Vietnam War

After the Second World War, why did the French str


  • faced a guerilla force (viet minh).
  • france had been devastated by WW2 could not afford to sustain a conflict.
  • successive French governments changed their policy regarding the region - inconsistent.
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French and Britain's Involvement

French Indochina -- french territories in South East Asia -- included Laos and Cambodia (bordering countries of Vietnam)

  • British used to control Burma, Singapore and Malaysia
  • South East Asia economically important to France and Britain -- resources, raw materials and trade

1. During WW1, France and Britain unable to hold onto Vietnam -- Japanese take control

2. 1941     Viet Minh established (nationalist group) by Ho Chi Minh to resist Japanese rule

3. Ho Chi Minh a communist and nationalist -- wanted independence for Vietnam

4. Ironically the US supplied the Viet Minh with weapons to fight the Japanese

5. 1945    Ho declares independence, establishes Democratic Republic of Vietnam - hopes                  US will support him

6. French want their land back -- allies with the US who turn against Ho

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Significance of the Geneva Accords

May 1954 - US and South Vietnam do not sign the Accords

  • France, Viet Minh, Cambodia, Laos, the US, the USSR, China, Britain and Bao Dai's south Vietnam government met in Geneva
  • Viet Minh to control the north
  • Bao Dai to control the south, supported by the French
  • Elections to be held in 1956 -- lead to unification of the country
  • Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) created -- like the 38th parallel in Korea -- spliting Vietnam in two
  • -- gives them a 'free hand'

What happened??

1.1955  Ngo Dinh Diem rigged election -- becomes Prime Minister

2. Diem and US aware of Ho's popularity -- knew he would win election -- refuse to hold             elections

3. Diem and US happy to have the country split than have it as another communist country

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Significance of SEATO

1954     Eisenhower creates SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation)

  • Allianced aimed to contain communism
  • US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippines sign Manila Pact
  • SEATO = a military alliance
  • South Vietnam not a member of SEATO -- US promised military protection under Manila Pact
  • Used this as an 'excuse' to authorise military action in South Vietnam
  • 1964      Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
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Truman's Escalation in Vietnam

  • Paid for 80% of the French's war costs (£2 billion a year).

Reasons for intervention:

  • Truman Doctrine - wanted to prove it was more than words.
  • Domestic Pressures - Republican pressure - blamed for China.
  • Fear of communism - 1949 China - Ho a puppet of Stalin.
  • Atomic bomb - USSR.
  • McCarthy witch hunts.
  • Build up relationships with Britain and France to stop Communism in Europe.
  • Deteriorating Situation in Vietnam - guerilla fighters - Ho and Giap inspirational leaders.
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Eisenhower - cause for involvement

Due to Eisenhower’s allegiance to the Domino Theory, Dominos of China & North Korea fallen, Vietnam threatened to fall.

Eisenhower keen not to seem “soft of communism” like Truman. As a Republican took military approach by supporting the French.

French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

Geneva Agreements declaring North Vietnam Communist, South needed to be saved hence SEATO alliance.

Eisenhower acting early to stem communism election win.

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Eisenhower and Diem

Diem's regime repressive, corrupt and unpopular with South Vietnamese people

  • US couldn't find suitable alternative
  • Eisenhower provides Diem with $7 billion of aid between 1955-1961 to prepare for invasion of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
  • Diem regime involved executing thousands of South Vietnamese communists to prove he was anti-communist
  • 1959      Agroville programme -- pack peasants into concentrated settlements away from              communists, reveal Viet Cong hiding places -- unpopular because people had to              leave their homes, land and graves of their family members -- religion
  • Diem was a Catholic, most Vietnamese people Buddhists -- resent Catholic elite
  • 1960      National Liberation Front formed in South Vietnam -- united communists,                        nationalists and Buddhists who hated Diem
  • NLF also consisted of the People's Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong)
  • Ho Chi Minh strengthens his political and military power in North Vietnam -- preparing to attack the south
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Eisenhowers Involvement

  • Refused to sign Geneva Accords - did not want 1956 elections.
  • Did not follow the terms - signed SEATO
  • Eisenhower decides to send in 1500 US advisers and personnel into South Vietnam -- help train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
  • Rigged elections and Diem became president in 1955 - more votes than pop in Seol.
  • Domestic pressure - as a republican he had to prove he was tough on communism.
  • Deteriorating situation in Vietnam - french had been defeated - Diem not popular.
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Kennedy - cause for involvement

●Seemed “soft on communism” failure with Cuba & the draw-coalition in Laos, no victory during Presidency felt the need to prove himself strong for upcoming elections.

● Like predecessors, committed to monolithic, Cold War Context, Domino Theory perspective, stop the spread of communism!

  • Hatred of communism - catholic - written a book on appeasement believed USSR were a threat to world wide democracy.
  • Quagmire theory - too far in to get out without looking weak.
  • Domestic Pressure - bay of pigs disaster - needed to prove himself - McNamara pressuring.
  • Deteriorating situation in Vietnam - by 1960 Vietcong formed - buddhists demonstrating.
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Kennedy - escalation

●Increased military advisors to 16,000 by ’63 & created Green Berets, specialists against communist guerrillas.

  • increased millitary aid.
  • Advisors got involved in operations - helicopters.
  • Strategic hamlets programme.
  • Gave secret approval of the overthrow of Diem in a military coup.
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Johnson's cause for Involvement

  • Fear of communism - china continued to back up Ho - Mistakes of appeasement - USSR and China continued to supply the Vietminh.
  • Quagmire theory - locked in - by supporting the coup US were morally and politically involved in the government of South Vietnam.
  • Domestic Pressure - he wanted to prove he was tough against communism before the 1964 elections - also being advised by McNamara - US public supported the war 1965 poll showed 80% did.
  • Deteriorating situation in Vietnam - Thie unpopular and unstable - McNamara visited Vietnam and the vietcong controlled 30-40% of South Vietnam 
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Gulf of Tonkin Incident

2nd August 1964 -- US Navy ship (USS Maddox) attacked by North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin -- supposedly attacked again

  • Reported to the White House
  • Congress pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution -- giving Johnson the power to repel attacks -- take pressure off Saigon by bombing the north
  • March 1965 -- Operation Rolling Thunder -- bombing campaign that lasted till 1968 -- aim to destroy the north's industrial economy and cut off suplly routes from China
  • Little impact on guerilla warfare tactics -- economy rural -- didn't cut off routes
  • 1965 -- Operation Steel Tiger -- targets Ho Chi Minh trail -- trail wasn't broken
  • Many bombs faild to explode -- North Vietnamese supplied with bombs to attack the ARVN
  • March 1965 -- combat troops sent to defend airbase at Da Nang
  • Operation Rolling Thunder enxtended
  • Commit further 125,000 troops in July 1965
  • End of 1966 = 385,000 troops in Vietnam
  • end of 1967 = 500,000 troops
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Guerilla warfare = raids, ambushes and sabotage

  • Vietcong used hidden traps in the jungle to inflict casualties -- triggered tripwire, covered pits, bamboo spikes, underground tunnels to hide from Americans when they napalmed
  • Vietcong blend in with South Vietnamese villagers -- US attack innocent people -- lose hearts and minds of people
  • US used search and destroy tactics -- killing enemy troops and destroying villages that supported them
  • US see war as war of attrition -- kill as many as possible -- Westmoreland focus of kill ratios to show US winning the war
  • US not used to Jungle Warfare in hot, humid, wet conditions
  • US fighting out of element -- Vietnamese fighting for homeland (wanted it more)
  • US soldier service short -- gain no experience fighting
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Nepalm and Agent Orange

Napalm stuck to objects and people -- burned at high temperatures

  • Used as a defoliate -- burn the jungle to see enemy
  • Agent Orange a defoliant -- destroys trees and plant life -- harmful effects on civilians (deformaties)
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The TET Offensive

January 1968, NVA and Vietcong launch attack

  • 80,000 Vietcong attack Saigon
  • Most of ARVN troops on leave or enjoying Tet Festival
  • Saigon captured in 3 days
  • Weeks of house-to-house fighting to get city of Hue
  • Massacre of Hue -- reported on negatively by U.S. press
  • By end of the Tet Vietcong lost 60,000 men, US lost 4,000 and ARVN 2,000
  • Vietcong severely weakened
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TET Offensive - Public Turning Point

Tet Offensive had a negative impact on US public opinion -- although US had weakened the Vietcong

  • Showed on television Vietcong attacking US embassy in Saigon -- didn't look like they were winning like Westmoreland had told
  • Pursuaded many Americans the war couldn't be won -- anti-war protests
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Difficulties for Johnson

US troops losing disipline -- fragging/killing own officers -- deserting and losing morale

  • Morale worsened by anti-war movement back home -- no support
  • Felt they were risking their lives for no reason -- shouldn't be in Vietnam
  • Worsened by an invisible enemy -- wanted revenge
  • Some soldiers commit atrocities like the massacre at My Lai
  • South Vietnam had no real government for 4 years after Diem's death
  • US has little support from allies -- Britain and France refuse to support like in Korea
  • Anti-war movement in the US growing 1966 -- MLK speaks against the war, protest of 100,000 people
  • Opposition to drafting (conscription)
  • Media go against the war -- Walter Cronkite
  • March 1986 New York Times says Westmoreland asks for 200,000 more men -- very unpopular
  • Johnson doesn't run for re-election
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Nixon - Peace with Honour

Nixon elected in 1968 -- promised to withdraw from Vietnam -- no previous ties to the war

  • Changed US tactics -- Vietnamisation
  • Extended the war in Cambodia and Laos -- although supposedly pulling out?
  • Spoke with USSR and China to encouraged North Vietnam to agree peace -- huge bombing on the North
  • Peace agreemnt signed January 1973 -- Saigon fell in 1975
  • Nixon Doctrine -- military and economic assistance to allies, wouldn't supply manpower
  • 'Madman Theory' - wanted enemies to believe he was dangerous -- nuclear weapons
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New US tactics in Vietnam

Clear and hold replaced search and destroy

  • Operation Pheonix -- capturing National Liberation Front (NLF) organisers
  • Vietnamisation -- training ARVN
  • Extends war into Cambodia and Laos
  • South Vietnam under threat again -- after peace signed in 1973 American troops begin to leave
  • Saigon falls in 1975
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End of the Vietnam War

My Lai Massacre outrage -- war corrupting American soldiers

  • Student Protests at Kent State Uni - National Guards open fire on protesters -- 4 students killed -- triggered further riots
  • Congress cutting military spending
  • Pentagon Papers -- showed Kennedy and Johnson misled public, doubts on attacks in Gulf of Tonkin -- tricked into war?
  • North Vietnam in no hurry to sign peace -- wait for antiwar protestes in America and Congressional cuts -- force America to sign peace at any price
  • Nixon gains relations with China and USSR - reduce North Vietnamese support
  • China and USSR fallen out in 1960s (sino-soviet split)
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Johnson's Involvement

  • He mainpulated the Gulf of tonkin incident to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed - which gave him the authority to use 'all means necessary'.
  • He authorised Operation Rolling Thunder.
  • He authorised the use of Defoliants and Nepalm.
  • He sent in the first ground troops in 1965 to De Nang - there were 500,000 troops by 1968
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