In the past few months, I have been very interested in historical wars. By not taking history for GCSE, and taking geography instead, I feel like my knowledge of history is limited to year 9- which consisted of brief lessons in the two World Wars. However, as I study politics at university, and have been studying it since taking my International Baccalaureate, I have realised that my knowledge of 20th century history is quite limited. So, since we are in lockdown and I have all the time in the world, I have decided to start researching major parts of history, as well as previous political leaders, in order to strengthen my knowledge further. So, this blog is dedicated to the Vietnam War, from start to finish (obviously briefly). I hope you enjoy it and learn something from it.
Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia and had been under French colonial rule since the late 19th century. Whilst the Vietnamese wanted independence, the French continued to boast about bringing civilisation to Vietnam. In 1919, US President, Woodrow Wilson advocated for countries to become independent from colonial rule. In doing this, he communicated with France in order to ask them to leave Vietnam. Whilst he was given their word, they continued to occupy Vietnam.
At the same time, a man named Ho Chi Minh was advocating in Vietnam against the emperor. When he was marked for arrest, he left Vietnam for 30 years. During that period, he read into the works of Lenin and became a communist, wanting a free and independent Vietnam.
When World War 2 happened, and the Japanese invaded Vietnam, with little resistance from the French, Minh and his communist colleagues established the League for the Independence of Vietnam. Known as the Viet Minh, the movement aimed to resist French and Japanese occupation. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s defeat, France began to reassert its authority over Vietnam. Minh saw the opportunity for an uprising and declared an independent North Vietnam.
After the death of Roosevelt, and the inauguration of Harry Truman, a new world started to emerge. With the threat of the Soviet Union increasing, the Truman Doctrine was created. This foreign policy assured assistance to any country whose stability was threatened by communism.
With economic and military aid from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, the communist resistance fighters in Vietnam began to strengthen. This led to the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu.
However, President Dwight Eisenhower said that this defeat could create a domino effect in Southeast Asia. This theory suggests that without aid, vulnerable countries will fall, one by one under communist influence. This led to the Geneva Accords in 1954, in which Vietnam was split along the 17th parallel with Minh leading the North, and Ngo Dinh Diem leading the South.
This agreement was not good enough for North Vietnam, who still wanted a united Vietnam. They built a route through the country, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in which they used to support guerrilla attacks against Diem’s government.
In response to US soldiers being killed in South Vietnam, and the formation of the communist National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet Cong), John F. Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets to South Vietnam in order to help train their military. With no improvement, one year later, the US sent aircrafts to spray Agent Orange over rural areas of South Vietnam, in order to kill vegetation that would offer cover and food to guerrilla forces.
With Diem favouring Catholicism, and oppressing other religions, a protest among Buddhists began, with many setting themselves on fire. This led to a military coup, backed by the US, which led to the death of Diem and his brother. 12 different governments form after this, each leading to a military coup in order to replace one government after another.
After the USS Maddox is attacked in the Gulf, then President, Lyndon B Johnson, responds by sending pilots to drop bombs on North Vietnamese patrol boat bases. 2 of these aircrafts are shot down which led Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution allowed the president to take any necessary measures against any aggressor in the conflict.
With the strength of North Vietnam increasing, from support from the Soviet Union and China, and US soldiers coming under attack again, Johnson calls for an all out attack and sends group troops to Vietnam. In addition to this, Johnson launches a campaign to bomb targets in North Vietnam and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
As of 1966, 20,000 US soldiers were stationed in Vietnam, with more on the way. At the same time, back in the US, protests against the war began. Although the government said they were killing 10 for every 1 US soldier, the people continued to protest.
By 1968, half a million US troops were in Vietnam. An attack on the 31st of January, carried out by the Viet Cong, led to the fall of 36 provincial capitals in South Vietnam- many of which had US soldiers stationed. With many more months of fighting, and more ground troops, the US and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) began to push the Viet Cong back.
In the lead up to Richard Nixon taking office, peace talks were in place. However, President Chu of South Vietnam withdrew from these talks when he was told by Nixon’s campaign that he would drive a harder bargain. By the time Nixon took office, 37,000 US troops had died. When US soldiers continued to die in Vietnam, protests strengthened. US citizens had lost trust in their government after not being told the facts of the war in Vietnam. Nixon had to change his policy. Instead of sending more troops, he sent rifles, vehicles and grenade launchers in order to arm the ARVN. At the same time, he began bringing troops home.
By 1973, all US troops were home. 200 marines remained in Vietnam to guard the American embassy and other buildings in the Saigon. Nixon assured South Vietnam that the US air force would respond if they needed assistance. However, after the Watergate Scandal, Nixon resigned.
The Congress were in no mood to continue aid to South Vietnam. They cut their funds in half which led South Vietnam to defeat as they no longer had the resources to protect themselves. President Chu resigned and civilians started fleeing. The North pushed in on the South, which led the South to surrender. The North went on to padlock and bulldoze ARVN graveyards. In addition to this, they sent people to re-education camps, destroyed villages and united Vietnam under one communist nation. Although they had help from the Soviets, this led to catastrophe, People starved, the standard of living fell and 1.5 million people fled, in search for a better life.
In total, 58,000 US servicemen were killed and as many as 2 million civilians, from both the South and the North, were killed. Although 58,000 Americans died, their lives went to nothing, as South Vietnam and their ally, the US, continued to lose their battle. Instead of winning anything, the US lost their troops and trust from the American people.