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War dominated 30 years of Vietnam's history last century. The struggle that began with
communists fighting French colonial power in the 1940s did not end until they seized
Saigon and control of the whole country in 1975.
The period that Americans refer to as the "Vietnam War"
and the Vietnamese call the "American War" was the US
military intervention from 1965 to 1973.
Communist forces based in the north and led by the
nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh defeated the French in 1954.
Accords were negotiated that split the country into communist north and pro-American
south, divided by a demilitarised zone (DMZ).
Country-wide elections to decide a permanent solution were promised but never
happened, and within five years the communists had launched a guerrilla war on the
Hundreds of thousands of US soldiers were sent to help fight the communists in a
costly and ultimately unsuccessful war which brought domestic civil unrest and
international embarrassment.
The US was driven by Cold War concerns about the spread of communism, particularly
"domino theory" the idea that if one Asian nation fell to the leftist ideology, others
would quickly follow.
The Vietnam War was protracted and bloody. The Hanoi government estimates that in
21 years of fighting, four million civilians were killed across North and South Vietnam,
and 1.1 million communist fighters died.
US figures covering the American phase record 200-250,000 South Vietnamese
soldiers killed and 58,200 US soldiers dead or missing in action.
Dates: November 1, 1955 - April 30, 1975

The Vietnam War was fought between communist North Vietnam and the
government of Southern Vietnam. The North was supported by communist countries
such as the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. The South was








The United States lost the Vietnam War. It lasted for twenty years, something the US

never expected when it joined in the fight. Not only did the US lose the war and the
country of Vietnam to the communists, the US lost prestige
he Vietnam War was a military conflict fought primarily in Southern Vietnam in the
years between 1959 and 1975. It was the source
of many conflicting political and social opinions,
especially in the years leading up to its
conclusion. Militarily speaking, the war was the
result of North Vietnam and the Vietcong
attempting to overthrow the South Vietnamese
The conflict was a continuation of the first
Indochina war, which was fought when the
Vietnamese sought independence from France
after World War II. The country was split into two
parts northern and southern in the Geneva
Accords in 1954. In the Vietnam War, The
Democratic Republic of North Vietnam and its
allies, the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, fought against South
Vietnam, whose allies would include the United States, Australia, South Korea, and
New Zealand.
The United States' involvement in Vietnam began on 1 November 1955, when
President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory Group to South
Vietnam to help train the Southern Vietnamese army. In 1956, when elections that
were to be held in Vietnam in accordance with the Geneva Conference failed to
occur, the tension mounted considerably. December 1958 marked North Vietnams
first invasion into Laos. Though there were already Americans present in the Vietnam
conflict, it was not until 1962 when President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance
Act of 1962, which granted military aid to countries that were "on the rim of the
Communist world and under direct attack."
The Vietcong had their first victory of the Vietnam War at the battle of Ap Bac in
January 1963, which was followed by the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem and an
increasingly less stable South Vietnam. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson
appointed William Westmoreland as commander of the US Army in Vietnam. Military

troops rose in strength from approximately 16,000 to over 21,000 and were
anticipated to climb to over 500,000 in number. The increased number of troops was
considered to be a direct response to a reported attack on US ships by the North
Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin.
By the end of 1965, US troops had reached 184,000 in number, and the first major
ground battle involving the US military had occurred under Operation Starlite. As
anticipated, by the end of 1966, troop numbers were approaching 0.5 million in
number, which would climb slightly higher before the wars end. The number of lives
claimed by the war exceeded 1 million and is believed to be as high as 4 million. The
conflict came to an official end after the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, when the
South Vietnam capital was captured by the Vietnam Peoples Army. Today, 30 April
is a public holiday observed in Vietnam as Reunification Day.


The causes of the Vietnam War were derived from the symptoms, components and
consequences of the Cold War. The causes of the Vietnam War revolve around the
simple belief held by America that communism was threatening to expand all over
south-east Asia.
Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could risk an all-out war against each
other, such was the nuclear military might of both. However, when it suited both, they
had client states that could carry on the fight for them. In Vietnam, the Americans
actually fought - therefore in the Cold War game, the USSR could not. However, to
support the Communist cause, the Soviet Union armed its fellow Communist state,
China, who would, in turn, arm and equip the North Vietnamese who fought the
Before World War Two, Vietnam had been part of the French Empire. During the war,
the country had been overrun by the Japanese. When the Japanese retreated, the
people of Vietnam took the opportunity to establish their own government lead by Ho
Chi Minh. However, after the end of the war, the Allies gave back South Vietnam to
the French while the north was left in the hands of the non-communist Chinese. The
Nationalist Chinese treated the North Vietnamese very badly and support for Ho Chi
Minh grew. He had been removed from power at the end of the war. The Chinese
pulled out of North Vietnam in 1946 and the party of Ho Chi Minh took over - the Viet
In October 1946, the French announced their intention of reclaiming the north which
meant that the Viet Minh would have to fight for it. The war started in November
1946, when the French bombarded the port of Haiphong and killed 6,000 people. The
French tried to win over the people of the north by offering them 'independence'.

However, the people would not be allowed to do anything without French permission!
A new leader of the country was appointed called Bao Dai. The Russians and
Eastern Europe refused to recognise his rule. They claimed that Ho Chi Minh was the
real ruler of Vietnam.
The French had got themselves into a difficult military position. Despite huge
American help, the French could not cope with the Viet Minh's guerrilla tactics.
The Viet Minh were by now receiving help from Communist China - Mao Zedong had
taken power of China in 1949. The fact that two opposing sides had developed was
classic Cold War history.
The country was meant to be ruled by Bao Dai who was supported by the west. Ho
Chi Minh was supported by the Russians, Chinese and Eastern Europe - all
In November 1953, the French sent men from their crack Parachute Regiment to
Vietnam. It was naturally assumed by the French that this unit would defeat the
untrained Viet Minh guerrillas. They were sent to Dien Bien Phu in the north. In May
1954, the regiment was attacked by the North Vietnamese and surrendered, which
came as a terrible blow to the French people. The French pulled out of Vietnam in the
same month.
In April 1954, the world's powers had met at Geneva to discuss Vietnam. In July
1954, it was decided to divide the country in two at the 17th parallel. Bao Dai was to
lead the south and Ho Chi Minh the north. The meeting also decided that in 1956,
there would be an election in both the north and south to decide who would rule the
whole country. The election would be supervised by neutral countries. This election
did not take place and the split had become permanent by 1956.
North Vietnam had a population of 16 million. It was an agricultural nation. The Viet
Minh trained guerrillas to go to the south to spread the word of communism. Their
weapons mostly came from communist China. To the surprise of the South
Vietnamese, those Viet Minh who went to the south helped them on their farms and
did not abuse them. They had become used to fearing soldiers. Instead, the Viet
Minh were courteous and helpful.
South Vietnam also had a population of 16 million. Its first proper leader was Ngo
Dinh Diem who was a fanatical catholic. As communism hated religion, Diem hated
all that communism stood for. This is why he got America's support - he had a poor
record on human rights but his rule was in the era of the "Domino Theory" and
anybody who was anti-communist in the Far East was likely to receive American
backing - regardless of their less than savoury background. Ngo ruled as a dictator
along with his brother - Nhu. Their government was corrupt and brutal but it was also
backed by America.
After the non-election of 1956, the Viet Minh became more active militarily. Their
guerrillas - now called the Viet Cong - attacked soft targets in the south. They used

the Ho Chi Minh Trail which was a 1000 mile trail along the border with Laos with
heavy jungle coverage so that detection from the air was very difficult. The Viet Cong
were trained by their commander Giap who learned from the tactics used by the
Chinese communists in their fight against the Nationalist Chinese forces. He
expected his troops to fight and to help those in the south. He introduced a "hearts
and minds" policy long before the Americans got militarily involved in Vietnam.


1 November 1955[A 1] 30 April 1975

(19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)
South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos
North Vietnamese victory


Withdrawal of American-led forces

Communist governments take power in South Vietnam, Laos and



South Vietnam is annexed by North Vietnam

Reunification of North and South Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of