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Vietnam War

Vietnam War
Part of the Cold War
Date: 1957–1975
Location: Southeast Asia
Result: 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
South Korea
New Zealand
the Philippines
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam)
National Liberation Front (Viet Cong)
~1,200,000 (1968) ~420,000 (1968)
South Vietnamese dead: 1,250,000+
US dead: 58,226
US wounded: 153,303
Civilian (total Vietnamese): c. 2–4 million
Dead: 1,100,000
Wounded: 600,000
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 Vietnamese) 1 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 Viet Minh at 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 popular than Hồ Chí 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 U.S. and Soviet-Chinese involvement would steadily escalate. The conflict spilled over into the neighobring countries of Cambodia 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 elections for unification. In the context of the Cold War, and with the recent Korean War as a precedent, the U.S. had feared that a reunified Vietnam would result in a Communist government under the popular Hồ Chí 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 superpower conflicts. The North Vietnamese government and its Southern affiliated organization (NLF) viewed the war as a struggle to reunite the country under a communist dictatorship and to repel a foreign 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 end to the RVN and the war on April 30, 1975. With the Northern victory, the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) with a communist-controlled government based in Hanoi. Shortly 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 country.


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 wars, the First Indochina War between the French and the Viet Minh 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 Cold War.

The 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 Japanese during World 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 with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964. The Vietnam War 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 Secret War). 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 coalition of forces fought for South Vietnam, including its army the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (or ARVN), the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New 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. The United Kingdom and Canada did not participate in the war militarily, although a few of their citizens volunteered to join the US forces and Canada led peace talks between the two countries for years. The Spanish 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 Viet Cong. The USSR provided military and financial aid, along with diplomatic support to the North Vietnamese as did the People's Republic of China. Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and North Korea provided minor assistance through provision of supplies and armor. North Vietnamese 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 Arizona or Hawaii.


France had gained control of Indochina in a series of colonial 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 World War II, Vichy France had collaborated with the occupying Imperial Japanese forces. Vietnam was under effective Imperial Japanese control, as well as de facto Japanese administrative control, although the Vichy French continued to serve as the official administrators until 1944. 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 socialist dictatorship.

On September 2, 1945, Hồ Chí Minh spoke at a ceremony 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. President 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 Communist 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 like Laos.

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 Ngô 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 Diem.

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 [1]) 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. [2]

John F. Kennedy and Vietnam

In June 1961, John F. Kennedy met with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where they had a bitter disagreement over key U.S.-Soviet issues. 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 containment policy.

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 Truman 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 Berlin Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the pro-Western government of Laos and the Pathet Lao Communist movement. Fearing that another failure on the part of the United States to gain control and stop Communist expansion would fatally damage 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.[3]

The Kennedy administration grew increasingly frustrated with Diệm. In 1963 a violent crackdown by Diệm's forces against Buddhist 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 coup d'état which overthrew and killed Diệm on November 1, 1963.

The death of Diệm made the South much more unstable. The new military rulers were 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 November 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 escalation. This is typically meant to refer to the incremental increase in forces in response to greater need, rather than an intentional strategy. However a key element 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 commando-style 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 allowed the 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 Soviet 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 Warsaw Pact.

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 wartime peak.

Intervention by the USA

Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin

Johnson raised the level of U.S. involvement on July 27, 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, a new 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 7 August 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 Wayne 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 Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and Maxwell Taylor agreed on November 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 ANZUS Pact 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 serve.)

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 Pleiku was 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, 1965, 3,500 United States Marines became the first US combat troops to land in South Vietnam, adding to the 25,000 US military advisers already in place. The air war escalated as well; on July 24, 1965, four F-4C Phantoms escorting a bombing raid at Kang Chi became the targets of 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 first 4,000 101st Airborne Division paratroopers arrived in Vietnam, landing at Cam Ranh Bay.

On August 18, 1965, Operation Starlite began as the first major 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 Central 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 guerilla tactics.

The Pentagon told President Johnson on November 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 Honolulu. 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 August 1966.

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.

On 12 October 1967, U.S. 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 November 2 and asked them to suggest ways to unite the US people behind the war effort. Johnson announced on November 17 that, while much remained to be done, "We are inflicting greater losses than we're taking....We are making progress." Following up on this, General William Westmoreland on November 21 told news reporters: "I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing." Nevertheless it was recognized that although the communists were taking a major beating, 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 Khe Sanh. 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 negative light.

The Australian And New Zealand Commitment

Along with US forces, Australia and New 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 ANZACs received 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 Saigon.

Thailand's Role

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 January 30, 1968 NLF and PAVN forces broke the Tet truce and mounted the Tet Offensive (named after Tết 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 Saigon where 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.

Tet aftermath

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 October 14, 1968, the United States Department of Defense announced that the United States Army and Marines would be sending about 24,000 troops back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Two weeks later on October 31, citing progress with the Paris peace talks, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced what became known as the October surprise when he ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam" effective November 1. Peace talks eventually broke down, however, and one year later, on November 3, 1969, then President Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation on television and radio asking the "silent majority" to join him in solidarity 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, contracted by 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 the public.

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 Baby Boomers.

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. history. Though 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 October 15, 1965, when the student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged the first public burning of a draft card in the United States.

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 World War II in the United States was held on 1 December 1969, based on a potential draftee's date of birth. While this had the effect of giving relative certainty to young men as to their chances of being drafted, it also had the effect of dividing those eligible youth who engaged in war protest, as noted by The New York Times in a December 8, 1969 article: "Draft Lottery Changes Views of Eligibles."

Statistical analysis indicated that the methodology of the lotteries unintentionally disadvantaged men with late year birthdays. [4] 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, George Ball, was one of the lone voices in his administration advising against war in Vietnam.

The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the U.S. government. On August 16, 1966 the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigations of U.S. citizens who were suspected of aiding the NLF. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted the meeting and 50 were arrested.

On 1 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 Melbourne alone.

On 15 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 November 15.

On April 22, 1971, John 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 war crimes.

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 New 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 August 4, 1969, U.S. representative Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Xuan Thuy began secret peace negotiations at the apartment of French intermediary 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 purpose since World War II.


Nixon was elected President and began his policy of slow disengagement from the war. The goal was to gradually build up the South Vietnamese Army so that it could fight the war on its own. This policy became the cornerstone of the so-called "Nixon Doctrine". As applied to Vietnam, the doctrine was called "Vietnamization". 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 Andreotta, Lawrence Colburn and Hugh Thompson, Jr.) noticed the carnage from their helicopter and intervened to prevent their fellow soldiers from killing any more civilians. Calley was given a life sentence after his court-martial in 1970, but was later pardoned by President Nixon. Cover-ups may have happened in other cases, as 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 by Khmer 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 during 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 Khmer 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 June 30.

In an effort to help assuage opposition to the war, Nixon announced on October 12, 1970, that the United States would withdraw 40,000 more troops before Christmas. Later that month on October 30, the worst monsoon to hit Vietnam in six years caused large floods, killed 293, left 200,000 homeless and 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 13 February 1971 in a failed attempt to close the Ho Chi Minh Trail.. On August 18 of that year, Australia and New Zealand decided to withdraw their troops from Vietnam. The total number of U.S. troops in Vietnam dropped to 196,700 on 29 October 1971, the lowest level since January 1966. On November 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 forces. Beginning March 30, the "Eastertide Offensive" quickly overran much of Military Region 1, formerly known as I Corps, including Quang Tri, and threatened the city of Hue. Early in April the North Vietnamese opened three additional fronts in the offensive in the Central Highlands and Binh Dinh province of Military Region 2, and against An Loc in Military Region 3, threatening to overrun the entire country.

The United States countered with a buildup of American airpower to support ARVN defensive operations and to conduct Operation Linebacker against North Vietnam, but continued the withdrawal of American troops, now numbering less than 100,000, as scheduled. By June only six infantry battalions remained in South Vietnam, and 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 October 22 and 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. White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler on November 30 1972, told the press that there would be no more public announcements concerning U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam due to the fact that troop levels were then down to 27,000.

With a perceived stalemate in the Paris peace negotiations, President Nixon ordered a resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam using B-52s. Operation Linebacker II began December 18 with large raids against both Hanoi and Haiphong. Although causing many protests both domestically and internationally, and despite significant losses of B-52s over North Vietnam, Nixon continued the bombing until December 29, when the North Vietnamese agreed to resume talks.

The end of U.S. involvement

On 15 January 1973, 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 lead negotiator 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 during his state 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 February 11 and all U.S. soldiers were ordered to leave by March 29. 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, 1975 Ban-Me-Thuot fell to North Vietnam. North Vietnam's 3rd Army Corps (Tay Nguyen) began its attack in the early morning hours. After a violent artillery barrage, the 4,000-man garrison defending the city retreated with their families. On March 15, President Thieu ordered the Central Highlands and the northern provinces to be abandoned, in what he declared to 'lighten the top and keep the bottom'. General Phu abandoned the cities of Pleiku and Kontum and retreated to the coast in what became known as the "column of tears". General Phu led his troops to Tum Ky on the coast, but as the 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 March 22, 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 retreat. On March 25, after a 3-day siege, Huế fell.

As Huế fell, PAVN rockets hit downtown Da Nang and the airport. By March 28, 35,000 troops of PAVN's 2nd Corps (Huong Giang) were poised in the suburbs. On 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 troops. On March 30, 100,000 leaderless ARVN troops surrendered as the PAVN marched victoriously through Da Nang on that Easter Sunday. 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 April 21, 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 Taiwan on April 25, leaving control of the doomed government to General Dương Văn Minh.

By now, PAVN tanks had reached Bien Hoa. They turned towards Saigon, clashing with occasional isolated South Vietnamese units on the way.

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 April 27, 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 April 29, 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 collapse. President Gerald Ford gave a speech on April 23, declaring the end of the Vietnam War and the end of all U.S. aid to the Saigon regime. The helicopter evacuation continued all day and night while PAVN tanks reached the outskirts of Saigon. In the early hours of April 30, the last U.S. Marines left the embassy as hectic Vietnamese breached the embassy perimeter and raided the place. PAVN T-54 tanks moved into Saigon. Tank skirmishes began as ARVN M-41 tanks attacked the heavily armored Soviet T-54 tanks. 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 April 30, 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.

On 21 January 1977, U.S. President Jimmy 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 San Francisco and Hồ Chí Minh City via Hong Kong.


Estimating the number killed in the conflict is extremely difficult. Official records from North Vietnam are hard to find or nonexistent and many of those killed were literally obliterated by bombing. For many years the North Vietnamese suppressed the true number of their casualties for propaganda purposes. It is also difficult to say exactly what counts as a "Vietnam war casualty"; people are still being killed today by unexploded ordnance, particularly cluster bomblets. More than 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed so far by landmines and unexploded ordnance. [5]

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 April 3, 1995, reporting that 1.1 million fighters—Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers—and nearly 2 million civilians in the north and 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.[6] Full details including WIA and 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. See also 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 action.

Both during and after the war, significant human rights violations occurred. Both North and South Vietnamese had large numbers of political prisoners, many of whom were killed or tortured. In 1970, two U.S. congressmen visiting South Vietnam discovered the existence of "tiger cages", which were small prison cells used for torturing South Vietnamese political prisoners (see Con Son Island). After the war, actions taken by the victors in Vietnam, including firing squads, torture, concentration camps and "reeducation," led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. 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 in the United States.

Among the many casualties of the war were the people of the neighboring state of Cambodia. 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 and communist Khmer 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 human 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 Vietnam as boat 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 viewpoint.

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 to famine.

The large number of people born after 1975 may be indicative of a postwar baby boom, 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.

The 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 Bill 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 đổi mới (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 Agent 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 Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia 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 (see Mayaguez Incident) but a significant number of U.S. casualties occurred at Koh Tang. The Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979, when Vietnam invaded and installed a pro-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 family.

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. bombs.

Domestic effects in the U.S.

The Vietnam war had many long term repercussions for U.S. society and foreign policy.

Social impact

The Vietnam War had a powerful impact on U.S. sociopolitical opinion, especially that of the young U.S. citizens of the baby boom. 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 government policy.

The war and the Communist victory led to a mass emigration from Vietnam, primarily to six countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Great Britain, and East 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 Hmong of Laos) as well as Amerasians, 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 American media.

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 KMT in Burma inevitibly 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 United States, Australia, and New Zealand, many Vietnam veterans were looked down upon by the veterans of World 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 Australia 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 ANZAC Day 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 World War II, Vietnam veterans received benefits no better than those in the prior peacetime service period.

Many veterans who had been exposed to the defoliation agent known as Agent Orange later developed health problems, resulting in class 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 pacifist 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 Bill Clinton, after enrolling in the ROTC, successfully 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 Maya Lin. It is located on the National Mall adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial. 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 John McCain and John F. 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 in the 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.

In U.S.

The United States began issuing combat decorations which were last bestowed in the 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.

In Vietnam

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).

In Vietnam, 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.


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