Before WWII Vietnam was a french colony but then Japan invaded. When the french were in power, an elite catholic class was created, one of these being nationalist Ho Chi Minh. He created the Viet Minh to overthrow Japanese rule using guerrilla warfare, who were funded by the Soviets & Americans (after pearl harbour).
After WWII, the french tried to regain control and were given $500 million per year by President Truman then President Eisenhower.The conflict dragged from 1946 to 1954 with 90 000 french casualties, but the french lost at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
So there was a ceasefire and a peace conference in Geneva. It was decided that Vietnam would be split in two & elections would be held in two years to help reunite the country, although no-one wanted them
How & Why America got involved
Why they got involved: Domino theory- if vietnam fell to communism other countries would too; to stop south vietnam becoming communist; south vietnamese army weaknesses; & the tonkin incident 1964- when a torpedo attacked american destroyer, Johnson had an excuse to send in the troops.
What happened: In 1955 the US helped Ngo Dinh Diem set up Republic of Soth Vietnam- he was strongly anti-communist but a brutal & corrupt. The country was mostly Buddhist but they were oppressed Catholics. The USA poured money into Diem's rule, but the peasants hated the government & joined communist rebels, the Vietcong, backed by north vietnam.
In 1963, Kennedy was assasinated & Johnson became President. After the gulf of tonkin incident he could send troops into Vietnam, rather than 'military advisors'. On the 8th March 1965, 3500 Marines entered Vietnam.
- The Vietcong were supplied by neighbouring communist nations- China & the USSR, who gave the $2 billion of weapons & combat materials
- Their tactics had been passed down for generations from the Viet Minh
- They used Guerrilla warfare- seeking & destroying vunerable enemy targets & small significant bases. They didn't play by the rules: they attacked at night, laid booby traps & weren't in uniform
- They had large networks of underground tunnels to hide from frontal assaults & would use mines & booby traps to demoralise a fatigued enemy
- They were ruthless & killed peasants who didn't support them
- They had to Ho Chi Minh trail to get supplies
- They refused to give in always carried on
- The USA had big & bold tactics, like expensive equipment & weapons
- They used chemical defoliants like naplam & angent orange to reveal Vietcong positions
- The Americans set up strategic villages behind barbed wire where villagers were moved to stop the Vietcong passing through
- On the 7th of Febuary 1965 the USA launched Operation Rolling Thunder. This involved massive bombing on military & industrial targets in mostly north Vietnam to distrupt the war effort
- They used the search & destroy tactic: raids were launched from helicopters & soldiers triend to fing Vietcong in villages, but often killed civillians. Soldiers also walked into traps at raids
- The American soldiers were dying due to lack of understanding of the area. They were fighting an enemy they couldn't see so were making slow progress & they hadn't won the hearts & minds of the people
The Tet Offensive
- In 1968, during the Tet new year holiday, the Vietcong launched a major offensive
- They attacked 100 major cities & military targets
- One unit tries to capture the US embassy in saigon & US forces had to regain control room by room
- In many ways this was a disaster for the Vietcong. They had hoped people would rise up & join them, but they didn't. Furthermore, they lost around 10 000 fighters which badly weakened them
- It was the turning point in the war, It made the US question how this could have happened if $20 billion was being spent yearly.
- They managed to quickly retake towns & cities but with huge civillian casualties
- The media had been pro-war, but was it worth it now?
The My Lai Massacre
- In March 1968 a unit of US soldiers started a search-and-destroy mission in village My Lai as they had been told Vietcong gurrillas were there
- They had been ordered to destroy everything as the villagers were supposed to be at market as it was a Saturday
- On the morning of 16th March, Charlie company entered the village & killed 400 civillions. No Vietcong were found
- At first, the operation was treated as a success, the murder a natural part of war
- But when soldier Ronald Ridenhour wrote a letter to government officials saying what had truly happened, the officer in charge, Lt Calley was put on trial for murder
- He was sentenced to 20 years hard labour in 1971 but was released in 1974
- This whole event shocked the public & turned them against the war
- The Vietnam war was the first media war. Many television, radio & newspaper reporters & photographers sent reports & pictures of fighting
- During the early stages of the war the media coverage portrayed the war in a positive light, supporting the government
- The army created the MACV to liase with reporters who were keen not to report bad news as it would put off commercial advertisers
- In later stages (1967), TV was more impactful it was edited but still raw.
- There were more graphic scenes, as audiences saw a policeman casually shooting a Vietcong suspect in 1968
- The impact of the media coverage was arguably negative, as it broughtB 'the horror of war' to people night after night & the american soldier was forgotten. It made people lose support.
- But it can also be said that the media just supported what was felt and said elsewhere so didn't cause loss of support
The Peace Movement
For a war on such a huge scale the government needed public support, but it was increasingly difficult to keep. Public opinion was turning before & after the Tet offensive and this was exacerbated & supported by media coverage.
Americans saw horrific picture after picture. One enduring image is of Kim Phuc, 10, tearing her clothes off after being burnt by naplam. Is this why 900000 young Americans had been drafted? There were anti-war protests everywhere, and students chanted 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?' Thousands began to 'draft dodge'. There were hundreds of demonstrations across the country & at the most infamous at Kent State University, 4 students were killed, horrifing the public.
The My Lai Massacre turned Americans firmly against the war. In Novermber 1969, 700 000 protestors demostrated at the largest protest ever.
Ending the war
- After the Tet offensive President Johnson said the war couldn't be won & instructed officials to begin negotiations. He also siad he wouldn't seek reelection as he had failed
- In January 1969 Nixon became president. He wanted to pull out of Vietnam without looking like he'd failed.
- So, he sent his security advisor Kissingerto negotiate a peace deal
- He followed a policy of Vietnamisation so south vietnamese forces were built up as Us troops left
- He increased bombing & invaded Vietcong bases in Cambodia
- In 1972 the north launched a major offensive but didn't win
- In January 1973 a peace treaty was signed & Nixon was jubliant as he saw this as 'peace with honour'
- American forces left Vietnam & the promised financial aid wasn't given
- In 1974 the north attacked & by 1976 the south was communist
Why America lost the war
- American weaknesses:
- Troops were poorly trained & forced to conscript
- Bombing was ineffective & costly
- 'Search & Destroy' was a disaster
- They were disliked by locals & endorsed the hated government
- They had no public support & people wanted the war to end
- Vietcong Strengths:
- Effective guerrilla tactics
- They were resourceful & determined not to give in
- Ho Chi Minh trail provided supplies
- They helped the peasants & won their support
- They were ruthless & carried on no matter the casualties
Effects of the Vietnam War
- Containment had failed: vast military strength couldn't stop communism. American policies had sped up the domino effect. The morale campaign against communism was defeated by the atrocities.
- The failure made American more friendly towards communist sates & they became unwilling to enter conflict they couldn't easily win
- The Chemical warfare damages crops & forests, & poisened rivers
- The Vietnamese had high levels of dioxin, unexploded mines casued injury for years & civillians had been killed & mutilated by fighting
- The US troops had increased drug addiction, stress, cancer & were confused & bitter as they weren't welcomed home
- Peasants had to go to shanty towns, a huge black market was created due to the presence of the troops & buddhist priests complained
- 5 million were displaced from their homes & villages destroyed. Vietnam took 20 years to recover & lives weren't the same