The Vietnam War was a conflict that lasted for more than two decades, with roots that can be traced back to the early days of Vietnam’s independence. The war began as a struggle for control of Vietnam between the Communist forces of North Vietnam and the non-Communist government of South Vietnam. The United States became involved in the war in an effort to prevent the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia.
The Vietnam War was a long and costly conflict that left a deep mark on American society. More than 58,000 Americans were killed in the war, and many more were wounded. The war also had a profound impact on Vietnam, with an estimated 2 million Vietnamese civilians killed.
Today, Vietnam is a unified country once again, and the Vietnam War is an important part of its history. The war continues to shape the way Americans think about foreign policy and military intervention. It also serves as a reminder of the human cost of war.
From the 1880s until World War II, France ruled Vietnam as part of French Indochina, which also included Cambodia and Laos. The country was governed by an emperor, Bao Dai. Japanese troops invaded and occupied French Indochina in 1940. Vietnamese nationalists formed the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Minh) in December 1941, seeing the turmoil of war as an opportunity to rebel against French colonial domination. The United States demanded that Japan withdraw from Indochina, stating that it would take military action if necessary.
The United States had supported Vietnam’s independence from Japan during WWII with the intention of preventing further expansion of communism in Asia. At the war’s end, Vietnam was still under French rule. The Viet Minh were now fighting for independence from France.
The United States did not want Vietnam to fall under communist rule and began supporting the French militarily. In 1954, after a long and bloody war, Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam, which was communist, and South Vietnam, which was anti-communist. The United States supported the government of South Vietnam.
The United States became more deeply involved in the Vietnam War after 1964, when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing President Lyndon Johnson to take whatever actions he deemed necessary to protect U.S. forces in Vietnam. This led to a major escalation of the war, with the United States sending large numbers of troops and bombing North Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was extremely unpopular in the United States, and anti-war protests increased as the war continued. In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which limited the president’s ability to commit troops to combat without congressional approval.
Ho Chi Minh wrote eight letters to President Harry Truman of the United States, pleading with him to recognize Vietnam’s independence. However, Post-World War II American foreign policy was influenced by a fear of Communist expansion. The Communist Soviet Union had subjugated Eastern Europe, and China was ruled by Communists. United States policymakers believed that they could not afford to lose Southeast Asia to the Communists, therefore they labeled Ho Chi Minh as an agent of international Communism and offered to help the French fight back in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War began in earnest in November 1955, when the first units of the U.S. Army’s 7th Fleet arrived off the coast of Vietnam. American military advisors had been sent to Vietnam in 1950 to aid the French army, which was fighting a losing battle against Communist-led rebels, known as Viet Cong. By 1961, there were more than 11,000 American advisors in Vietnam.
In February 1965, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson authorized the use of American combat troops in Vietnam. The first major battle between United States forces and the Viet Cong occurred in March 1966, at a place called Dong Xoai. From that point on, the war became increasingly brutal and bloody, with no end in sight.
The Vietnam War lasted more than a decade and exacted a terrible human toll. Vietnam was left devastated, its land poisoned by Agent Orange and its people traumatized by years of violence. However, Vietnam emerged from the war as a unified country, determined to never again be dominated by a foreign power.
In 1955, the United States selected Ngo Dinh Diem to lead South Vietnam’s anti-Communist regime in place of Bao Dai. Diem refused to take part in the intended national elections, which Ho Chi Minh and the Lao Dong (aka Workers’ Party), backed by the Soviet Union, were expected to win.
Instead, Diem refused to hold elections across the country and instead restricted them solely to South Vietnam, a decision that violated the Geneva Accords. This triggered the conflict. Because it thought that if South Vietnam were entirely Communistized, communism would seep throughout Southeast Asia and beyond, the United States got involved in Vietnam.
Vietnam had been under French colonial rule since the 19th century. In 1941, Japan occupied Vietnam during World War II and remained there until 1945, when Vietnam was liberated by Allied forces. Following the war, Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam, which was Communist, and South Vietnam, which was anti-Communist. The division of the country was meant to be temporary, but it soon led to conflict.
In 1954, the French were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and Vietnam gained its independence. The Geneva Accords of 1954 temporarily divided Vietnam into North Vietnam, controlled by the Communists, and South Vietnam, controlled by the non-Communists. The accords also called for national elections in 1956 to reunify the country. However, these elections never took place.
The United States became involved in Vietnam because it thought that if all of Vietnam were Communist, Communism would spread throughout Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The domino theory was a concept developed by U.S. officials to explain their involvement in Vietnam. As a result, the United States backed South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm.
On March 18, 1965, rather than securing the air base as they had been told to do, some of the United States Marines from the 9th Marine Regiment touched down at Nang. Their orders were to defend the US air base, but their mission was quickly upgraded to include search-and-destroy patrols throughout the region surrounding the facility. This mirrored General William Westmoreland’s larger plan in miniature.