Part of the
||Peace treaty providing for U.S. disengagement in 1973.
Military victory by North Vietnam over South Vietnamese forces in 1975.
Unification of Vietnam under Communist DRVN rule
Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
United States of America
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam)
National Liberation Front (Viet Cong)
South Vietnamese dead: 1,250,000+
US dead: 58,226
US wounded: 153,303
Civilian (total Vietnamese): c. 2–4 million
Civilian (total Vietnamese): c. 2–4 million
The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War (also known
colloquially as Vietnam or Nam as well as the American
War to some
was a conflict between the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN, or North Vietnam), allied with the
Communist World, namely the Soviet Union and China against the
Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), and its allies — notably the
United States military in support of the South, with US combat troops
involved from 1965 until the official withdrawal in 1973.
After a large-scale military defeat by the
Điện Biên Phủ, the French government decided to end the
First Indochina War by a negotiated agreement at the
Geneva Conference (1954). The agreement temporarily partitioned the
Vietnamese majority areas of Indochina into two countries with a
de-militarized zone (DMZ) between them. The Vietnam War ostensibly began as
a civil war
between feuding governments. Being Western-oriented and perceived as less
Minh's northern government, the South Vietnam government fought largely to
maintain its governing status within the partitioned entity, rather than to
"unify the country" as was agreed to at the Geneva Conference. Fighting began in
1957 and with
involvement would steadily escalate. The conflict spilled over into the
neighobring countries of
and Laos. North
Vietnam did not respect the independence or borders of either country.
The Geneva partition was not a natural division of Vietnam and was not
intended to create two separate countries. But the South government, with the
support of the United States, blocked the Geneva scheduled
for unification. In the context of the
and with the recent
as a precedent, the U.S. had feared that a reunified Vietnam would result in a
government under the popular
Minh, either freely or fraudulently.
Western allies portrayed the conflict as based in 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
conflicts. The North Vietnamese government and its Southern affiliated
(NLF) viewed the war as a struggle to reunite the country under a communist
dictatorship and to repel a
aggressor —a virtual continuation of the
earlier war for independence against the French. While North Vietnam and the
NLF used nationalist propaganda, their party doctrine denounced the very concept
of nationalism and any form of unity other than rule by the party. As well,
their anti-colonial/anti-foreign rule statements did not stop them from treating
Cambodia and Laos as if they were Vietnamese colonies.
After fifteen years of protracted fighting and massive
civilian and military
casualties, major direct U.S. involvement ended with the signing of the
Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Fighting between
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces against the
People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces would soon bring an
to the RVN and the war on
1975. With the
Northern victory, the country was unified as the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) with a
communist-controlled government based in
afterward, the governments of Vietnam's neighbors Laos and Cambodia were
overthrown. Cambodia was first ruled by the Khmer Rouge and then by the
Vietnamese army. In Laos, the pro-Vietnamese puppet government signed a treaty
of friendship which gave the Vietnamese army the right to remain in Laos and
invited Vietnamese Colonial officials known as "advisors" to settle in the
A precise timeline of the Vietnam War is difficult to determine. Some
consider the Vietnam War to have been a continuous conflict beginning with the
French attempt to reestablish control over the country in 1946 and continuing
until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Others divide the conflict into two separate
First Indochina War between the French and the
and the Second Indochina War between
North Vietnam on the one side and
South Vietnam and its allies, most importantly the
United States, on the other. Many experts consider the Vietnam War to have
just been one front in the larger
First Indochina War may be said to have begun in 1945 with the collapse of
the Japanese Military Administration and to have ended in 1954 with the Geneva
Peace Accord. The U.S. involvement in the conflict is less distinct. The United
States had supported Vietnamese
guerrillas against the
War II, and provided aid to the French in the early 1950s. A US military
presence was established in South Vietnam following the 1954 Peace Accord. As US
advisors were drawn into battles between North and South Vietnamese forces the
US involvement escalated. Many US citizens view the Vietnam War as beginning
Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964. The Vietnam
Memorial reports American casualties as early as 1957.
The ground war was fought in South Vietnam and the border areas of Cambodia
and Laos (see
The air war
was fought there and in the
strategic bombing (see
Operation Rolling Thunder) of North Vietnam. Commando raids or secret
operations were conducted by US or South Vietnamese forces in the north but
there was never any full-scale ground fighting north of the 17th
parallel (For more details of the events during the war, see:
Timeline of the Vietnam War.) A
of forces fought for South Vietnam, including its army the
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (or ARVN), the United States,
Zealand, and the
Philippines. Participation by the South Korean military was financed by the
United States, but Australia and New Zealand fully funded their participations.
United Kingdom and
Canada did not
participate in the war militarily, although a few of their
volunteered to join the US forces and Canada led peace talks between the two
countries for years. The
government sent a small group of military medical personnel from 1966 to 1971.
The North Vietnamese government directed the fighting against that of South
Vietnam, using forces including their People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN, better
known in the U.S. as the NVA) and the guerrilla forces of the
National Liberation Front, better known as the
The USSR provided
military and financial aid, along with
support to the North Vietnamese as did the
People's Republic of China.
Korea provided minor assistance through provision of supplies and armor.
pilots and other specialized members of the PAVN often received training in
the USSR or in North Korea, as did many of their Southern counterparts in
France had gained control of Indochina in a series of
wars beginning in the 1840s and lasting until the 1880s. At the
Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919, Hồ Chí Minh requested
participation in order to arrange more freedom for the Indochinese colonies. In
practice, Ho Chi Minh didn't believe in any sort of freedom but rather wished to
create a socialist dictatorship over Indochina. His request was rejected, and
Indochina's status as a colony of France remained unchanged. During
France had collaborated with the occupying
Imperial Japanese forces. Vietnam was under effective Imperial Japanese
control, as well as
administrative control, although the Vichy French continued to serve as the
official administrators until 1944. In that year, the Japanese overthrew the
French and humiliated the colonial officials of the state in front of the
Vietnamese population. The Japanese then began to encourage nationalist activity
among the Vietnamese. After the Japanese surrender Vietnamese
nationalists expected to take control of the country and organize a
September 2, 1945, Hồ Chí Minh spoke at a
heralding an independent Vietnam. In his speech he cited the US
Declaration of Independence and a band played "The
Star Spangled Banner." Ho had hoped that the United States would be an ally
of a Vietnamese socialist independence movement based on speeches by U.S.
Franklin Roosevelt against the continuation of European
imperialism after World War II. However, the
death of Roosevelt, the development of the Cold War, and Ho's authoritarian
beliefs led to U.S. support being given to the French. Indochina had been in the
British area of occupation at the end of the war. The British supervised the
surrender and departure of the Japanese army from Indochina. The French
prevailed upon the British to turn control of the region back over to them,
setting the stage for the
First Indochina War in which France attempted to reestablish Vietnam as part
of a French overseas colony. In a gradual process—accelerated by the
establishment of the People's Republic of China—the Vietnamese nationalist army,
the Viet Minh, gradually built a well-equipped modern conventional army. While
they could not defeat the French in the populated areas of the country, they did
manage to gain control over the border with China and remote areas in places
After the Viet Minh's historic victory over the French at the
battle of Điện Biên Phủ France decided to withdraw from Indochina. All of
Indochina was granted independence, including Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
However, Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th parallel, above which
the former Viet Minh established a Communist state and below which an
non-communist state was established under the Emperor
Bảo Đại. As
dictated in the Geneva Accords of 1954 the division was meant to be temporary
pending free elections for national leadership. The agreement stipulated that
these 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 "general elections shall be held
in July 1956." But such elections were not held as Diem (see below), who had not
signed the Geneva Accords, refused to hold them and did not believe that fair
elections could be held in the north. The U.S. supported this move to maintain
its Southern ally, also claiming that Ho had no intention of holding free
elections. A part of the Vietnamese population were angered that the scheduled
elections for the unification of the country never took place. The United
States, fearing a Communist takeover of the region, supported
Đ́nh Diệm, who had ousted Bảo Đại, as leader of South Vietnam while Hồ Chí
Minh became leader of the North.
The Beginning of the War
NLF (National Liberation Front) in the South
When Ngo Dinh Diem's government refused to hold elections with the North in
1956, Hanoi proceeded with its alternative plan, which had been prepared before
the Geneva Accord was signed.The high ranking communist
Le Duan, who
stayed in South Vietnam as a covert agent, was in charge of this campaign. When
the insurgency was suppressed by the South Vietnam government and had no chance
to succeed, Le Duan went back to Hanoi in 1958 to consult with Ho Chi Minh and
other communists in the CPV. In December 1959, the Central Committee of the CPV
issued a secret resolution to invade South Vietnam by force. To avoid being
accused of violating the Geneva Accord, the CPV established the National
Liberation Front and used this organization as a cover to invade South Vietnam.
The NLF was composed of several South Vietnam intellectuals, who dissented
with the South Vietnamese government, and communists who had origin from the
South. Some of them were
Huynh Tan Phat,
Nguyen Huu Tho, and
Nguyen Thi Binh. Those communists did not have an independent status from
the CPV but received direct orders from Hanoi for the activities of the NLF. The
non-communist members of the NLF did not have any role in decision making but
their titles. They were only used as the face of the NLF to make the
international community believe that the war against the South Vietnam
government originated from the people of South Vietnam not from North Vietnam.
By 1959 the Hanoi government had occupied large parts of eastern Laos and was
supplying the NLF via the
Hồ Chí Minh Trail with mostly Chinese made weapons. The Soviet Union đid not
give military aids to Hanoi to invade South Vietnam until Nikita Khruschev was
ousted in 1964. The Ho Chi Minh trail running from North Vietnam through Laos
and Cambodia (a violation of neutrality) into South Vietnam. Some supplying
boats via China Sea were caught by South Vietnam authority too. In 1965, the
supposedly neutralist government of Cambodia made a deal with China and the
North Vietnamese which allowed Vietnamese forces to establish permanent bases in
the country and to use the port of Sihanoukville for delivery of military
supplies until that outlet was closed by
Lon Nol in
1970. The Hồ Chí Minh Trail was steadily expanded to become the vital lifeline
for communist forces in South Vietnam, which included the North Vietnamese Army
in the 1960s when it became a major target of U.S. air operations. That the Ho
Chi Minh trail was built on the conquered territory of North Vietnam's neighbors
was irrelevant to its leadership.
The Diệm government was initially able to cope with the insurgency with the
aid of U.S. advisors, 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. Outside Saigon, large areas of the
country were infiltrated by communists who were left before the Geneva Accord
and newcomers from the North but the South Vietnamese army could still control
the local goverments. In 1963, a Communist offensive beginning with the
Battle of Ap Bac inflicted major loss to South Vietnam army units. This was
the first battle with a larger scale than assassinations and guerilla activities
as before. Ap Bac was the sign that the war was escalating as the result of the
increasing supplies of men and weapons from the North. The escalation of war
made some policy makers in Washington think the Diem government could not cope
with the invasion of communists and led to the idea of changing the leadership
of South Vietnam. Diem was also unpopular due to religious controversies he had
created in the country. The coup, which overthrew Diem, caused chaos in the
security and defense systems of the South Vietnamese and Hanoi took advantage of
this chaos to increase its infiltrations to South Vietnamese society and
supports to its forces in the South. South Vietnam lacked a strong leader after
The United States becomes involved
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vietnam
Soon after the Korean War, with the intention of preventing South Vietnam
from becoming a communist state,
United States President
Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the first of hundreds of American armed servicemen
(along with CIA agents
) to Vietnam as military advisers on Feb. 12, 1955.
At a news conference in 1954, Eisenhower stated, "You have a row of dominoes
set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a
certainty that it will go over very quickly. Asia has already lost some 450
millions of its peoples to communist dictatorship. We simply cannot afford
greater losses" Eisenhower and his staff subsequently started a plan for
military support of South Vietnam.
On July 8, 1959 Dale Buis and Charles Ovnand became the first Americans
killed in action in Vietnam.
Others soon followed.
John F. Kennedy and Vietnam
In June 1961,
John F. Kennedy met with Soviet premier
Nikita Khrushchev in
they had a bitter disagreement over key U.S.-Soviet issues. Kennedy left the
meeting convinced that the Russians were committed to conflict. This led to the
conclusion that Southeast Asia would be an area where Soviet forces would test
the USA's commitment to the
Although Kennedy's election campaign had stressed long-range missile parity
with the Soviets, Kennedy was particularly interested in
Special Forces. Originally intended for use behind front lines after a
conventional invasion of Europe, it was quickly decided to try them out in the "brush
fire" war in Vietnam.
The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the Cold War
foreign policy inherited from the
administration. Furthermore in 1961 Kennedy found himself faced with a
three-part crisis that seemed very 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
Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the pro-Western government of Laos
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 the West's position and his reputation, Kennedy was determined to 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 Kennedy administration grew increasingly frustrated with Diệm. In 1963 a
violent crackdown by Diệm's forces against
monks protesting government policies prompted
self-immolation by monks, leading to embarrassing press coverage. The most
famous event is the self-burning of
Thích Quảng Đức to protest the government's violence against Buddhists.
Vietnam was a largely Buddhist nation (two-thirds were Buddhist in the Southern
half), while Diệm and much of his administration were
Roman Catholic, and Diệm was criticized as being out of touch with his
citizens. Although the protests of the Buddhists came from their sentiments
about the discrimation between Catholics and Buddhists, covert communist agents
also took advantage of the situation to fuel the anger of the Buddhists in order
to create the instability in South Vietnam. The U.S. attempted to pressure Diệm
by asking South Vietnamese generals to act against the excesses, to no avail.
With "at least the knowledge and approval of the White House and the American
ambassador in Saigon" (LeFeber, "America, Russia and the Cold War", p. 233) the
South Vietnamese military staged a
d'état which overthrew and killed Diệm on
The death of Diệm made the South much more unstable. The new military rulers
politically inexperienced and unable to provide the strong central authority
of Diệm's rule and a period of coups and countercoups followed. For example,
seven different governments rose to power in South Vietnam during 1964, three
during the weeks of August 16 to September 3 alone. This was the struggle within
the civil war, which itself was not abating. The communists, meanwhile, stepped
up their efforts to exploit the vacuum.
Kennedy himself was assassinated three weeks after Diệm's death, and the
newly sworn-in president, former Vice President
Lyndon B. Johnson, confirmed on
24, 1963, that
the United States intended to continue supporting South Vietnam.
The propaganda campaign
The nature and identity of the opposing forces was as always a major
political focus of the war. The U.S. depicted a war in which an independent
country was fighting international Communist aggression, thus depicting the NLF
and even the PAVN as puppet armies.
The North Vietnamese portrayed the conflict as one between an imperialist
United States and an indigenous South Vietnamese insurgency that was receiving
the noncombat support of North Vietnam and its allies. This view presented the
South Vietnamese as puppets of the U.S.
These conflicting stances influenced early peace talks in which arguments
were made over "the shape of the negotiating table," with each side seeking to
depict itself as a group of distinct allies opposing a single entity, ignoring
the other's "puppet".
The U.S. involvement in the war has been described as an
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 was that there was no traditional
declaration of war which would have involved a national commitment to using
all available means to secure victory.
Instead U.S. involvement increased over several years, beginning with the
deployment of noncombatant military advisors to the South Vietnamese army,
followed by the use of special forces for
operations, followed by the introduction of regular troops for defensive
purposes, until regular troops were used in offensive combat. Once U.S. troops
were engaged in active combat, escalation meant increasing their numbers.
The escalation of the war complicated its ambiguous legal status. The treaty
agreements between the U.S. and South Vietnam allowed each escalation to be seen
as simply another step in helping an ally resist Communist aggression. This
U.S. Congress to vote appropriations for war operations without requiring
the Johnson Administration to meet the
Constitutionally mandated requirement that Congress declare war.
Successive U.S. administrations also hoped that by limiting its involvement
to defending the South only and not directly invading the North, it could
support South Vietnam without provoking a major response from
China and/or the
Union, as had happened in the Korean War. President Johnson maintained the
Kennedy administration's position that South Vietnam's independence was a
crucial U.S. defense against Soviet aggression, while at the same time trying to
avoid provoking direct participation in the conflict by the
The situation caused friction between the US armed services and the civilian
authorities in Washington. Military officials 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 Truman on such grounds during
the Korean War.
The relatively slow process of escalation also tended to mute U.S. political
debate, since no individual instance of escalation dramatically increased the
level of U.S. involvement. However in 1968 the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered
increasing the total number of active reserve troops by 200,000, concerned about
having roughly a third of U.S. forces committed to one theater of conflict. 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 to increase.
The press portrayed this increase as a need for more troops in Vietnam to
reconcile the situation after the Tet Offensive. When this possibility 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 and by the end of
1969, under his new administration, they were reduced by 60,000 from their
Intervention by the USA
Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin
Johnson raised the level of U.S. involvement on
1964, when 5,000
additional U.S. military advisors were ordered to South Vietnam. This brought
the total number of U.S. forces in Vietnam to 21,000.
On July 31,
1964, the US destroyer
Maddox began a reconnaissance mission in the
Gulf of Tonkin, in international waters. Critics of President Johnson have
suggested the purpose of the mission was to provoke a reaction from North
Vietnamese coastal defense forces as a pretext for a wider war.
On August 2,
North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked Maddox. In response, and with the
help of air support from the nearby carrier
Ticonderoga, she destroyed one of the torpedo boats, damaging two
others. Maddox suffered superficial damage and retired to South
Vietnamese waters where she was joined by
C. Turner Joy.
On August 3,
the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN or South Vietnam) again attacked
North Vietnam; the Rhon River estuary and the Vinh Sonh radar installation were
bombarded under cover of darkness.
On August 4,
DESOTO patrol to the North Vietnam coast was launched, with Maddox
and Turner Joy. The latter got radar signals later claimed to be another
attack by the North Vietnamese. For some two hours the ships fired on radar
targets and maneuvered vigorously amid electronic and visual reports of
torpedoes. Later, Captain
John J. Herrick stated that it was nothing more than an "overeager sonarman"
who "was hearing the ship's own propeller beat". Declassified reports support
the claim that the North Vietnamese navy was not involved in the day's action.
However, the incident was portrayed by Johnson as an act of "unprovoked
aggression" on the part of the PAVN. This assertion, that the Maddox and
Turner Joy had been unlawfully attacked in international waters, was also
picked up by the American press. This allowed Johnson to offer to the US
Congress a resolution to increase the American involvement in Vietnam, a
document that had been crafted earlier in the summer of 1964.
In consequence the
U.S. Senate approved the
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on
1964, which gave broad support to President Johnson to escalate U.S. involvement
in the war "as the President shall determine". The resolution passed unanimously
in the House of Representatives and was opposed in the Senate only by
Morse of Oregon and
Ernest Gruening of Alaska. In a televised speech, Morse asserted that
history would show that he and Gruening were serving "the best interests of the
American people". In a separate televised address, President Johnson claimed,
"the challenge that we face in South-East 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
Maxwell Taylor agreed on
28, 1964, to recommend Johnson adopt a plan for a two-stage escalation of
bombing in North Vietnam.
With the decision to escalate its involvement in the conflict, The USA's
allies, Australia and New Zealand, were pressured to contribute troops and
material to the war effort. As a result, in late 1964 the Australian government
controversially re-introduced conscription for compulsory military service by
eligible males aged 18-25, and many Australian soldiers served alongside U.S.
troops. (Without the need for U.S. pressure, a few thousand Canadians would also
Operation Rolling Thunder
Rolling Thunder was the code name for a sustained bombing campaign against
North Vietnam conducted by the 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 defenses (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 to force the Communists to negotiate. The two principal areas where
supplies came from, Haiphong and the Chinese border, were off limits to aerial
attack, as were fighter bases. Restrictions on the bombing of civilian areas
also enabled the North Vietnamese to use them for military purposes, sitting
anti-aircraft guns on school grounds. Rolling Thunder's gradual escalation has
been blamed 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.
U.S. forces committed
In February 1965 the U.S. base at
attacked twice, killing over a dozen U.S. military. This provoked the reprisal
air strikes of
Operation Flaming Dart in North Vietnam, the first time a U.S. air strike
was launched because its forces had been attacked in South Vietnam. That same
month the U.S. began independent air strikes in the South. A U.S.
HAWK team was sent
to Da Nang, a
vulnerable airbase if Hanoi intended to bomb it. One result of Operation Flaming
Dart was the shipment of anti-aircraft missiles to North Vietnam which began in
a few weeks from the Soviet Union.
On March 8,
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. The air war
escalated as well; on
Phantoms escorting a bombing raid at
Kang Chi became the targets of
antiaircraft missiles in the first such attack against US planes in the war.
One plane was shot down and the other three sustained damage. Four days later
Johnson announced another order that increased the number of US troops in
Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000. The day after that,
July 29, the
101st Airborne Division paratroopers arrived in Vietnam, landing at
Operation Starlite began as the first major US ground battle of the war when
5,500 US Marines destroyed a Viet Cong stronghold on the
Van Tuong peninsula in
Quảng Ngăi Province. The Marines were tipped off by a Viet Cong deserter who
said that there was an attack planned against the US base at
Chu Lai. The
Viet Cong learned from their defeat and tried to avoid fighting a US-style war
from then on.
The North Vietnamese committed regular army troops to South Vietnam beginning
in late 1964 to use guerilla and regular forces to wear down and destroy the
South Vietnamese Army. However some North Vietnamese officials favored an
immediate invasion, and a plan was drawn up to use PAVN forces to split South
Vietnam in two at the
Highlands, and then to defeat each half. However in the Battle of the
Ia Drang Valley the PAVN suffered heavy casualties, prompting a return to
Pentagon told President Johnson on
27, 1965, that if planned major sweep operations needed to neutralize Viet
Cong forces during the next year were to succeed, the number of US troops in
Vietnam needed to be increased from 120,000 to 400,000. By the end of 1965,
184,000 US troops were in Vietnam. In February 1966 there was a meeting between
the commander of the US effort, head of the
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam General
William Westmoreland and Johnson in
Westmoreland argued that the US presence had prevented a defeat but that more
troops were needed to take the offensive, he claimed that an immediate increase
could lead to the "crossover point" in Vietcong and NVA casualties being reached
in early 1967. Johnson authorized an increase in troop numbers to 429,000 by
The large increase of troop numbers enabled Westmoreland to carry out
numerous search and destroy operations in accordance with his attrition
strategy. 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 marching through the area. The Operation continued under
Thayer/Irving until October where a further 1,000 Viet Cong were killed and
numerous others wounded and captured. US forces conducted numerous forays into
Viet Cong controlled "War Zone C", an area northwest of the densely populated
Saigon area and
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 might develop, U.S. Marines initiated
Operation Hastings which caused the North Vietnamese to retreat over the
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 ARVN. However, morale was poor in the South Vietnamese army due
to corruption and incompetence of generals and hence little was accomplished in
the form of pacification other than high desertion rates.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk
stated during a news conference that proposals by the
U.S. Congress for peace initiatives were futile because of North Vietnam's
opposition. Johnson then held a secret meeting with a group of the nation's most
prestigious leaders ("the Wise Men") on
and asked them to suggest ways to unite the US people behind the war effort.
Johnson announced on
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
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, true victory could not
come until the country was pacified.
Most of the PAVN operational capability was possible due only to the movement
of men along the Hồ Chí Minh Trail in Laos. In order to threaten this flow of
supplies, a firebase was set up just on the Vietnam side of the Laotian border,
near the town of
The U.S. planned to use the base to draw large forces of the North Vietnamese
Army into battle on terms unfavorable to them. The position of the base allowed
it to be used as a launching point for raids against the trail. Also, the U.S.
launched first in its kind, electronic warfare project. This $2.5 billion
project involved "wiring" the trail with sensors connected to data processing
centers in order to monitor the traffic on the trail. It was one of the most
highly classified operations in the war (from "Boyd" by Robert Coram, p. 268).
To the PAVN leaders this looked like a wonderful opportunity to repeat their
famous victory at the
Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and hand the USA a massive defeat. Over the next
few months both the PAVN and US Marines added forces to the area, with the
Battle of Khe Sanh "officially" starting on January 21st, 1968.
Every PAVN attempt to take the base was repulsed with heavy casualties, and even
their rear areas were under constant attack by U.S. airpower, including
B-52 strikes. When the battle finally petered out in April, the PAVN had
lost an estimated 8,000 KIA and many more wounded, while never seriously
threatening resupply into the base (an important feature of Điện Biên Phủ) 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
operations, but modern study suggest s that the opposite was true. The battle
forced the PAVN to divert forces that had been intended for other operations to
what was seen as the defense of the trail. Though the battle was very successful
for the US, constant coverage including allusions to Dien Bien Phu and a false
perception that the base was in danger of falling caused it to be seen in a
The Australian And New Zealand Commitment
Along with US forces,
Zealand sent ground troops to Vietnam. After assisting the British in the
Malayan Emergency, both nations had gained valuable experience at Jungle
Warfare and counter-insurgency. They also believed that the domino theory was
playing out, and that they could be a victim of communism too. Australia's peak
commitment was 7672 combat troops and New Zealand 552. To achieve this, both
Australia and New Zealand re-introduced conscription, a highly controversial act
since conscripts had never previously been able to be sent overseas. Australia,
like the US, first sent advisors to Vietnam, the number of which continued to
rise steadily until 1965 when combat troops were committed. New Zealand first
committed an Artillery company and then started sending special forces. Unlike
their US counterparts, the Australian and New Zealand soldiers used small scale
guerilla warfare rather than large scale assaults. They never used paths or
trails, always carried extra water and fired less ammunition. They also employed
counter-insurgency operations that were much less destructive than the search
and destroy operations that the US used. Consequently, the
more support from the local population and suffered fewer casualties than US
forces. However, the US complained that these operations were too detailed for a
place like Vietnam, and the body count was significantly lower than that
achieved by US soldiers. One thing the US could not complain about were the
Australian and New Zealand Special Forces, the
Special Air Service (SAS). Together they achieved a stunning kill ratio of
500:1, the highest of any unit in Vietnam. ANZAC regular forces were committed
to the province of Phuoc Tuy, south east of
Thai soldiers fought in Laos for several years. While in theory volunteers
fighting as 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.
The Tet Offensive
Late in 1967, General Westmoreland had asserted that it was "conceivable"
that in "two years or less" US forces could be phased out of the war, turning
over more and more of the job to the Vietnamese. [The New York Times,
"The 'Wobble on the War on Capitol Hill," 17 Dec 1967] As a
result it was a considerable shock to public opinion when on
1968 NLF and PAVN forces broke the
and mounted the
Offensive (named after
Nguyên Đán, 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 take over all importants offices of the government in order to paralyze the
South Vietnam government and its army and also ignite an uprising among the
Vietnamese people. To the contrary, no such uprising occurred and it drove some
previously apathetic Vietnamese to fight with the RVN government. Attacks
everywhere were shortly repulsed except in
the fighting lasted for three days and in
Huế for a month.
During the temporary communist occupation of Huế, 2,800 Vietnamese were killed
by the Viet Cong in what was the single worst massacre during the war (see
Massacre at Huế). Massacre though it was, casualties were immeasurably
higher for the Viet Cong than for the South Vietnamese. Most of local communist
agents in the South were exposed in this 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 after this point was left almost entirely to PAVN forces.
While the US had tactically won a victory by the destruction of the NLF/Viet
Cong during the Tet Offensive, it was left strategically in a bad position.
Rather than an irregular war, the war was now between the North Vietnamese
regular army and the US/South Vietnam. Short of expanding the war to all of
Indochina, there was no clear US strategy for victory. Leaders considered the
logicial step of expanding the war into North Vietnam to be unacceptable due to
the high risk of Chinese intervention. And any attempt at expanding the war into
Laos or Cambodia would only result in North Vietnam moving its forces westward
further into those countries.
Although the Communists' military objectives had not been achieved, the
propaganda effect was considerable and had a profound impact on public opinion.
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 own cabinet, came out against the war.
Beyond public opinion, most of the political leaders regardless of their beliefs
could no longer see a strategy for success. Even the biggest supporters of the
war were unwilling to call for the domestic sacrifices necessary for a victory.
Soon after Tet, Westmoreland was replaced by his deputy, General
Creighton W. Abrams. Abrams pursued a very different approach than
Westmoreland's, 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 ARVN
forces. His strategy, although yielding positive results, came too late to
influence U.S. public opinion.
Facing a troop shortage, on
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
citing progress with the
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
Peace talks eventually broke down, however, and one year later, on
Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation on
and radio asking
the "silent majority" to join him in solidarity on the Vietnam War effort and to
support his policies.
The credibility of the government suffered when
The New York Times, and later
The Washington Post and other newspapers, published
The Pentagon Papers. This top-secret historical study of Vietnam,
Robert McNamara (the Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson),
presented a pessimistic view of victory in the Vietnam War and generated
additional criticism of U.S. policy. While there was little in the actual
material of much consequence, the government's strong-arm tactics in trying to
prevent their publication and the false impression that there was critically
secret material in the papers created a false impression of their contents among
Opposition to the war
Small-scale opposition to the war began in 1964 on college campuses. This was
happening during a time of unprecedented leftist student activism, and of the
arrival at college age of the demographically significant
Conscription in the United States had existed continually (except for a
lapse during 1947-1948) since 1940, when President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the first peacetime draft in U.S.
conscription remained at a low level through much of the Cold War, it
increased dramatically in 1964 to provide troops for the Vietnam Conflict.
Formal protests against the draft began on
1965, when the student-run
National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged the first
public burning of a
in the United States.
Abuses in the
Selective Service System were one cause of protest, as local "draft boards"
had wide lattitude to decide who should be drafted and who should be granted
"deferments" which usually meant escaping military service. The first
draft lottery since
War II in the United States was held on
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
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
4 January 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 the South fell to communist guerillas,
other nations, primarily in Southeast Asia, would succumb like falling dominoes.
Military critics of the war pointed out that the conflict was political and that
the military mission lacked clear objectives. Civilian critics of the war argued
that the government of South Vietnam lacked political legitimacy and that
support for the war was 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 beyond their influence. President Johnson's undersecretary of state,
Ball, was one of the lone voices in his administration advising against war
The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the U.S. government. On
House Un-American Activities Committee began investigations of U.S. citizens
who were suspected of aiding the NLF. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted the
meeting and 50 were arrested.
February 1968, a suspected NLF officer was captured near the site of a ditch
holding the bodies of as many as 34 police and their relatives, some of whom
were the families of General
Nguyễn Ngọc Loan's deputy and close friend. General Loan, a South Vietnamese
National Police Chief, 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 fuelled by a series of highly-publicised arrests
of conscientious objectors, and exacerbated by the 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, held in
major Australian cities to coincide with the marches in the USA, were among the
largest public gatherings ever seen in Australia up to that time, with over
200,000 people taking to the streets in
October 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
On April 22,
Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the
war, when he appeared before a Senate committee hearing on proposals relating to
ending the war. He spoke for nearly two hours with the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee in what has been named the
Fulbright Hearing, after the Chairman of the proceedings, Senator
J. William Fulbright. Kerry presented the conclusions of the
Winter Soldier Investigation, in which veterans claimed to have personally
committed or witnessed
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson began his reelection campaign. A member
of his own party,
Eugene McCarthy, ran against him for the nomination on an antiwar platform.
McCarthy did not win the first primary election in
Hampshire, but he did surprisingly well against an incumbent. The resulting
blow to the Johnson campaign, taken together with other factors, led the
President to make a surprise announcement in a March 31 televised speech that he
was pulling out of the race. He also announced the initiation of the
Paris Peace Talks with Vietnam in that speech. Then, on
1969, U.S. representative
Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative
began secret peace negotiations at the apartment of
Jean Sainteny in Paris. This set of negotiations failed, however, prior to
the 1972 North Vietnamese offensive.
Pacification and "hearts and minds"
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
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
Doctrine". As applied to Vietnam, the doctrine was called "Vietnamization".
The stated goal of Vietnamization was to enable the South Vietnamese army to
increasingly hold its own against the NLF and the North Vietnamese Army. The
unstated goal of Vietnamization was that the primary burden of combat would be
returned to ARVN troops and thereby lessen domestic opposition in the U.S to the
war. It was also expected that the US would continue to supply air power over
South Vietnam as long as it was necessary.
During this period, the United States conducted a gradual troop withdrawal
from Vietnam. Nixon continued to use air power to bomb the enemy. The US also
attempted to organize stratetic operations to disrupt North Vietnam's supply
system in the lead-up to withdrawal. The US attacked Vietnamese base areas
inside Cambodia, enouraged a change in government that closed Cambodian ports to
war supplies and encouraged South Vietnam to launch a massive but ultimately
unsuccessful operation into Laos to pinch off the Ho Chi Minh trail. Ultimately
more bombs were dropped under the Nixon Presidency than under Johnson's, while
U.S. troop deaths started to drop significantly. The Nixon administration was
determined to remove U.S. troops from the theater while not destabilizing the
defensive efforts of South Vietnam.
One of Nixon's main foreign policy goals had been the achievement of a
"breakthrough" in U.S. relations with the two nations, in terms of creating a
new spirit of cooperation, and treating the Vietnam War as simply another
limited conflict forming part of a bigger tapestry of super-power relations.
This gambit helped defuse some anti-war opposition at home, and secured movement
at the negotiation table, but only succeeded partially as far as material
conditions on the ground. China and the USSR had been the principal backers of
the North Vietnamese army through large amounts of military and financial
support. The two communist powers competed with one another, to prove "fraternal
socialist links" with the communist regime in the North. That support continued,
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 to the front, to feed the North
Vietnamese invasions in 1972 and 1975. The fact that the NVA/PAVN was able to
mount such attacks despite massive US bombing indicates that military assistance
had increased. Nixon's "opening" to China helped pressure North Vietnam back to
the bargaining table, allowing America a face saving exit, or "a decent
interval" as Kissinger called it. Military writers such as David Palmer
("Summons of the Trumpet") and Harry Summers ("On Strategy") detail the massive
influx of material to the NVA/PAVN even after Nixon's diplomatic moves, as well
as the continued presence of personnel from other communist countries, including
Chinese and Russian troops.
The morality of U.S. conduct of the war continued to be a political issue
under the Nixon Presidency. In 1969, US 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 led a massacre of several
hundred Vietnamese civilians, including women, babies, and the elderly, at My
Lai a year before. The massacre was only stopped after three US soldiers (Glenn
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 contended in the
Pulitzer Prize-winning article series about the
Tiger Force by the
Toledo Blade in 2003.
In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was deposed by Prime Minister Lon Nol in Cambodia,
who became the chief of state. In 1965, Sihanouk had made a secret deal with
China and North Vietnam giving them bases and access to Cambodia's ports. Three
years later, Sihanouk's neutrality was rewarded by the outbreak of an uprising
Rouge guerillas who took shelter in the areas of Cambodia controlled by
Vietnam. After Lon Nol took power, he closed Cambodia's ports to Vietnamese war
supplies and demanded that North Vietnam remove its army. Ironically, these
moves were reported in the western media as being moves away from Sihanouk's
enlighted policy of neutrality. Nixon ordered a military incursion into Cambodia
in order to destroy NLF sanctuaries bordering on South Vietnam and take some
pressure off the fragile Cambodian government. The
Cambodian Incursion prompted even more protests on U.S. college campuses.
Six students were killed and a score injured by National Guard and police forces
demonstrations at Kent and
Jackson State universities.
One effect of the incursion was to push communist forces deeper into
Cambodia, which destabilized the country and resulted in the rise of the
Rouge. Prince Sihanouk ended up in China where he became the political
figurehead for the Khmer Rouge. He lent his personal credibility and popularity
to their cause of overthrowing the Cambodian government which they did in 1975.
The goal of the 1970 attacks, however, was to bring the North Vietnamese
negotiators back to the table with some flexibility in their demands that the
South Vietnamese government be overthrown as part of the agreement. It was also
alleged that U.S. and South Vietnamese casualty rates were reduced by the
destruction of military supplies the communists had been storing in Cambodia.
All U.S. forces left Cambodia by
In an effort to help assuage opposition to the war, Nixon announced on
1970, that the
United States would withdraw 40,000 more troops before
Later that month on
the worst monsoon
to hit Vietnam in six years caused large
293, left 200,000 homeless and virtually halted the war.
Backed by U.S. air and artillery support, South Vietnamese troops invaded the
portions of Laos
occupied by North Vietnam on
in a failed attempt to close the Ho Chi Minh Trail.. On
of that year,
Zealand decided to withdraw their troops from Vietnam. The total number of
U.S. troops in
Vietnam dropped to 196,700 on
1971, the lowest level since January 1966. On
12, 1971, Nixon set a
1 February 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
Offensive" quickly overran much of Military Region 1, formerly known as
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 in August the last combat
troops left the country. The ARVN eventually stopped the North Vietnamese
offensive on all fronts, recapturing Quang Tri in September. Both sides
considered this somewhat of a valdiation of the overall strategy of
Vietnamization supported by heavy US 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
Secretary of State
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.
House Press Secretary
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
Operation Linebacker II began
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
29, when the North Vietnamese agreed to resume talks.
The end of U.S. involvement
citing progress in peace negotiations, President Nixon announced the suspension
of offensive action in North Vietnam which was later followed by a unilateral
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. The
Paris Peace Accords were later signed on
27 January 1973, which
officially ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, marking the first
loss in United States military history. This won the 1973
Nobel Peace Prize for Kissinger and North Vietnamese Politburo member and
Le Duc Tho
while fighting continued. However, five days before the peace accords were
signed, Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency was marred by the war, died. The mood
funeral was one of intense recrimination because the war's wounds were still
raw. However, there was relief that not only U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended,
but also the chapter on one of the most tragic and divisive eras in America came
to a close.
The first U.S. prisoners were released on
11 and all U.S. soldiers were ordered to leave by
In a break with history, soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were generally
not treated as heroes, and soldiers were sometimes even condemned for their
participation in the war. The peace agreement did not last.
Nixon had promised South Vietnam that he would provide military support to
them in the event of a crumbling military situation, or a military offensive
from North Vietnam, to convince the Thieu government to sign the 'peace
agreement'. But Nixon was fighting for his political life in the growing
Watergate Scandal at the time, facing an increasingly hostile Congress,
which held the power of appropriations, and a hostile public, 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 elements in the South Vietnamese government, and little
of it actually went to the war effort. At the same time, aid to North Vietnam
from the USSR and China began to increase, and with the U.S. out, the two
countries no longer saw the war as significant to their U.S. relations. The
balance of power had clearly shifted to the North, and North Vietnam
subsequently launched a major military offensive against the south.
In December 1974, Congress completed passage of the
Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the
Saigon government and made unenforceable the peace terms negotiated by Nixon.
Many in the US congress seemed to want the government of South Vietnam to fall
and encouraged its collapse by cutting off aid.
By 1975, the South Vietnamese Army stood alone against the well-organized and
highly-determined North Vietnamese. In contrast to the US cutoff of economic and
military aid, China and the Soviet Union stepped up all forms of assistance to
North Vietnam. In South Vietnam, the cities were full of refugees and withdrawal
of the US had collapsed the wartime economy that had existed due to the presence
of large US forces since 1965. South Vietnam also suffered economically from oil
price shocks and a global economic downturn. Early March, the North Vietnamese
Army launched an invasion of the Central Highlands supported by tanks and heavy
artillery, splitting the Republic of Vietnam in two. President Thieu was fearful
that ARVN troops in the northern provinces would be isolated due to a PAVN
encirclement. He decided on a redeployment of ARVN troops from the northern
provinces to the Central Highlands. But the withdrawal of South Vietnamese
forces soon turned into a bloody retreat as the North Vietnam lauched 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 PAVN.
North Vietnam had effectively launched a full-scale conventional military
invasion designed to conquer South Vietnam by force. Western Media however
covered events as if the NLF was conquering the country through an insurgency.
The North Vietnamese invasion was an unprecidented action in the history of the
conflict and that such actions were required proved, if anything, that the South
Vietnam in spite of all its problems was still reasonably strong against any
sort of NLF insurgency.
On March 11,
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
President Thieu ordered the Central Highlands and the northern provinces to be
abandoned, in what he declared to 'lighten the top and keep the bottom'. General
Phu abandoned the cities of
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 ARVN retreated, the
civilians also went with them. Due to already-destroyed roads and bridges, the
column slowed down, as the PAVN closed in. As the column staggered down
mountains to the coast, PAVN shelling attacked. By
April 1, the
column ceased to exist after 60,000 ARVN troops were killed.
On March 20,
Thieu reversed himself and ordered Huế, Vietnam's 3rd-largest city be
held out 'at all cost'. But as the PAVN attacked, a panic ensued, and South
Vietnamese resistance collapsed. On
the PAVN launched a siege on Huế. The civilians, remembering the 1968 massacre,
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 shot civilians just to make room for themselves to
March 25, after a 3-day siege, Huế fell.
As Huế fell, PAVN rockets hit downtown Da Nang and the airport. By
35,000 troops of PAVN's 2nd Corps (Huong Giang) were poised in the
March 29, a World Airways jet led by Edward Daley landed in
Da Nang to
save women and children, instead 300 men jammed onto the flight, mostly ARVN
March 30, 100,000 leaderless ARVN troops surrendered as the PAVN marched
victoriously through Da Nang on that
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, PAVN prepared for its final phase in 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 2 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 and (remembering 1968)
massacres. Also the ARVN 18th Infantry division used many advanced
weapons against the PAVN, and it was in the final phase in which Saigon
government troops fought well. But on
the exhausted and besieged army garrison defending Xuan-loc surrendered. A
bitter and tearful Nguyễn Văn Thiệu resigned on April 21, saying the USA had
'betrayed South Vietnam', and then displayed the 1972 document claiming the USA
would retaliate against North Vietnam should they attack. Thiệu left for
leaving control of the doomed government to General
Dương Văn Minh.
By now, PAVN tanks had reached
They turned towards Saigon, clashing with occasional isolated South Vietnamese
units on the way.
Fall of Saigon
By April, the weakened South Vietnamese Army had collapsed on all fronts. The
powerful North Vietnamese invasion forced South Vietnamese troops on a bloody
retreat that ended as a siege at Xuan-loc, a city 40 miles from Saigon, and the
last South Vietnamese defense line before Saigon. On April 21, the defense of
Xuan-loc collapsed and PAVN troops and tanks rapidly advanced to Saigon. On
100,000 PAVN troops encircled Saigon, which was to be defended by 30,000 ARVN
troops. In order to increase the 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 had no way out. On
the U.S. launched
Option IV, the largest helicopter evacuation in history. Chaos, unrest, and
panic ensued as hectic Vietnamese scrambled to leave Saigon before it was too
late. Helicopters began evacuating from the U.S. embassy and the airport.
Evacuations were held to the last minute because U.S. Ambassador Martin thought
Saigon could be held and defended. The operation began in an atmosphere of
desperation as hysterical mobs of South Vietnamese raced to takeoff spots
designated to evacuate, many yelling to be saved. Martin had pleaded with the
U.S. government to send $700 million in emergency aid to South Vietnam in order
to bolster the Saigon regime's ability to fight and to mobilize fresh South
Vietnamese units. But the plea was rejected. With the government surrounded in
Saigon and outnumbered, no amount of money could possibly change the situation.
As well, many U.S. citizens felt the Saigon government would meet certain
Ford gave a speech on
declaring the end of the Vietnam War and the end of all U.S. aid to the Saigon
regime. The helicopter evacuation continued all day and night while PAVN tanks
reached the outskirts of Saigon. In the early hours of
the last U.S. Marines left the embassy as hectic Vietnamese breached the embassy
perimeter and raided the place. PAVN
moved into Saigon. Tank skirmishes began as ARVN
attacked the heavily armored Soviet
PAVN troops soon dashed to capture the U.S. embassy, the government army
garrison, the police headquarters, radio station, presidential palace, and other
vital targets. The PAVN encountered greater than expected resistance as small
pockets of ARVN resistance continued. 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. The raising of the NLF
flag was ironic given how the NLF had contributed in the end almost nothing to
the final battles. President Dương Văn Minh surrendered Saigon to PAVN colonel
Bùi Tín. The
surrender came over the radio as Minh ordered South Vietnamese forces to lay
down their weapons. Columns of South Vietnamese troops came out of defensive
positions and surrendered. Saigon fell on
1975. As for the people of South Vietnam, many stayed in South Vietnam but by
May 1, 1975 most
U.S. citizens had fled, leaving the city of Saigon forever. Finally, despite the
fact that the United States military had decisively won most major engagements,
and had withdrawn troops from the country two years earlier following a peace
accord, the Vietnam War is widely considered the USA's first defeat, with over
58,000 dead and many left severely injured. As for the people of South Vietnam,
over a million ARVN soldiers died in the 30-year conflict. Three million
communist soldiers and Vietnamese civilians also died. Looking back afterward,
many Vietnamese wondered what all the millions of dead on both sides had
actually accomplished. The country was economically in ruins and in the hands of
a dictatorship that was no less corrupt that the government of South Vietnam.
North Vietnam united both North and South Vietnam on
2 July 1976, to form the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Saigon was renamed
Hồ Chí 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. North Vietnam followed up its victory by first
conquering Laos and then Cambodia. Vietnamese troops controlled both countries
until the late 1980s. North Vietnam also blundered into a pointless war with
China. While economic reforms have improved the condition of the country, a
corrupt authoritarian nominally communist government is still in place.
Carter pardoned nearly all Vietnam War draft evaders.
In 1995 Vietnam and the USA established diplomatic and trade relations.
Direct flights between USA and Vietnam resumed in 2005 when
United Airlines started daily service between
Francisco and Hồ Chí Minh City via
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
bomblets. More than 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed 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, based on North Vietnamese statements which are
now discounted by Vietnam, are around 1.5 million Vietnamese killed. Vietnam's
Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs released figures on
1995, reporting that 1.1 million fighters—Viet Cong guerrillas and North
Vietnamese soldiers—and nearly 2 million civilians in the north and the south
were killed between 1954 and 1975. Other figures run as high as 4 million
civilian casualties with 1 million casualties being NVA or VC fighters.
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.
Of the U.S. military, 58,226 were killed in action or classified as missing
in action. A further 153,303 US military personnel were wounded to give total
casualties of 211,529. The United States Army took the majority of the
casualties with 38,179 killed and 96,802 wounded; the Marine Corps lost 14,836
killed and 51,392 wounded; the Navy 2,556 and 4,178; the Air Force lost 2,580
and 931; with the lowest deaths in terms of numbers and percentages among the
branches being the
Coast Guard, with seven dead and 60 wounded.
U.S. allies took casualties as well. South Korea provided the largest outside
force and suffered between 4,400 and 5,000 killed.
Full details including
MIA appear difficult to find. Australia lost 501 dead and 3,131 wounded out
of the 47,000 troops they had deployed to Vietnam. New Zealand had 38 dead and
187 wounded. Thailand had 351 casualties. It is difficult to locate accurate
figures for the losses of the Philippines. Although Canada was not involved in
the war, thousands of Canadians joined the U.S. armed forces and served in
Vietnam. The US fatal casualties 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 whereas others were permanent
residents living in the United States who either volunteered or were drafted.
Canada and the Vietnam War.
In the aftermath of the war many U.S. citizens came to believe that some of
the 2,300 US soldiers listed as
Missing in Action had in fact been taken prisoner by the DRV and held
indefinitely. The Vietnamese list over 200,000 of their own soldiers missing in
Both during and after the war, significant
rights violations occurred. Both North and South Vietnamese had large
political prisoners, many of whom were killed or
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
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. Also war, economic problems in Vietnam led to the
exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Many of these refugees fled by
boat and thus gave rise to the phrase "boat
people." They immigrated to Hong Kong, France, the United States, Canada,
Australia, and other countries, creating sizable expatriate communities, notably
Among the many casualties of the war were the people of the neighboring state
Approximately 50,000–300,000 died as a result of U.S. bombing campaigns. The
bombing campaigns also drove some Cambodians into the arms of the nationalist
Rouge, who took power after the USA cut off funds for bombing them in 1973,
and continued the slaughter of opponents or suspected opponents. About 1.7
million Cambodians were murdered or fell victim to starvation and disease before
the regime was overthrown by Vietnamese forces in 1979.
About 6 thousand soviet personnel participated in the Vietnam War, 16 of them
were killed or died.
Domestic effects and aftermath in Vietnam
Virtually every Vietnamese was affected by the war, having endured large
scale bombardments and targeted killings. During the war's height in the late
1960s, about half of South Vietnam's population of 20 million people have been
displaced. To the northerners, fighting and hostility continued on with
neighboring countries until 1989. Many Vietnamese lost relatives as a result of
the war in general. The end of the war marked the first time that Vietnam was
not engaged in substantial civil war or active military conflict with an
external opponent in many years. North and South Vietnam were reunified under
the Socialist Republic of Vietnam following the war.
Fear of persecution caused many highly skilled and educated South Vietnamese
connected with the former regime to flee the country during the
fall of Saigon and the years following, severely depleting
capital in Vietnam. The new government promptly sent people connected to the
South Vietnam regime to concentration camps for "reeducation", often for years
at a time. Others were sent to so-called "new economic zones" to develop the
undeveloped land. Furthermore, the victorious Communist government implemented
land reforms in the south similar to those implemented in North Vietnam earlier.
However, it is as well to remember that large areas of land in South Vietnam had
already been appropriated by the communists well before the end of the war—and
their owners compensated for the loss by the South Vietnamese government.
Persecution and poverty prompted an additional two million people to flee
people over the 20 years following unification. The problem was so severe
that during the 1980s and 1990s the UN established refugee camps in neighboring
countries to process them. Many of these refugees resettled in the United
States, forming large
Vietnamese-American emigrant communities with a decidedly anti-communist
The newly established
Republic of South Vietnam promptly implemented currency reforms. The
dong previously used in South Vietnam was converted to the "liberation dong"
at a rate of 500 old dongs to 1 liberation dong, essentially rendering much of
the South Vietnamese money worthless. After unification in 1976, the liberation
dong was abandoned in favor of a new unified dong. While the north exchanged at
the 1:1 rate, the south had to exchange 5 liberation dong for each 4 unified
dong. Private enterprises in the South were socialized. During much of the late
1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam underwent an economic depression and came close
The large number of people born after 1975 may be indicative of a postwar
and despite the devastating effect of the civil war on their parents'
generation, a general disinterest in politics and recent history among this
postwar generation of Vietnamese is notable.
Soviet collapse in 1991 left Vietnam without its main economic and political
partner, and thus it began to seek closer ties with the West. After taking
office, U.S. President
Clinton announced his desire to heal relations with Vietnam. His
administration lifted economic sanctions on the country in 1994, and in May 1995
the two nations renewed diplomatic relations, with the U.S. opening an embassy
on Vietnamese soil for the first time since 1975.
The economic reforms known as
(renovation), instituted by the 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 the bilateral trade agreement in 2001, the U.S.
became the largest export market for Vietnam.
Unexploded U.S. explosives
It is estimated that six million unexploded bombs dropped by U.S. bombers are
left in the region. This has been a major problem in agriculture. The cost of
removing them would be enormous. However, people and organizations are
attempting to remove these mines and unexploded bombs.
Unexploded NLF and North Vietnamese devices
Hundreds of thousands of land mines and other explosive devices were placed
in areas of Vietnam by the NLF and North Vietnamese Army. This has been a major
problem in agriculture. The Vietnamese army also left mines all over 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. The Vietnamese government does not consider removal of the mines
or other devices to be cost-effective.
Contamination from U.S. Chemicals
U.S. herbicides, most importantly the dioxin-based
Orange which was used to remove plant cover from large areas, continue to
change the landscape, cause diseases and poisoning within food-chain in the
areas where they were used.
Domestic effects and aftermath in Cambodia
In 1975, shortly before the end of the war, the Communist
Rouge seized power in
after a bloody civil war. This led to a genocide known as the "Killing
Fields" that collectively killed some 1.7 million people, one-fifth of the
country's population. A month after taking power, Khmer Rouge soldiers seized
the SS Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant ship, which resulted in a military
response from President Ford, who 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
Mayaguez Incident) but a significant number of U.S. casualties occurred at
Koh Tang. The
Rouge were driven from power in 1979, when Vietnam invaded and installed a
pro-Vietnam 'puppet' government.
Domestic effects and aftermath in Laos
The North Vietnamese army, in violation of the peace accords never left Laos.
When all US forces pulled out, the Royalist government brought the Pathet Lao
into the government as equals. Laos was to be netural. Large portions of the
government and anti-communist armies in Laos were demobilized due to lack of
money as US aid ended. After North Vietnam had won its victory in South Vietnam,
it encouraged the Pathet Lao to begin attacking the government. As in the past,
PAVN army units provided direct support to the operations. After seeing what had
happened in Cambodia and South Vietnam, the government of Laos effectively
negotiated a transfer of power to the Pathet Lao. The King was encouraged to
abdicate and then was years afterward killed by the government along with his
Most of the educated people in Laos fled the country. True to their nature,
the Pathet Lao remained for many years little more than a puppet colonial regime
taking orders from Vietnam. A treaty of friendship was signed which legalized
the presence of the Vietnamese army in the country. Large numbers of Vietnamese
"advisors" were resettled in the country and given prominent roles. On orders
from Vietnam, the borders of Laos with China and Thailand were closed which made
Laos totally dependent on Vietnam economically. Vietnam eventually withdrew from
Laos in the late 1980s. The regime they left behind has liberalized the economy
and some aspects of daily life, but retains all political power.
Large areas in eastern parts of Laos remain occupied by unexploded U.S.
Domestic effects in the U.S.
The Vietnam war had many long term repercussions for U.S. society and foreign
The Vietnam War had a powerful impact on U.S. sociopolitical opinion,
especially that of the young U.S. citizens of the
For both supporters and critics these opinions generated political positions
regarding US foreign and domestic policy. The Vietnam War was also significant
in encouraging the belief that mass mobilization and protest can influence
The war and the Communist victory led to a mass emigration from Vietnam,
primarily to six countries: the
Germany. During the postwar period over 1 million refugees arrived in the
United States (see
Vietnamese American). They included Cambodians and Vietnamese of many
ethnicities (such as the
of Laos) as well as
the offspring of Vietnamese and U.S. citizens. The integration of these groups,
particularly Vietnamese ethnic minorities, generated further social issues in
the U.S. Amerasians were the victims of racism in Vietnam. Racial and ethnic
cleansing as practiced by Vietnam and Laos received little coverage by the
By this time, facilitated by modern transportation reaching the region, the
opium and heroin trade that had arisen in the infamous
Golden Triangle region was also beginning to escalate. The arrival of
regular air transport to Laos and the activities of the
lead to local heroin trafficers developing for the first time a local capability
to chemically refine the drug in large quantities. Significant amounts of heroin
started to flow into Vietnam during 1970 and this was followed soon after by the
first large-scale seizures of Asian heroin in the United States and Europe.
Historian and expert on the drug trade
Dr Alfred W. McCoy claims that there was significant covert US involvement
in the drug trade which, he alleges, was the result of what he calls the CIA's
policy of "radical pragmatism". Others have strongly suggested that the North
Vietnamese and NLF individuals were equally involved in the drug trade and
allowed heroin to flow through their lines into South Vietnam. In truth, it can
be said that rather than a CIA conspiracy, the heroin production in 1970 had
more to do with cheap prices, a large ready-made market among the U.S. military
in Vietnam and Thailand and the arrival of the skills to refine heroin in Asia.
Rather than a CIA plot, events in southeast asia reflected many individuals
taking advantage of the war to make money off the heroin trade.
Although McCoy's broader claims remain controversial, the indisputable fact
was that by late 1970 heroin use was emerging as a major health issue among U.S.
servicemen, with some medics reporting that as many as 10% of GIs in some units
were regular heroin users by the end of 1970. The penetration of cheap drugs
into U.S. military in Vietnam also led to a rapid increase in drug importation
into Australia, thanks in part to the thriving
Rest and Recreation circuit, with some U.S. personnel sent to Sydney on R&R
leave being used as drug "mules". Demand among ex U.S. personnel who returned to
the states created increased heroin demand in the U.S. Around this time, U.S.
journalists also began to report allegations that South Vietnamese politicians
were using money from the drug trade to finance their election campaigns, and
that senior intelligence personnel were directly involved in drug running
operations. U.S. journalists at the time were less likely to ask questions as to
how the drugs were getting through the NLF and North Vietnamese controlled
border areas or who among them was profiting off the drug trade.
Social attitudes and treatment of veterans
Service in the war was unpopular and opposition to the war generated negative
views of veterans in some quarters. Some Vietnam veterans experienced social
exclusion in the years following the war and some experienced problems
readjusting to society. In the
Zealand, many Vietnam veterans were looked down upon by the veterans of
War II and were excluded from war veteran organizations for a number of
years on the grounds that the Vietnam War veterans did not fight a "real war".
One example occurred in
with many Australian Vietnam veterans were excluded from joining the
Returned Serviceman's League (the RSL had a large number of World War II
veterans in charge of the organisation at the time) as well as excluded from
marching in the
parades during the 1970's.
Negative stereotyping of veterans in popular culture was common in the 1970s.
Eventually, however, a greater understanding of
post-traumatic stress disorder, previously known as battle fatigue, together
with the development of Vietnam veterans' associations, generated more sympathy
for Vietnam veterans.
In contrast to the generous benefits afforded veterans of
War II, Vietnam veterans received benefits no better than those in the prior
Many veterans who had been exposed to the defoliation agent known as
Orange later developed health problems, resulting in
action lawsuits against the government. The U.S. department of Veterans
Affairs awarded compensation to 1,800 of some 250,000 claimants.
Another important contrast to the post–World War II period is that the
acceptability of avoiding service during the Vietnam War has resulted in an
increasing majority of U.S. officials, including those elected to major
positions, not being war, or even military service, veterans. Every president
from 1945 to 1992 was a war veteran - even
George McGovern, the
Democratic candidate in 1972, was a highly decorated B-24 bomber pilot. Many who
did perform military service during this period did not serve in the war itself,
including U.S. President
George W. Bush who served stateside in the
National Guard. Former President
Clinton, after enrolling in the
withdrew his commitment, did not serve in the military at all, and even took
part in anti-U.S. protests on foreign soil.
In 1982, construction began on the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Washington, D.C. (also known as 'The Wall') designed by
It is located on the
National Mall adjacent to the
The Three Soldiers statue was added in 1984.
Popular opinion regarding the war and its veterans changed slowly through the
late 1970s and 1980s. Vietnam service has become more respected and has been an
important feature of several election campaigns, notably U.S. Senators
Kerry. Kerry, the first Vietnam combat veteran to be nominated as a
presidential candidate by a major party, made his service record a major issue
2004 U.S. presidential campaign. Although Republicans maintain that the
specifics of his record were controversial, the fact that he had actually served
in combat in Vietnam was viewed as a major political asset.
Common military medals of the Vietnam War
During the war, a wide array of
military decorations for bravery, meritorious actions, and general service
were created by both nations of Vietnam.
The United States began issuing combat decorations which were last bestowed
Korean War as well as several new service medals. Most South Vietnamese
decorations were issued to both members of the South Vietnamese military and the
United States armed forces. As such, several of the current U.S. senior military
officers, who served during the Vietnam War, can today still be seen wearing
South Vietnamese medals on active duty uniforms. Since South Vietnam as a
country no longer exists, such medals are in fact considered obsolete and may
only be privately purchased.
Some of the medals include Liberation Order, Ho Chi Minh Insignia,
Brass Fortress of the Fatherland Decoration, Friendship Decoration
and Defeat American Aggression Badge.
Names for the war
Various names have been given to the war, and these have shifted over time,
though Vietnam War is the dominant standard in English. It has been
called the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam Conflict, the
Vietnam War, and, by the victors, the American War (Vietnamese
Kháng Chiến Chống Mỹ Cứu Nước, "Resistance War Against the Americans to
Save the Nation").
The usage of these names may represent a particular viewpoint.
- Second Indochina War: puts the conflict into context with other
distinctive but related and contiguous conflicts in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia,
the prior ending in 1954 and the subsequent beginning in 1979.
- Vietnam Conflict: largely a US term, it acknowledges that the US
never declared war on any other party in it. Legally, the US was not at war and
certain wartime legal measures, such as soldiers serving for "the duration"
never came into effect.
- Vietnam War: the most commonly-used term in English, it implies that
the location was chiefly within the borders of the nation (which is disputed, as
many regard the scope as including at least Cambodia); it sidesteps the issue of
the lack of a US
declaration of war.
- Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation: the term
favored by North Vietnam (and after its victory, Vietnam); it is more of a
slogan than a name, and its meaning is self-evident. Its usage had waned in
recent years as the Vietnamese government seeks better relations with the United
States. Official publications now increasingly refer to it generically as "Chiến
tranh Việt Nam" (Vietnam War).
the conflict is usually referred to as The American War (Vietnamese:
Kháng chiến chống Mỹ, literally Resistance War Against America) to
distinguish it from other conflicts that occurred in Vietnam (The
French War, The Japanese War, The Chinese Wars,
Trinh - Nguyen Civil War, etc.) Some Vietnamese speakers oppose this
terminology because it does not reflect the civil war nature of the conflict,
while others oppose calling it the "Vietnam War" because it reflects a Western
viewpoint, not a Vietnamese one. The western view point is though not
Vietnamese, but is one portraying the critical cause of war. Given the nature of
the government in Vietnam, open discussion even with regard to the name of the
conflict is not really possible.