Vietnam War

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Origins of the Conflict

  • Vietnam had been ruled by France - known as Indochina
  • 1940 - France defeated by Axis Powers - Japan takes control
  • Strong Communist movement - Viet Minh - arises lead by Ho Chi Minh
  • They took control of North Vietnam - Declared independent in Hanoi, 1945
  • After the war, France and the Viet Minh begin fighting for control
  • In 1949 Communist China under Mao Tse-Tung begin giving Aid to the Viet Minh
  • In retalliation America give aid to France - $500m
  • This was in line with the policy of Containment
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Gulf of Tonkin

  • In August 1964 North Vietnamese patrol boats shot at US ships at the Gulf of Tonkin. 
  • The US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution 
  • This allows the President Lyndon Johnson to take all necessary measures to prevent aggression to achieve peace.
  • This effectively allowed Lyndon Johnson to make it an all-out war. 
  • On the 8th March 1965 on the President's orders 3500 marines landed at Da Nang in South Vietnam - the start of American military action in Vietnam.
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US Army

  • Soldiers - Highly trained & Well equiped, but in Alien conditions and fighting against strange tactics - 23000 Americans in 1964, 500 000 in 1968
  • Technology - Far superior weapons, planes for bombing, access to chemical and biological weapons such as Agent Orange highly toxic weapon used to destroy jungle 
  • Supplies and Equipment - Well supplied with guns, chemical weapons, bombings and explosives. But supplies had long way to travel - soldiers had to carry equipment in bags.
  • Tactics - Far superior at pitched battles in open space e.g. La Dreng Valley. But, they were completely outmatched in guerilla warfare. Bombing and Agent Orange damaged Viet Cong supplies, search and destroy tactics lost support. 
  • Support - Had support of Anti-Communists at the start, but seach and destroy tactics lost them support - My Lai Massacre. 
  • Motivation - Veterans were loyal and motivated to contain Communism, but many were conscripted and weren't supportive of the purpose of the war
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Viet Cong

Soldiers - Weren't well trained, but well equiped and knew the surroundings. 170 000 Viet Cong.

Technology - Supplied with basic weapons and equipment by China and USSR. But they were heavily outgunned by USA at La Dreng Valley. They used resources well in the jungle though.

Supplies - Ho Chi Minh Trail which ran across the Western Border of Vietnam. This was a series of paths and complex tunnels, storing weapons, food and also allowing rest and medical care.

Tactics - Guerilla Tactics used to avoid open battles where they would be overwhelmed. This involves small groups with no HQ and uniform making attacks then dissapearing again.

Support - Ho Chi Minh ordered his troops to be nice to citizens, helping them in agricultural labour at times. They were sometimes ruthless with opposition killing 27000 during the conflict.

Motivation - Very motivated as they were fighting for a common cause. 1m died, but replacements were present. All wanted to spread Communism.

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Objections to the War

Students - Organised massive demonstrations, a few ended with clashes with the police. They believed it was wrong to kill innocent civillians -'Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today'

Black Americans - Blacks were discriminated heavily against at the time and were treated like dogs. They wanted to fight for their rights, not against people who had done no wrong to them. 

Celebrities - Some for positive publicity spoke out against the war in line with public opinion. Muhammed Ali refused to go to Vietnam and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Parents - Unsupporting of the war and hence, didn't want their children to risk their lives for an unjust cause. They saw how badly they were losing and the acts they committed, many became mentally scarred - 'not my son, not your son, not their son'

Soldiers - After the Tet Offensive many soldiers knew that the war would drag on. Many used drugs - 80% were casual or regular drug users. They didn't know what they were fighting for. 

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My Lai Massacre

  • The Charlie Company were doing search and destroy missions in Quang Ngai 
  • They were told that My Lai was a Viet Cong HQ with 200 Viet Cong
  • On Saturday all innocent civillians would be at the market
  • On the 16th March 1968 they killed 300-400 civillians, by machine guns in an irrigation ditch
  • Only 3 weapons were recovered revealing 3/400 as Viet Cong
  • It was received in the army as a success and the soldiers took it as part of the war
  • 1 year later Ronald Ridenhour wrote to politicians outlining the events that took place at My Lai, and soon Life magazine reported the story with photographs
  • In 1971 Lt. Calley was sentenced with the murder of 22 innocent civillians
  • My Lai showed that the war had gone wrong
  • In November 1969 700 000 anti-war protesters demonstrated in Washington 
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