Vietnam 1954 - 1975

Why did America become involved in Vietnam?

  • To support the French - they were struggling to regain control
    -They first gave France $3billion of financial aid from 1949-54
    -The French had been driven out by the Japanese.
    -Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam an independant republic - 2nd September 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 1954.
  • 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 SVietnam. In the Geneva Conference in 1954 they decided that Vietnam would split into two. They supported him because he was against communism. He created the National Liberation Front to unite the south against the VCong in the north. Diem was catholic compared to 80% of the Vietnamese being Buddhist. He started the Agroville programme where peasants were 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:

2nd 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:

February 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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What is Guerrilla Warfare?

Developed in 1937 by a Chinese Communist Leader, Mao Zedong, the theory 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 SVietnam.

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 SVietnam whom the villagers did not 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 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 Supplied

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.

Ensured 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 Tactic - Hearts and Mind


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 Tactic - Operation Rolling Thunder


concentrated bombing campaign on key strategic targets in NVietnam, such as bridges, roads and railways in order to beat 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 carried 28 2-tonne bombs.

It began on the 13th February 1969 and lasted 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 interrogated 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'.

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USA Tactic - 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 use 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 as a result. 

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

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Success of Guerrilla Warfare

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 VCong, 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 determination and morale.
  • They were inexperienced as they only had a one year length of service and then more, inexperienced men replaced them.
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The My Lai Massacre 16th March 1968

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? - soldiers 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 stop 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 to the reality of the war.
  • In 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 - The US 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 getting 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.
  • 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

The protests 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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Lead up to the end - Media, Cost and Draft


  • First war to appear on TV the next day without censorship.
  • Walter Cronkite, a TV presenter said: 'We are mired in stalemate'.
  • 79% dissapproved 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 VCong soldier; but we are only spending $53 on every poor American back at home."

The Draft

  • There was lots of resentment and men were often 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 by US 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 to come. Napalm was even used on children.
  • Operation Rolling Thunder killed innocent people.
  • 58,000 Americans were dead and there was little 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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The 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 uprising and 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 on the 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 collaborators 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, in 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 SVietnam.
  • The NVA morale fell.
  • The ARVN didn't crumble.
  • There was no peasant uprising.


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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 for election 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 going in their favour. 
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Vietnamisation and the 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 decrease 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 due 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 US
  • Everyone realised there would be no victor.
  • The US army had to withdraw, prisoners of war were to be released, there was to be a vote of independence and the North were allowed to keep the places they already had.


  • 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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