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Vietnam 1954 - 1975
Why did the US get involved?
China had fallen to communism in 1949, and America had fought in Korea in 1950-53 to
contain the spread of communism.
The US president, Lyndon B. Johnson, said: "I am not going to be the president who saw
South-East Asia go the way China went."
2. Domino theory
Americans believed that, if South Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand - and then
Burma and India - would follow.
President Johnson said: "If you let a bully come into your garden, the next day he'll be in
your porch, and the day after that he'll rape your wife."
3. ARVN's weakness
It was obvious the South Vietnamese could not resist communist infiltration by the
Vietcong without help.
In 1963, the American commander reported that the ARVN - the South Vietnamese army -
were "ill-equipped local militia who more often than not were killed asleep in their
US advisers believed that good government and an efficient, large-scale war would defeat
4. The US was attacked
The North Vietnamese had attacked the USS Maddox in August 1964, and then killed US
soldiers in February 1965.
Johnson became convinced that action in South Vietnam alone would never win the war:
"We are swatting flies when we should be going after the manure pile."
Vietcong and American tactics
The Vietcong's tactics
They fought a guerrilla war, ambushing US patrols, setting booby traps and landmines,
and planting bombs in towns. They mingled in with the peasants, wearing ordinary
clothes. The Americans couldn't identify who the enemy was.
They were supplied with rockets and weapons by China and Russia. They used the Ho Chi
Minh Trail - a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia - to supply their armies. The
Americans couldn't attack their supply routes without escalating the war.
Their tactic was "hanging onto the belts" of the Americans - staying so close to the
Americans so they could not use air or artillery backup without killing their own men.
The Americans' tactics
They fought a hi-tech war, using B52 bombers, artillery, helicopters, napalm and
defoliants (Agent Orange). This killed many innocent civilians, and failed to stop the
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They forced the peasants to leave Vietcong-controlled areas and made them live in
defended strategic hamlets in loyal areas. This created immense opposition, and allowed
Vietcong infiltrators into loyal areas.
American troops were sent on patrols, then supported by air and artillery when attacked.
This demoralised the soldiers, who realised they were being used just as bait.
Search and destroy patrols went out looking for "Charlie", as they called the Vietcong.
But the patrols were very visible, and easy to ambush.…read more