The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War

Background Information

  • Partition of Vietnam: After World War II, Vietnam, previously a French colony, was divided into Communist North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the pro-Western South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem.
  • Domino Theory: The US believed in the ‘domino theory’ - the idea that if one country fell to communism, others in the region would follow. This dominated their approach to the Cold War in southeast Asia.
  • US Involvement: To prevent the spread of communism, the US supported South Vietnam, beginning with financial aid and military advisors under President Eisenhower in the 1950s, escalating to full military involvement under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s.

Major Events of the War

  • Gulf of Tonkin Incident (1964): An alleged attack on US Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin led to President Johnson gaining permission from Congress to use “all necessary measures” to repel any armed attack against forces of the US and to prevent further aggression.
  • Escalation of US Forces: From 1965 onwards, the US began a massive escalation of military forces in Vietnam, reaching a peak of 543,000 troops in 1969.
  • Tet Offensive (1968): In 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched a series of surprise attacks during the Vietnamese new year holiday ‘Tet’. Although the attacks were militarily unsuccessful for North Vietnam, they had a huge psychological impact and helped to turn US public opinion against the war.
  • My Lai Massacre (1968): The massacre of more than 500 Vietnamese civilians by US soldiers in My Lai is one of the most infamous incidents of the war, further generating anti-war sentiment.

End of the War and Aftermath

  • Paris Peace Accords (1973): The Paris Peace Accords in 1973 led to a ceasefire and the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, though fighting continued between North and South Vietnam.
  • Fall of Saigon (1975): In 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a full-scale invasion on South Vietnam, resulting in the fall of Saigon and the unification of Vietnam under Communist rule.
  • Long-term Impacts: The Vietnam war had long term implications on the USA, leading to a more cautious approach towards international intervention, known as the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. The war also had significant human, economical and environmental costs for Vietnam.