AQA History GCSE Vietnam


Why did America become involved in Vietnam?

  • To support the French who were struggling to regain control
    -They first gave France $3billion of financial aid from 1949-54
    -The French had been driven out after it was one oftheir colonies by the Japanese
    -Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam an independant republic - 2nd Septemer 1945
    March, 1945 the French army was destroyed by the VietMinh at Dien Bien Phu
    -France wanted to reimpose the colonial rule from before WW2
    -They gave France economic support until '54
  • To halt the spread of communism which was their main aim, they were worried about the domino effect  where all of the Asian countries would start to change. 
  • To support Diem who is the corrupt leader of south vietnam when in the Geneva Conference in 1954 they decided that Vietnam would split into two. They supported him because he was against communism. He called the National Liberation Front to unite the south against the Vietcong in the north. Diem was catholic compared to 80% of the Vietnamese being Buddhist. He started the Agroville programme where peasants weere moved to 'safe villages' which were effectively concentration camps. He was corrupt and gave key government roles to family. America disliked him but had little choice but to work with him. Diem would not allow land reform which was what the peasants wanted. They funded the Saigon Military Mission where 1000 military advisors trained the ARVN. Diem lost support due to the Buddhist demonsatrations and was assassinated by the CIA
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Why did America become involved in Vietnam? ii

The Gulf of Tonkin incident:

2 August, 1964, in the Gulf of TOnkin, the USS Maddox fired on North Vietnamese torpedo boats that were too close
On the 3rd/4th of august the sailors panicked, fearing they were under attack
Lyndon Johnson, the President didn't believe them though still told Congress that there had been deliberate attacks against US vessels from the North Vietnamese
7th August, 1964, Congress authorised an escalation in US involvement
The event is thought to be an excuse
The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed to allow soldiers to allow soldiers to protect American Bases

Operation Rolling Thunder:

Fubruary 1965, the NLF destroyed a US helicopter, and 10 planes so the US launched a massive bombing campaign 
Originally they aimed at targets such as bridges but then went on to fly over, attacking NVietnam
Napalm, cluster bombs and Agent Orange was dropped
NLF bought anti-aircraft guns, SAM guided missiles and MiG fighter planes 

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Guerrilla Warfare

Developed in 1937 by a Chinese Communist Leader, Mao Zedong, the thory behind it was a smaller and weaker force could drive out a powerful invader

The first phase was to get support from the people

The second phase was to harass and weaken the enemy

The third and final phase was to drive them out by conventional means 

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Guerrilla tactics- winning support

Winning the support of the local people was a major tactic used by the Vietcong

Men and women were recruited from south vietnam

They lived and worked with the village communities, fully intergrating themselves

They followed a code of conduct to win support where they had to be polite, fair, return borrowed items, not damage crops or flirt with women

They targeted officials of south vietnam whom the villagers didn't like - tax collectors would be kidnapped and killed

The vietcong would work in the US camps, washing and cleaning

They wanted to give the peasants what they wanted, land reform

Due to their integration it made them difficult to locate

In return the peasants hid them and their supplies

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Guerrilla tactics- Hit and Run

The Hit and Run tactic was also very effective against the Americans:

The Vietcong stayed close to the Americans so they wouldn't be bombed

They relied on ambush using small arm fire

they struck quickly at own personal risk, targeting 'point soldiers' who watched for the enemy, command officers and radio operators

American or SVietnamese patrols were ambushed and killed or captured

If an enemy was captured they were then tortured and killed

After an attack they would disappear into the countryside or the safety of the villages

Booby traps were used so often the Vietcong's identity was hidden

58,000 troops died in Vietnam

It resulted in very low morale

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Guerrilla tactics- Remaining safe and supplies

Remaining Safe from US Attack:

They set booby traps and bombs along the patrol paths rather than fighting face to face

Networks and tunnels were builty below ground where they lived and hid- these catered for the need of the VCong where there were weapon stores, sleeping quarters, kitchens and hospitals

The tunnels were strongly protected and difficult to find with booby traps and trip wires at the entrances and throughout the tunnels

They showed organisation and determination

They wore no military uniforms and to the Americans were indistinguishable from the peasants

Ensure a constant supply of equipment and weapons:

The supplies came from Nvietnam via thousands of routes which were bombed by the USA

The Ho Chi Minh trails went through countries such as Laos and Cambodia

It was 600 miles in length

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USA tactics - Hearts and Minds


They USA invested improvement in SVietnam

Peasants were helped with farming methods such as digging drainage ditches

They tried to improve communications by building roads, canals, bridges, schools and clinics

Refugees from NVietnam were provided with homes

Local democracy was encouraged

However most money went to the towns when rural areas should have been the focus


Towns and cities of SVietnam stayed loyal to the government even during the Tet Offensive

It was much less effective in rural areas where the VCong dominated

However more resources went to fighting than winning them over and most good was undone

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USA tactics- Operation Rolling Thunder


A concentrated bombing campaign on ket strategic targets in NVietnam, such as bridges, roads and railways in order to bring them into submission

At first they attacked no major cities to avoid interference from the USSR

They hoped the VCong would back down when they saw the military power of the US

When there was no response they changed the 'surgical' strategy to 'blanket' bombing including on the cities. huge B-52 bombers each carrying 28 2-tonne bombs

It occured on the 13th February 1969 for 3 years


The NVietnamese did not back down, bombing was intensified but still did not force a surrender

It only gave the vietnamese something to fight for 

It was very expensive

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USA tactic- Search and Destroy


Helicopters from the US bases carried a small number of troops for surprise attacks on VCong controlled villages

Fast helicopters gave no time for them to escape or offer resistance

Every home in the village was searched and if there was any sign of a resistance the village was completely destroyed

VCong suspects were interrigated which was brutal and ended in death

American troops used extreme violence and would torture and murder cilvilians for revenge


A complete failure

Americans who were involved sometimes suffered from panic attacks and nightmares

VCong retaliated with 'find and kill' and American

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USA tactics- Chemical Warfare


Agent Orange - 'a rainbow herbicide' developed in the US in the 1960s used from 1966 to destroy leaves and undergrowth from the rainforest leaving bare trees, polluted air, soil and rivers in order to locate the VCong

However when the chemical polluted the water supply it caused cancer and mutations in children

Napalm - first used in 1965 against enemy positions where the chemical would burn through skin. It burnt through to the bone and continued until 1970


it made little difference to any fighting and the human cost was half a million and vietnamese children have been born with defects

Human horrors became apparent around the world and was a major reason for the anti-war movement

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Success of Guerrilla tactics

The VCong were successful because:

  • the identity of the VCong was unknown to the Americans and they could not easily go after them
  • the booby traps meant Americans could be killed wihtout having to face the enemy
  • having support from the people meant they could be hidden and could be merged with the village people making it harder for the Americans
  • the tunnels system hid the vietcong, again making it harder for them to be detected
  • the supply routes through other countries with 'dummy routes', tropical cover meant they never closed and had a constant supply

The US were unsuccessful because

  • It was unconventional war
  • The environment was used against their advantage
  • They had little dertimation and morale
  • They were inexpeienced as they only had a 1 year call of duty and then more replaced them
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The My Lai Massacre 1968 16 march

Why were the soldiers at My Lai?

  • A search and destroy mission looking for the VCong, 9 US helicopters brought 3 platoons
  • 1 platoon was led by Lt Calley who advanced into the village claiming that the village sheltered and supported the enemy and were assured that all were 'VC or VC symapthisers

What happened at My Lai? - wanted revenge

  • Eye witness accounts suggest there were no men other than the elderly and children but that did not stop them from killing 500 innocent civilians that were unarmed (officially 137)
  • Everyone seen was shot, some were first rounded up in ditches
  • Women were gang *****, houses burnt and victims mutiliated with 'C Company' in the chest
  • There was no resistance from the villagers

What happened to the US soldiers? - US heard 18 months later
3 US servicemen who tried to convince against the atrocity were criticised by Congress and recieved hate and death threats until 30 years later when they received recognition
Calley was sentenced to a life of hard labour but was released after 4 years
A soldier, Simpson, who had given a statement, commited suicide due to his guilt 

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Anti-War - TV and media

  • Vietnam was the first war that had uncensored coverage that would appear on the TV and extensively in newspapers 'living room war'
  • At first feedback was positive and in 1962 'Times' magazine praised it as a 'remarkable US military effort' and American soldiers, were singled out for praise. 'Green Berets'
  • In 1965 CBS had shown American fighters on thatched roofs with Zippo lighters and 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive so Americans had to face up
  • February, 1968, Wheeler wrote an article about the fears and bitterness of the soldiers
  • There was a growing feeling of defeatism which turned to horror when hearing about My Lai
  • Soldiers' testimony and coloured pictures turned people against the war
  • 79% of people dissapproved and they had lost the moral highground and were labelled 'baby killers'

Causing the movement:

  • 1/4 of reports showed dead bodies, 
  • Before 1968 most reports were pro-American
  • It may have been that it followed public opinion rather than causing it
  • However it was substantially formed by Americans seeing pictures
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Anti-War - protests

  • Many men didn't want to fight and there was resentment to richer middle class Americans who dodged the draft by going to college, abroad or medical disability certificates. So men tore up or burnt conscription papers in public
  • August 1968, 10,000 demonstrators in Chicago went to the Democratic Party Convention
  • November 1968, 35,000 people protested outside the white house
  • 1971, over 300,000 vietnam veterans took part in a protest march against the war
  • Further protests occured over the invasion of Cambodia and Lt Calley's trial
  • 1965, a student group called Vietnam Day Committee organised a 36 hour sit in attended by 30,000 students and dozens of leading pacifists gave talks at California Univeristy -burn
  • Norman Morrison, 31, set himself on fire under the window of the secretary of defence
  • October 1967, 100,000 marched to Lincoln Memorial (attacked by police with 647 arrests)
  • The 'Great Society' Programme was cancelled due to the huge cost of the war ($20billion)
  • The Muslim Group Nation of Islam questioned why black people should have to fight for a country where they had no equal rights

Impact on Anti-War

They attracted media attention and helped focus people's attention on that war- seeing the veterans against it made Americans realise the horrors

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Anti-War - Kent State, 1970

2 May - Over 1,000 students attended a protest, causing damage to one of the buildings

4 May - More protests occured with even more students
- The National Guard was called and Tear Gas was used on the students but retreated when the     students began to throw rocks and the tear gas began to run out
- 4 students were shot dead
- 9 students were injured 
- Later evidence was found that the dead and injured students were no a part of the protest

Imapct on Anti-War

It shocked the USA as it was against the key rights of democracy and the right to protest

It caught the media's attention which led to further demonstrations and strikes

The government began to realise they may not be able to continue with so little support 

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Anti-War - The Fulbright Hearings, 1971

William Fulbright was chair of the Senate of Foreign Affairs Committee and was a powerful body in government

In 1971 the Committee considered proposals and advice to end the war in Vietnam

There was an investigation into the atrocities of the war

This was official with no hippy feel

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Lead up to the end - Media, Cost and Draft


  • First war to appear on TV the next day without cencorship
  • Walter Cronkite, a TV presenter sad: 'We are mired in stalemate'
  • 79% dissappreoved of Calley's court martial
  • 1/4 of reports contained pictures of dead bodies


  • $20 billion each year
  • In 1964, President Johnson had to cancel his 'Great Society' programme of state welfare and good homes
  • As MLK said - 'It costs half a million to kill a Vietcong soldier; but we are only spending $53 on every poor American back at home

The Draft

  • There was lots of resentment and were forced to fight, this would not have helped morale
  • Morale was so low more soldiers were treated for drug use than actual fighting wounds
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Lead up to the end - protests, morale and defeatis


  • tactics used affected innocent civilians, search and destroy mission turned to atrocious acts
  • chemical warfare destroyed the area and wildlife and caused cancer and also mutations for generations. Napalm was even used on children
  • Operation thunder killed innocent people
  • 58,000 Americans were dead and there was no progress

Protest Movement

  • Students- sit ins and protests focused attention
  • Draft Cards were publicly burnt


  • the war was dragged out to an unexpected length
  • the death count of Americans was high
  • America had lost the moral highground
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Tet offensive, 1968

North Vietnam organised the Tet Offensive and the VCong carried it out:

  • The Americans could have argued they were winning the war in 1967 as there were only 1/2million VCong and most cities were under the control of the ARVN. 100,000 VCong had been killed and NVietnam were under the stress of blanket bombing
  • the Tet Offensive was launched for mysterious reasons, the north wanted a peasant rising and the North wanted to take over the war effort and quickly end the war
  • It was a surprise move because the conventional warfare was unexpected and it was during the Tet holiday during a truce where 1/2 of the ARVN were away on leave
  • Occured 31st January, 84,000 troops attacked a hundred towns and cities. A 15-man suicide squad held the embassy for 6 hours. The northern town of Hue was occupied and SVietnamese collaberators were executed. It took 25 days to recapture (3000 civilians died and 75% of the houses were wrecked)
  • The 'credibilty gap' opened as what the public saw on the TV from real accounts and what they were told by their government was different
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Who won the Tet Offensive?

The NVA?

  • There were three major offensives, January, May and August
  • The ARVN were taken by surprise
  • The American Embassy was captured
  • Hue was occupied and held for 25 days
  • US public lost faith
  • There was large scale destruction in SVietnam

The Americans?

  • 45,000 losses to the NVA with the most experienced fighters killed
  • The VC were destroyed in SV
  • The NVA morale fell
  • The ARVN didn't crumble
  • There was no peasant uprising

No one won as no one gained anything

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1968 - New American Government and US pressure

1969- Richard Nixon became president

  • Nixon wanted to bring the troops home without abandoning Vietnam
  • However Nixon had little intention of actually ending the war- but make their part less obvious
  • The policy was known as Vietnamesation' where the ARVN would protect the south so less troops would be needed
  • Johnson did not stand after the Tet Offensive
  • He 'brought the boys home'

Continued US pressure on North Vietnam to force a negotiation

  • Nixon continued to finance the ARVN with unlimited resources and bombed the north
  • he was not afraid to escalate the war and used the 'madman' theory to scare the vietnamese they would not be afraid to use nuclear weapons on them
  • They had been secretly bombing NVA bases in cambodia and laos in 1969 but the following year 100,000 US and ARVN forces invaded and captured huge numbers of supplies. It was all done to get the negotiations
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Vietnamisation and effects of withdrawal

  • From 1969, Nixon ordered gradual withdrawal of troops to be replaced by the ARVN
  • They would be replaced by all men between 17-43 who would be trained and equipped by the US and by 1971 400,000 troops had left, leaving a force of 150,000
  • However, commanders still believed the war could be won
  • Nixon knew it would decerase US casualties
  • it seemed to work until 1972 due to the set back of tet
  • In 1972 the South was invaded by soviet tanks but held up dui to bombing attacks in the north which were to do with US intervention
  • January 1973 a ceasefire and peace agreement was reached between the north and the USA
  • Everyone realised there would be no victor 
  • The US army had to withdraw, prisoners of war to be released, there was to be a vote of independence and the north were allowed to keep the places they already had in the south


  • April 1974, the ARVN asked for more aid as the economy collapsed but it was reduced
  • March 1975, the NVA invaded the south and the ARVN collapsed
  • Thieu resigned and the communist troops marched into Saigon
  • 1/2 million left on boats or rafts and many drowned 
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Miss E


A massive topic in itself these cards are an excellent tool to help with your revision of the Vietnam War, covering all the major issues like why the US got involved, tactics, the Tet Offensive etc.



E stands for E-Waste






Other than the odd typo, these were really helpful. Thanks. I found the bit about blending in with 'the village people' vaguely amusing- it made me imagine them singing YMCA. :)



These flash cards were really helpful, do u have any similar to these for Germany:)

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