The Vietnam War was one of the major military conflicts of the second half of the 20th century. It left a great imprint on the culture of Vietnam. The Vietnam War made a significant impact on the modern history of Vietnam, as well as on the history of the Soviet Union and the United States, which played an important role in it. The conflict broke out as a civil war in the South Vietnam. Sometime later, the North Vietnam has also been drawn into the war. The Soviet Union and China supported the North Vietnam. On the contrary, the Unites States of America and its allies (the military unit Cento) were on the side of the South Vietnamese regime. The war in Vietnam may be divided into three main periods that include: the guerrilla war in the South Vietnam (1957-1964); the military intervention of the United States (1965 - 1973); and the final phase of the war (1973 - 1975). According to Moore & Galloway (2009), with the development of the war in Vietnam, the civil wars unfolded in Laos and Cambodia . Respectively, all combat operations in the Southeast Asia that took place from the late 1950s to 1975 were known as the Vietnam Conflict or the Second Indochina War (Moore & Galloway, 2009 p. 57).
Since the second half of the 19th century, Vietnam was a part of the French colonial empire. After the World War 1, the Vietnam national consciousness began to grow rapidly. Various underground groups emerged that struggled for the independence of Vietnam. . Those groups organized several armed uprisings. In 1941 the League for the Independence of Vietnam was formed. It was a military-political organization that united all the enemies of the French colonial system. In the future, the main role in it was played the supporters of the communist views, led by Ho Chi Minh.
During the World War 2, the French authorities promised Japan that they would provide access to Vietnam’s strategic resources, but that was to be done under the of Japan’s help in preserving the French colonial regime. This agreement had been effective until 1944, when Japanese armed forces obtained the full control over the French colonial territories. In September 1945, Japan surrendered. As a result, Vietnam faced, a temporary anarchy. Vo Nguyen used already formed armed forces to take Hanoi and some other strategic cities. September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the establishment of the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV).
However, France refused to lose control over its colony. Thus, they redeployed in Indochina an Expeditionary Force that in autumn 1945 regained control over the Southern part of Vietnam. This was followed by talks that both parties rapidly increased their military forces. Despite the agreement that granted independence to DRV, in December 1946, France began the colonial war in Vietnam. However, the French army could not cope with the guerrilla movement.
Since 1950, the United States began to provide some military support to the French troops in Vietnam. Over the next four years (1950-1954), the United States military aid totaled three billion dollars.
As stated in the article “The Vietnam War” (1999),
July 26, 1950 - United States military involvement in Vietnam begins as President Harry Truman authorizes $15 million in military aid to the French. American military advisors will accompany the flow of U.S. tanks, planes, artillery and other supplies to Vietnam. Over the next four years, the U.S. will spend $3 Billion on the French war and by 1954 will provide 80 percent of all war supplies used by the French.
However, at the same time in 1950 Viet Minh began to receive military aid from China. By 1954, the situation of the French forces was almost hopeless; the war against Vietnam was extremely unpopular in France. By that time, the United States had already paid almost 80 per cent of aid in the war. The final attempt of the French to gain control over Vietnam vanished after the heavy defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. After that, in July 1954, Geneva Agreements were signed. It was the end of the eight-year war.
According to the Geneva Agreement, Vietnam was temporary divided into two parts. The North Vietnam was controlled by Viet Minh and became the territory of DRV. The South Vietnam was controlled by the local administration that was appointed by the French authorities. In the South Vietnam, a pro-French Emperor Bao Dai ruled. The country unification was about to begin after the general and free elections in the mid-1956.
At that time, the role of the United States role in the Vietnamese affairs started to grow. After the communist victory in China, the United States administration began to consider the events in Vietnam as the expansion of communist in this region. And thus, The USA started to provide some military assistance to France in the continuing war.
After the Geneva Agreement the USA started to act as a counterweight to the communist forces in Vietnam. United States set its hopes on the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. In July 16, 1955 Diem said that the South Vietnam would not meet Geneva Agreement anymore; and about the need to create the anti-communist government in the South Vietnam. In October of the same year, he organized a referendum. The question was, whether the South Vietnam remains a monarchy or becomes a republic. Later, he announced that Vietnam becomes the republic. Diem proclaimed himself as the first president of the newly-formed Republic of Vietnam. In May 1957, Eisenhower met Diem at the Washington airport.
Despite of the government, Diem took many political and economic decisions alone. For public offices he appointed only his relatives or only these people that were loyal to him. For example, he appointed his brother Ngo Dinh as a head of a secret police.
According to McNamara, Blight, & Brigham (1999), one of the most serious Dim’s mistake was the abolition of the village governments. It ruined centuries-old Vietnamese traditions. As a result, this decision provoked many protests in the country. The Diem’s government started to lose popularity. Another reason is that American patrons ignored the Vietnamese culture and traditions. They did know neither language nor history of Vietnam. These wrote the future U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (McNamara, Blight, & Brigham, 1999, pp. 377 -379).
At first Kennedy was against sending the American armed forces to Vietnam. He explained it that Diem had to defeat guerrilla forces on his own.
United States Department of Defense (1971) stated, “to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences” (pp. 1-2).
In December 1960, all South Vietnamese groups that fought against the Diem regime organized into the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF). Due to the support of the North Vietnamese guerrillas, these groups operated very successfully. This made the USA send to Vietnam some additional military aid in order to strengthen the government of Diem. In December 1961, the first armed regular forces arrived in Vietnam from the USA. Some U.S. advisors trained the South Vietnamese soldiers and actively participated in planning of some military operations.
During that period, the events in the South Vietnam did not draw attention of the American public. However, the administration of John F. Kennedy strongly decided to reflect the "communist aggression" in Southeast Asia. Kennedy also wanted to demonstrate to the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev the ability to support his allies in the face of the national liberation movements.
In January 1963, in the Battle of Ap Bac, partisans defeated the government army. In November 1, 1963, Ngo Diem lost his power and the following day he was killed along with his brother.
During the following year and a half the political situation in the South Vietnam was very unstable. The South Vietnamese army was involved in the political struggle. It allowed NLF guerrillas to expand the territory under their control.
According to the article “Vietnam War. Allied troop levels 1960-73” (n.d.), the number of the U.S. troops in South Vietnam before their official introduction counted:
- 1959 – 760
- 1960 – 900
- 1961 – 3205
- 1962 – 11300
- 1963 – 16300
- 1964 – 23300
(Vietnam War. Allied troop levels 1960-73, n.d.)
Number of North Vietnamese troops that were transferred to the South Vietnam in the first stage of the war counted:
- 1959 – 569
- 1960 – 876
- 1961 – 3400
- 1962 – 4601
- 1963 – 6997
- 1964 – 7970
Thus, by the end of 1964, more than 24,000 of the North Vietnamese soldiers had been redeployed to the South of Vietnam.
On August 5, 1964 the U.S. aircraft bombed military targets in the North Vietnam for the first time (Operation «Pierce Arrow»). The United States adopted the so-called “Tonkin Resolution”, which allowed the new U.S. President Johnson L., if necessary, use military force in the Southeast Asia. In the meantime, the situation in the South Vietnam continued to deteriorate.
On 24 November 1963, Johnson said, “the battle against communism... must be joined... with strength and determination” (Karnow,1983, p. 339)
On February 7, 1965, the North Vietnam guerrillas attacked some American military facilities. In March 1965, two military battalions were sent to the South Vietnam to protect the Da Nang airfield. Since then the U.S. started to take an active role in the Civil war in Vietnam.
From the mid-1965 to mid- 1969 the U.S. military forces continued large-scale offensive operations in the South Vietnam. Their aim was to detect and destroy the large parts of the North Vietnam units. The strategy to “Seek and Destroy” was developed by the commander of the U.S. armed forces, General William Westmoreland. He regarded the war in its traditional style (as fighting between the main powers).
Since the end of 1966, the U.S. military command conducted numerous operations, including: «Attleboro», «Cedar Falls», «Junction City» etc.
In 1968, The U.S. sent its best trained and most experienced soldiers to Vietnam. During the 1965 – 1967, the available manpower resources of the U.S. army have exhausted.
In 1968, began a Tet offensive. Rosenberg (n.d.) states:
In military terms, the United States was the victor of the Tet Offensive for the Communists did not succeed in maintaining control over any part of South Vietnam. The Communist forces also suffered very heavy losses (an estimated 45,000 killed). However, the Tet Offensive showed another side of the war to Americans, one which they did not like. The coordination, strength, and surprise instigated by the Communists led the U.S. to realize that their foe was much stronger than they had expected.
In January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords was signed. According to this Accords, the United States armed troops left Vietnam. In addition, all ground combat troops were withdrawn. Fewer than 100 thousand Americans remained in Vietnam.
On March 29, 1973, fulfilling the conditions of the Paris Peace Agreement, the United States of America completed the withdrawal of its troops from the South Vietnam. However, the cease-fire agreement in South Vietnam was not carried out. As the communists and the South Vietnamese government troops numerously divided the territory in battles.
The North Vietnam continued to redeploy its troops to the South. It was much easier as the U.S. did not bomb the territory any more. In the South Vietnam, a great economic crisis began. Furthermore, the fighting qualities of the country’s troops greatly worsened after the withdrawal of American armed forces.
Willbanks (2009) states,
In December 13, 1974 General Tran Van Tra and Pham Hung, Head of the Communist General Office for South Vietnam and political commissar for Communist forces in the South, order the 301st Corps, made up of the 7th Division and Newly formed 3rd Division, to attack Phuoc Long Province, north of Saigon. This is to be a test case to determine how the South Vietnamese will respond to a multi-division attack, but the more important to see how the United States will respond (p. 444).
Having made sure that the United Stated did not intend to renew its participation in the war, in March 1975, the North Vietnamese forces started a wide offensive. The South Vietnamese army was disorganized and in most areas failed to provide the adequate resistance. As a result of the two-month campaign, the North Vietnamese troops occupied much of South Vietnam and approached Saigon. At 11:30 am, April 30, 1975 the Communists raised the flag over the Independence Palace in Saigon. It was the end of the war.
Due to constant wars, millions of people had to leave their homes and migrate to other countries. Constitutional Rights Foundation (2012) states:
Over a million people have fled Southeast Asia since 1975. Many have come to the United States as refugees. Right after the fall of South Vietnam, a first wave of refugees began arriving in the United States. These people were usually well-educated and even wealthy Vietnamese. They had opposed the communists. About 125,000 of these Vietnamese resettled in this country. Starting in 1978, another wave of Vietnamese began to flee their country. These were the "boat people," who were poorer than and not as well-educated as the Vietnamese who came in the first wave.
After the end of the war, thousands of people from the South Vietnam were killed and sent to camps. Do, Phan, & Garcia (2001) state:
- An estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials.
- 165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's re-education camps,
- Thousands were abused or tortured: their hands and legs shackled in painful positions for months, their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals, their spirits broken with stories about relatives being killed.
- Prisoners were incarcerated for as long as 17 years, according to the U.S. Department of State, with most terms ranging from three to 10 years.
Thus, the Vietnam War ended. From 1961 to 1975, almost 56,555 U.S. troops were killed, 303 654 people were injured. On the Vietnamese part at least 200,000 soldiers of Saigon, about a million soldiers of the National Liberation Front of the South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army died along with half a million of civilians. Millions were injured and around ten million were left homeless.