The USA and Vietnam: Abroad and at Home (1964-1975)

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The USA and Vietnam: Failure Abroad and at Home (1964-1975)
How effective were guerrilla tactics used during the Vietnam War?
Vietnam (as part of `French Indo-China') used to be a French colony. There was a lot of
opposition to the French rule because the people of Vietnam were being oppressed. During
WWII, Japan took control of Vietnam. There was also opposition to this, as there had been
with the French.
Ho Chi Minh had been trained as a revolutionary in Russia, and founded a communist
movement, the `Vietminh', in 1941 when he returned to Vietnam. After Japan surrendered in
1945, the Vietminh entered Hanoi in the north, and Ho Chi Minh declared independence for
Vietnam. The Vietminh then took control of most countryside areas: there was little
In 1946 an incident in Haiphong sparked a conflict between the Vietminh and the
French. An 8 year war followed, and the French eventually lost at the battle of Dien Bien Phu
(1954), due to the Vietminh's tactical skill and determination. The USA supported the French
throughout this war to help fight the spread of communism. (The USA had a policy called the
`Truman Doctrine' since 1947, which said that they would help any country fight communism.)
After the French pulled out, an agreement at Geneva was made to split Vietnam into a
democratic south and a communist north along the 17th parallel. Ngo Dinh Diem was appointed
Prime Minister of South Vietnam. However, he turned out to be an oppressive dictator. Diem
was supported by the Americans due to the Domino Theory.
The Domino Theory was that if Vietnam fell to communism, so would many other
countries in the area. SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) was an attempt to stop
this happening, particularly in the case of Laos and Cambodia.
At first, under Eisenhower and JFK, troops were only sent to Vietnam as `advisers',
along with economic aid. However, the number of advisers continued to increase, especially
after LBJ came into power.
In 1964, the Gulf of Tongking incident gave Johnson the authority to `take all necessary
measures to repel any attack on the forces of the US'. America entered the war properly
with the launch of operation Rolling Thunder in 1965.
Vietminh ­ League for the Independence of Vietnam
(Anyone who wanted independence- all political groups)
NLF ­ National Liberation Front
Vietcong ­ Vietnamese Communists ­ what the Americans called the NLF
NVA ­ North Vietnamese Army
ARVN ­ Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
Guerrilla Tactics (1964-1968)
1) Vietcong forces infiltrated the countryside, merged with the people and gained their
support. Sometimes terrorism was used if kindness was ineffective.
2) Once established in the countryside the VC used tricks and traps, disguise and
camouflage. They knew they would not win in face-to-face combat, but were excellent
at merging into the landscape, so used this to their advantage.
3) Conventional warfare (large formations using tanks and heavy artillery) was only
used in suitable circumstances, more often by the NVA that the VC. However,
camouflage was also used in this to allow troops to `vanish'.

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American command of the air put the VC at constant risk of attack. To counter this they dug an
extensive system of tunnels, over 250km long. There were underground kitchens, weapons
stores, dormitories, hospitals and rest areas.
Booby Traps
The VC were especially skilled at planting booby traps. These accounted for 11% of American
deaths and 17% of wounds.
1) Bouncing Betty
A mine just under the earth's surface. It exploded when one of the three upright
prongs were trodden on.…read more

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Surgical bombing
Key military and industrial targets in North Vietnam were bombed such as
bridges, railway lines, roads, army barracks and supply depots. This was
supposed to decrease supplies from the North to the VC. However, air crews
were not allowed to bomb key cities such as Hanoi and Haiphong for fear of
jeopardising relations with the USSR (context: Cold War).
b) Saturation bombing
As the war intensified, selective targeting was replaced by saturation (or `blanket')
bombing.…read more

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On the 16th March 1968 the troops of Charlie Company, led by Lt William Calley, carried out
the massacre of more than 343 people in just 4 hours in the village of My Lai whilst on a
search and destroy mission. Many other atrocities were also carried out, including rape and
mutilation. It was believed that all in the village were VC, but it was later discovered that none
were.…read more

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The first protest against the war occurred in 1964 and was made by students. In 1965 a
student group called the Vietnam Day Committee organised a 36 hour `teach-in' at the
University of California. 30,000 students attended and dozens of leading pacifists gave talks.
In 1965 conscription (or `the draft') was introduced. Opposition to the draft grew as
increasing numbers of men were called up. Those who avoided the draft were called `draft
dodgers'.…read more

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In January 1968, the North Vietnamese chose the festival of `Tet', the Vietnamese New
Year, as their time for attack. This allowed them to catch the Americans and South Vietnamese
off guard, as it was assumed that the north would be celebrating as well. IN fact, they had
celebrated two days early in preparation. The sound of their rockets was disguised by the
sound of fireworks.…read more

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Operation Breakfast'. He sent troops to attack North Vietnamese in Cambodia.
In Laos communist forces were trying to take over the country. They were supported by the
NVA who used communist areas in Laos to store supplies.
Operation Linebacker (1972-1973)
The VC launched another big offensive at Easter 1972. There was stalemate at the
Paris Peace conference, and Nixon thought he needed to do something to force them to
negotiate. He began Operation Linebacker, which was an extremely intense bombing
campaign of the North.…read more


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