War of Vietnam - INTHEPROF

9.27.2019

War of Vietnam



War of Vietnam

Vietnam was part of French Indochina, a French colony in Southeast Asia established in 1887 for the French to reinforce Catholic missionaries. Indochina was controlled by France up until World War 2 when France was invaded by Nazi Germany and Japan invaded Indochina. 


The Japanese ruled through the former French protectorate Emperor Bao Dai as a puppet. 
Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the Viet Minh, a communist army that rose up against the Japanese occupiers. 
After the Japanese defeat in 1945, the Viet Minh declared Vietnamese independence with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and Hanoi as its capital, and extended their war against the French, becoming the First Indochina War. 

During this time, the Cold War was setting in and the USA were backing anti-communist regimes while the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China were backing Pro communist regimes; the Korean War was a fine example of this. Thusly, China and the Soviet Union backed the Viet Minh and the USA and Britain backed the French in the south. 

The State of Vietnam was established with Emperor Bao Dai as the leader in an anti-communist regime. 
American military advisors had been helping the French, though President Eisenhower was reluctant to put US troops on the ground. The Viet Minh ultimately were victorious and it was decided in the Geneva Accords that Vietnam be divided into the State of Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. 
Cambodia and Laos were also granted independence, ending French Indochina. 
Ngo Dinh Diem became the prime minister in the south as South Vietnam prepared for a referendum on reuniting North and South. Many northern Vietnamese Catholics fled south while many Viet Minh went north to plan ahead. The North Vietnam regime sought to take power away from the landlords and distribute the wealth among the peasants. Many people were executed and wrongly imprisoned. 
The referendum was held but many were skeptical about its fairness. Diem rigged the votes, winning a ridiculously massive majority in keeping the South separate. 
Diem declared the south independent and became the Republic of Vietnam with Saigon as its capital. 
Thus Vietnam would move into the Second Indochina War, or simply known in the West as the Vietnam War. 
The U.S. looked on in fear, believing that communism would spread like dominoes and if Vietnam fell, it would threaten India, Japan and other nations in that region. 
Diem set about quelling any communist actions in the South arresting and executing many people. 
He was a Roman Catholic which was often at odds with the predominantly Buddhist population. 
In 1960, communist forces and other anti-government groups in the south were organized into the National Liberation Front or the Viet Cong, as they were branded by the South. 
North Vietnam support came via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a border-hopping trail connecting north and south via Laos and Cambodia. Support for the NLF was strongest in the countryside which was being crushed by extreme rent and landlord reforms by the South government. 
The government under US advisement and funding tried to relocate many rural peasants into strategic hamlets to keep them away from the influence of the NLF insurgents but the program was a failure and actually ended up strengthening the NLF. 
New US President John F Kennedy faced many embarrassments with the spread of communism such as the Bay of Pigs disaster, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the growth of communist power in Laos. 
He believed Vietnam was where he could make a strong stand against the spread of communism. 
Kennedy was reluctant to put US troops on the ground believing that the South Vietnam Army had to defeat the NLF on their own, but they were disorganized, crippled by political corruption, and under constant attack from guerrilla forces. 
More and more US military advisors and equipment were sent to Vietnam to help, but despite this, the South Vietnam Army continued to suffer silly defeats at the hands of the NLF. 
By 1963, religious tensions ran high as the Pro-Catholic government discriminated more and more against Buddhists, banning their flag, killing protesters and raiding pagodas. Protests intensified. 
On November 1st, officers of the South Vietnam army rose up against the government and captured the leaders in a coup d'état. Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother and advisor in Ngo Dinh Nhu were brutally assassinated the following day. 
NLF took advantage of the political chaos of the south and strengthened its position with the people. 
To add even more instability, John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas less than a month after the coup. 
Lyndon B Johnson became the new US president and things changed. 
After some more coups, General Nguyen Khanh became head of the South Vietnamese military council. 
The CIA had been training South Vietnamese forces and sending Vietnamese commandos on raids in the north. On August 2nd, 1964, u.s. navy ship the USS Maddox was monitoring signals coming from North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. 
It fired three warning shots at some North Vietnam torpedo boats who opened fire with torpedoes and machine guns. 
The skirmish resulted in four Vietnamese casualties and no US casualties. 
Two days later, a similar incident was reported from the Maddox but it would later turn out to be false, but not before these incidents were used by President Johnson to order an air strike and get Congress to push through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which allowed him to escalate the United States involvement in Vietnam without an actual declaration of war. 
Johnson ensured u.s. people that he would not be sending American boys over to Vietnam... before he was reelected. 
Conscription in the United States known as The Draft had been on the go constantly since 1940 to fill gaps in the army where volunteers weren't joining. 
As tensions in Vietnam escalated, many young men tried to avoid the draft which could be a criminal offense. 
From 1965, the NLF and North Vietnam forces continued their victories against the south. 
In February, while new Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin was on a state visit to strengthen ties with North Vietnam, the MLF attacked a US helicopter facility in Pleiku. 
In retaliation, Johnson ordered bombing campaigns over North Vietnam. 
It was also decided that the South Vietnam Army weren't enough to guard the u.s. air bases so on the 8th of March, the first u.s. ground troops were sent to South Vietnam in the form of 3,500 Marines. Neighboring Laos fell into a civil war between the us-backed government and the Communist Pathet Lao. 
US operation Barrel Roll saw the aerial bombardment of the Pathet Lao, trying to deny Viet Nam's access to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but this didn't work. 
One particular bomb which was used by the US throughout the war was napalm, a sticky, flammable chemical that was very effective at destroying the jungle and causing mass devastation and terror. By the end of 1965, US ground forces had swollen to 200,000 troops still with the view of defending South Vietnam, but troop morale was low. 
This defensive position was soon to change however as General William Westmoreland believed that US troops could end this war if they went on the offensive. 
A three-point plan was made with a view to winning the war. Johnson approved and the war escalated. 
South Vietnamese Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky became prime minister in mid-1965, bringing a little political stability to the south. U .s. called its SETO allies to contribute troops to the conflict, which they did, as did South Korea. 
Despite the change of focus to go on the offensive, the harsh conditions, and lack of progress, President Johnson and the US government reassured the public that everything was going as planned. 
Amidst the war, the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races rose up to oppose both North and South and defend minorities in the central highlands of Vietnam. 
In December 1966, Ho Chi Minh said of the Americans
 "if they want to make war for 20 years, then we shall make war for 20 years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards." 
It was a hard and grueling war of attrition in which the US had the technological advantage, but the NLF and North Vietnam had the knowledge of the land and the support of many of the people. Underground tunnel networks were used by the NLF to secretly move around the countryside near Saigon, surprising US troops seemingly out of nowhere. 
Nguyen Van Thieu became president of south vietnam in 1967 and would remain until 1975. 
On January 30th 1968, the Vietnamese new year known as Te't, the NLF and the North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive across the south, taking everyone by surprise. 
The Te't Offensive saw 85,000 troops attacking over 100 cities including the US Embassy in Saigon. Despite being caught unawares, the u.s. and South Vietnamese counter-attack was powerful and effective. 
The city of Hue, the former capital which lay near the border of north and south, was fiercely fought over. 
While occupying the city, NLF and North Vietnam forces brutally executed over 3,000 people after a month of fighting. 
The city was retaken by the US and the south, but there was little after the city standing. 
It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Media coverage of journalists on the ground in Vietnam differed from the official line coming from President Johnson, which damaged his credibility. The u.s. people's approval of Johnson and the war plummeted. The conduct of some US forces was also very controversial. 
The My Lai massacre in March 1968 saw between 347 and 504 unarmed men women and children massacred by US troops in Son My. 
The story didn't emerge to the public until November 1969. Peace talks between US and North Vietnam began in Paris in May 1968 which resulted in the stopping of bombing on North Vietnam. After a presidential campaign with many twists and turns, Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. 
When Nixon came into office, the war was very unpopular and looking more and more unwinnable. 
Nixon began to withdraw troops from Vietnam in 1969 with a view of replacing them with South Vietnam forces. Ho Chi Minh died at the age of 79 in September 1969. 
Some ministers and military leaders formed a Politburo for collective leadership to see an end of the war. 
Unbeknownst to the public until the 2000s, Nixon actually sent a squadron of nuclear-armed B-52 bombers to the Soviet border in October in the hope that they'd believe he was mad enough to win the war in Vietnam at any cost. 
The u.s. bombed NLF and North Vietnamese camps in neighboring Cambodia. North Vietnam invaded Cambodia in support of the Cambodian communist movement Khmer Rouge, so US and South Vietnam in turn invaded Cambodia. 
This escalation angered many. Nationwide protests in America sprang up and four students were killed by national guardsmen in Ohio. 
The south vietnam army invaded Laos looking to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail but it was a complete disaster. 
More controversies about the war became publicly known, including the Pentagon Papers, revealing top-secret documents which were leaked to the New York Times. 
Nixon tried to block their publishing but the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the papers. 
Nixon did begin to open talks with the Soviet Union and China possibly to isolate North Vietnam from its communist allies. 
The Easter offensive saw a new invasion from the NLF of North Vietnam in 1972. This resulted in the u.s. recommencing the bombing of North Vietnam which stopped the North's offensive. Eventually after Hanoi and Haiphong were heavily bombed at the end of 1972, North and South came to the negotiating table with the u.s. Around this time, Lyndon Johnson died of heart disease in Texas. 
In January 1973, Nixon suspended any attacks on North Vietnam, ended the draft, and the Paris Accords were signed, ending the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. 
All US ground troops were withdrawn by March. 
US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam foreign minister Le Duc Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but Tho refused, as true peace didn't exist yet in Vietnam, and right he was. 
The South's economy felt the vacuum left by the US Army and spiking oil prices due to the trouble in the Middle East hit the South hard. 
In January 1974, the North used the dry season to retake much lost land from the south while the United States was embroiled in the Watergate scandal and Nixon's ultimate resignation. 
Seeing the limited response from the south, the north pressed their advantage in 1975. 
Poor and Confused leadership from the southern president led to massive gains by the north, capturing Da Nang and many other cities. 
A stream of retreating southern forces and refugees headed for the coast. With the momentum built, the North moved to capture Saigon before the monsoon season. 
A desperate evacuation began of many US Marines and foreign diplomats by helicopter as Vietnam civilians, trying desperately to escape, were abandoned. 

On the 30th of April 1975, North Vietnam forces entered Saigon, raising the NLF flag and the Vietnam War came to an end. 
In 1976 North and South would be unified into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. EDIT: Hanoi* became capitol of the whole country. 
All of former Indochina was now communist. 
The massive upheaval in Cambodia led to the terrible reign of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot who would commit genocide of millions of Cambodians. 
Vietnam would go to war with Khmer Rouge leading to more war with China and Thailand. 
Vietnam's economy struggled throughout the 70s and 80s with many southern rice farmers refusing to cooperate with the state-run system, leading to aspects of capitalism creeping in. 
The wars and poor living led to many refugees. 
The US had dropped 7 million tons of bombs across Indochina throughout the war. 
Much of the unexploded bombs render much of the potential farmland in the region unusable to this day. 
This war deeply scarred the region. It also deeply scarred the psyche of the United States, the great world superpower which couldn't win a war against a small nation of Communists. 
It led to a weariness towards u.s. foreign intervention in the future and whether it was worth the american lives or the lives of those in whichever country for that matter. 58,220 American soldiers were killed during the war. Between 1 and 3 million Vietnamese were killed. 
The Cold War would chill on for another decade and communism did not spread to India or Japan. 
The government of Vietnam today still claims to be socialist but contains much of the capitalist corruption of neoliberalism. 
It has solid relations with the rest of the world yet remains scarred by what they refer to as the American War. 


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