Vietnam War – Why We Were There (1955-1975)

Before US involvement, the French had colonial rule over Vietnam since the late 19th century. However, the French had a major threat to their rule, Ho Chi Minh, who became the North Vietnamese leader. It wasn’t until the French defeat at Dien Bein Phu in 1954 that the Geneva Accords divided Vietnam along the 17th parallel. The division lead to the creation of communist North Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union and China, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies.

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The United States felt that their involvement was crucial in preventing the spread of communism, and communist takeover in South Vietnam. They believed that if South Vietnam fell to communism, then many other countries would fall too. Eisenhower supported the anti-communist leader Diem, however no official elections were held in South Vietnam to appoint him “president,” therefore leading to the spread of communism in the South. Once John F. Kennedy was appointed president in 1961, he had to deal with the creation of the National Liberation Front (Vietcong) army in South Vietnam. This Vietcong army was aided by the North, and fought a guerrilla war against the anti-communist forces. Guerrilla Warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which armed civilians use military tactics (ie. ambushes, sabotages, raids, hit and run tactics, and mobility) to fight a larger but less mobile military.

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Diem was assassinated in 1963, leaving the anti-communist party in pieces. And once Lindon B. Johnson became president, he took the reins, and didn’t want another China. He wanted to keep pressure in South Vietnam to defeat the Vietcong, and relied on air superiority to do so. They conducted search and destroy operations, including ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. However, US involvement ended on August 15, 1973, and the war ended in April of 1975 as a result of the North Vietnamese capturing Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The North and South were reunified in 1976, becoming the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The war had a huge human cost in terms of fatalities. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese civilians killed range from 800,000 t0 3.1 million. About 200,000-300,00 Cambodians, 20,000-200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 US service members died in the war.

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