The Vietnam War was a conflict in which communist forces from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, also known as the Việt Cộng (or VC) fought against anti-communist forces from the Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) and its allies — most notably the United States — in an effort to unify Vietnam into a single independent state.
It is also known as Vietnam Conflict, the Second Indochina War and in the US colloquially as Vietnam, The ’Nam or simply ’Nam. Vietnamese Communists have often referred to it as the American War or Kháng chiến chống Mỹ, the Resistance War Against America.
The war followed the failure of Vietnamese nationalists, in the form of the Viet Minh, to achieve control of southern Vietnam in their fight for independence from France, in the First Indochina War of 1946-54.
Allies of the Vietnamese communists included the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. South Vietnam's main anti-communist allies were the United States, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, and New Zealand. The United States, in particular, deployed large numbers of personnel to South Vietnam. US military advisors were involved in Vietnam from 1950, when they began to assist French colonial forces. In 1956, U.S. advisors assumed full responsibility for training the South Vietnamese army. Large numbers of American combat troops began to arrive in 1965. They left the country in 1973..
At various stages the conflict involved fighting around bases in the countryside, clashes between troops patrolling the rainforest, and guerrilla attacks on South Vietnamese towns. U.S. aircraft also conducted substantial aerial bombing campaigns, targeting both Viet Cong camps in the rainforest and the cities of North Vietnam. Large quantities of defoliating chemicals were also dropped from the air in an effort to reduce the cover available to Viet Cong troops.
To some degree the Vietnam War was a "proxy war," one of several that occurred during the Cold War between the United States and its Western allies on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and/or the People's Republic of China on the other. The Korean War is another such war. Proxy wars occurred because the major players — especially the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. — were unwilling to fight each other directly because of the unacceptable costs of global nuclear war.
The Vietnam War finally ended on April 30, 1975, with the surrender of South Vietnam. The war had claimed millions of Vietnamese lives, a large number of them civilians. The casualties suffered by the US and other allies of South Vietnam were also deeply significant, a cause of great pain and suffering in those nations.
From 110 BC to the year 938 AD, except for brief periods, much of present-day Vietnam, especially the northern half, was part of China. After gaining independence from China, Vietnam went through a long history of resisting outside aggression. France had gained control of Indochina in a series of colonial wars beginning in the 1840s and lasting into the 1880s. At the Treaty of Versailles negotiations following the armistice that ended World War I in 1919, Hồ Chí Minh requested participation in order to obtain the independence of the Indochinese colonies. His request was rejected, and Indochina's status as a colony of France remained unchanged. During World War II, Vichy France cooperated with the occupying Imperial Japanese forces. Vietnam was under effective Imperial Japanese control, as well as de facto Japanese administrative control -- although the Vichy French continued to serve as the official administrators until 1944. Hồ came back to the country and formed a resistance group in the north. He was aided by American OSS agents, (precursors of today's CIA) some of whom had worked behind enemy lines in Indochina giving support to indigenous resistance groups, including on-site training by an OSS unit code-named "Deer Team." In 1944, the Japanese overthrew the French administration and humiliated its colonial officials in front of the Vietnamese population. The Japanese then began to encourage nationalist activity among the Vietnamese. Late in the war, Japan granted Vietnam nominal independence.
After the war was over and following the Japanese surrender, the Vietnamese nationalists, communists, and other groups hoped to finally take control of the country. The Japanese army in Indochina assisted the Viet Minh -- Hồ's resistance army -- and other Vietnamese independence groups by imprisoning French officials and soldiers and handing over public buildings to the Vietnamese. On September 2, 1945, Hồ Chí Minh spoke at a ceremony at Hanoi in which he proclaimed the formation of a new Vietnamese republican government under his leadership. In his speech he cited the U.S. Declaration of Independence and a band played "The Star Spangled Banner." He also issued a Declaration of Independence, listing their complaints against French rule. Hồ, who had been a member of the Third Communist International since the early 1920s, hoped that the Americans would ally themselves with a Vietnamese nationalist movement, communist or otherwise. He based this hope on speeches by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt against the continuation of European colonialism after World War II. Roosevelt, however, had moderated his position after the British -- who wanted to keep their own colonies -- objected.
The government only lasted a few days, however, as at the Potsdam Conference it had been decided that Vietnam would be occupied by Chinese and British troops who would supervise the Japanese surrender and repatriation. The Chinese army arrived in the north a few days after Hồ Chí Minh's ceremony in September 1945, and took over areas north of the 16th parallel. The British arrived in the south in October and supervised the surrender and departure of the Japanese army from Indochina south of the 16th parallel. With this, the government of Hồ Chí Minh effectively ceased to exist. In the South, the French prevailed upon the British to turn control of the region back over to them. French officials, when released from Japanese prisons at the end of September 1945, also took matters into their own hands in some areas. In the north, France negotiated with both the nationalist government of China and the Viet Minh. By agreeing to give up Shanghai and its other concessions in China, the French persuaded the Chinese to allow them to return to northern Vietnam and negotiate with the Viet Minh. Hồ agreed to allow French forces to land outside Hanoi, while France agreed to recognize an independent Vietnam within the French Union. In the meantime, Hồ took advantage of the period of negotiation to liquidate competing nationalist groups in the north. After failed negotiations with Hồ Chí Minh over the possibility of his forming a government within the Union, the French entered Hanoi and Hồ's Việt Minh fled into the hills and began an insurgency, marking the beginning of the First Indochina War, during which France attempted to reestablish Vietnam as part of the French overseas domain. After 1949, and the communist victory in China, Mao Zedong was able to supply weapons to Hồ Chí Minh's forces. The Viet Minh gained the weapons and supplies necessary to transform themselves from an insurgency into a regular army.
Meanwhile, the United States was supplying the French with military aid. In 1950, the US Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) arrived to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy and train Vietnamese soldiers. In 1956, MAAG assumed from the French full responsibility for training the Vietnamese army. By 1954, the United States had given 300,000 small arms and machine guns, and $1 billion to support the French war effort and was shouldering at least 80% of the cost.
The Viet Minh eventually handed the French a major military defeat at Ðiện Biên Phủ. At the 1954 Geneva Conference the French government negotiated a peace agreement with the Viet Minh which allowed the French to leave Indochina and all three nations of the colony (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) were granted independence. However, Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel, above which the Viet Minh established a socialist state, (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or DRV) and below which a non-communist state was established under the Emperor Bảo Đại (the State of Vietnam). Bao Dai's Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, shortly thereafter removed him from power, and established himself as President of the Republic of Vietnam.
As dictated by the Geneva Accords of 1954, the division of Vietnam was meant to be temporary, pending free elections for a national leadership. The agreement stipulated that the two military zones, which were separated by the temporary demarcation line, "should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary," and specifically stated that "general elections shall be held in July 1956." However, the Diem government refused to enter into negotiations to hold the stipulated election, encouraged by the United States' unwillingness to allow a communist victory in an all-Vietnam election. Questions were also raised about the legitimacy of any poll held in the communist-run North. The US-supported government of South Vietnam justfied its refusal to comply with the Geneva Accords by virtue of the fact it had not signed them. Beginning in the summer of 1955, Diem launched a 'Denounce the Communists' campaign, during which communists and other anti-government elements were arrested, imprisoned or executed. Also at this time, people moved across the partition line in both directions. It is estimated that around 130,000 Vietnamese moved from South Vietnam to North Vietnam, while more than a million Vietnamese moved from north to south.
As opposition to Diem's rule in South Vietnam grew, a low-level insurgency began there in 1957, conducted mainly by Viet Minh cadres who remained in the South and had hidden caches of weapons in case unification failed to take place through elections. In late 1956 one of the leading Communists in the South, Lê Duẩn, returned to Hanoi to urge that the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP) take a firmer stand on national reunification, but Hanoi hesitated from launching a full-scale military struggle. Finally, in January 1959, under pressure from southern cadres who were increasingly being successfully targeted by Diem's secret police, the Central Committee of the VWP issued a secret resolution authorizing the use of armed struggle in the South.
In December 1960, under instruction from Hanoi, southern communists established the National Liberation Front in order to overthrow the government of the South. The NLF was made up of two distinct groups: South Vietnamese intellectuals who opposed the South Vietnamese government and were nationalists, such as Truong Nhu Tang; and communists who had remained in the south after the partition and regroupment of 1954, such as Nguyen Thi Binh, as well as those communists who had come from the north. While there were many non-communist members of the NLF, they were subject to the control of the VWP cadres and increasingly side-lined as the conflict continued; they did, however, enable the NLF to portray itself as a primarily nationalist, rather than communist, movement.
The Diệm government was initially able to cope with the insurgency with the aid of U.S. advisers, and by 1962 seemed to be winning. Senior U.S. military leaders were receiving positive reports from the U.S. commander, Gen. Paul D. Harkins of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. U.S. President John F. Kennedy had increased the number of American "advisers" in the belief that he could duplicate the success of British counterinsurgency warfare in Malaya. The competing countries in the Cold War -- the United States on South Vietnam's side, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China on North Vietnam's side -- became increasingly involved, and what had begun as a domestic insurgency began to become internationalized. In 1963, a communist offensive that began with the Battle of Ap Bac inflicted major losses on South Vietnamese army units. This was the first large-scale battle since Dien Bien Phu, a major departure from the assassinations and guerrilla activities that had preceded it.
Ap Bac was a sign that the insurgency was escalating as a result of the increasing supplies of men and weapons from the North. Diem was already deeply unpopular with many of his own people because of his administration's nepotism, corruption, and its apparent bias in favor of the Catholic minority -- of which Diem was a part -- at the expense of the Buddhist majority. Some policy-makers in Washington began to believe that Diem was incapable of defeating the communists, and even feared that he might make a deal with Ho Chi Minh. During the summer of 1963 administration officials began discussing the possibility of a change of leadership in South Vietnam. The State Department was generally in favor of encouraging a coup while the Pentagon and CIA were more skeptical about the destabilizing consequences of a coup and wanted to continue a policy of pressuring Diem to change his policies, including removing his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu from all positions of power. Nhu was in charge of South Vietnam's secret police and had a body of troops loyal to him personally. As Diem's most powerful advisor, Nhu (along with his wife) had become a hated figure in South Vietnam whose continued influence was unacceptable to all members of the Kennedy administration. Eventually the administration determined that Diem was unwilling to further modify his policies and the decision was made to remove US support from the regime. This decision was made jointly between the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Advisor, and CIA. President Kennedy authorized the decision, and it was known that the result of removing US support from the Diem regime would be a coup d'etat.
In November, 1963, the U.S. embassy in Saigon indicated to coup plotters that they would not oppose the removal of Diem from power. The South Vietnamese President was overthrown by a military coup and was later executed along with Nhu. Another brother was subsequently assassinated by the new government. After the coup President Kennedy appeared to be genuinely shocked and dismayed by the assassinations, however top CIA officials were surprised that Kennedy didn't appear to have understood that this was a possible outcome. Chaos ensued in the security and defense systems of South Vietnam, while Hanoi took advantage of the situation to increase its support for the insurgents in the South. South Vietnam then entered a period of extreme political instability with a succession of different military rulers; the United States' involvement in South Vietnam dramatically increased; and the 'Americanization' of the war began.
The South Vietnamese government and its Western allies portrayed the conflict as an action against the use of armed violence as a means of political change, a principled opposition to communism —to deter the expansion of Soviet-based control throughout Southeast Asia, and to set the tone for any likely future superpower conflicts. The North Vietnamese government and its subordinate organization (NLF) viewed the war as a struggle to unite the country under a socialist government and to repel a foreign aggressor —a virtual continuation of the earlier war for independence against the French.
North Vietnam received shipments of Russian and Chinese supplies at Haiphong harbor. This material was then transported down the Truong Son Trail (known to the rest of the world as the Ho Chi Minh Trail) into the hands of the NLF and Việt Cộng in South Vietnam. Complicating matters, the Truong Son Trail ran for most of its length through neighboring Laos and Cambodia, ending about thirty miles from Saigon. It was impossible to block the shipments of supplies from the north without bombing or invading those neighboring countries. But this bombing did not take place until late in the war. Laos and Cambodia, in the meantime, had their own Communist insurgencies, with the Pathet Lao insurgent group in Laos organized by North Vietnam. Later on, the North Vietnamese would invade and occupy parts of Laos. In 1965, Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia made a deal with China and North Vietnam that allowed North Vietnamese forces to establish permanent bases in the country and to use the port of Sihanoukville for delivery of military supplies. The Prince was later deposed and the supply route closed by Cambodian Premier, Lon Nol, in 1970. In the meantime, the Hồ Chí Minh Trail had steadily expanded to become the vital lifeline for communist forces in South Vietnam, including troops from the army of North Vietnam (the Vietnam People's Army, commonly abbreviated as PAVN), and as a result it later became a target of U.S. air operations.
* March 9, 1945 — Japan overthrows nominal French authority in Indochina and declares an independent Vietnamese puppet state. The French administration is disarmed.
* August 15, 1945 — Japan surrenders to the Allies. In Indochina, the Japanese administration allows Hồ Chí Minh to take over control of the country. This is called the August Revolution. Hồ Chí Minh borrows a phrase from the U.S. Declaration of Independence for his own declaration. Hồ Chí Minh fights with a variety of other political factions for control of the major cities.
* August 1945 — A few days after the Vietnamese "revolution", Chinese forces enter from the north and, as previously planned by the allies, establish an administration in the country as far south as the 16th parallel.
* September 26, 1945: OSS officer Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey — working with the Viet Minh to repatriate Americans captured by the Japanese — is shot and killed by the Viet Minh, becoming the first American casualty in Vietnam.
* October 1945 — British troops land in southern Vietnam and establish a provisional administration. The British free French soldiers and officials imprisoned by the Japanese. The French begin taking control of cities within the British zone of occupation.
* February 1946 — The French sign an agreement with China. France gives up its concessions in Shanghai and other Chinese ports. In exchange, China agrees to assist the French in returning to Vietnam north of the 16th parallel.
* March 6, 1946 — After negotiations with the Chinese and the Viet Minh, the French sign an agreement recognizing Vietnam within the French Union. Shortly after, the French land at Haiphong and occupy the rest of northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh use the negotiating process with France and China to buy time to use their armed forces to destroy all competing nationalist groups in the north.
* December 1946 — Negotiations between the Viet Minh and the French break down. The Viet Minh are driven out of Hanoi into the countryside.
* 1947–1949 — The Viet Minh fight a limited insurgency in remote rural areas of northern Vietnam.
* 1949 — Chinese communists reach the northern border of Indochina. The Viet Minh drive the French from the border region and begin to receive large amounts of weapons from the Soviet Union and China. The weapons transform the Viet Minh from an irregular small-scale insurgency into a conventional army.
* May 1st 1950 — After the capture of Hainan Island from Chinese Nationalist forces by Chinese Communists, President Truman approves $10 million in military assistance for anti-communist efforts in Indochina.
* Following the outbreak of the Korean War, Truman announces "acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina…" and sends 123 non-combat troops to help with supplies to fight against the communist Viet Minh.
* 1951 — Truman authorizes $150 million in French support.
Milestones of the escalation under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
* 1954 — The Viet Minh defeat the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The defeat, along with the end of the Korean war the previous year, causes the French to seek a negotiated settlement to the war.
* 1954 — The Geneva Conference (1954), called to determine the post-French future of Indochina, proposes a temporary division of Vietnam, to be followed by nationwide elections to unify the country in 1956.
* 1954 — Two months after the Geneva conference, North Vietnam forms Group 100 with headquarters at Ban Namèo. Its purpose is to direct, organize, train and supply the Pathet Lao to gain control of Laos, which along with Cambodia and Vietnam formed French Indochina.
* 1955 — North Vietnam launches an 'anti-landlord' campaign, during which counter-revolutionaries are imprisoned or killed. The numbers killed or imprisoned are disputed, with historian Stanley Karnow estimating about 6,000 while others (see the book "Fire in the Lake") estimate only 800. R.J. Rummel puts the figure as high as 200,000.
* November 1, 1955 — Eisenhower deploys the Military Assistance Advisory Group to train the South Vietnam Army. This marks the official beginning of American involvement in the war as recognized by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
* April 1956 — The last French troops leave Vietnam.
* 1955–1956 — 900,000 Vietnamese flee the Viet Minh administration in North Vietnam and relocate in South Vietnam.
* 1956 — National unification elections do not occur.
* December 1958 — North Vietnam invades Laos and occupies parts of the country
* July 8, 1959 — Charles Ovnand and Dale R. Buis become the first two American Advisors to die in Vietnam.
* September 1959 — North Vietnam forms Group 959 which assumes command of the Pathet Lao forces in Laos
* January 1961 — Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pledges support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world. The idea of creating a neutral Laos is suggested to Kennedy.
* May 1961 — Kennedy sends 400 American Green Beret "Special Advisors" to South Vietnam to train South Vietnamese soldiers following a visit to the country by Lyndon Johnson.
* June 1961 — Kennedy meets with Khrushchev in Vienna. Kennedy protests North Vietnam's attacks on Laos and points out that the U.S. was supporting the neutrality of Laos. Both leaders agree to pursue a policy of creating a neutral Laos.
* October 1961 — Following successful Viet Cong attacks, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara recommends sending six divisions (200,000 men) to Vietnam. Kennedy sends just 16,000 before the end of his Presidency in 1963.
* August 1, 1962 — Kennedy signs the Foreign Assistance Act of 1962 which provides "…military assistance to countries which are on the rim of the Communist world and under direct attack."
* January 3, 1963 — Viet Cong victory in the Battle of Ap Bac.
* May 1963 — Buddhists riot in South Vietnam after a conflict over the display of religious flags during the celebration of Buddha's birthday. Some Buddhists urge Kennedy to end U.S. support for Ngo Dinh Diem, who is Catholic. Photographs of protesting Buddhist monks burning themselves alive appear in U.S. newspapers.
* May 1963 — Republican Barry Goldwater declares that the U.S. should fight to win or withdraw from Vietnam. Later on, during his presidential campaign against Lyndon Johnson, his Democratic opponents accuse him of wanting to use atomic bombs in the conflict.
* November 1, 1963 — Military officers launch a coup d'état against Diem, with the tacit approval of the Kennedy administration. Diem leaves the presidential residence.
* November 2, 1963 — Diem is discovered and killed by rebel leaders, along with his brother Nhu.
* November 22, 1963 — Kennedy is assassinated.
The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the anti-Communist foreign policy inherited from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. In 1961 Kennedy found himself faced with a three-part crisis that seemed similar to that faced by Truman in 1949–1950. 1961 had already seen the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the pro-Western government of Laos and the Pathet Lao communist movement. Fearing that another failure on the part of the United States to gain control and stop communist expansion would fatally damage U.S. credibility with its allies and his own reputation, Kennedy was determined to 'draw a line in the sand' and prevent a communist victory in Vietnam. "Now we have a problem in making our power credible", he said, "and Vietnam looks like the place."
The long-standing commitment of the United States to defend Vietnam was reaffirmed by President Kennedy on May 11 in National Security Action Memorandum #52 which became known as "The Presidential Program for Vietnam". Its opening statement reads:
The U.S. objectives and concept of operations are to prevent Communist domination of South Vietnam; to create in that country a viable and increasingly democratic society, and to initiate, on an accelerated basis, a series of mutually supporting actions of a military, political, economic psychological, and covert character designed to achieve this objective.
Kennedy was interested in using Special Forces for counterinsurgency warfare in Third World countries threatened by communist insurgencies. Originally intended for use behind front lines after a conventional invasion of Europe, Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special forces such as the Green Berets would be effective in the "brush fire" war in Vietnam. He saw British success in using such forces in Malaya as a strategic template. Thus in May 1961 Kennedy sent Green Berets to South Vietnam to train South Vietnamese soldiers in guerilla warfare.
In June 1961, John F. Kennedy met with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where they had a bitter disagreement over key U.S.-Soviet issues. This led to the conclusion by cold war strategists that Southeast Asia would be one of the major areas in which Soviet forces would test the USA's commitment to the containment policy that had begun during the Truman Administration and been solidified by the stalemate that resulted from the Korean War.
However, the Kennedy administration grew increasingly frustrated with Diệm. In 1963 there was a crackdown by Diệm's forces against Buddhist monks protesting against the discriminatory practices towards the Buddhist majority of South Vietnam. Diem's repression of the protests prompted self-immolation by monks, leading to embarrassing press coverage. The most infamous incident was the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Ðức in early June 1963. Communists took advantage of the situation to fuel Buddhist anti-Diem sentiment and create further social instability.
While keeping up attacks against the Buddhists, Diem continued to refuse to implement reforms recommended by the Americans; in particular refusing to remove from his government his brother and increasingly tyrannical secret police chief, Ngo Dinh Nhu. There also existed fears in Washington that Diem and his brother were going to come to some sort of accommodation with Ho Chi Minh.
With "at least the knowledge and approval of the White House and the American ambassador in Saigon", the South Vietnamese military staged a coup d'état that overthrew Diệm on November 1, 1963. Kennedy appeared to be genuinely shocked at the subsequent murder of Diệm, leading some top CIA officers to question whether he had fully understood the possible ramifications of what he had authorized.
After the overthrow of Diệm the South became more unstable. The new military rulers were politically inexperienced and unable to provide the strong central authority Diệm had provided. A period of coups and countercoups ensued. The overthrow of Diệm also created a situation in which South Vietnamese military leaders were not willing to stand up to the U.S. as Diệm had done. It created rival centers of power within the Vietnamese government that worked at cross-purposes to each other. Seven different governments rose to power in South Vietnam during 1964 alone, three during the weeks of August 16 to September 3. This struggle took place within the context of the larger communist insurgency, which itself was not abating. On the contrary, the communists were stepping up their efforts in order to exploit the vacuum of power.
General Maxwell Taylor was of crucial importance during the first weeks and months of the operations in South Vietnam. Whereas initially President Kennedy had told Taylor that "the independence of South Vietnam rests with the people and government of that country", Taylor was soon to recommend that 8,000 American combat troops be sent to the region at once. After making his report to the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff Taylor was to reflect on the decision to send troops to South Vietnam that, "I don't recall anyone who was strongly against it, except one man and that was the President. The President just didn't want to be convinced that this was the right thing to do... It was really the President's personal conviction that U.S. ground troops shouldn't go in."
Kennedy was assassinated three weeks after Diệm's death, and was automatically succeeded by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. President Johnson declared on November 24, 1963 that the United States would continue to support South Vietnam.
President Johnson appointed William Westmoreland to succeed Paul D. Harkins as commander of the U.S. Army in Vietnam in June of 1964. Troop strength under Westmoreland was to rise from 16,000 in 1964 to more than 500,000 when he left following the Tet Offensive in 1968. On July 27, 1964 5,000 additional U.S. military advisors were ordered to South Vietnam, bringing the total U.S. troop commitment to 21,000.
The massive escalation of the war from 1964 to 1968 was justified on the basis of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident on August 2-4, 1964, in which the Johnson Administration claimed that U.S. ships were attacked by the North Vietnamese. The accuracy of that claim is still hotly debated.
On the basis of the alleged attack the U.S. Senate approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, giving broad support to President Johnson to escalate U.S. involvement "as the President shall determine" without actually declaring war. The resolution passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and was opposed in the Senate only by Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska. In a televised speech, Morse declared that history would show that he and Gruening were serving "the best interests of the American people." In a separate televised address, President Johnson argued that "the challenge that we face in Southeast Asia today is the same challenge that we have faced with courage and that we have met with strength in Greece and Turkey, in Berlin and Korea, in Lebanon and in Cuba." National Security Council members, including Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and Maxwell Taylor, agreed on November 28, 1964, to recommend that Johnson adopt a plan for a two-stage escalation of bombing in North Vietnam.
With the United States' decision to escalate its involvement in the conflict, ANZUS Pact allies Australia and New Zealand agreed to contribute troops and material to the war effort. In late 1964, the Australian government reintroduced military conscription, which caused considerable controversy. All young men were required at age 20 to register with the authorities. Every 3–6 months there would be a lottery of sorts, and every man who had a birthday on the chosen date had to go for physical and psychological testing. Those who passed those tests were conscripted to the Army for two years. All conscripts that were sent to Vietnam were volunteers. Like their Regular Army counterparts their tour was for 12 months only.
Rolling Thunder was the code name for a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam conducted by United States armed forces during the Vietnam War. Its purpose was to destroy the will of the North Vietnamese to fight, to destroy industrial bases and air defense (surface-to-air missile or SAMs), and to stop the flow of men and supplies down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail.
Starting in March 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder gradually escalated in intensity in an effort to boost morale in South Vietnam and to force the communists to cease their attacks. However, the two principal areas from which supplies came — Haiphong and the Chinese border — were off limits to aerial attack, as were fighter bases. Restrictions on the bombing of civilian areas enabled the North Vietnamese to use them for military purposes, such as siting anti-aircraft guns on school grounds. Rolling Thunder's gradual escalation has been given as one reason for its failure, by giving the North Vietnamese time to adapt.
On March 31, 1968, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, Operation Rolling Thunder was restricted to encourage the North to negotiate. All bombing of the North was halted on October 31 just prior to the U.S. presidential election of 1968.
It is interesting to note that the U.S. both increased and reduced the intensity of bombing in order to "force" the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, a contradictory tactic that demonstrates the ad hoc nature and uncertainties implicit in conducting a guerrilla war.
In February 1965, the United States base at Pleiku was attacked twice, resulting in the deaths of over a dozen U.S. military personnel. The guerilla attacks were used to justify reprisal air strikes Operation Flaming Dart against North Vietnam — the first time the U.S. launched an air strike in the north because its forces had been attacked in the south. U.S. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy said "the incident at Pleiku was like a streetcar --- you had to jump on board when it came along." That same month the U.S. began air strikes in the south. A U.S. Army HAWK missile battery was sent to Da Nang, the second largest city in southern Vietnam with the second biggest airport. The Soviet Union during late 1965 began shipping anti-aircraft missiles to North Vietnam.
On March 8, 1965, 3,500 United States Marines became the first US combat troops to land in South Vietnam, adding to the 25,000 US military advisers already in place. On May 5, 1965 the 173d Airborne Brigade (Sep) became the first U.S. Army ground combat unit committed to the war in South Vietnam. Joining the 1st & 2nd 503rd Battalions of the 173d(sep) were: 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, The Prince of Wales Light Horse APC Unit(a Citizens Military Force unit at that time), 105 Field Battery Royal Australian Artillery and 161 Field Battery Royal New Zealand Artillery, Company "A" 82nd Aviation Battalion. And various Australian Supporting Units. The air war escalated as well: On July 24, 1965, four F-4C Phantoms escorting a bombing raid at Kang Chi became the targets of North Vietnamese antiaircraft missiles in the first such attack on U.S. airplanes in the war. One airplane was shot down and the other three sustained damage. Four days later, President Johnson ordered an increase in the number of US troops in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000. The next day, July 29, the first 4,000 101st Airborne Division paratroopers arrived in Vietnam, landing at Cam Ranh Bay.
On August 18, 1965, Operation Starlite began as the first major U.S. ground battle of the war in which 5,500 US Marines destroyed a Viet Cong stronghold on the Van Tuong peninsula in Quảng Ngãi Province. The Marines had been tipped off by a Viet Cong deserter, who revealed a planned attack against the U.S. base at Chu Lai. The Viet Cong learned from their defeat and subsequently tried to avoid fighting a U.S.-style ground war by conducting small unit guerrilla operations.
The North Vietnamese sent regular army troops to southern Vietnam beginning in late 1964 to conduct guerrilla and conventional military operations against the South Vietnamese Army. Some North Vietnamese officials favored an immediate invasion, and a plan was developed to use PAVN units to split southern Vietnam in half through the Central Highlands. In the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the PAVN suffered heavy casualties from U.S. air power, prompting a return to guerrilla tactics.
On November 27, 1965 The Pentagon declared that if major sweep operations needed to neutralize Viet Cong forces were to succeed, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam would have to be increased from 120,000 to 400,000. By the end of 1965, there were already 184,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. In February, 1966 there was a meeting between the head of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam General William Westmoreland and President Johnson in Honolulu. Westmoreland argued that the U.S. presence had succeeded in preventing a defeat of the South Vietnamese government, but that more troops were needed to take the offensive and prevent any future threat to South Vietnam. He claimed that an immediate troop increase would lead to a "crossover point" in Việt Cộng and PAVN casualties being reached in early 1967, after which point a decisive victory would be possible. Johnson authorized an increase in troop numbers to 429,000 by August 1966.
The large increase of troops enabled Westmoreland to carry out search and destroy operations in accordance with the U.S. attrition strategy that saw in high body counts the key to demoralizing and defeating the enemy. In January 1966, during Operation Masher/White Wing in Binh Dinh Province, the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division killed 1,342 Viet Cong by repeatedly sweeping the area. This operation continued under Thayer/Irving until October, and a further 1,000 Viet Cong were killed and numerous others wounded and captured. U.S. forces conducted forays into Viet Cong-controlled "War Zone C," an area northwest of the densely populated Saigon area near the Cambodian border in Operations Birmingham, El Paso, and Attleboro. In 1st Corp Tactical Zone (CTZ) located in the Northern provinces of South Vietnam, North Vietnamese conventional forces entered Quang Tri province. Fearing an assault on Quang Tri city, U.S. Marines initiated Operation Hastings, which caused the North Vietnamese to retreat over the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Afterwards, a follow-up operation called Prairie began. "Pacification", or the securing of the South Vietnamese countryside and people, was mostly conducted by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). However, morale in the ARVN was poor due both to corruption and the incompetence of ARVN generals. Little was accomplished other than high desertion rates.
On October 12, 1967 U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk declared that proposals in Congress for peace initiatives were futile because of North Vietnam's repeated refusals to negotiate. The position of North Vietnam was, simply, that the U.S. should leave South Vietnam and overthrow the South Vietnamese government on its way out. Johnson held a secret meeting with a group of some of the nation's most esteemed policy wonks ("the Wise Men") on November 2 and asked them to suggest ways to unite increasingly concerned and discontented U.S. citizens behind the war effort. Johnson announced on November 17 that, while much remained to be done, "We are inflicting greater losses than we're taking....We are making progress." Following up on this, General William Westmoreland, on November 21, told news reporters: "I am absolutely certain that, whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing." Nevertheless, it was recognized that, although the communists were taking a major beating, they had committed themselves to sustaining much larger losses of both soldiers and civilians than the Americans themselves would ever tolerate.
Most of the PAVN operational capability was possible only because of the unhindered movement of men along the Hồ Chí Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. In order to threaten this flow of supplies, a firebase was set up on the Vietnamese side of the Laotian border near the town of Khe Sanh. The U.S. planned to use the base to draw large forces of the Vietnam People's Army into battle on terms unfavorable to the north. The position of the base also allowed it to be used as a launching point for U.S. raids against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The U.S. also used the occasion to launch a state-of-the-art electronic warfare project -- a brainchild of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. This $2.5 billion project involved "wiring" the Ho Chi Minh Trail with sensors connected to data processing centers in order to monitor the movement of North Vietnamese troops and supplies. It was one of the most highly classified operations of the war (from "Boyd" by Robert Coram, p. 268). To the North Vietnamese leaders, the U.S. firebase at Khe Sanh looked like a wonderful opportunity to repeat their famous victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and hand the U.S.A. a decisive and humiliating defeat. Over the next few months, both the PAVN and U.S. Marines added forces to the area, with the Battle of Khe Sanh "officially" beginning on January 21st, 1968. Every PAVN attempt to take the base was repulsed with heavy casualties, and even PAVN rear areas were under constant attack by U.S. aircraft, including massive B-52 strikes. When the battle, which extended over a long period and was hard-fought on both sides, finally wound down in April, the PAVN had lost an estimated 8,000 KIA (killed in action) and many more wounded while failing to threaten resupply to the U.S. base (in contrast to the battle of Điện Biên Phủ in which French soldiers were cut off and defeated.) This failure was due to the U.S.'s massive resupply ability and helicopter support. Some have suggested that the PAVN used the battle to divert U.S. attention away from other North Vietnamese/Viet Cong operations such as the upcoming Tet Offensive (see article below), but modern study suggests that the opposite is true. The Battle of Khe Sanh diverted North Vietnamese forces and equipment intended for Tet and other operations. Although the battle had a successful outcome for the U.S., constant allusions to Dien Bien Phu in news reports and the false but understandable perception that the base was in danger of falling caused it to be seen in a negative light.
On February 22, 1967 US and South Vietnamese forces conducted Operation Junction City, one of the largest operations of the Vietnam conflict against NLF units. The operation was largely successful.
Late in 1967, General Westmoreland had said that it was "conceivable" that in "two years or less" U.S. forces could be phased out of the war, turning over more and more of the job to the South Vietnamese. Thus, it was a considerable shock to public opinion when, on January 30, 1968, NLF and PAVN forces broke the yearly Tet Truce and mounted the Tet Offensive (named after Tết Nguyên Ðán, the lunar new year festival which is the most important Vietnamese holiday) in South Vietnam, attacking nearly every major city in South Vietnam with small groups of well-armed soldiers. The goal of the attacks was to seize all important South Vietnamese government offices in order to paralyze the South Vietnamese Army and instigate an uprising among sympathetic South Vietnamese citizens. No such uprising took place. On the contrary, the Tet Offensive drove some previously apathetic South Vietnamese to fight for the South Vietnamese government.
Attacks everywhere were quickly repulsed except in Saigon, where the fighting lasted for three days, and in Hue, where it went on for a month. During the communist occupation of Hue, 2,800 South Vietnamese were murdered by the Viet Cong in what was the single worst massacre of the war (see Massacre at Hue). Massacre though it was, casualties were immeasurably higher for the Viet Cong than for the South Vietnamese. Most Viet Cong and NLF members, who normally pretended to be uninvolved South Vietnamese civilians while engaging in guerrilla warfare, were exposed when they showed their hand during the Tet offensive and were destroyed. Within a month, General Westmoreland claimed — correctly — that the Tet Offensive had been a military disaster for the Viet Cong, and that their backs were essentially broken. Fighting on the communist side after this point was left almost entirely to North Vietnamese forces.
Most of the American media characterized the Tet Offensive as a defeat for the United States. Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America", declared his belief on the CBS Evening News that it was now clear to him that the United States could not succeed in Vietnam. Part of the reason for this perception was that the part of South Vietnam that television viewers naturally expected would be the most secure — the United States embassy in Saigon — had come under attack, and that attack had been televised in living rooms across America. Many Americans could not understand how such an attack was possible after having been told for several years that victory was just around the corner. The Tet Offensive came to embody the 'credibility gap' at the heart of U.S. government statements.
While the U.S. had won a tactical victory by killing hundreds of thousands of NLF/Viet Cong guerrillas during the Tet Offensive, that the NLF had been able to launch such large-scale operations shook the faith of many Americans, and Democrats in particular, in the winnability of the Vietnam War. Although the communists' military objectives had been thwarted, they were winning on the propaganda front. Many U.S. citizens felt that the government was misleading them about a war without a clear end. When General Westmoreland called for still more troops to be sent to Vietnam, Clark Clifford — a member of Johnson's cabinet — came out against the war. Public opinion notwithstanding, most U.S. political leaders regardless of their beliefs could no longer see a clear strategy for success. And the political stakes were high, not just in money spent and lives lost, but in the continuation of an inequitable military draft that was partly responsible for growing rebellion on college campuses and in society at large.
The psychological impact of the Tet Offensive effectively ended the political career of Lyndon Johnson. On March 11 Senator Eugene McCarthy won 42% of the vote in the Democratic New Hampshire Primary. Although Johnson wasn't on the ballot, commentators viewed this as a defeat for the President. Shortly thereafter, Senator Robert Kennedy announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 1968 presidential election. On March 31, in a speech that took America, and the world, by surprise, Johnson famously announced that "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President" and pledged himself to devoting the rest of his term in office to the search for peace in Vietnam(Text and audio of speech). Johnson announced that he was limiting bombing of the DRV to just north of the DMZ, and that U.S. representatives were prepared to meet with North Vietnamese counterparts in any suitable place "to discuss the means to bring this ugly war to an end." Much to Johnson's surprise, a few days later Hanoi agreed to contacts between the two sides. On May 13, what would become known as the 'Paris peace talks' began.
Soon after Tet, Westmoreland was replaced by his deputy, General Creighton W. Abrams. Abrams pursued a very different approach, favoring more openness with the media, less indiscriminate use of air strikes and heavy artillery, elimination of body count as the key indicator of battlefield success, and more meaningful cooperation with South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) forces. His strategy, although yielding positive results, came too late to influence U.S. public opinion.
Facing a troop shortage, on October 14, 1968, the United States Department of Defense announced that the United States Army and Marines would be sending about 24,000 troops back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Two weeks later on October 31, citing progress in the Paris peace talks, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced what became known as the October Surprise when he ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam" effective November 1. Peace talks eventually broke down, however, and one year later, on November 3, 1969, then President Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation on television and radio asking the "silent majority" to join him in solidarity with the Vietnam War effort and to support his own policy of achieving an end to the war and American troop withdrawal by strengthening the South Vietnamese Army so that it could defend South Vietnam on its own.
Nixon was elected President and began his policy of slow disengagement from the war. The goal was to gradually build up the South Vietnamese Army so that it could fight the war on its own. This policy became the cornerstone of the so-called "Nixon Doctrine". As applied to Vietnam, the doctrine was called "Vietnamization".
During this period, the United States conducted a gradual troop withdrawal from Vietnam. Nixon continued to use air power to bomb North Vietnam and Viet Cong forces in the south. The U.S. also attempted to disrupt North Vietnam's supply system by attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the lead-up to withdrawal. The U.S. attacked North Vietnamese bases inside Cambodia, used its influence to achieve a change in government in Cambodia that led to the closing of Cambodian ports to North Vietnamese war supplies, and persuaded South Vietnam to launch a massive but ultimately unsuccessful operation into Laos to shut down the part of the Ho Chi Minh trail that traversed that country. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam under the Nixon presidency than under Johnson's, and U.S. casualties fell significantly. The Nixon administration was determined to remove U.S. troops from the theater while strengthening the ability of the ARVN to defend the south.
One of Nixon's main foreign policy goals had been the achievement of a breakthrough in U.S. relations with China and the Soviet Union. An avowed anti-communist early in his political career, Nixon could make diplomatic overtures to the Russian and Chinese communists without being accused of having communist sympathies. The result of those overtures was an era of détente that led to nuclear arms reductions in the U.S. and Soviet Union and the beginnings of a dialogue with China. In this context, Nixon viewed the Vietnam War as simply another limited conflict forming part of a bigger tapestry of superpower relations; however, he was still doggedly determined to preserve South Vietnam until such times as he could not be blamed for what he saw as its inevitable collapse (a "decent interval"). To this end he and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger employed the Chinese and Soviet foreign policy gambits to successfully defuse some of the anti-war opposition at home and secured movement at the negotiating table in Paris.
China and the U.S.S.R. had been the principal backers of the Vietnam People's Army through large amounts of military and financial support. The two communist powers competed with one another to prove their "fraternal socialist links" with the communist regime in the north. That support would increase in the years leading up to the U.S. departure in 1973, enabling the North Vietnamese to mount a full-scale conventional war against the south, complete with tanks, upgraded jet fighters, and a modern fuel pipeline snaking through parts of Laos and North Vietnam.
Nixon was roundly criticized for his heavy bombing of Hanoi in December 1972, which was partly facilitated by his diplomatic overtures to China, and which followed a breakdown in the Paris peace talks after peace appeared close at hand. Agreement had been reached in October 1972 between Kissinger and chief North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho, but the agreement was rejected by South Vietnamese President Thieu, who demanded dozens of changes to the text, including the critical demand that North Vietnamese troops had to withdraw from South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese rejected this, and then countered with many changes of their own. Nixon responded with Operation Linebacker II, which was condemned by one journalist as "war by tantrum." The bombing of Hanoi did, however, pressure North Vietnam back to the negotiating table, allowing America, and Nixon, a face-saving, or "decent interval", exit.
The morality of U.S. conduct of the war was a major political issue both in the United States and abroad. First, there was the question whether a proxy war like Vietnam without a clear and decisive path to victory was worth fighting and worth the casualties sustained both by the combatants and by civilians. Second, there was the question whether a guerrilla war in which the enemy was often indistinguishable from civilians could be fought at all without unacceptable casualties among innocent civilians. Last, there was the question whether young, inexperienced U.S. soldiers—many of them involuntary conscripts—could reasonably be expected to engage in such guerrilla warfare without succumbing to stress and resorting to acts of wanton brutality. Fighting a mostly invisible enemy mixed in the civilian population—an enemy that did not obey the conventional rules of warfare—and suffering injuries and deaths from booby traps and attacks by soldiers who pretended to be civilians could not help but lead to the kind of fear and hatred that would compromise morals.
In 1969, U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre and its cover-up, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. It came to light that Lt. William Calley, a platoon leader in Vietnam, had been ordered to investigate and, by whatever means necessary, dissolve Viet Cong control in a village that was believed to be harboring the Viet Cong as well as a large stash of weapons and ammunition. Upon arriving at the village, Lt. Calley and his men discovered that it was populated mainly by women and children. The near absence of adult males, who might reasonably have been presumed to be Viet Cong in hiding, coupled with the fact that U.S. intelligence had declared that the village was a Viet Cong hotspot, caused Lt. Calley to view all civilians as Viet Cong. Lt. Calley ordered his men to execute several hundred Vietnamese civilians, including women, babies, and the elderly. The massacre was stopped only after three U.S. soldiers (Glenn Andreotta, Lawrence Colburn and Hugh Thompson, Jr.) noticed the carnage from their helicopter and intervened to prevent their fellow soldiers from killing any more civilians. Calley was given a life sentence after his court-martial in 1970 but was later pardoned by President Nixon. Cover-ups may have happened in other cases, as detailed in the Pulitzer Prize-winning article series about the Tiger Force by the Toledo Blade in 2003.
My Lai was a public relations disaster for the US government because it was photographed. The dissident academic Noam Chomsky, said "My Lai was literally a footnote- at that time it was part of one of the big mass murder operations. You can blame My Lai on half-educated, poor G.I.s out in a field not knowing who is going to shoot at them next. What we can't talk about is the guy sitting in the air-conditioned offices who were plotting B-52 raids on villages and sending them out to carry these massacres, because those are nice folks like us."
The credibility of the U.S. government suffered in 1971 when The New York Times, and later The Washington Post and other newspapers, published The Pentagon Papers. This top-secret historical study of Vietnam, contracted by Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson), and leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg, presented a pessimistic view of the likelihood of victory in Vietnam and generated criticism of U.S. policies, including military decisions that were said to have led to increasing American involvement in the war. The importance of the actual content of the papers to policy-making is disputed but their publication was a news event and the government's legal and extra-legal efforts to prevent their publication -- mainly on national security grounds to prevent future leaks and publication of classified information -- then went on to generate yet more criticism and suspicion of the government by the American public.
In 1965, Cambodian Prince Sihanouk, pursuing a policy of official non-alignment with regard to the conflict in neighboring Vietnam, made a secret deal with China and North Vietnam, permitting the North Vietnamese army and NLF to establish bases and giving them access to Cambodia's ports to import arms from China. In return, Sihanouk was permitted to keep one third of the arms that were shipped through Sihanoukville. Three years later, a communist insurgency was launched against the rule of Sihanouk by the Cambodian communists, or 'Khmer Rouges' (Red Khmer) as Sihanouk christened them. Khmer Rouge guerrillas took shelter in the areas of Cambodia controlled by North Vietnam. In 1970, while Sihanouk was out of the country he was deposed by a vote of the National Assembly and replaced by Prime Minister Lon Nol. Cambodia's ports were then closed to Vietnamese war supplies and the government demanded that North Vietnam remove its army. Taking advantage of the situation, Nixon ordered a military incursion into Cambodia by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops in order to destroy NLF sanctuaries bordering on South Vietnam, close down the transfer of supplies and men along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, take pressure off a fragile Cambodian government threatened by its own communist insurgency, and force the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. The Cambodian Incursion prompted more protests on U.S. college campuses. Four students were killed and a score injured by National Guard and police forces during demonstrations at Kent and Jackson State universities.
In an effort to lessen opposition to the war in the U.S., Nixon announced on October 12, 1970, that the United States would withdraw 40,000 more troops from Vietnam before Christmas. Later that month on October 30, the worst monsoon to hit Vietnam in six years caused large floods, killed 293, left 200,000 homeless, and temporarily halted the war.
One unintended effect of the Cambodian incursion was to push North Vietnamese and Cambodian communist forces deeper into Cambodia, which destabilized the country and allowed the Khmer Rouge to extend its power. South Vietnamese troops in Cambodia went on the rampage, in sharp contrast to the exemplary behaviour that had been displayed by the Vietnamese communists, further increasing support for the communist cause. Sihanouk stayed in China, where he established and headed a national unity government-in-exile with the Khmer Rouge. He lent his personal credibility and popularity to their goal of overthrowing the Cambodian government, which they accomplished in 1975. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, a Maoist extremist, the Khmer Rouge set out to destroy every last remnant of "bourgeois ideology" in Cambodia. The capital city Phnom Penh was emptied of its population because cities were considered counter-revolutionary cesspools of bourgeois decadence. The populace was sent to the countryside to eke out a living on farms. The upper classes and intelligentsia were killed, and around a quarter of the Cambodian population perished in under five years.
Positive results of the Cambodian incursion, from the point of view of the U.S., were that it interrupted the flow of soldiers and military supplies from North Vietnam, reduced the caches of weapons stored by North Vietnam in Cambodia, seriously compromised the ability of North Vietnam to conduct war in the south, and allowed a respite for the transfer of the defense of South Vietnam from U.S. to South Vietnamese forces ("Vietnamization" of the war). It may have setback North Vietnam's ability to launch a full-scale offensive by as much as a year. U.S. forces left Cambodia by June 30.
Backed by U.S. air and artillery support, South Vietnamese troops invaded the portions of Laos occupied by North Vietnam on February 13, 1971 in Operation Lam Son 719, an ultimately failed attempt to close the Ho Chi Minh Trail. On August 18 of that year, Australia and New Zealand decided to withdraw their troops from Vietnam. The total number of U.S. troops in Vietnam dropped to 196,700 on October 29, 1971, the lowest level since January, 1966. On November 12, 1971, Nixon set a February 1, 1972 deadline to remove another 45,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam.
Vietnamization received a severe test in the spring of 1972 when the North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive across the DMZ using conventional forces. Beginning March 30, the "Easter Offensive" quickly overran much of Military Region 1 -- formerly known as I Corps -- including Quang Tri, and threatened the city of Hue. Early in April the North Vietnamese opened three additional fronts in the offensive in the Central Highlands and Binh Dinh province of Military Region 2 and against An Loc in Military Region 3, threatening to overrun the entire country.
The United States countered with a buildup of American airpower to support ARVN defensive operations and to conduct Operation Linebacker against North Vietnam, but continued the withdrawal of American troops, now numbering less than 100,000, as scheduled. By June only six infantry battalions remained in South Vietnam, and on August 12, the last ground combat troops left the country. The ARVN eventually stopped the North Vietnamese offensive on all fronts, recapturing Quang Tri within September. Both sides considered this somewhat of a validation of the overall strategy of Vietnamization supported by heavy U.S. airpower.
In the 1972 U.S. presidential election the war was again a major issue. An antiwar candidate, George McGovern, ran against President Nixon. Nixon ended Linebacker on October 22 and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger declared that "peace is at hand" shortly before Election day, dealing a deathblow to McGovern's campaign, which was already far behind in opinion surveys. However, the peace agreement was not signed until the next year, leading to charges that Kissinger's announcement was a political ploy. The Nixon Administration claimed that North Vietnamese negotiators had made use of Kissinger's pronouncement as an opportunity to embarrass the president and to weaken the U.S. position at the negotiation table. White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler on November 30, 1972 told the press that there would be no more public announcements concerning U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam due to the fact that troop levels were then down to 27,000.
With a perceived stalemate in the Paris peace negotiations, President Nixon ordered a resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam using B-52s. Operation Linebacker II began December 18 with large raids against both Hanoi and Haiphong. Although causing many protests both domestically and internationally, and despite significant losses of B-52s over North Vietnam, Nixon continued the bombing until December 29, when the North Vietnamese agreed to resume talks. Up until this time, there had not been heavy U.S. bombing of Hanoi and targeting of North Vietnamese leaders.
On January 15, 1973, citing progress in peace negotiations, President Nixon announced the suspension of offensive action against North Vietnam, to be followed by a unilateral withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict. The signing of the Accords won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for U.S. National Security Adviser and lead negotiator Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese Politburo member and lead negotiator Le Duc Tho. Five days before the peace accords were signed, Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency had been marred by the war, died. The mood during his state funeral was one of intense recrimination because the war's wounds were still raw. However, there was relief not only that U.S. involvement in Vietnam had ended, but also that a chapter in one of the most tragic and divisive eras in the United States had at last come to an end.
The first U.S. prisoners of war were released by North Vietnam on February 11, 1973, and all U.S. soldiers were ordered to leave by March 29. Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were generally not treated as heroes, and were sometimes even condemned for their participation in the war. The peace agreement, in the meantime, did not last.
As an inducement for Nguyen Van Thieu's South Vietnamese government to sign the Peace Accords, President Nixon had promised that the United States would provide financial and limited military support (in the form of air strikes) so that the south could continue to defend itself. But Nixon was fighting for his political life in the growing Watergate Scandal, facing an increasingly hostile Congress that held the power of the purse, and was able to exert little influence on a hostile public long sick of the Vietnam War. Thus, Nixon broke his promises to South Vietnam. Economic aid to South Vietnam continued (after being cut nearly in half), but most of it was siphoned off by corrupt officials in the South Vietnamese government, and little actually went to the war effort. At the same time, aid to North Vietnam from the U.S.S.R. increased. With the United States no longer heavily involved in Vietnam, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. no longer saw the war as significant to their relations. The balance of power shifted decisively in North Vietnam's favor, and the north subsequently launched a major military offensive against the south.
In December 1974, the Democrat majority in Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the South Vietnamese government and made unenforceable the peace terms negotiated by Nixon. Nixon, threatened with impeachment because of the Watergate scandal, had resigned his office. His vice president stepped in to finish his term. The new President Ford vetoed the legislation passed by Congress, but his veto was overridden by the Democrats.
By 1975, the South Vietnamese Army stood alone against the well-organized, highly determined, and foreign-funded North Vietnamese. In South Vietnam, there was increasing chaos. The withdrawal of the U.S. had compromised an economy that had thrived largely due to U.S. financial support and the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops. Along with the rest of the non-oil-exporting world, South Vietnam suffered economically from the oil price shocks caused by the Arab oil embargo and a subsequent global economic downturn.
In early March, 1975, the Vietnam People's Army launched an invasion of the Central Highlands supported by tanks and heavy artillery, splitting the South Vietnam in two. South Vietnamese President Thieu was fearful that South Vietnamese troops in the northern provinces of South Vietnam would be isolated due to a Vietnam People's Army encirclement. He decided to redeploy South Vietnamese troops from the northern provinces of South Vietnam into the Central Highlands. But the withdrawal of South Vietnamese forces from the north soon turned into a bloody retreat as North Vietnam launched its army south over the border. While South Vietnamese forces retreated from the northern provinces, splintered South Vietnamese forces in the Central Highlands fought desperately against the Vietnam People's Army.
North Vietnam had effectively launched a full-scale conventional military invasion designed to conquer South Vietnam by force.
On March 11, 1975 Ban-Me-Thuot fell to North Vietnam. North Vietnam's 3rd Army Corps (Tay Nguyen) began its attack in the early morning hours. After a violent artillery barrage, the 4,000-man garrison defending the city retreated with their families. On March 15, President Thieu ordered the Central Highlands and the northern provinces to be abandoned, in what he declared to be a "lighten the top and keep the bottom" strategy. South Vietnamese General Phu abandoned the cities of Pleiku and Kontum and retreated to the coast in what became known as the "column of tears". General Phu led his troops to Tum Ky on the coast, but as the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) retreated, civilians also went with them. Due to already-destroyed roads and bridges, Phu's column slowed down as the Vietnam People's Army (PAVN) closed in. As the column staggered down the mountains to the coast, it was shelled by the PAVN. By April 1, the column ceased to exist after 60,000 ARVN troops were killed.
On March 20, Thieu reversed himself and ordered that Hue, Vietnam's 3rd-largest city, be held "at all costs". But as the PAVN attacked, panic ensued, and South Vietnamese resistance collapsed. On March 22, the PAVN launched a siege of Hue. Civilians jammed into the airport, seaports, and the docks. Some even swam into the ocean to reach boats and barges. The ARVN were routed along with the civilians, and some South Vietnamese soldiers shot civilians just to make room for themselves to retreat. On March 25, after a 3-day siege, Hue fell.
As Hue fell, PAVN rockets hit downtown Da Nang and its airport. By March 28, 35,000 troops of PAVN's 2nd Corps (Huong Giang) were poised to attack in the suburbs. On March 29, a World Airways jet flown by U.S. pilot Edward Daley landed in Da Nang to rescue women and children; instead, 300 men jammed onto the flight, mostly ARVN troops. On March 30, Easter Sunday, 100,000 leaderless ARVN troops surrendered as the PAVN marched victoriously through Da Nang. With the fall of Da Nang, the defense of the Central Highlands and northern provinces collapsed. With the northern half of South Vietnam under their control, the PAVN prepared the final phase of its offensive, the Hồ Chí Minh campaign. The plan: By May 1, capture Saigon before South Vietnamese forces could regroup to defend it.
North Vietnam continued its attack as South Vietnamese forces attempted to hold back the invasion. On April 7, 3 PAVN divisions of the 4th Army Corps (Cuu Long) attacked Xuan-loc, 40 miles east of Saigon, where they met fierce resistance from the ARVN 18th Infantry division. For two bloody weeks, severe fighting raged in the city as the ARVN defenders, in a last-ditch effort, tried desperately to save South Vietnam from conquest. The ARVN 18th Infantry division used many advanced weapons against the PAVN; this was the final phase in which South Vietnamese troops fought very well. But on April 21, the exhausted and besieged army garrison defending Xuan-loc surrendered. A bitter and tearful Nguyễn Văn Thiệu resigned on April 21, declaring that the United States had "betrayed South Vietnam", and displaying the 1972 document in which the U.S. had promised that it would retaliate against North Vietnam should they attack. Thiệu left for Taiwan on April 25, leaving control of his doomed government to General Dương Văn Minh.
By now, PAVN tanks had reached Bien Hoa. They turned towards Saigon, clashing with occasional isolated South Vietnamese units on the way.
By April, the weakened South Vietnamese Army had collapsed on all fronts. The North Vietnamese invasion forced South Vietnamese troops into a bloody retreat that ended in a siege at Xuan-loc, a city 40 miles from Saigon, and the last South Vietnamese defense line before Saigon. The 'Vietnam Babylift' evacuated nearly 3,000 babies and children in harm's way in South Vietnam to the United States and several other countries. On April 21, the defense of Xuan-loc collapsed and PAVN troops and tanks rapidly advanced to Saigon. On April 27, 100,000 PAVN troops encircled Saigon, which was to be defended by 30,000 ARVN troops. In order to increase panic and disorder in the city, the PAVN troops began shelling the airport. With the closure of the airport, large numbers of people who might otherwise have fled the city found that they had no way out. On April 29, the U.S. launched Option IV, arguably the largest helicopter evacuation in history.
Chaos, unrest, and panic ensued as hysterical South Vietnamese officials and civilians scrambled to leave Saigon before it was too late. Helicopters began evacuating both U.S. and South Vietnamese citizens from the U.S. embassy and the airport. Evacuations were delayed until the last minute because U.S. Ambassador Martin thought that Saigon could be held and defended. The evacuations began in an atmosphere of desperation as hysterical crowds of South Vietnamese vied for limited seats on the departing helicopters. Martin had pleaded with the U.S. government, to no avail, to send $700 million in emergency aid to South Vietnam in order to bolster the Saigon regime's ability to fight and mobilize fresh South Vietnamese units. It was now too late for any amount of money to save the situation, with Saigon surrounded and South Vietnamese troops outnumbered.
In the U.S., South Vietnam was now perceived as doomed. President Gerald Ford gave a speech on April 23 declaring the end of the Vietnam War and the end of all U.S. aid to the Saigon regime. The helicopter evacuation continued day and night as PAVN tanks breached the outskirts of Saigon. In the early morning hours of April 30, the last U.S. Marines evacuated the embassy as South Vietnamese civilians poured over the embassy perimeter and swarmed onto its grounds.
Tank skirmishes began as ARVN M-41 tanks attacked the PAVN's heavily armored Soviet T-54 tanks. PAVN troops overcame this resistance, quickly capturing the U.S. embassy, the South Vietnamese government army garrison, the police headquarters, radio station, presidential palace, and other vital facilities. The PAVN encountered greater than expected resistance from small and scattered ARVN formations. By now, the helicopter evacuations that had evacuated 7,000 U.S. and Vietnamese had ended. The presidential palace was captured and the NLF flag waved victoriously over it. Thieu's successor, South Vietnamese President Dương Văn Minh attempted to surrender Saigon. However, PAVN colonel Búi Tín informed Minh that he did not have anything to surrender. President Minh ordered South Vietnamese troops to lay down their weapons.
Columns of South Vietnamese troops came out of their defensive positions and surrendered. Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.
Despite the United States military having decisively won most major engagements and had voluntarily withdrawn troops from the country two years earlier following a peace accord, the Vietnam War is considered by some to be a defeat of the United States' goals, with over 58,000 U.S. dead and many more severely injured. As for the people of South Vietnam, over a million ARVN soldiers died in the 30-year conflict. Over a million communist soldiers and around 4 million Vietnamese civilians on both sides died.
The last official U.S. battle in Indochina was on May 15, 1975, when 18 soldiers were killed on the last day of a rescue operation known as the Mayagüez incident involving a skirmish with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Those soldiers are listed last on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
North Vietnam united both North and South Vietnam on July 2, 1976 to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the former president of North Vietnam. Thousands of supporters of the South Vietnamese government were rounded up and sent to "re-education" camps. The new regime considered these supporters to be American "collaborators" and "traitors".
North Vietnam followed up its victory by first conquering Laos and, then Cambodia, where the Vietnamese Army overthrew Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge regime and installed a pro-Vietnam government. Vietnamese troops occupied both countries until the late 1980s. The USA did not recognise the pro-Vietnam government in Cambodia, and along with the UN continued to consider the Khmer Rouge--which became an insurgent group following the Vietnamese invasion--to be Cambodia's government for many years.
In 1979, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam also entered into a brief war with China.
After the Vietnam war the United States entered a period of relative calm. Any temptation to commit U.S. troops to another proxy war with the Soviet Union or China was resisted. Detente with the latter countries made such wars less likely, although superpower competition persisted, with the major powers seeking to extend their influence and block their rivals through both covert and more direct actions in Nicaragua, Angola and other Third World countries. In the meantime, a new threat was arising with the growth of international terrorism, which first captured the public's attention when Palestinian militants took Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The seizure by Islamic radicals of the U.S. embassy in Iran and the holding of U.S. hostages for more than a year brought an anemic U.S. response, reflecting U.S. hesitancy to embroil itself in another foreign confrontation.
In contrast to the U.S., Vietnam flexed its muscles and entered into an expansionist period leading to its occupation of Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam also fought a short war with China. However, the Soviet collapse in 1991 effectively ended the Cold War and left Vietnam without its primary economic benefactor. This led the government in Hanoi to seek to improve relations with the United States. Vietnam withdrew its army from Cambodia and Laos, which greatly improved its international image. Vietnam then entered into bilateral negotiations with the United States after Bill Clinton, who had once protested the Vietnam War, became President in 1993. In 1995 Vietnam and the United States established diplomatic and trade relations over the objections of some U.S. war veterans and families still searching for soldiers missing in action (MIAs). The U.S. opened an embassy in Vietnam for the first time since 1975. Direct flights between the U.S. and Vietnam resumed in 2005 when United Airlines began daily flights between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City via Hong Kong. Vietnam now markets itself as a tourist destination for Americans, including many Vietnamese-American citizens who enjoy making regular visits "home".
The Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam with medical supplies, arms, tanks, planes, helicopters, artillery, ground-air missiles and other military equipment. 80% of all weaponry used by the North Vietnamese side came from the Soviet Union. Hundreds of military advisors were sent to train the Vietnamese army. Soviet pilots acted as training cadre and many have flown combat missions as "volunteers". Other USSR operatives tested their SVD rifle in combat conditions prior to official American entry as well as operating surface-to-air missile batteries in North Vietnam. During the war soviets developed MiG-21 jets, which gradually replaced the older MiG-19. The Vietnam War was the first testing ground under real battle conditions for the MiG-21 jet. Due to Soviet effort at decoding American radio signals, the Vietnamese always knew where American long range bombers would strike next. This led to great ineffectivity of B52 bombers during the Vietnamese War. Fewer than a dozen Soviet citizens lost their lives in this conflict.
The People's Republic of China's involvement in the Vietnam War began in the summer of 1962, when Mao Zedong agreed to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge. After the launch of Operation Rolling Thunder, China sent engineering battalions and supporting anti-aircraft units to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American bombing, build roads, railroads and to perform other engineering works. This freed North Vietnamese army units to go to the South. Between 1965 and 1970 over 320,000 Chinese soldiers served in North Vietnam; the peak year was 1967 when 170,000 were serving there. In April 2006, an event was held in Vietnam to honor the almost 1100 Chinese soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War; a further 4200 were injured.
South Korea's military represented the second largest contingent of foreign troops in South Vietnam. South Korea dispatched its first troops beginning in 1964. Large combat battalions began arriving a year later. A total of approximately 300,000 South Korean soldiers were sent to Vietnam. As with the United States, soldiers served one year, and then were replaced with new soldiers, from 1964 until 1973. The maximum number of South Korean troops in Vietnam at any one time was 50,000. More than 5,000 South Koreans were killed and 11,000 were injured in the war.
South Korean marines proved to be a formidable force during the war due to their anti-Communism and willingness to commit acts of violence. They were among the most feared opponents on the battlefield and captured enemy documents proved this. Viet Cong commanders ordered troops to avoid all contact with the Koreans "at all costs, unless a Viet Cong victory is 100% certain." If they came into contact, the Viet Cong were advised to retreat rather than fight the ROKMC.
Their most notable operations were "Operation Van Buren" and the Battle of Hoi An. During "Operation Van Buren," it is purported that a ROKMC platoon of about 13 people wiped out an elite North Vietnamese Army regiment. There were only 2 Koreans dead and more than 400 NVA soldiers dead. It was at first a gun battle but it broke down into hand to hand combat. The ROKMC had an overall kill ratio of 25:1. A less sensational precis of Operation Van Buren still respects the strength of the ROKMC victory.
The Battle of Tra Binh Dong is another crowning moment for South Korea. Accounts of the battle were carried in media throughout the world. The New York Times reported the battle as the “South Korean’s greatest victory in their 15 months in South Vietnam.” Following a briefing to foreign journalists, the phrase “Myth-Making Marines” began to appear in the press, continuing the legacy of the “Ghost-Catching Marines” (Korean: "귀신 잡는 해병대" sometimes also translated as "the demon-hunters") and “Invincible Marines” of the Korean War.
As a result of a decision of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1966, in early 1967, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) sent a fighter squadron to North Vietnam to back up the North Vietnamese 921st and 923rd fighter squadrons defending Hanoi. They stayed through 1968, and 200 pilots were reported to have served. In addition, at least two anti-aircraft artillery regiments were sent as well. North Korea also sent weapons, ammunition and two million sets of uniforms to their comrades in North Vietnam. Kim Il Sung is reported to have told his pilots to "fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were their own".
As U.S. allies, Australia and New Zealand sent ground troops to Vietnam. Both nations had gained valuable experience in counterinsurgency and jungle warfare in the Malayan Emergency. Geographically close to Asia, they subscribed to the Domino Theory of communist expansion (as one country fell to communism, its neighbors became endangered) and felt that their national security would be threatened if communism spread further in Southeast Asia. Australia's peak commitment was 7,672 combat troops, New Zealand's 552. Australia re-introduced conscription to bolster an extra nine infantry battalions in the face of significant public opposition to the war. Like the US, Australia began by sending advisers to Vietnam, the number of which rose steadily until 1965, when combat troops were committed. New Zealand began by sending a detachment of engineers and an artillery battery, then started sending special forces. The Australian Units & The New Zealanders in 161 Artillery Battery were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation 1st Class for their actions in support of the 173d Airborne Brigade at Bein Hoa in 1965/6.
Australian and New Zealand soldiers used small stealthy patrols no bigger than platoon size, with the main goal being ambushing or reconnaissance. They did not use paths or trails, carried extra water, and fired 60% less ammunition. They relied far more heavily on counter-insurgency than the United States forces, who were more focused on large set piece battles that could be incredibily destructive. Consequently, the ANZACs received more support from the local population and suffered proportionately fewer casualties than US forces. But the ANZAC forces were not without fault. While the small stealthy patrols conducted by the ANZACs meant fewer casualties than the US and ARVN forces, it also meant a lower body count. Some American officers complained that the operations conducted by the ANZACs were far too detailed for a place like Vietnam. Counter-insurgency operations to, never had enough troops to protect the local population and fight the enemy at the same time and resettlement of villagers was never an easy task. Overall, the U.S. was pleased by the effectiveness of the Australian and New Zealand special forces, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and the Special Air Service of New Zealand (NZ SAS). The Australian SASR achieved a kill ratio of 500:1, ANZAC regular forces were committed to the province of Phuoc Tuy, southeast of Saigon. The most notable battle fought by Australian forces was at Long Tan on 18-19 August 1966. A force of more than 2500 North Vietnamese Regular and NLF took on 108 soldiers of D Company 6 R.A.R. 18 Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded. 245 NLF guerillas were confirmed dead. Many more dead were believed to have been taken from the battle field. There is no official record of the NLF wounded. Documents later found off NVA forces revealed about 800 NVA and Viet Cong were killed during the battle.
Thai soldiers fought in Laos for several years. While in theory just merceneries fighting in so-called Unity Battalions, they were in fact Thai regulars fighting against North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao. The battalions were active between 1970 and 1972. In addition, the "Queen Cobra" battalion and other regular units of the Thai Army saw action in South Vietnam between 1965 and 1971.
Small-scale U.S. opposition to the war began in 1964 on college campuses. Some of the opposition resulted from the growing influence of the New Left (or "Western Marxism", which reflected an independent strain of socialist thought not controlled by Moscow), but much of the opposition was nonideological. The younger generation, inspired by President John F. Kennedy's memorable edict "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country", was idealistic, and many had committed themselves to the idea of improving society and the world around them. The same idealism that led many young people to join the Peace Corps and volunteer to fight in Vietnam would lead many others to protest the war and participate as "freedom riders" in the Civil Rights movement in the South.
A compelling and very personal reason for much student opposition to the war was the military draft. Conscription in the United States had existed since 1940 (except for a brief lapse in 1947-48), when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress drafted soldiers to fight in World War II. Large numbers of soldiers were also drafted to serve in the Korean War in the early 1950s. Though conscription remained at a low level through much of the rest of the Cold War, it increased dramatically in 1964 to provide troops for the Vietnam Conflict. Formal protests against the draft began on October 15, 1965, when the student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged the first public burning of a draft card in the United States. Many potential draftees fled to Canada and Sweden.
Abuses in the Selective Service System were one cause of protest, as local "draft boards" were given wide latitude to decide who should be drafted and who should be granted "deferments". The granting of a deferment -- so that one could go to college, raise a child, and for various other reasons -- usually meant escaping military service. Eventually, deferments were abandoned in favor of a lottery. The first draft lottery since World War II in the United States was held on December 1, 1969, based on a potential draftee's date of birth. While this had the effect of giving relative certainty to young men as to their chances of being drafted, it also had the effect of dividing those eligible youth who engaged in war protest, as noted by The New York Times in a December 8, 1969 article: "Draft Lottery Changes Views of Eligibles."
Statistical analysis indicated that the methodology of the lotteries unintentionally disadvantaged men with late year birthdays. This issue was treated at length in a January 4, 1970, New York Times article titled "Statisticians Charge Draft Lottery Was Not Random".
U.S. public opinion became polarized by the war. Many supporters of the war argued for what was known as the Domino Theory, which held that if South Vietnam fell to communism, other nations, primarily in Southeast Asia, would succumb like falling dominoes. Some critics of the war pointed out that the conflict was political and that the military mission lacked clear objectives. Other critics argued that the government of South Vietnam lacked political legitimacy, and that support for the war was therefore immoral. Some anti-war activists were themselves Vietnam Veterans, as evidenced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Some of the U.S. citizens opposed to the Vietnam War stressed their support for ordinary Vietnamese civilians struck by a war over which they had no influence. President Johnson's undersecretary of state, George Ball, was one of the lone voices in his administration advising against war in Vietnam.
The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the U.S. government. On August 16, 1966 the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigations of U.S. citizens who were suspected of aiding the NLF. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted one of the HUAC meetings, and 50 were arrested.
On February 1, 1968, a suspected NLF officer was captured near the site of a ditch holding the bodies of as many as 34 South Vietnamese police and their relatives -- some of whom were related to General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan's deputy and close friend. General Loan, the National Chief of Police in South Vietnam, summarily shot the suspect in the head on a public street in front of journalists. The execution was filmed and photographed, and provided another iconic image that helped sway public opinion in the United States against the war.
In Australia, resistance to the war was at first very limited, although the Australian Labor Party (in opposition for most of the period) steadfastly opposed conscription. However, anti-war sentiment escalated rapidly in the late 1960s as more and more Australian soldiers were killed in battle. Growing public unease about the death toll was fueled by a series of highly-publicized arrests of conscientious objectors and exacerbated by shocking revelations of atrocities against Vietnamese civilians, leading to a rapid increase in domestic opposition to the war between 1967 and 1970. The Moratorium marches, timed in major Australian cities to coincide with similar protest marches in the U.S., were among the largest public gatherings ever seen in Australia up to that time, with over 200,000 people taking to the streets in Melbourne alone.
On October 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of people took part in National Moratorium antiwar demonstrations across the United States. A second round of "Moratorium" demonstrations was held on November 15, 1969.
On April 22, 1971, John Kerry, who would later become a U.S. Senator, became the first Vietnam War veteran to testify before Congress about the war, when he appeared before a Senate committee hearing on proposals related to ending the war. He spoke for nearly two hours with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in what has been called the Fulbright Hearing, after the chairman of the Committee, Senator J. William Fulbright. Kerry presented the conclusions of the controversial Winter Soldier Investigation, in which veterans claimed to have personally committed or witnessed war crimes. Kerry would later be both supported and criticized by fellow veterans when he ran for President against George W. Bush in 2004.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson began to seek a second term. A little-known member of his own party, Eugene McCarthy, ran against him for the Democratic nomination on an antiwar platform. McCarthy lost by just 300 votes to Johnson in the first primary election in New Hampshire. This unexpected blow to the Johnson campaign, together with President Johnson's long years of frustration in trying to satisfy "doves" with his Great Society programs while placating "hawks" by staying the course in Vietnam, led the president to make a surprise announcement in a March 31 televised speech that he was pulling out of the race. At the same time, he announced the initiation of the Paris Peace Talks with North Vietnam. After Richard Nixon won the presidency in November, 1968, U.S. National Security Adviser and lead U.S. negotiator Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese lead negotiator Xuan Thuy began secret peace negotiations at the apartment of French intermediary Jean Sainteny in Paris on August 4, 1969. This set of negotiations would fail, however, prior to the 1972 North Vietnamese offensive.
On January 21, 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardoned nearly all Vietnam War draft evaders.
The long period of gradually increasing U.S. involvement in the war has been described as an escalation. This is typically meant to refer to the incremental increase in forces in response to greater need, rather than an intentional strategy. However, a key element of escalation was the lack of a traditional declaration of war which would have occasioned a national commitment to using all available means to secure victory as quickly as possible.
Instead, U.S. involvement increased over several years, beginning with the deployment of noncombatant military advisers to the South Vietnamese army. This was followed by the use of special forces for commando-style operations. Next came the introduction of regular troops for defensive purposes. Last came regular troops used for offensive combat. Once U.S. troops were engaged in active combat, escalation meant increasing their numbers.
Successive U.S. administrations hoped that by limiting U.S. involvement to defending the South and not invading the North, they could support South Vietnam without provoking a major response from China and/or the Soviet Union as had happened in the Korean War. President Johnson remained faithful to the Kennedy administration's position that maintaining South Vietnam's independence was crucial to the overall U.S. "containment" of Soviet and Chinese-sponsored communism. The containment doctrine (which tried to avoid direct confrontation) was intended to avoid provoking direct participation in the conflict by the Warsaw Pact.
This strategy meant that military hawks would feel too constrained, while doves would regard the Vietnam conflict as a pointless exercise in U.S. imperialism. The unavoidable ambiguities of U.S. Cold War containment policy caused friction between military leaders and their civilian bosses in Washington. Military leaders such as General William Westmoreland resented the Johnson Administration's restraints on their operations, but feared making outspoken policy criticisms lest they suffer the same fate as General Douglas MacArthur, who had been dismissed by President Truman during the Korean War. As a natural outgrowth of this conflict, the military leadership of the United States resented what they considered the "micromanagement" of the war by the President and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
The relatively slow process of escalation, with no dramatic increases in the number of troops at any one time, tended to mute opposition to the war in its early stages. However, in 1968 the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed increasing the number of active reserve troops by 200,000 in order to make up for the troop shortfall caused by having roughly a third of U.S. forces committed to one theater of conflict in Vietnam. The Joint Chiefs of Staff asked General Westmoreland, the only military official then commanding U.S. troops in a conflict, to testify to the need for an increase. The press portrayed the proposed increase as resulting from a need for more troops in Vietnam in order to cope with the Tet Offensive. When the proposal was made public, popular criticism caused the Johnson Administration to abandon the idea. Presidential candidate Richard Nixon called for a decrease in U.S. troop levels. By the end of 1969, under his new administration, they were reduced by 60,000 from their wartime peak.
The U.S. realized that the South Vietnamese government needed a solid base of popular support if it was to survive the insurgency. In order to pursue this goal of "winning the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people, units of the United States Army, referred to as "Civil Affairs" units, were extensively utilized for the first time for this purpose since World War II.
Estimating the number killed in the conflict is extremely difficult. Official records from North Vietnam are hard to find or nonexistent, and many of those killed were literally obliterated by bombing. For many years the North Vietnamese suppressed the true number of their casualties for propaganda purposes. It is also difficult to say exactly what counts as a "Vietnam war casualty"; people are still being killed today by unexploded ordnance, particularly cluster bomblets. More than 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed or injured so far by landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Environmental effects from chemical agents and the colossal social problems caused by a devastated country with so many dead surely caused many more lives to be shortened.
The lowest casualty estimates came out immediately after the war and North Vietnamese claimed that over 600,000 of its troops were killed and based on North Vietnamese statements (now discounted by Vietnam), are around 1.5 million Vietnamese killed. The number gradually increased over the years, and the Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs released figures on April 3, 1995, reporting that 1.1 million fighters—Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers—and nearly 2 million civilians in the north and 2 million in the south were killed between 1954 and 1975. Robert McNamara, in his regretful memoir of the war, references a figure of 3.2 million. The number of wounded fighters was put at 600,000. It remains even more unclear how many Vietnamese civilians were wounded. The Vietnamese list over 200,000 of their own soldiers as missing in action.
However, according to declassified informations by the Vietnamese government in the late-1990's, as well as the admission of the Vietnamese government officials who participated in the war, the actual number is much higher. In the documentary aired by The History Channel in the early 2000's, numerous Vietnamese officials confirmed the latest number from the million, including 2 million killed in action, 300,000 missing in action. However, the non-combat related death is greater than MIA & KIA combined: nearly 2 and half a million North Vietnamese troops died as a result of disease (malaria was the major cause) and non-combat related accidents (such as falling, drowning, and snake bites). The number of POWs was uncertain, because during the war, defections were common. The number of wounded was also uncertain because many fighters were wounded multiple times and it was difficult to track by keeping historical records especially for the communist forces in the southern Vietnam.
58,226 U.S. soldiers were killed in action or classified as missing in action. A further 153,303 U.S. military personnel were wounded, for a total casualty count of 211,529. The United States Army took the majority of the casualties with 38,179 killed and 96,802 wounded; the U.S. Marine Corps lost 14,836 killed and 51,392 wounded; the U.S. Navy 2,556 and 4,178; the U.S. Air Force 2,580 and 931; and the Coast Guard 7 and 60.
Although Canada was not involved in the war, thousands of Canadians joined the U.S. armed forces and served in Vietnam. Official U.S. fatalities include at least 56 Canadian citizens. It is difficult to estimate the exact number because some Canadians crossed the border to volunteer for service under false pretenses, while others were permanent residents living in the United States who either volunteered or were drafted. See also Canada and the Vietnam War.
In the aftermath of the war, some U.S. citizens came to believe that some of the 2,300 U.S. soldiers listed as Missing in Action had in fact been taken prisoner by North Vietnam and held indefinitely once the two Vietnams were unified.
Both during and after the war, significant human rights violations occurred. Both North and South Vietnamese had large numbers of political prisoners, many of whom were killed or tortured. In 1970, two U.S. congressmen visiting South Vietnam discovered the existence of "tiger cages", which were small prison cells used for torturing South Vietnamese political prisoners (see Con Son Island). After the war, actions taken by the victors in Vietnam, including firing squads, torture, concentration camps and "reeducation," led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Additionally, economic problems in Vietnam led to the exodus of many more Vietnamese. Many of these refugees fled by boat, giving rise to the name, "boat people." Those who survived the pirates and other dangers of traversing the ocean in flimsy craft immigrated to the United States, France, Australia, Canada, and other countries, creating sizable Vietnamese expatriate communities.
Virtually all Vietnamese were affected by the war, having endured large-scale bombardment and—in many cases—targeted killings. During the war's height in the late 1960s, about half of South Vietnam's population of 20 million people were displaced. Once Vietnam was unified under Communist rule, fighting and hostility continued with neighboring countries until 1989. Many Vietnamese lost relatives as a result of the war. The end of the war marked the first time in many years that Vietnam was not engaged in substantial civil war or active military conflict with an external power. North and South Vietnam were unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam following the war.
Many highly-skilled and educated South Vietnamese fled the country during the surrender of Saigon and in the years following, severely depleting human capital in Vietnam. The new government sent people connected to the South Vietnamese regime to concentration camps for "reeducation", often for years at a time. Others were sent to so-called "new economic zones" to work the land. The Communist government implemented land reforms in the South similar to those implemented in North Vietnam earlier. Persecution and poverty prompted an additional two million people to flee Vietnam as boat people over the 20 years following unification. The refugee problem was so severe that during the 1980s and 1990s the U.N. established refugee camps in neighboring countries. Many of the refugees resettled in the United States, forming large Vietnamese-American immigrant communities with a decidedly anti-communist viewpoint.
The Communist government implemented currency reforms. The đồng previously used in South Vietnam was converted to the "liberation đồng" at a rate of 500 old đồng to 1 liberation đồng, making the old South Vietnamese money largely worthless. After reunification in 1976, the liberation dong was abandoned in favor of a new unified đồng. While the North exchanged at the 1:1 rate, the South exchanged 5 liberation đồng for each 4 unified đồng. Private enterprises in the South were socialized. During much of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam underwent an economic depression and came close to famine.
The large number of people born after 1975 may be indicative of a postwar baby boom. Despite the devastating effect of the war on their parents' generation, a general disinterest in politics and recent history among this postwar generation of Vietnamese is notable.
The Soviet collapse in 1991 left Vietnam without its main economic and political partner. Thus, it began to seek closer ties with the West. After taking office, U.S. President Bill Clinton announced his desire to normalize relations with Vietnam. His administration lifted economic sanctions on the country in 1994, and in May 1995 the two nations renewed diplomatic ties, with the U.S. opening an embassy on Vietnamese soil for the first time since 1975.
The economic reforms known as đổi mới (renovations), instituted by the Vietnamese government since the late 1980s, have been producing spectacular results. Today, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, fueled by exports and foreign direct investment. In less than two years after the signing a bilateral trade agreement in 2001, the U.S. became the largest export market for Vietnam. However, Vietnam remains a relatively poor country.
It is estimated that six million unexploded bombs and hundreds of thousands of land mines still exist in Vietnam, along with other explosive devices; these cause major problems in agriculture. Munitions come from both sides. Although the cost needed to remove the unexploded bombs is enormous, people and organizations nevertheless are attempting to remove them. Bombs and mines are also left in Cambodia and Laos. The Vietnamese government refuses to accept any responsibility for these explosives, and by official policy considers any explosive device to be U.S. in origin regardless of type.
U.S. herbicides—most importantly the dioxin-based Agent Orange, which was used to remove plant cover from large areas—continue to change the landscape, cause diseases, and poison the food-chain in the areas where they were used.
Between 1961 and 1971, the high command of the United States decided that, since a guerrilla struggle was apparently being protected by tree cover, a useful first step might be to "defoliate" those same trees. Famous corporations such as Dow and Monsanto were given the task of developing weapons for this purpose. The resulting chemical weaponry included color-coded Agents Pink, Green, Purple, Blue, White, and, most famously, Agent Orange. About 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over Vietnam. A prime use of the chemical was in the delta of the Keong River, where the Swift Boats were vulnerable to attack from the undergrowth at the water's edge.
In 1961-62, the Kennedy administration authorized the use of chemical weapons to destroy rice crops in South Vietnam in Operation Ranch Hand. Between 1961 and 1967, the U.S. Air Force sprayed 20 million US gallons (76,000 m³) of concentrated herbicides (mainly Agent Orange) over 6 million acres (24,000 km²) of crops and trees, affecting an estimated 13% of South Vietnam's land. In 1997, an article published by the Wall Street Journal reported that up to half a million children were born with dioxin-related deformities, and that the birth defects in South Vietnam were fourfold those in the North. The use of Agent Orange may have been contrary to international rules of war at the time. It is also noteworthy that the most likely victims of such an assault would be small children. A 1967 study by the Agronomy Section of the Japanese Science Council concluded that 3.8 million acres (15,000 km²) of land had been destroyed, killing 1,000 peasants and 13,000 livestock.
In 2005, the New Zealand government confirmed that it supplied Agent Orange chemicals to the United States military during the conflict. Since the early 1960s, and up until 1987, it manufactured the 2,4,5T herbicide at a plant in New Plymouth which was then shipped to U.S. military bases in South East Asia.
The US Veterans Administration has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as side effects of the herbicide.
The U.S. started bombing Cambodia in 1965 under the administration of Lyndon Johnson. At this time the more than 2,500 sorties were primarily tactical missions meant to support ground incursions by the CIA and US Special Forces in an effort to destabilize NLF forces based there. Beginning in 1969 Nixon escalated the attacks to an unprecedented program of carpet bombing that exceeded, in terms of tonnage, the total payload dropped by the Allies during World War II, including the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 1975, shortly before the end of the war, the Communist Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia after a bloody civil war. This led to a democide comparable to the Holocaust that collectively killed some 1.7 million people (possibly even 3 million), one-fifth of the country's population. A month after taking power, Khmer Rouge soldiers seized the SS Mayagüez, a U.S. merchant ship. U.S. President Ford ordered air strikes on Cambodian oil installations and the landing of troops at Koh Tang Island, where it was believed the crew was being held. The ship was seized and the crew repatriated (see Mayagüez Incident), but a significant number of U.S. casualties occurred at Koh Tang. The Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979, when Vietnam invaded and installed a pro-Vietnamese puppet government.
The Vietnam People's Army, in violation of the Paris peace accords, never left Laos. When U.S. forces pulled out of Indochina in 1973, the royalist government of Laos brought the communist Pathet Lao into the government as equals. Laos was to be neutral. Large portions of the Laotian military were demobilized due to lack of money, as U.S. aid to South Vietnam and Laos ended in 1974. After North Vietnam won its victory in South Vietnam, it encouraged the Pathet Lao to attack royalist elements in the government. Vietnam People's Army units provided support for the attack. After seeing what had happened in Cambodia and South Vietnam, the royalists negotiated a transfer of power to the Pathet Lao. The king abdicated. Later, he was killed by the government along with his family.
Most educated people in Laos fled the country. The Pathet Lao remained little more than a puppet colonial regime taking orders from Vietnam. A treaty of friendship with the now-unified and communist Vietnam was signed, which legalized the presence of the Vietnamese army in the country. Vietnamese "advisers" were given prominent roles. On orders from Vietnam, the borders of Laos with China and Thailand were closed, which made Laos economically dependent on Vietnam. Vietnam eventually withdrew from Laos in the late 1980s. The communist government of Laos has liberalized the economy and some aspects of daily life, but maintains strong centralized control.
The Vietnam War had a powerful impact on American attitudes about war and the role of the United States in the world. While the strategy of containment of communist expansion appeared to have been successful in light of the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the failure of communism to spread to countries in Southeast Asia outside of Indochina, it is an open question whether fighting proxy wars against the Soviet Union and China was responsible for successful containment. On the other hand, there is no question that the costs of fighting proxy wars, both in Korea and Vietnam, were considerable. In the case of Vietnam, millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were killed, the war dragged on for the U.S. for ten long years without any sense of resolution, and political disagreement at home brought about civil unrest and widespread cynicism about American ideals and values. Conscription to fight in wars that did not involve any direct attack on the U.S. itself was no longer a viable option for the U.S. military. The war in Vietnam had destroyed the trust in national leaders that allows such conscription to occur without significant protest, and the U.S. decided to make the military a strictly voluntary organization, holding the draft in reserve only for national emergencies. The Vietnam War also demonstrated that mass mobilization and protest can influence government policy. By 1968, protesters had succeeded in making any unconditional commitment to "staying the course" in Vietnam politically untenable.
The communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia led to a mass emigration from Indochina, mainly to the United States, Canada, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and West Germany. Over one million refugees settled in the United States (see Vietnamese American). They included Vietnamese, Cambodians, and the Hmong of Laos. Some of the refugees were Amerasians, children of U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese women. These children were often discriminated against in Vietnam and were put up for adoption in the U.S. if their U.S. fathers could not be located.
By late 1970, heroin use was emerging as a health issue among U.S. servicemen, with medics reporting that as many as 10% of GIs in their units were users. The ready availability of inexpensive narcotics of all kinds in Vietnam led to an increase in drug importation into Australia, as U.S. and allied soldiers brought drugs with them when they were sent to Sydney for "rest and recreation". The drug problem was part of a general breakdown in military discipline that occurred toward the end of the war. It should be remembered, however, that most U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam were volunteers, were better educated and trained than U.S. soldiers in past wars, and saw more combat than soldiers in previous wars. One of the many tragedies of the war is that their service was not fully appreciated; the controversy and frustration caused by the war itself overshadowed everything else.
US Soldiers who served in Vietnam were respected by some, shunned by others. Not only did attitudes about U.S. involvement in the war influence their treatment, feelings of guilt over not having served or not taking the full consequences of refusing to serve (by going to prison, for example) could not help but make embarrassment a major factor in shaping attitudes towards those who did serve. It should be kept in mind, however, that Americans have not generally honored soldiers in relatively "minor" wars in the way that they have honored soldiers in major wars (such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.) Korean War veterans, like their Vietnam War counterparts, have likewise suffered from being "forgotten soldiers". Because of the lack of a warm welcome home from society at large, and the rotation in and out of soldiers so that only a few came home at the same time, many Vietnam veterans experienced social isolation in the years following the war. In contrast to World War II veterans, they were not given any benefits beyond what soldiers receive when they serve in a time of peace. Only 1,800 of some 250,000 soldiers who were exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange received compensation for the effects of that exposure.
On 3 October 1987, Australian Vietnam veterans were honored at a "Welcome Home" parade in Sydney, and it was there that a campaign for a Vietnam memorial began. The Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra was dedicated in 1992.
Negative stereotyping of veterans in popular culture was common in the 1970s and 80's. Hollywood's idea of a Vietnam veteran was a scruffy, deranged, walking time-bomb ready, at any time, to commit acts of mayhem. The assumption was that most soldiers had been forced into combat against their will, and then became deeply mentally disturbed once they began to participate in gruesome and horrific war crimes. In recent years, many of these stereotypes have become more widely challenged. With the benefit of a newfound emotional distance from the war, most veterans have stated they do not regret their service, and do not view it as having been a negative personal experience. Many ordinary Americans likewise have a much more sympathetic and respectful attitude towards Vietnam War veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder (called "battle fatigue" in the past) is now much more clearly understood as a complex psychatric problem, and not simply a result of derranged guilt complexes or bloodthirsty urges.
In 1982, more positive feelings about Vietnam War veterans allowed for the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (also known as 'The Wall') designed by Maya Lin. It is located on the National Mall adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial. The Three Soldiers statue was added in 1984. Conflicting attitudes towards the war ensured that the design of the memorial was quite controversial, however. Many view the VVM as very grim and stark; a far cry from other memorials that put considerable effort into glamorizing and dramatising the memory of war.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 9 million people claim to have served in Vietnam; military records show only 3 million had served.
A wide variety of weapons were used in the Vietnam War. The 1960s were a time of great technological innovation in the U.S., and Vietnam served as a testing ground for helicopter warfare and electronic sensors coupled with high-speed data processing -- in addition to weapons such as the M-16, thought by some to be inferior to the automatic weapons used by the enemy. The Huey, one of the helicopters used by the United States, was a slim, fast, low-hovering craft that came in different types for different situations. Many Hueys were modified to allow the use of M60 machine guns placed at the sides to provide cover-fire while loading or unloading troops. Rockets were added to take out armored vehicles or buildings, and the infamous Gatling or chain gun -- a cannon powered by electric motors, thus allowing firing speeds of up to 6,000 rpm (rounds per minute) -- was also used.
"Med-evac" choppers (helicopters) were commonly used to evacuate wounded or deceased troops from the battlefield. These helicopters had their weapons stripped out and stretchers placed inside instead. Napalm played a large and, to many, disturbing role in the conflict. U.S. Allies were armed with U.S. Army weapons, some of which -- the M1 Carbine -- were substitute standard weapons dating from World War II. The Vietnam People's Army -- although having inherited a miscellany of American, French, and Japanese weapons from earlier stages of the conflict -- was largely armed and supplied by its Warsaw Pact allies. Some weapons were manufactured in Vietnam or "home-made", most notably anti-personnel explosives.
Many of the tactics developed and refined by the U.S. in Vietnam -- especially those involving air support for ground troops, the use of helicopters for rapid insertion and removal of ground troops, the employment of special forces, and deep penetration into enemy territory with various flanking and envelopment strategies -- were used with considerable success in later wars in the Middle East.
During the war, a wide array of military decorations for bravery, meritorious actions, and general service were awarded by the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.
The U.S. army issued the same combat decorations that it had awarded in previous wars, such as the Purple Heart, as well as several new service medals. The Vietnam Service Medal, first issued in 1965, was awarded to any service member who served at least 30 consecutive or 60 total days in Vietnam. Most South Vietnamese decorations were issued to members of both the South Vietnamese military and the U.S. armed forces. As a result, current senior military officers, who served during the Vietnam War, can be seen wearing South Vietnamese medals on their uniforms.
Some of the medals include Liberation Order, Ho Chi Minh Insignia, Brass Fortress of the Fatherland Decoration, Friendship Decoration and Defeat American Aggression Badge.
Various names have been given to the war, and these have shifted over time, although Vietnam War is the most commonly used name in English. It has been called the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam Conflict, the Vietnam War, and, in Vietnamese, Chiến tranh Việt Nam ("The Vietnam War") or Kháng chiến chống Mỹ ("Resistance War Against America").
1. Second Indochina War: puts the conflict into context with other distinctive but related and contiguous conflicts in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are seen as the battleground in a larger, Indochinese conflict that began at the end of World War II and lasted into the 1980s. This conflict can be viewed in terms of the demise of colonialism and its after-effects during the Cold War.
2. Vietnam Conflict: largely a U.S. designation, it acknowledges that the United States Congress never declared war on North Vietnam. Legally, the President used his constitutional discretion -- supplemented by supportive resolutions in Congress -- to conduct what was said to be a "police action". Certain wartime legal norms, such as soldiers being obligated to serve for "the duration," never came into effect.
3. Vietnam War: the most commonly-used designation in English, it suggests that the location of the war was exclusively within the borders of North and South Vietnam. Many would argue that the war extended into Laos and Cambodia. The name "Vietnam War" also fails to acknowledge the lack of an official U.S. declaration of war.
4. Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation: the term favored by North Vietnam (and after North Vietnam's victory over South Vietnam, by Vietnam as a whole); it is more of a slogan than a name, and its meaning is self-evident. Its usage has been abolished in recent years as the communist government of Vietnam seeks better relations with the United States. Official Vietnamese publications now refer to the conflict generically as "Chiến tranh Việt Nam" (Vietnam War).