscow ->
containment required
• If he allowed Sth to fall to Communists then there would be no chance of
his re-election
• Nov 1964 Johnson won election in a landslide victory
• “Johnson’s immediate motivation in Vietnam was political self-
defence as much as defence of the Free World…the theoretical

Modern History - 11 - Conflict in Indochina

fear of losing the leadership if he lost Vietnam was at least as
equal a determinant as the actual military situation” (Michael
Maclear, 1981)
• “I want them to get off their butts and get out in those jungles
and whip hell out of some Communists” (Johnson extract from
Howard Jones, 2003)
• Feb 1965 – approved Operation Rolling Thunder – regular bombing of Nth
• Gen Westmoreland – aggressive tactics, convinced war would be won by
killing large numbers of enemy – if enemy couldn’t be forced into battle,
villages became targets
• Defoliants - chemicals sprayed to kill of vegetation to deprive Vietcong of
cover – Agent Orange
• Bombing of Ho Chi Minh trail

Tonkin Gulf Incident

• Johnson needed a reason to escalate the war
• Conflict between two groups of advisors – hawks (hard line in Vietnam,
increase military presence) and doves (doubted US presence,
• Late 1964 USS Maddox patrols off coast of Nth into their waters. Nth
vessels attacked Maddox, crew of Maddox claimed they sank a Nth patrol
boat and damaged 2 others
• 2 days later Maddox and USS C Turner Joy returned to area – untrue claims
made that US vessels were attacked again – deliberate?
• Johnson responded quickly, ordering air raids – quick, decisive leader
• Congress passed the Tonkin Resolution – gave Johnson power to take “all
necessary measure” to prevent further aggression – could take action
without having to go through Congress
• After re-election he launched more air raids but decided that ground
troops were needed as well. 8 March 1965 first US contingent of 3500
combat troops arrived in Sth Vietnam
• By end of 1965 > 184 000 troops

Steps in US escalation – Americanisation of the war

Date Event
February US commences secret raids in North Vietnam, aim: to attack
1964 economic targets and limit North Vietnamese aid to VC
March 1964 Pentagon develops detailed bombing plans, targeting North
Vietnamese military sites, guerrilla sanctuaries (Laos and
Cambodia), Northern infrastructure

Johnson administration begins preparing draft congressional

resolution giving president power to take whatever action he
wanted (revealed in Pentagon Papers)
Secret SOG and DESOTO patrols against North Vietnam
June 1964 Honolulu Conference  increased US advisor numbers to
July 1964 Tonkin Incident

Modern History - 12 - Conflict in Indochina

5 August US forces attack patrol boat sites and oil storage centres in
1964 North Vietnam
August 1964 Tonkin Resolution
September Sustained bombing against North authorised but not
1964 implemented
November Johnson wins election in landslide
January 1965 Operation Flaming Dart  air raids into North Vietnam
24 Feb 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder  sustained bombing of North
8 March 1965 First US combat forces (3,500) arrive at Da Nang air base
End of 1965 Almost 200,000 US combat troops in Vietnam

President Nixon - Attempts at Peacemaking

• Main aims of Nixon:
o US withdrawal with honour
o Survival of Thieu regime in Saigon
o His own re-election
• Nixon elected President in Nov 1968 – promised USA would achieve ‘peace
with honour’
• Brought down by Watergate scandal – June 1972 media reported evidence
linking Nixon Whitehouse to the forced break-in of Democrat
headquarters, electronic wiretapping, bribery, destruction of documents,
falsification of reports related to Vietnam and Cambodia. Destroyed
Republican Party’s credibility, August 1974 Nixon resigned.
• Nixon’s policy of détente - improving relations with two former enemies
• “Nixon had always supported a hard line over Vietnam and
frequently criticised Johnson for getting bogged down in the war”
(Ken Webb, 2010)
• Tet changed Nixon’s view – now wanted ‘peace with honour’ – get out but
save face; build up Sth so that they could fight on their own;
Vietnamisation or the ‘Nixon Doctrine’ – withdrawal; ‘Madman Theory’ –
Nth should be told that Nixon is a mad anti-comm with his finger on the
nuclear button – put pressure on Hanoi; consider negotiations with Soviet
Union and China – put pressure on Nth to compromise in peace talks
• Vietnamisation:
o Withdrawal of US troops, handing over fighting responsibility to
o Guise to distract from apparent defeat by Asiatic nation  worked
to some extent with American public
o Did not work militarily:
 ARVN rife with corruption
 Poorly organised
 Heavily dependent on US initiative/support e.g. Battle of Lam
Son – ARVN defeated by NVA/VC in Laos and had to be
airlifted out by US
• US policy dominated by Nixon and Henry Kissinger – Kissinger believed in
Realpolitik – USA do whatever it has to do
• Declining morale of troops
• Fragging – attempted murder by troops of their own officers

US Policy under Nixon 1969-1971

Modern History - 13 - Conflict in Indochina

• 1969 – Operation Phoenix – neutralise VC chiefs, US and ARVN fighting like
guerrillas, effectively weakened VC strength, 6000 killed, 20 000 captured
• Early 1969 NVA launched new offensive against Sth – Nixon’s response –
sever supply links through secret bombing of Cambodia – Operation Menu.
Aimed to destroy Communist headquarters and disrupt HCM Trail. Failed –
then put Madman Theory in action.
• Nixon’s policy was complex – Madman Theory, bombing Cambodia,
Vietnamisation, diplomatic pressure on China and S.U.
• Continued to invade Cambodia to root out communist bases – anti-war
protests expanded
• Feb 1971 5000 ARVN troops sent into Laos to attack NVA supply lines as
part of Vietnamisation policy – Operation Lam Son. Unmitigated disaster –
images relayed home
• May 1971 Nixon offered Nth a withdrawal date for US forces, US POWs to
be freed, ceasefire, end to Nth troops moving south, Thieu remain in
power, Laos and Cambodia left alone – no specific mention of US bombing
so Nth didn’t take offer.

US Policy under Nixon 1972

• Had to get Americans out otherwise he’d lose his position
• 30 March NVA Easter Offensive against South
• 31 March Nixon responded – bomb selected targets – “these bastards
have never been bombed like they are going to be bombed this time”
• Ended in July but US bombing continued
• 8 October US bombing ended
• Paris Peace talks being held – Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho reached an
agreement and Nixon also agreed on 21 Oct
• Thieu annoyed he wasn’t part of negotiations and ordered ARVN attack on
• Nixon advised to hold off signing – weak agreement
• Kissinger provided long list of amendments to Oct plan – Le Duc Tho
walked out. Nixon sent ultimatum – Hanoi didn’t reply.
• US response – Operation Linebacker Two – bombing campaign. 11 days, >
40 000 tons bombs
• Early Jan Le Duc Tho resumed talks, Nixon informed Thieu that USA was
going to sign no matter what so Thieu had no choice but to sign.
• 15 Jan USA ended all action against Nth
• 27 Jan 1973 Paris Peace Accord to end Vietnam War was signed
o US POWs released
o US troops withdrawn
o NVA troops allowed in Sth
o International Control Commission to monitor ceasefire
o Hostilities in Laos and Cambodia to end
o US aid promised to Sth
o Council of National Reconciliation and Concord set up – sort out
political issues

• “The country could not afford to be seen to be

defeated…he was convinced that a first American defeat would
lead to a collapse of confidence in American leadership and to
communist expansion throughout the world” (Phillip B Davidson,

Modern History - 14 - Conflict in Indochina

• “In light of this absurd situation, the Canadian
members of the Commission announced in May 1973 that they
would no longer participate and were in fact leaving Vietnam”
(Anthony J Joes, 2001)
• “Four years earlier they had badly miscalculated the
costs of achieving peace with honour; now it seemed likely that
they had also miscalculated the balance of forces in Vietnam”
(Charles E Neu, 2005)

• Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the

consequences for Vietnam and Cambodia
Military Impact:
• Advisers were sent in 1960, numbered 900.
• In 1961 Kennedy committed 1 600 advisers + 300 helicopters aimed to
train the ARVN . + increase support with the peasantry. Kennedy did not
commit ground troops.
• Despite this VC forces grew from 2000 [after denunciation campaign
1957]  16, 000 [Nov 1961] + VC had more support of peasantry [not
foreigners]. By 1964 VC strength 180 000.
• By 1962, 11 300 US personnel in Vietnam.
• July 1965: Westmoreland > McNamara > LBJ more troops needed.
• 28 July 1965: LBJ increased troops.
• ‘Search and Destroy’ tactics - huge social impact on villagers, alienated
them from the Americans.
• Sth resented US tactics - protests
• WHAM aimed to win support of villagers through ‘nation building’ (detailed
above). Undermined by other programs and strategies e.g. Strategic
Hamlets Program.
• To consolidate, competition for support of Sth villagers. Pressure for
support generated unease and a sense of fear.
• 1/3 of population dislocated by 1968 because of US strategies such as the
Strategic Hamlets Program -> resentment of US and the Sth Viet govt.
• Operation ‘Rolling Thunder’ and the use of chemical agents such as Agent
Orange -> destruction of lives, houses, crops, forests, livestock and whole
villages. Constant bombing took its toll on the villagers leading to
starvation, health problems, and contributing to South Vietnam’s refugee
• Approximately 4 million (varying figures, anywhere from 2-5.8 million)
peasants became refugees, many being forced to leave their villages and
migrate to the cities where slums sprang up. “They were shunted into
makeshift camps of squalid shanties where primitive sewers bred
dysentery, malaria and other diseases.” (Karnow)
• Massacres/atrocities: E.g. My Lai Massacre of 1968 – US soldiers shot 370
unarmed Vietnamese civilians. This caused outrage in US and worldwide.

Social impact:
• The US “rip[ped]South Vietnam’s social fabric to shreds”
• Tried to win support from the Sth Vietnamese: ‘pacification.’
• Eliminate the enemy: ‘search and destroy.’

Modern History - 15 - Conflict in Indochina

• Established ‘Revolution Development’ teams into villages as part of
• Training & leading village defence units.
• Implementing land reforms
• Organisation local elections.
• However the policy was undermined by search & destroy missions
and bombing.
• The destruction of villages suspected also was not popular.
• Impact: 1/3 of pop dislocated by 1968.
Economic impact:
• The American money had an impact.
• Establishment of brothels, bars.
• Increased prices - consumption of goods and services
• Traditional family & economic values challenged.
• Consumer goods from the US damaged local industry.
• Increased dependence on US imports.
• Employment opportunities linked to the US.
• Corruption and black market.
• US money, presence of soldiers impacted culture – establishment of
brothels, bars etc. Traditional family and economic values challenged -
loss of culture was “especially evident in the youth who could not
remember living in villages and only recognized the US lifestyle.”
• Consumer goods from USA damaged local industry, increased prices
of goods and services. Linked to this also is an increased dependence on
US imports and growing corruption and the establishment of a black
• ‘Rampant capitalism (and corruption) became a part of life’
• The ‘US superimposed American superficial culture onto
South Vietnam’ (Cantwell)

Escalation of US efforts under Johnson

• In 1964: 23 000 troops in South
• US aid of $1/2 billion a year by 1965
• By 1965: 175 000 personnel
• Westmoreland claimed war would be over by 1967 privately govt in

Reasons for this escalation

• Diem failure growth of communism
• Alienation of peasants – strategic hamlet policy + Us foreigners
• DRV sending support along Ho Chi Minh trail
• Buddhist revolts + instability of govt after Diem
• NVA sent to south in 1964.
• US already heavily committed in South.

Political impact:
• Sth Vietnamese resented US tactics.
• Increased protest movement.

Modern History - 16 - Conflict in Indochina

• Sth Vietnamese govt (supported by US) used military force against

Human/Personal Impact
• At least 1.5 million (ARVN 184 000 & 430 000 civilians) are killed.
• 3 million injured
• 5. 8 internal refugees (1/2 Sth Vietnamese peasantry), 50% Sth
Vietnamese lost their homes.
• 1 million widows, 1/2 million orphans & at least 1000 Amerasian
children left.
• 200 000 prostitutes in the Sth, in 1976 100 000 drug addicts in
Saigon alone.
• 1/2 million hectares of farmland lost.
• 124 000 hectares of mangroves eliminated (46 species)
• Economy 40 yrs behind other Sth-East Asian countries.
• " Huge numbers of refugees fled to the rapidly swelling
cities & young men were drafted into the armies of both sides,
creating rural labour shortages (Alongside high unemployment).
Whole villages were destroyed." - Melanie Beresford
• "Sth Viet's cities swelled to a degree unusual even by Third
World Standards." - Melanie Beresford

• US direct involvement in 1970 and 1973 escalated problems – food
shortages – food riots in Sept 1972
• Unemployment and displacement - “within six months the population
of Phnom Penh swelled from round 700 000 to over one and a half
million.” - J. Tully
• US financial support upheld Cambodian economy - overexerting budget
twice over. USA provided much needed commodities such as oil, medical
supplies and other basic supplies.
• KR claimed Cambodia was “under threat of national extinction by…
the US and colonist capitalist systems associated with the West”.
- B. Thornton
• US troops invaded April 1970 in response to growing military activity by
NVA and expansion of KR.
• US arrival and bombing radicalised population – more recruits for KR.
• Cambodia = important theatre of war against communism - carpet-
bombed between February and August 1973 in hopes of defeating KR.
• Bombing effects -> collapse of agriculture -> destroyed traditional rural
lifestyle -> nearly 2mill refugees, inflation rampant, estimated 600 000
dead; 10% of population.
• Bombing - anger and resentment towards USA – KR’s anti-American stance
• During the bombing America dropped > 250 000 tons of bombs on
• USA’s actions seen as excessive and belittling, legitimising KR’s call for
independence for interference from foreign powers.
• US destruction allowed KR to demonise USA, strengthen their communist

Modern History - 17 - Conflict in Indochina

• US financial support for Lon Nol govt’s fight against communism -> five
year civil war. Over 500 000 Cambodians killed during this period.
Resulted in KR coming to power
• Stress upon traditional elements of Cambodian society - stress
“shattered most of what remained of Cambodian society and
provided ideal preconditions for the further expansion of the
Khmer Rouge insurgency.” [Pollock]
• ‘Operation Menu’ - widespread destruction (civilian and economic).
Infrastructure destroyed— over 40% roads, 30% bridges unusable.
Compounded economic debt
• Death tolls of ‘Operation Menu’ often cited between 600 000 and
750 000.
• KR support rose concurrently with US bombing programs, from 3000
in 1971 to over 60 000 in 1973. By 1975, the Khmer Rouge controlled of
most of Cambodia. Nixon administration's bombing campaign in 1973
probably saved the Lon Nol regime but it also allowed Pol Pot's group to
consolidate their grip on power. “Terrified and half crazy, the people
were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made
it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over… it was
because of this dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept
on cooperating with the Khmer Rouge.” [Kiernan]


• Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics
employed by the North Vietnamese Army and the National
Liberation Front (NLF), and by the South Vietnamese and
the USA
North Vietnamese Tactics
• Vietnamese were fighting for nationhood, for independence, willing to
make any sacrifice
• Time wasn’t an issue – dedicated and high morale
• Local population – respect, part of population/no uniform, intimidation,
• Avoidance of major confrontation
o Tunnel systems – Cu Chi
o Use of jungle/mountain terrain
o Hit and run tactics/attacks at night/ambush/booby traps e.g. punji
o Guerrilla fighter could be anyone
o Ho’s elephant and tiger analogy
• Contrasts to US/ARVN
• VC’s tactics in relation to treatment of peasants – “velvet touch often
concealed talons of steel” (Stanley Karnow, 1983)
• “Through the most heinous attacks on innocent civilians, the
Vietcong effectively taught the peasants the dangers of
associating with the government” (Anthony Joes, 2001)
• Ho Chi Minh Trail
o VC had to be supplied by North
o Received a pounding by US bombing
o By 1966 Giap had over 20,000 working to keep the trail workable

Modern History - 18 - Conflict in Indochina

o “preventing a Communist victory, required stopping or at
least seriously inhibiting the flow of men and supplies into
the South” (Joes, 2001)
• From 1964 they began moving into South Vietnam
• 1964-68 – Giap willing to engage in set piece battles
• Strategy – prolong conflict and wear down US
• Tet Offensive – huge VC losses – from 1969 onwards bulk of fighting
carried out by NVA
• By 1972 0 NVA able to launch full-scale conventional campaigns
• Large numbers of NVA troops in South – justify US invasion of North
• Counteract this – Hanoi ensured good relations with Soviet Union and
China. Hanoi received Chinese aid – mixed feelings – security against US
invasion but historic Viet fears of Chinese domination

South Vietnamese and US Tactics

• “All this power intoxicated the Americans who initially went to
Vietnam with a proud and overweening sense of confidence…they
were certain that US omnipotence would triumph…” (Karnow,
• Modern, technologically superior fighting force
• US soldier could rely upon
o Tanks/armoured vehicles on either side
o Armed unit – mortars, grenades, rocket launchers, M16 auto rifle
o Science – weapons that could “smell” the enemy
o Weapons to destroy jungle
o Bombs, nuclear weapons
o Helicopter transportation
o Enemy softened by US artillery/air power
• Weaponry, technology and logistical support
o Helicopters – efficient movement into isolated areas, quick
evacuation but were noisy and VC hid large punji stakes in favourite
landing spots
o Scale of US air power was immense – B52 bombers – 27 tons in a
single mission, too high to hear, craters still exist
o Cluster bombs – shattered and hurled hundreds of metal
blades/steel balls randomly
o ‘Puff the magic dragon’ – converted DC 3 which dropped flares
o Napalm – canisters forced open on hitting ground and napalm
ignited, quickly incinerated
o Herbicides and defoliants – Operation Ranch Hand. e.g. Agent
Orange – get rid of VC advantage of jungle cover during ‘search and
destroy’ missions
o 75million litres of defoliants dropped on Indochina, ultimately self-
defeating, Nixon ended defoliation in 1969
o ‘People sniffer’ – pick up smell of urine but couldn’t distinguish
between animals and humans
• By 1966 US had 385,000 troops in Vietnam
• General Westmoreland – attrition warfare – ‘search and destroy’ missions
whereby: locate enemy, clear area of civilians, destroy villages, carpet
bomb, defoliate, capture any surviving VC

Modern History - 19 - Conflict in Indochina

• Once an area had been neutralised, US withdrew – short time VC were
• Refugees pouring into cities – Sth more destabilised. Filial piety broke
• Similar actions taken near Cambodian border in Feb 1967 – pushed VC
further into Cambodia
• Operation Rolling Thunder – wasn’t denting Nth’s will
• Constant bombing HCM Trail – no effect due to Giap’s repair work
• Anti-war protests on home front increasing
• Secretary of Defence, McNamara, only way bombing would stop Hanoi
supporting war would be to totally destroy the country and its people.
• Sept 1967 – captured VC’s told US that NVA were moving troops and
supplies into area around Khe Sanh. Westmoreland believed it was
beginning of major communist offensive like Dien Bien Phu
• Operation Niagara - moved 6000 troops into area and carpet bombed it,
B52s dropped 162 tonnes of bombs every three hours, fighter aircraft
attacked every five mins, marine howitzers and army cannon
• Jan 1968 NVA attacked US base – three months – NVA loss > 10,000
troops, pulled out on April 17. US abandoned Khe Sanh base in June.
• “Hanoi’s ambition was Westmoreland’s opportunity; he would
achieve a Dien Bien Phu in reverse” (Neil Sheehan, 1990) – in
relation to Khe Sanh

• Gen depicted as poor soldiers, quick to avoid battle, open to corruption,
quick to desert
• Crucial supplies of medicine, petrol, food often diverted and sold
• ‘Ghost soldiers’ – enable senior commanders to claim these soldiers’ pay
which would be diverted into their own bank accounts
• Many ARVN recruits forced into service/were volunteers from the urban
• Training was limited
• ARVN fought bravely in Tet Offensive & NVA’s Easter Offensive of 1972
• Most of the reporting came from US perspective – public perception grew
that Sth wasn’t fighting in battles they should have been in
• View of ARVN is unfair – Neil Davis opposes this typical view
o War meant a great deal to ARVN, had to fight it on their own terms,
lacked sophisticated weaponry of Americans
o Could recall only 3 wks in 3yrs where US casualties exceeded those
o Never saw them once run away
o “The South Vietnamese would often move quietly into an
area and take the Vietcong unawares” (Neil Davis, 1987)

• Impact of the 1968 Tet Offensive

• “Tet demonstrated conclusively that revolutionaries motivated to
suffer and die could checkmate a great military power” (Leonard
Bushkoff, 1988)
• “The nature of the warfare and criticism back home led to the
apparent collapse of the home front and the American forces in
Vietnam” (Phillip B Davidson, 1991)

Modern History - 20 - Conflict in Indochina

• “We can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time we have
left and we must begin to take steps to disengage” (Neil
Sheehan, 1990)
• Jan/Feb 1968
• Pre-Tet – US war aim to win, post-Tet – US war aim to get out of Vietnam
with the minimum loss of face
• Changed US politics – pre – Johnson busily planning for his re-election; post
– Johnson’s career in tatters
• Most significant military action of the war up to that point – provided US
with most decisive military victory, VC devastated
• Pre-Tet – anti-war movement restricted to radicals; post-Tet – mainstream
political figures calling for withdrawal and anti-war movement became
• US psychological and political defeat
• Communists broke traditional truce during Tet NY festival – attacks across
• 69,000 regular troops + 17,000 guerrillas
• Mistake regarding timing – change of day – poor communication prevented
news of change reaching all units – some units acted prematurely alerting
• Communists hoped:
o Offensive would spur a rise of the Sth against the southern regime
o Collapse of Thieu regime (president since 1967)
o Convince US of Communist determination, convince them to leave
• Tet effectively over within three weeks but fighting continued in Hue
• US lost nearly 4000, ARVN almost 5000, 14 000 Sth Viet civilians died
• VC/NVA lost almost 60,000

Reasons why Tet was a disaster for USA

• US population questioned why Communists were able to launch such a
massive attack if the USA was winning the war” – Johnson admin had been
telling people that victory was in sight
• Up to 1967 US media often guilty of self-censorship rather than
deliberately promoting anti-administration line on war – Tet changed this
• Platoon of VC got into US embassy in Saigon – Americans view their
overseas embassies as sacrosanct – VC invaders killed but TV news
showed pictures of US forces having to battle VC for their embassy, US
ambassador had to escape in PJs
• VC attacking Saigon airbase and ARVN staff headquarters
• TV maps lit up showing where Communist attacks were taking place
• Khe Sanh – Westmoreland asked for 200,000 more troops. Previous week
highest weekly toll of war so far – 543
• Photo of Sth Viet general shooting a bound VC prisoner at point blank
caused outrage – no longer image of the good guys

Results of Tet
• Major Communist defeat militarily but psychological victory.
• Chances of Westmoreland receiving more troops were nil, support for war
escalation ended
• Crucial turning point – US policy could only de-escalate now, gradual
withdrawal of troops – without US support, Sth regime would collapse

Modern History - 21 - Conflict in Indochina

• Johnson’s speech on 31 March 1968 – renewed offer to end US
bombardment of Nth, prepared to start peace negotiations, 90% of Nth
would be spared from US bombing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept,
the nomination of my party for another term as your President” –
effectively destroyed Johnson’s career
• Democrat Party’s leading contenders both pushing for end to war,
Republican Party nominee, Nixon, calling for ‘Peace with Honour’
• 10 May 1968 official peace talks opened in Paris
• US morale deteriorating – May 1800 US soldiers killed
• 31 Oct 1968 – Johnson ended all air attacks on Nth Vietnam

• Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina

• Social/Human
o Arrival of US – westernised – western material/commercial values
gained supremacy
o Western goods, cars, investment, music, fashion, etc
o Seedy – prostitution, drug trade
o Western wealth -> corruption
o Decline of village life/movement to cities
o Civilians affected by political oppression from Diem’s denunciating,
one party nepotistic state to the corrupt/brutal regimes of the future
o To combat NLF, Diem implemented Agroville Program and later
Strategic Hamlet – peasants lives uprooted, homes and livelihoods
destroyed, ancestors’ sites lost
o Savagery of war – US weapons – horror – bombing, defoliation,
search and destroy missions, constant bombing
o Ultimately brought people of South under Northern Communist rule
o Loss of life – estimated up to 3 million Vietnamese dead
o Sick, wounded, traumatised, those without limbs
o Babies born with birth defects due to Agent Orange
o Vietnamese veterans suffered from cancers due to defoliants
• Cultural
o Americanisation of Viet cities and breakdown of traditional village
o Threatened survival of Viet culture
o Moving peasants e.g. Strategic Hamlets, took them from ancestor
o All-pervasiveness of US presence
• Environmental
o Forest regions demolished by bombing
o Irrigation/dyke systems destroyed
o B52 bombing left craters, impossible to cultivate
o Herbicides and defoliants – wasteland
o Legacy of unexploded ordinance remains a problem
• Economic
o Need to dedicate expenses to war prevented expenditure on
o 1970s – Sth faced massive inflation/black market
o Post-war economy devastated
o US post-war bans on trade and investment worsened situation

Modern History - 22 - Conflict in Indochina

o Bombing reduced food output (couldn’t cultivate ruined land)

• VC set up camps in Cambodia and HCM Trail went through Cam
• War brought to Cam through 4yrs of heaving US bombing + US invasion
• US intervention brought about Lon Nol regime -> war against Vietnamese
-> conflict + growth of KR brought added misery
• Biggest impact – chance for KR to come to power -> horrific
• Ultimately brought on the Viet invasion of 1978
• ‘Boat People’
• Life following 1975 was bleak
• Executions, thousands of people were sent to ‘re-education’ camps
• Vietnam remained desperately poor, partly due to effects of the War
• US economic sanctions also played a large role
o US refused to establish relations with Vietnam for two decades
o Trading with the Enemy Act forbade US trade and investment with
o US utilised position in UN to ensure Vietnam received no World Bank
• Tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians tried to escape
their countries
o Some reached safety of Asian neighbours e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia,
Hong Kong, where they faced lengthy stays in refugee camps
o Some were fortunately accepted by other countries such as
Australia, Canada and the USA (Australia took 250,000 Indochinese

• After 1953 independence – fighting occurred between Royal
Lao forces and communist Pathet Lao
• Geneva Conference held in 1961 but civil war broke out 2yrs
• Nth Vietnam backed communists (US constantly bombed
Laos along HCM trail)
• As Vietnam and Cambodia fell to communism, so did Laos
(Domino Theory) – monarchy fell
• Life expectancy 46, poor, backward farming, economy linked
to Vietnam (USA banned aid to Laos until 1986)
• Re-education and collectivisation policies – resulted in
refugees fleeing
• 1980: 80 000 refugees in UN camps
• Many border issues with Thailand
• Eventual Doi Moi policy (socialist-oriented market economy
i.e. state plays decisive role in economy but private sector plays a role in
commodity production)
• ‘Lam Son 719’ – ARVN attempted destruction a northern
section of HCM Trail and VC supply bases. Massive failure as they fell into
VC’s trap (quite similar to Dien Bien Phu) – caused much bombing of Laos
as USA tried to intervene.

• Impact of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia


Modern History - 23 - Conflict in Indochina

• 1953 – Sihanouk in power, rigged elections
• 1969 – US bombing of Cambodia with permission of Sihanouk
• 1970 – Lon Nol stages US-backed coup, very anti-Communist, US-
supported, harsh on Khmer Rouge
• 1973 – Peace deal struck between US and North Vietnam – all US troops
out of Vietnam
• 1975 – US congress blocks support of war in Indochina – Us pulls out of
Cambodia, Vietnam united under Communist government, Lon Nol flees,
Kr take capital Phnom Penh 17th April – Year Zero
• 1978 – 25th December Vietnam invades Cambodia and overthrows Khmer
Rouge, Hun Sen (Cambodian) set up as puppet prime minister for Vietnam
• US involvement resulted in environmental degradation as well as a human
and psychological impact as B52 destabilised the nation, destroying
homes and lives.
• Khmer Rouge grew to be powerful because they were:
o the only nationalist party
o non US-backed
o endorsed by Sihanouk

How the conflict spread into Cambodia

• 1965-1969 – Sihanouk allowed the NLF to establish bases in Cambodia and
to receive arms and equipment via the Ho Chi Minh Trail and port of
Sihanoukville. The Vietnamese agreed to respect Cambodian
independence after the War.
• Corrupt Cambodian army officers profited from the sale of military
equipment to the VC.
• 1969 – Sihanouk remained silent while the US bombed Communist
positions within Cambodia (Operation Menu). Vietnamese Communists
were forced to move further into Cambodia  widened the War.
• The war intensified in Cambodia after the Lon Nol coup (1970). Lon Nol
abandoned a neutral stance, the government became pro-USA and
encouraged US involvement.
• April 1970 – US and ARVN forces invaded Cambodia to attack Communist
• 1971 – the Cambodian army attacked Vietnamese (VC) within Cambodia.
• 1973 – Nixon carpet-bombed rural areas of Cambodia, devastating the
countryside and leading to the growth of the Khmer Rouge.
• Lon Nol’s government had become increasingly dependent on US aid. It
collapsed in 1975 with the withdrawal of the US from Indochina.
• 1975 – Khmer Rouge entered the capital Phnom Penh and declared Year

• Moving the war into Cambodia had objectives:

o Destroy HCM trail that ran through parts of Cambodia
o Destroy Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN) – the VC’s secret
headquarters within Cambodia.
• While 20, 000 US and ARVN troops attacked Cambodia, Viet Cong/ NVA
troops simply withdrew further into Cambodia and Laos.
• The COSVN headquarters were never destroyed. It was not, as the US had
expected, a fortress but a system of supply lines and meeting places
spread out throughout the region.

Modern History - 24 - Conflict in Indochina

• NVA/VC lost some 11,000 troops, while the US/ARVN 1,000 dead and
4,500 wounded.
• None of the major long-term goals were achieved.
• After forces invaded Cambodia, Sihanouk cut ties with Washington. The US
then backed the coup lead by General Lon Nol, which prompted retaliation
from Pol Pot's KR.
• Invasion - little impact on Nth Vietnam's military effort - just spread
conflict further throughout Vietnam destabilising the region.

• Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA

Reasons and nature of anti-war movement
• Failure of USA to win esp after Tet Offensive – if the public was being told
that the war would end soon and that the USA was winning then why could
the communists stage such a huge uprising?
• Tet Offensive – psychological defeat for USA, accelerated “the downward
spiral of doubt, disenchantment and disapproval”
• Images from Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, My Lai massacre
• Media - Nixon administration had alienated large sections of the US media
o When Nixon ordered 11 days of intensive bombing of North Vietnam
around Christmas 1972, the New York Times called it “Stone Age
barbarism” and the Washington Post declared it “savage and
o ‘Kurt Volkert – Combat Cameraman Vietnam’ 1968: “A cameraman
feels so inadequate, being able to record only a minute part of the
misery, a minute part of the fighting. You have to decide what the
most important action is. Is it the woman holding her crying baby?
Is it the young girl cringing near her house because of the exploding
grenades? Or is it the defiant looking Vietcong with blood on his
face just after capture?”
• Blum et al, The National Experience - “America’s myth of itself as
benevolent, wise, and invincible drained away in the jungles of Indochina”
• Hugh Higgins
o “most tragic consequence for Americans were the war casualties”
o 1966 5,000 killed, 1968 14,000 killed  by end of 1967 total dead
and wounded exceeded 100,000
o People began to wonder whether the South Vietnamese regime was
worth so many sacrifices
• Casualty lists increasing
• US war aims increasingly vague
• War was draining US economy – what happened to Johnson’s ‘Great
Society’ social reforms?
• Battle footage – effects of US destruction, napalm attacks, B52 raids –
immorality e.g. Saigon Police Chief shooting a bound VC suspect at point
blank, nine year old naked girl fleeing village after napalm attack
• Publication of the Pentagon Papers
• Vietnam War was “the lounge room war” – TV able to bring images home
• ‘Black Power’ leaders e.g. Martin Luther King Junior
• War wasn’t treating all Americans fairly – many middle-class and higher
men were able to avoid conscription – CCR song ‘Fortunate Son’

Modern History - 25 - Conflict in Indochina

• 1960s violent US period – many blame impact of war for this –
assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and
race riots
• 1960s wasn’t as conservative as 1950s – baby boomers. Anti-war feelings
accompanied by growing radicalism of civil rights movement – Black
Panther movement, Women’s Movement
• Zeitgeist of Vietnam War very different to WWII
• No definitive result awaiting the Americans as occurred against Germany
and Japan
• Beginning of war – Americans solidly behind Johnson’s interventionist
policy of Americanisation
• Few in the media challenged the administration
• Minority pacifist and church groups
• Need to contain communism – fear of Domino Theory, idea of forward
defence, public believed Tonkin Gulf incident
• Early opposition peaceful and moderate
• Many young people could avoid being conscripted
• Mid-60s student campuses became focus of anti-war movement
• Leading politicians now speaking out against war
• By 1968 protests became violent – violence reduced its support
• Tet made media more critical, willing to investigate and less eager to
accept military assurances.
• 1969 protests more peaceful
• Led to concept of moratorium – people stop work simultaneously and join
a protest march, attracted huge numbers
• Anti-war sentiment reached almost 50% in opinion polls
• May 1969 – Life Magazine ran an edition which contained nothing but the
photos of all 241 US soldiers killed that week
• Invasion of Cambodia 1970 – movement into violence again
• Early 1970s – anti-movement was declining as Nixon’s Vietnamisation
reduced number of troops
• James Landers (2004) – media ‘framed’ the way in which anti-war
movements were portrayed. Framing “restricted the portrait of
antiwar activists to those with scraggly hair, unkempt appearance
or ‘costumed’ apparel…people on society’s fringe’s were
protesting the war”
• Andrew Z Kantz (1997) – Nixon’s use of polling “was used to
gauge the receptivity of the public to Nixon’s Vietnam initiatives,
to legitimate policies, and to verify when its military and
diplomatic strategy required adjustment”
• Stanley Karnow (1983) – Nixon’s reaction to moratorium
demonstrations “North Vietnam cannot defeat and humiliate the
United States” (Nixon). Karnow’s assessment “The response to
the presidential address…was overwhelmingly favourable…
Nixon’s ratings in the polls soared”.

Chronology of anti-war movements in the USA

Date Event
August • Early opposition incl. Hiroshima Day protests
1964 • Clergymen, pacifists, women’s groups opposed the war
on moral grounds

Modern History - 26 - Conflict in Indochina

• Small scale protests, unimportant to administration
Easter • Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protested in
1965 Washington (small, peaceful, idealistic)  membership grew
to 30,000 by end of 1966
1965-66 • Student opposition on campuses grew: sit-ins, burning of
draft cards, teach-ins (first teach-in held at University of
Michigan, March 1965)
• 1973: over 13,500 men had been prosecuted because of
draft resistance  potential draftees fled to Canada and
• Black groups such as Black Panthers (led by Stokely
Carmichael) strongly opposed the war
• November – Norman Morrison (a Quaker) self-immolated
outside the Pentagon
1967 • SDS leader Tom Hayden went to Nth Vietnam
• Some politicians (e.g. Senator Fulbright) began to
question Johnson’s right to engage in war
• October – major protest, march on the Pentagon
(generally peaceful, minority were violent)
• Vietnam Veterans Against the War established
1968 • Anti-war candidates started to seek presidential
nomination e.g. Eugene McCarthy
• Robert Kennedy entered the race (assassinated in June)
• Democrat Convention held in Chicago, considerable
violence on the streets, Mayor Daly ordered police to treat
protesters as harshly as possible
• Anti-war protests became more violent, dominated by
radical elements incl. radical blacks  many ordinary
Americans claimed the protest movement had been
‘hijacked’ by radicals
• In order for the anti-war movement to be stimulated it
needed to be decentralised, protest needed to become local
 basis of moratorium movement (protest en masse)
1969 • October – 50,000 took part in moratorium march in
• November – 250,000 strong march in Washington
• Major demonstrations on campuses nationwide in
response to Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia
• Kent State University, Ohio – four students shot dead by
National Guardsmen  sparked mass demonstrations incl.
100,000-strong march in Washington
• Counter demonstrations supporting the war, incl.
100,000-strong march in New York
1971-72 • Scale of protests significantly dropped with policy of
Vietnamisation  troops coming home, casualty figures
vastly decreasing

Impact of Anti-War Movement

• Anti-war movements in the 1960s were a shock as the USA had previously
prided themselves on patriotism

Modern History - 27 - Conflict in Indochina

• To argue that the anti-war movement was decisive in affecting US
involvement is to suggest that the US could have otherwise won the war
(no evidence for this)
o Fallout from The Tet Offensive
o Nixon implemented Vietnamisation despite hatred for protestors
o Nixon’s hardline policies did not stop him being elected in Nov 1972
• Heartened Nth Vietnam – knowing thousands of Americans were calling for
end to war – proved they had to leave eventually
• Weakened US troops’ morale
• Had been no demonstrations against the Korean War or WWI
• Several factors made Vietnam different:
o Americans questioned the morality of the war
o Saw reality of conflicts on nightly television
o Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) was different, conformity and
unquestioning acceptance were disappearing
o Americans began to doubt they would win
o Cold war consensus broke down

• The defeat of the South Vietnamese forces

• “US public opinion turned decisively…when Johnson was
psychologically defeated by the enemy’s Tet Offensive in 1968;
and when the alliance between the US and the Republic of
Vietnam came unglued [after the Paris Accords]” (Harry G
Summers Jr. 1990)
• “the politicians were simply reflecting the opinion of the
overwhelming majority of Americans, who favoured no further aid
to the Saigon government” (Stanley Karnow, 1983)

Points to consider (you can expand on the majority of these – seen in notes
• Geneva Conference – split of Nth and Sth Vietnam (created hostilities
between the two nations). Also led to US involvement which was a
significant cause of the fall of the Sth as Sth Vietnam became entirely
dependent on US aid, bombing destabilised and radicalised population,
support for US involvement increased as atrocities of war relayed to
• Corruption and nepotism of Diem – led to many more unstable
regimes that were unable to consolidate both political power and peasant
support. This further undermined by NLF/VC
• Nationalism of VC/NVA/Vietnamese, VC - huge peasant support
• Communist morale
• Soviet Union and Chinese aid
• HCM Trail and US inability to destroy it
• Guerrilla warfare tactics – Ho’s ‘Elephant and tiger’ analogy vs. US
conventional tactics – VC could hear when the helicopters flew overhead
• Patience of Nth in achieving goals
• US bombing, defoliants
• US cultural insensitivity – Tim Bowden – cultural gap between
Westerners and Asians in Vietnam was huge
• US troops declining morale – anti-war movement
• Significance of Nixon’s ‘Peace with Honour’ & Vietnamisation

Modern History - 28 - Conflict in Indochina

• Easter Offensive – talks between USA and China sparked a North
initiated attack. 120 000 NVA & VC troops attacked Sth Vietnam over 3
fronts. Hanoi trying to bring ARVN to a point of surrender – nearly
succeeded. May – VC withdrawing – US air support saved Sth
• Determination of US Congress to limit presidential powers
• Failure of ARVN to take fighting burden after US departure
• USA’s inability to sustain a credible and viable regime in Sth. Sth remained
corrupt, nepotistic, never earned population’s loyalty – contrasted to Nth
• Tet Offensive – political and psychological defeat for USA. Boosted anti-
war movement, showed the lies of the US govt (furthered by Pentagon
Papers, Watergate scandal in later years), destroyed Johnson, changed US
war aims from victory to just getting out with minimum loss of face. +
images from My Lai massacre & Khe Sanh.
• Anti-war movement’s strength – cold war consensus that originally
backed support broke down. Movement also affected troops’ morale,
forced Nixon’s Vietnamisation
• USA unable to understand true nature of conflict. Idea that conflict was
part of cold war blinkered them from realising that it had always been
about Vietnamese nationalism and opposition to foreign rule. It had always
been like this in Vietnamese history.
• USA’s departure in Jan 1973 had a large impact on Sth’s economy even
though Nixon promised the continuation of economic and military aid. Sth
didn’t give up immediately – still had 1million men in ARVN, 4th largest air
force in world
• Factors working against South Vietnamese survival:
o US people and politicians had had enough
o 60,000 US soldiers died
o Deep divisions in American society
o Unprecedented humiliation for USA
o Paris Peace Accords  US would never re-enter the conflict
• Nixon had promised Thieu that Sth wouldn’t be overrun but soon unable to
keep promise as the War Powers Resolution was passed in US Congress –
limited Presidential power in foreign conflicts
• 15 August 1973 – laws ending all US combat operations, including
bombing. Also, aid to Indochina cut.
• South Vietnam facing collapse by 1974
o Inflation
o Industrial production dropped
o Unemployment reached 30%
o Black market
o Fatalistic attitude, morale dropped, refugees

Fall of South Vietnam

• North Vietnam moved more troops into the South during 1973 and 1974
• August 1974  ARVN fully stretched after NVA attacks on Ben Cat and Da
• January 1975  NVA troops attacked and seized Phuc Long province
• General Dung ordered general offensive
o Aim to cut South Vietnam in half
• Thieu abandoned northern South Vietnam  panic-stricken retreat in the

Modern History - 29 - Conflict in Indochina

• 25 March  Hue taken by Communists
• 31 March  Da Nang taken by Communists
• April 1975  Dung ordered capture of Saigon by 1 May
• ‘Ho Chi Minh Campaign’ – General Dung ordered troops further south and
ARVN units, without US support, broke ranks and retreated.
• 21 April  Thieu resigned, succeeded by ‘Big’ Minh
• North demanded unconditional surrender from South Vietnam, airstrips
• US tried to implement Option IV (Operation Frequent Wind?) to fly
desperate Vietnamese out of Saigon to US ships
o Photo of final helicopter leaving roof of US Embassy
• North Vietnamese flag was flown over Presidential palace 30 April 1975
• Vietnamese had a strong sense of purpose, uncompromised dedication,
cause to keep foreign interference limited – greater than reason for US to

Philip Davidson, Vietnam at War, 1991

• USA & Sth lacked united objective and implementation of long term grand
strategy –motivations and intensions sketchy, weakening them against
force of communist ideology
• Strategy not well suited to Vietnam, no room for movement or change
• Failure to adopt or allow for revolutionary style warfare, VC and North
masters in this style
• Lack of engagement with people –no total war or unity – lacked power
• Time eroded US but strengthened the North’s determination
• Massive aid from China and the USSR (US had to take the burden within
themselves )
• The use and cooperation of the Cambodian and Loation government and
• Maintenance of morale
• Underestimated them politically and nationalistically.


• Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
• Sihanouk “tolerated no rivals, recognised no equals and branded
political opponents as traitors. Democracy and pluralism had no
place in the script” (John Tully).
• “By 1967, these problems had become severe, and Sihanouk’s
reaction was still to ignore them. Increasingly, he turned over
political power to Lon Nol and Sirik Matak. He hoped that
something would turn up to save the country’s economy” (David
• 1975 KR seized power of Cambodia
• KR established in 1951 under North Vietnamese direction
• 9th Nov 1953 Cambodia gained independence
• Norodom Sihanouk chosen as King’s successor
• Party-boy lifestyle, 1955 abdicated, 1960 retook position as Prince not K
• Sihanouk’s regime – corrupt, self-indulgent, ensure Vietnam’s neutrality
• Foreign policy “wavered between seeking protection from the
United States and from China” (Wood, 1990).

Modern History - 30 - Conflict in Indochina

• Pol Pot joined party, became General Secretary in 1963 – organised revolts
against Sihanouk’s regime
• 1960 broke away from Vietnamese patrons, changed name to CPK
• Cut diplomatic relations with US
• 1965 – allowed VC to establish bases in eastern Cambodia – concerning so
he re-established diplomatic relations with US in 1969
• “Khmer Rouge” – coined by Sihanouk
• 1969 – Operation Menu (US B-52 bombing on HCM Trail) – KR able to
extend its control in countryside
• Jan 1970 Sihanouk went to Paris for medical treatment
• 18 March 1970 – deposed by Cam’s National Assembly in a coup d'état. He
had neglected land reform, was corrupt, didn’t stabilize nation, unsure
whether he was strongly anti-Vietnamese or not
• Sihanouk formed National United Front of Kampuchea with KR – oust Lon
Nol, propaganda – align with ‘father of the nation’
• Lon Nol 1970-75 CIA backed.
• Frank Snepp (CIA political analyst at time) – Lon Nol was welcoming of
the US and would accomplish all that they hoped
• Lost contact with people, corruption
• No pretence of neutrality
• Army poorly led and supplied
• KR contrasted LN – selfless personification of nation
• US involvement – destabilised nation, supported 1970 coup, largely
funded LN regime, bombing in 1973
• In six months, the USA dropped more bombs on Cambodia than on Japan
during the whole of WWII (Pilger, 1986)
• KR appealed to population – anti-Viet, selfless, nationalistic
• Terror tactics
• Large refugee influx into Phnom Penh after economic disaster
• Civil War – ended with KR gaining control of PP
• Jan 1973 – Paris Peace Accords signed – detailed exit of all foreign troops
from Cambodia i.e. LN lost his US support – impossible to survive as he
was a US puppet
• Opportune time – KR launched attacks on PP
• First in early ’74 failed but early ’75 KR began to “tighten its noose
around the city” (Webb, 2010)
• 1st April 1975 – LN flew out of country, with $1,000,000?
• KR took control on 17 April 1975
• Pol Pot instated as Prime Minister, renamed country Democratic
Kampuchea, began reign of terror

• Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot

• “Massive evil is not necessarily the work of monstrous
psychopaths, but of organised groups convinced of the
righteousness of what they do” re Pol Pot (Paul Monk, 1993)
• “His paranoia and brutality sent it into a chasm of darkness in
which as many as two million people died. Pol Pot’s enduring
legacy is the thousands of mass graves that litter Cambodia” (R,
Templer, 1998)
• Ordered mass evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities – avoid potential
urban famine? Protect people from US bombing?

Modern History - 31 - Conflict in Indochina

• Evacuation rapid and brutal - >2mill forced out of city, no food or
belongings, those who didn’t obey were shot, no exceptions, up to
500,000 died in the forced evacuations

Aims of Khmer Rouge

• First year of rule – Year Zero – brand new start for country
• Preservation of Khmer racial purity
o Fanatical hatred of Vietnamese – Vietnamese still in Cambodia
persecuted, many fled, others killed
o “New arrivals” e.g. Chinese were killed or driven out
• Preservation of Khmer cultural purity
o Eliminate modern influences such as modern transport, economic
institutions, medicine destroyed. Foreign influences were to be
rooted out – material and non-material influences e.g. foreign ideas,
foreign education, foreign languages.
• Development of communal way of life
o Traditional family decried – loyalty of children was to Angkor not
o No private life, usual activities carried on communally
• Creation of new Cambodian society
o Agricultural, harmonious, pure existence
o No room for urban communities – evacuations intended to be
• Believed to be honest, disciplined, fighting to assist the peasants  few
middle class professional Kampucheans fled
• Remould urban population through manual labour
• Kampuchea was to be entirely independent and economically self-
• Wanted to achieve independence, self-reliance and ability to defend
Cambodia against the Vietnamese.

Year Zero in Practice

Destruction of Modern & Intellectual Life
• Western medicine banned – antibiotics flushed away, hospitals left to
decay, only natural remedies allowed
• Anyone owning up to being a doctor risked death
• Sickness and pregnancy viewed as idleness
• Electricity banned – labour to be done by hand or very primitive
• No signs of economic life permitted. Many stone buildings destroyed esp
schools but this didn’t stop KR using modern weapons, still received eco
and military aid from China
• Intellectuals risked death
o Only 50 out of 725 professors/assistant professors remained alive
o 207/2300 secondary school teachers survived
o 147/195 classical ballet dancers killed
o Only 14/416 of the fine Arts Department remained
o 2793/21311 survived
o Material base of intellectual life destroyed – theatres, museums,
cinemas, sports stadiums, historical monuments
• Only Cambodian peasant worthy of place in KR world
• Soft hands – evidence of urban, intellectual lifestyle

Modern History - 32 - Conflict in Indochina

• Wearing glasses, western fashion unacceptable
• Privacy disappeared, meals eaten communally
• Work was all important, family life and affection frowned upon
• Constant surveillance, political instruction, propagandist songs
• Religion targeted
• Cambodia became known as “The Killing Fields”
• 1975 – population was approx 8 million. By end of KR rule it is unknown
how many died. The new Cambodian govt in 1982 suggested 3 million
• S-21 Tuol Sleng – originally a school, converted into a torture
• 1975 to June 1978 – approx 15,000 people arrested and sent to Tuol
Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh.
o Forced to confess to treason before being executed.
o Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records (over 4,000 have survived).
• 1977 – collectivisation of eating and property -> malnutrition, shortages of
livestock, tools, seeds, traditional medicine didn’t control diseases
• 1977 – new constitution in which the country was renamed Democratic
Kampuchea and Pol Pot declared himself the leader.
o All orders were carried out in the name of Angkar Loeu, - “Angkar
was everywhere, a pervasive presence that none could
escape” (M Stuart-Fox)
• Khmer Rouge were “devoted to achieving an objective at whatever
cost, devising drastic strategies, willing to use people as
expendable commodities…” (Becker)
• Divided the country into seven zones (mainly for administrative purposes)
- city population was equitably distributed.
• NEZs had re-education camps, to which former regime officers and
ranking soldiers of ARVN were sent after 1975.
• NEZs were established to rapidly increase the amount of land under direct
• Major crops – rubber, coffee and tea for commercial export.
• People were given tools, basic housing materials and food supply for six
o Majority were released by 1979
o “we will…make sure your thinking is correct, and…teach you
to love the Revolution” (Nguyen Ngoc Ngan)
• Living conditions varied greatly between each zone and within the regions
of each zone.
• Methods of execution:
o Clubbed on the back of the neck with rifle butt or hoe.
o Strangulation/suffocation.
• By 1978 there was a sub-standard of living, thousands of deaths and fear
of/antagonism towards Vietnam. However, Pol Pot was still satisfied with
Democratic Kampuchea’s progress.
• Systematic destruction of Cambodia’s old society through purification from
tainted nature of foreign influences and capitalist systems.
• Tyrannical internal policy – characterised by violence to establish
• Pol Pot was “entranced by the exercise of power and the praxis
[custom] of prolonged and unrelenting warfare” (Chandler)
• Retired as Prime Minister in October 1976.

Modern History - 33 - Conflict in Indochina

Conflict within Khmer Rouge
• Wasn’t common knowledge amongst people that Pol Pot was ruler
• 1976 – first major party purge because of disagreement on whether to
consider 1951 or 1969 as date of party’s founding. To Pol Pot any
disagreement equalled treason – many high ranking officials killed during
• ‘microbes within the party’ – needed to be sought out and destroyed.
• 1978 – thousands of party members ended up in Tuol Sleng accused of
• Pol Pot very paranoid

Khmer Rouge Foreign Policy

• Cambodia isolated under KR rule – foreign contact forbidden – KR purity
• Exclusion didn’t apply to China – China’s Cultural Revolution inspired Pol
Pot. Close links essential – any friend of Soviet Union was an enemy to
China. Nth Viet was SU’s friend and so they were an enemy of China.
Cambodia was Nth Viet’s enemy and so were China’s friend.
• Relations strained between KR and Vietnam – traditional hatred. Border
clashes developing – not ordered by Hanoi or Pol Pot but each clash
furthered distrust between the two sides
• Relations between Cambodia and Vietnam deteriorated throughout 1978
o Cross-border raids continued
o Vietnam signed a 25 Year Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union,
Dec 1978 - Kampuchean Front for National Salvation had been set
up to remove KR regime
o New Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, called Vietnam ‘the hooligans
of the east’

Third Indochina War

• Tensions increased between Cambodia and Vietnam for many reasons:
o Ideological differences – Khmer Rouge supported Maoist
communism, Vietnamese followed Soviet style centrally controlled
o Sino-soviet rivalry – Vietnam was backed by USSR. China did not
trust USSR. China feared encirclement by Soviets and Vietnamese.
China supported Khmer Rouge to stop further Vietnamese power
(money, advisors, military support).
o Cambodia feared Vietnam would attempt to create an Indochinese
Federation controlled by Vietnam.
o The Khmer Rouge wanted South Vietnam back as part of the Angkor
• April 1975 – Pol Pot sent soldiers to the Vietnamese border to prepare for
the invasion of Vietnam. Border raids began
• Vietnam launched counter attack Oct 1977, second attack Dec 1977 –
withdrew again
• Feb 1978 – Vietnam use diplomatic pressure to resolve dispute
• Khmer Rouge responded with continued attacks in March and April 1978.
• Vietnam’s relations with China deteriorated as China feared an Indochina
dominated by Vietnam.
o June 1978 – China cut all aid to Vietnam.

Modern History - 34 - Conflict in Indochina

o End of 1978 – polarisation of forces: China and Cambodia on one
side, Russia and Vietnam on the other.
• 25 December 1978 – 100 000 Vietnamese invaded Cambodia.
o Split the main Khmer Rouge force.
• 6 January 1979 – Pol Pot fled Phnom Penh, Sihanouk released from house
arrest and flown to Beijing.
• 7 January – Vietnamese occupied Phnom Penh.
• 10 January – declared the People’s Republic of Kampuchea with Heng
Samrin as president.
• October 1979 – Cambodia virtually in Vietnamese hands, Khmer Rouge
forced into jungle along the Thai border.
• Most welcomed Vietnamese invasion and end of Pol Pot – “for them,
what had happened in the 1970s made as little sense as an
earthquake, a prairie fire, or a typhoon” (David Chandler, 1992).

Modern History - 35 - Conflict in Indochina