Vietnam before the War
In the 1950's the USA had a policy called CONTAINMENT. This meant the USA wanted to contain the spread of communism. Containment was also linked with another policy - the Domino Theory. This theory was that the countries of South-East Asia were like dominoes, so if Vietnam fell to comunism then so would Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and maybe India too.
Vietnam was orignally a colony of France, but in the 1950's communist rebels tried to drive the French out. After the humiliating defeat of the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, it was agreed at a peace confereance that Vietnam would be temporarily divided into North(communist) and South(non-communist), and election would be held in 1956 to decide its future.
2 years later the South Vietnam government refused to hold a general election, fearing that the communists would win. Communist guerrillas(viet cong) began a fight to unify Vietnam into one communist state, they had the support of the North Vietnam and ordianary Vietnamese people.
The USA Involvement
The USA had supported the French in Vietnam as a way of contianing the spread of communism. After the French defeat the USA sent money and arms to South Vietnam, to help in the fight against the communists. In 1961 assistance was stepped up:
- President Kenedy sent military advisors to South Vietnam
- After Kennedy's death, Johnson continued to send more resources and troops(23,000)
- In August 1964, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked a US warship in the Gulf of Tonkin
- Johnson gave the order to send combat troops into action in March 1965
- US involvement rose dramatically from that point onwards
By 1969 there were 500, 000 US troops fighting in South Vietnam. From 1965-1970's hte US air force bombed North Vietnamese cities and Viet Cong guerrillas relentlessly. Dispite this force the USA and their allies were unable to defeat the Viet Cong.
Why the USA coudn't defeat the Viet Cong
7 reasons why the Viet Cong weren't defeated by the USA
- The Viet Cong were well trained and experienced, they fought on their own soil, they used very sucessful hit and run guerrilla tactics. They hid underground in tunnel complexes
- The Viet Cong were supplied with weapons, food and medicines by the North Vietnamese and communist China. Supplies travelled down the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos which was kept open dispite being bombed.
- The Viet Cong had the support of the Vietnamese peasents, as they shared the same aims. The Viet Cong treated any peasents harshly if they didn't support the Viet Cong.
- US troops were drafted in (conscription) to serve. They were usually young and inexperienced and when they were experienced they were sent home.
- US tactics became harsh and desparate, they used chemical weapons like Agent Orange to destroy the trees the Viet Cong were hidding in. Napalm bombs were used in search and destroy missions but these killed many civilians.
- In 1968 during the Tet New Year holiday, Viet Cong fighters attacked over 100 cities and military targets, this was called the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offennsive was destroyed but the high number of US casualties shocked the US public who had been told the Viet Cong were almost beaten
- In March 1968 a US search and destroy mission massacered 300-400 civilians at My Lai, this also shocked the US public who had seen this due to media
Opposition and the end of the War
The Vietnam war was the first ever televised war, the reports of the action along with the huge losses of US troops meant this war became serverly unpopular. In the USA there were:
- Anit-war demonstrations
- Crowds chanted "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?!"
- At Kent State University 4 student protestors were shot dead by a National Guard
The end of the War
- In 1968 President Johnson chose not to stand for re-election
- In November 1968 Richard Nixon was elected President, and as soon as he took office he started negotiations with the Viet Cong and their supporters (China and the USSR)
- In 1973 a peace agreement was signed in Paris and US troops began to pull out of Vietnam - The USA had lost the War -
- Within two years South Vietnam became communist. The US policy had failed and had cost the lives of 58, 000 US troops
- The defeat was a major blow to US prestige and represented failure of the policy of containment of the spread of communism