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The Vietnam War was a prolonged struggle between nationalist forces attempting to unify the country of Vietnam under

a communist government and the United States attempting to prevent the spread of communism. History books tell us that the Vietnam War occurred from 1959-1975 but actually it all started in the year 1919. It started with Nguyen That Thanh who went to Paris to speak with the powerful men to negotiate terms of peace on behalf of his people living within the French Empire in Indochina. Indochina refers to the former name of a region in Southeast Asia that is between China and India, since the Vietnamese had already suffered under French colonial rule for nearly six decades. Despite Thanhs pleas in the peace talk, the British, French and US refused to enforce self-rule for their colonies, and despite Thanh's direct appeal to President Wilson, the three powers ultimately ignored the young Vietnamese nationalist. Nguyen That Thanh disillusioned with the Western democratic process, pursued new and more radical solutions to imperial rule in his country. He was impressed with the success of the 1917 Russian revolution. So while he was still in France, he decided to join the Communist Party. He adopted a new name, Ho Chi Minh meaning the enlightened one, he planned to take his teachings to Vietnam and awaken and unite his own people and lead them to their own revolution. Once Ho was back in Vietnam, he established the Viet Minh, whose goal was to rid Vietnam of the French and Japanese occupiers. Having gained support for their cause in northern Vietnam, the Viet Minh announced the establishment of an independent Vietnam with a new government called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French, however, were not willing to give up their colony so easily and fought back. For years, Ho had tried to court the US to support him against the French, including supplying them with military intelligence about the Japanese during World War II. Despite this aid, United States was fully dedicated to their Cold War foreign policy of containment, which meant preventing the spread of Communism. The fear of spread of Communism was heightened by the "domino theory," stating that if one country in Southeast Asia fell to Communism then surrounding countries would also soon fall. To help prevent Vietnam from becoming a communist country, the U.S. decided to help France defeat Ho and his revolutionaries by sending French military aid in 1950. In 1954, after suffering a decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French decided to pull out of Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference of 1954, nations met to determine how the French could peacefully withdraw. The agreement stipulated cease fire for the peaceful withdrawal of French forces and temporary division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel (which split the country into communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam). In addition, a general democratic election was to be held in 1956 that would reunite the country under one government. The United States refused to agree to the election, fearing communists might win. With help from United States, South Vietnam carried out the election only in South Vietnam rather than countrywide. Ngo Dinh Diem was elected. However, his leadership was so horrible that he was killed in 1963 during a coup supported by the US. Since Diem had alienated many South Vietnamese during his tenure, communist sympathizers in South Vietnam established the Viet Cong, in 1960 to use guerrilla warfare against the South Vietnamese. As the fighting between Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese continued, the U.S. continued to send additional advisers to South Vietnam. When the North Vietnamese fired directly upon two U.S. ships in international waters known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Congress responded with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution gave the President authority to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam. President Johnson's goal for U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not for the U.S. to win the war, but for U.S. troops to bolster South Vietnam's defenses until South Vietnam could take over. By entering the Vietnam War without a goal to win, Johnson set the stage for future public and troop disappointment when the U.S. found themselves in a stalemate with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. From 1965 to 1969, the U.S. was involved in a limited war in Vietnam. President Johnson wanted the fighting be limited to South Vietnam. By limiting the fighting parameters, the U.S. forces would not conduct a serious ground assault into the North to attack the communists directly nor there any strong effort to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. U.S. troops fought a jungle war, mostly against the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong would attack in ambushes, and escape through a complex network of underground tunnels. For U.S. forces, finding their enemy proved difficult. Since Viet Cong hid in the dense brush, U.S. forces would drop napalm bombs which cleared an area. In every village, U.S. troops had difficulty determining the enemy since even women and children could build booby traps or help house and feed the Viet Cong. U.S. soldiers commonly became frustrated with the fighting conditions in Vietnam. On January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese surprised both U.S. forces and the South Vietnamese by orchestrating a coordinated assault with the Viet Cong to attack about a hundred South Vietnamese cities and towns. Although U.S. forces and the South Vietnamese army were able to repel the assault known as the Tet Offensive, this attack proved to Americans that the enemy was stronger and better organized than they had believed. It was a turning point in the war because President Johnson, faced now with unhappy American public and bad news from his military leaders in Vietnam, decided to no longer escalate the war. In 1969, Richard Nixon became the new U.S. President and had his own plan to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He outlined Vietnamization, a process to remove U.S. troops from Vietnam while handing back the fighting to the South Vietnamese. To bring a

faster end to hostilities, President Nixon also expanded the war into other countries, such as Laos and Cambodia -- a move that created thousands of protests. To work toward peace, new peace talks began in Paris on January 25, 1969. When U.S. had withdrawn most of its troops from Vietnam, the North Vietnamese staged another massive assault, called the Easter Offensive on March 30, 1972. North Vietnamese troops crossed over the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the 17th parallel and invaded South Vietnam. On January 27, 1973, peace talks in Paris finally succeeded in producing a cease-fire agreement. The last U.S. troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, knowing they were leaving a weak South Vietnam who would not be able to withstand another major communist North Vietnam attack. Effects of the Vietnam War In eight years of warfare, an estimated 2 million Vietnamese died and 12 million were refugees. It had decimated the country's infrastructure and economy, and reconstruction proceeded slowly. In 1976, Vietnam was unified as Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In the United States, the effects of the Vietnam War linger long after the last troops returned home in 1973. US spent more than $120 billion on the conflict in Vietnam from 1965-73; this massive spending led to widespread inflation, exacerbated by worldwide oil crisis in 1973 and skyrocketing fuel prices. Also, the war had pierced the myth of American invincibility, and had bitterly divided the nation. Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war and its supporters along with physical damage including effects of exposure to the harmful chemical herbicide Agent Orange which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam.