At the heart of the conflict was the desire of North Vietnam, which had defeated the French colonial administration of Vietnam in 1954, to unify the entire country under a single communist regime modeled after those of the Soviet Union and China. The South Vietnamese government, on the other hand, fought to preserve a Vietnam more closely aligned with the West. U.S. military advisers, present in small numbers throughout the 1950s, were introduced on a large scale beginning in 1961, and active combat units were introduced in 1965. By 1969 more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam
The Vietnam War stretched from approximately 1954 to the Saigon airlift in 1975. Essentially, it was a protracted conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong, against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. Called the “American War” in Vietnam (or, in full, the “War Against the Americans to Save the Nation”), the war was also part of a larger regional conflict in Indochina and a manifestation of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies.
The history of the War stretches back to the French colonization of Southeast Asia in the 1880s. Their presence in Southeast Asia continued uninterrupted until 1945 when the Vietnamese waged an anti-colonial war against France, which received $2.6 billion in financial support from the United States. The French defeat at the Dien Bien Phu in 1954 was followed by a peace conference in Geneva. As a result of the conference, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam received their independence, and Vietnam was temporarily divided between an anti-Communist South and a Communist North. The accords established the 17th parallel (latitude 17° N) as a temporary demarcation line separating the military forces of the French and the Viet Minh. North of the line was the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. The North was under the full control of the Worker’s Party, or Vietnamese Communist Party, led by Ho Chi Minh; its capital was Hanoi. In the South the French transferred most of their authority to the State of Vietnam, which had its capital at Saigon and was nominally under the authority of the former Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai (a/k/a Diem). Nationwide elections to decide the future of Vietnam, North and South, were to be held in 1956, but with American backing, South Vietnam under Diem refused to hold unification elections. By 1958, Communist-led guerrillas, known as the Viet Cong, had begun to battle the South Vietnamese government.
To support the South’s government, the United States sent in 2,000 military advisors–a number that grew to 16,300 in 1963; and by the middle of 1960, the U.S. role in Vietnam had significantly increased. It was apparent that the South Vietnamese army and security forces could not cope with the new threat posed by the North Vietnamese, and so during the last half of 1959, Viet Cong-initiated ambushes and attacks on posts averaged well over 100 a month. In the next year 2,500 government functionaries and other real and imagined enemies of the Viet Cong were assassinated. Finally, the U.S. decided to increase aid to Diem’s government. They also began to search for ways to persuade Diem to reform and reorganize his government—a search that would prove futile.
At the end of 1960 the communists in the South announced the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), which was designed to serve as the political arm of the Viet Cong and as a broad-based organization for all those who desired an end to the Diem regime.
Under U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the number of U.S. advisers to the South Vietnamese military rose from 1,500 to 15,000. Kennedy and some of his close advisers believed that Vietnam presented an opportunity to test the United States’ ability to conduct a “counterinsurgency” against communist subversion and guerilla warfare. Kennedy accepted without serious question the so-called domino theory, which held that the fates of all Southeast Asian countries were closely linked and that a communist success in one must necessarily lead to the fatal weakening of the others. A successful effort in Vietnam—in Kennedy’s words, “the cornerstone of the free world in Southeast Asia”—would provide to both allies and adversaries evidence of U.S. determination to meet the challenge of communist expansion in the Third World.
Buoyed by its new American weapons and encouraged by its aggressive and confident American advisers, the South Vietnamese army took the offensive against the Viet Cong. At the same time, the Diem government undertook an extensive security campaign called the Strategic Hamlet Project. The object of the program was to concentrate rural populations into more defensible positions where they could be more easily protected and segregated from the Viet Cong. The hamlet project was inspired by a similar program in Malaya, where local farmers had been moved into so-called New Villages during a rebellion by Chinese Malayan communists in 1948. In the case of Vietnam, however, it proved virtually impossible to tell which Vietnamese were to be protected and which excluded. Because of popular discontent with the compulsory labor and frequent dislocations involved in establishing the villages, many strategic hamlets soon had as many VC recruits inside their walls as outside.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and China poured weapons, supplies, and advisers into the North, which in turn provided support, political direction, and regular combat troops for the campaign in the South.
Eventually, U.S. combat troops engaged at every level and the War was on. By the time Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the military condition in South Vietnam had deteriorated and they had lost the fertile Mekong Delta to the Viet Cong. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war, commencing air strikes on North Vietnam and committing ground forces–which numbered 536,000 in 1968. The 1968 Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese turned many Americans against the war.
From 1968 to 1973, efforts were made to end the conflict through diplomacy. The costs and casualties of the growing war proved too much for the United States to bear, and U.S. combat units were withdrawn by 1973. In 1975 South Vietnam fell to a full-scale invasion by the North. In January 1973, an agreement was reached; U.S. forces were withdrawn from Vietnam, and U.S. prisoners of war were released. In April 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to the North, and Vietnam was reunited.
Consequences of the War
On record, the Vietnam War was the longest war in American history (the War on Terror (WOT) could eclipse the length of the Vietnam War depending on when you consider the WOT to have officially ended) and the most unpopular American war of the 20th century. Americans still ask whether the American effort in Vietnam was a sin, a blunder, a necessary war, or whether it was a noble cause, or an idealistic, if failed, effort to protect the South Vietnamese from totalitarian government.
The human costs of the long conflict were harsh for all involved. Not until 1995 did Vietnam release its official estimate of war dead: as many as 2 million civilians on both sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war. In 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., inscribed with the names of 57,939 members of U.S. armed forces who had died or were missing because of the war. Over the following years, additions to the list have brought the total past 58,200.
As the above narrative points out, the decade of the Sixties saw some incredible events not only in Vietnam but at home. What you will do in this assignment is to research the Vietnam War during the 1960s and then write a short essay on one significant event during that decade that is directly related to the War. You can use any Internet site that you like. I have also posted several sources for information on the Vietnam War in the “Optional Resources” and “Activities for Module 5” files. Please avail yourself of these sources to help you prepare your essay for this assignment.
What you will address in your essay
You will focus your essay on one major event during the War in Vietnam in the 1960s. FOCUS EXCLUSIVELY ON THE 1960S! It can be about something in one of the 3 categories listed below:
A domestic event related to the War like a famous anti-war demonstration or a U.S. Congressional Act or action.
A key battle or a controversial war strategy/policy enacted during the 1960s by U.S. military or political leaders that was a turning point in the War (i.e., The Tet Offensive, the Hamlet Project, or some similar initiative).
An atrocity in the War like the My Lai Massacre that changed public opinion in America about supporting the War effort.
At least 2 full pages in length.
Each paragraph should include a topic sentence, 3 facts related to that paragraph’s topic, and a conclusion sentence.