Major Events- 65 Major Events
It remains one of the most controversial wars in US history. It was a war that was fought not win but more not to lose. In the end, despite all the efforts, the war was lost. 60,000 Americans lost their lives fighting the war, a war that almost tore America apart. The consequences of the lost, however, turned out to be now was feared. Instead today a generation later the US and Vietnam are friends. Explore the major events to see a timeline and details including a few videos of the major events.
South Vietnam: 850,000
United States: 540,000
South Korea: 50,000
Others: 80,000 plus
South Vietnam: 200,000 – 400,000 civilians
Over 1 million wounded
50,000 plus civilian dead
400,000-1 million military dead.
Over 500,000 wounded
Ho Chi Minh Comes Home
There had been fighting in Vietnam for decades before the Vietnam War began. The Vietnamese had suffered under French colonial rule for nearly six decades when Japan invaded portions of Vietnam in 1940. It was in 1941 when Vietnam had two foreign powers occupying them, that communist Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh arrived back in Vietnam after spending 30 years traveling the world.
Once Ho was back in Vietnam, he established a headquarters in a cave in northern Vietnam and established the Viet Minh, whose goal was to rid Vietnam of the French and Japanese occupiers.
Having gained support for their cause in northern Vietnam, the Viet Minh announced the establishment of an independent Vietnam with a new government called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. The French, however, were not willing to give up their colony so easily and fought back.
For years, Ho had tried to court the United States to support him against the French, including supplying the U.S. with military intelligence about the Japanese during World War II. Despite this aid, the United States was fully dedicated to their Cold War foreign policy of containment, which meant preventing the spread of communism.
This fear of the spread of communism was heightened by the U.S. "domino theory," which stated that if one country in Southeast Asia fell to communism then surrounding countries would also soon fall.
To help prevent Vietnam from becoming a communist country, the U.S. decided to help France defeat Ho and his revolutionaries by sending the French military aid in 1950.
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Vietnam War, (1954–75), a protracted conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong, against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. Called the “American War” in Vietnam (or, in full, the “War Against the Americans to Save the Nation”), the war was also part of a larger regional conflict (see Indochina wars) and a manifestation of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies.
Why did the Vietnam War start?
The United States had provided funding, armaments, and training to South Vietnam’s government and military since Vietnam’s partition into the communist North and the democratic South in 1954. Tensions escalated into armed conflict between the two sides, and in 1961 U.S. President John F. Kennedy chose to expand the military aid program. The terms of this expansion included yet more funding and arms, but a key alteration was the commitment of U.S. soldiers to the region. Kennedy’s expansion stemmed in part from Cold War-era fears about the “domino theory”: if communism took hold in Vietnam, it would topple democracies throughout the whole of Southeast Asia, it was thought.
Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, but his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, continued the work that Kennedy had started. Johnson raised the number of South Vietnam deployments to 23,000 U.S. soldiers by the end of his first year in office. Political turbulence there and two alleged North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. naval vessels spurred Johnson to demand the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. It granted him broad latitude in handling the struggle against communism in Southeast Asia.
Was the Vietnam War technically a war?
By nearly every metric, the Vietnam War was, in the common sense of the word, a war. The United States committed some 550,000 troops to the Vietnam front at the height of the conflict, suffered more than 58,000 casualties, and engaged in battle after battle with communist forces in the region until its withdrawal in 1973. However, from a constitutional perspective, this conflict did not technically count as a war. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress sole authority to issue declarations of war. Since 1941 Congress has declared war only six times, all during World War II. Congress authorized troop deployment in Vietnam, but, because it did not issue a declaration of war on North Vietnam or the Viet Cong, the Vietnam War is, technically speaking, not considered a war in the United States.
Who won the Vietnam War?
The question of who won the Vietnam War has been a subject of debate, and the answer depends on the definition of victory. Those who argue that the United States won the war point to the fact that the U.S. defeated communist forces during most of Vietnam’s major battles. They also assert that the U.S. overall suffered fewer casualties than its opponents. The U.S. military reported 58,220 American casualties. Although North Vietnamese and Viet Cong casualty counts vary wildly, it is generally understood that they suffered several times the number of American casualties.
Those who argue that the United States’ opponents won the war cite the United States’ overall objectives and outcomes. The United States entered Vietnam with the principal purpose of preventing a communist takeover of the region. In that respect, it failed: the two Vietnams were united under a communist banner in July 1976. Neighbouring Laos and Cambodia similarly fell to communists. Furthermore, domestic unrest and the financial cost of war made peace—and troop withdrawals—a necessity, not a choice.
How many people died in the Vietnam War?
In 1995 Vietnam released its official estimate of the number of people killed during the Vietnam War: as many as 2,000,000 civilians on both sides and some 1,100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists more than 58,300 names of members of the U.S. armed forces who were killed or went missing in action. Among other countries that fought for South Vietnam, South Korea had more than 4,000 dead, Thailand about 350, Australia more than 500, and New Zealand some three dozen.
At the heart of the conflict was the desire of North Vietnam, which had defeated the French colonial administration of Vietnam in 1954, to unify the entire country under a single communist regime modeled after those of the Soviet Union and China. The South Vietnamese government, on the other hand, fought to preserve a Vietnam more closely aligned with the West. U.S. military advisers, present in small numbers throughout the 1950s, were introduced on a large scale beginning in 1961, and active combat units were introduced in 1965. By 1969 more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and China poured weapons, supplies, and advisers into the North, which in turn provided support, political direction, and regular combat troops for the campaign in the South. The costs and casualties of the growing war proved too much for the United States to bear, and U.S. combat units were withdrawn by 1973. In 1975 South Vietnam fell to a full-scale invasion by the North.
The human costs of the long conflict were harsh for all involved. Not until 1995 did Vietnam release its official estimate of war dead: as many as 2 million civilians on both sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war. In 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., inscribed with the names of 57,939 members of U.S. armed forces who had died or were missing as a result of the war. Over the following years, additions to the list have brought the total past 58,200. (At least 100 names on the memorial are those of servicemen who were actually Canadian citizens.) Among other countries that fought for South Vietnam on a smaller scale, South Korea suffered more than 4,000 dead, Thailand about 350, Australia more than 500, and New Zealand some three dozen.
Vietnam emerged from the war as a potent military power within Southeast Asia, but its agriculture, business, and industry were disrupted, large parts of its countryside were scarred by bombs and defoliation and laced with land mines, and its cities and towns were heavily damaged. A mass exodus in 1975 of people loyal to the South Vietnamese cause was followed by another wave in 1978 of “ boat people,” refugees fleeing the economic restructuring imposed by the communist regime. Meanwhile, the United States, its military demoralized and its civilian electorate deeply divided, began a process of coming to terms with defeat in what had been its longest and most controversial war. The two countries finally resumed formal diplomatic relations in 1995.
The Vietnam War: A History in Song
The ‘First Television War’ was also documented in over 5,000 songs. From protest to patriotism, popular music reveals the complexity of America’s two-decade long experience struggling against communism in Vietnam.
US soldiers gather around a guitar player during Operation Yellowstone, 18 January 1968.
I n the early 1970s, an obscure Louisiana-based country singer called Bob Necaise released ‘Mr. Where is Viet-Nam’. In the song, Lil Gary Dee, a ‘little boy not yet four years old’, asks:
Mister where is Vietnam?
Is it very far away?
I want to see my daddy
Will you take me there today?
By December 1961, under President John F. Kennedy, the US had 3,205 military personnel stationed in Vietnam. By the end of the 1960s, this enigmatic country would become the most controversial issue facing the US, dividing society, debated in Congress, demonstrated for and against on the streets – and documented in song.
Vietnam has been called ‘the First Television War’. But, as Billboard magazine reported on 4 June 1966, ‘few conflicts have evoked such a spate of musical production’. As the magazine revealed, well over 100 Vietnam records had been released since that January alone. Fifty years on, more than 5,000 songs have been recorded about the war, forming an international conversation about a conflict that tore apart the fabric of politics, society and culture. With the US divided between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’, music became a powerful communication tool for both sides.
‘How many kids did you kill today?’
In the war’s early stages, protest songs voiced the concerns of a minority movement. Most Vietnam songs released during Kennedy’s presidency articulated a reluctance to be drafted. In 1962, the Californian folk duo Goldcoast Singers released ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, with an unambiguous message to the president: ‘I don’t want to go’. Fewer than 80 American deaths were recorded between 1956 and 1962, compared to over 16,000 in 1968 alone.
Playlists of the songs mentioned in each section are placed throughout the article. Press play above to listen.
One of the earliest notable protest songs of the JFK-era was published in the New York folk magazine Broadside on 20 September 1963, two months before Kennedy’s assassination. ‘Talkin Vietnam’ by Phil Ochs criticised the government for ‘training a million Vietnamese, to fight for the wrong government, and the American way’. It also attacked South Vietnam’s Catholic president Ngo Dinh Diem for his one family rule and suppression of the majority Buddhist population: ‘families that slay together, stay together’. However, songs that focussed solely on opposing the Vietnam conflict were uncommon until 1964.
The turning point was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. On 10 August, Congress passed the resolution authorising President Lyndon B. Johnson to send hundreds of thousands of troops to maintain a non-communist South Vietnam. As US troop levels increased from 59,900 to 448,800 between 1965 and 1967, songwriters directed their anger at the president.
Distrust of LBJ was expressed by folk singer Tom Paxton in ‘Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation’ (1965). Paxton satirised the president’s actions: ‘though it isn’t really war, we’re sending 50,000 more’. In ‘Hey, Hey LBJ’ (1967), Bill Fredericks, backed by a group of children, asked ‘how many kids did you kill today?’. Jacqueline Sharpe, a prominent folksinger and social activist, mocked the administration’s stubborn insistence on sticking to its objective in her song ‘Honor Our Commitment’ (1966), ‘even if the world goes up in the smoke of a mushroom cloud’.
On 30 April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr delivered a speech, titled ‘Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam’ at the Riverside Church in New York. It was later released by a Motown Records subsidiary. King pressed home the relationship between Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, pointing to the ‘cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room’, as well as the killing of ‘little brown Vietnamese children’. King was not the first person to express this view. Nina Simone released ‘Backlash Blues’ in March 1967:
You send my son to Vietnam
You give me second-class houses and second-class schools
Do you think that all the coloured folks are just second-class fools?
For decades, Civil Rights groups had struggled with accusations of being unpatriotic and communist, leaving many black artists to tread cautiously. King’s public move against the war opened the flood gates. Dozens of songs by black musicians drew comparisons between Civil Rights and Vietnam, including activist Matt Jones who refused to fight in ‘Hell No! I Ain’t Gonna Go’ (1970), telling his audience that ‘the Vietcong just like I am’.
In 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched coordinated attacks against the South, infiltrating the US Embassy in Saigon. Following the Tet Offensive, public support for withdrawal from Vietnam increased from 19 to 55 per cent. The horrors of the war were becoming unignorable. The US dropped 388,000 tons of Napalm B on Indochina between 1963 and 1973. A jellied gasoline mixture, it stuck to skin, causing severe burns when on fire. A group of active-duty GIs from Idaho, called the Covered Wagon Musicians, offered an unflinching picture of the war in ‘Napalm Sticks to Kids’ (1972):
We shoot the sick, the young and lame
We do our best to kill and maim
Because the kills all count the same
Napalm sticks to kids
With public support for the war waning, withdrawal became a big issue in the November 1968 presidential election. Most candidates supported some form of withdrawal as songs began to emphasise the war’s length, military failures and growing fatality rate. Bob Seger attacked the political system in ‘2 + 2 = ?’ (1968): ‘it’s the rules not the soldier that I find the real enemy.’
Richard Nixon won the election and soon became the focus of protest. Three key events raised pressure on Nixon. Each of them inspired records. The first was the ‘Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam’, a mass demonstration which took place across the US on 15 October 1969, followed by a march on Washington on 15 November. Native-American folk artist Buffy Saint Marie released ‘Moratorium’ in 1971, in which she highlighted the increasingly diverse demographics of the protest movement in the early 70s:
Yes, soldier it’s for you
We’re riskin’ all we have
We’re nailed and jailed the same as you
Our lives are up for grabs
The second was the Kent State demonstration on 4 May 1970, which protested Nixon’s Cambodia incursion, an attempt to cut off North Vietnam’s supply routes to the South via its neighbour. Four students were killed by the Ohio State National Guard. That the war’s brutality had reached American soil shocked the nation. Within weeks Crosby, Still, Nash & Young released ‘Ohio’, placing blame firmly with the government. It was just one of more than 50 songs released about Kent State.
Third, in 1971 the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study on the history of the war, commissioned in 1967, was leaked to the New York Times by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. The papers revealed that the public had been misled about the war’s progress. The resulting news coverage inspired Texas band Bloodrock’s ‘Thank You Daniel Ellsberg’ (1972):
I wanna thank you Danny boy
For what you said and done
You’ve stricken from all the pages
But you don’t know that you’re the one
After the Tet Offensive and the subsequent turn in public opinion, commercially minded record labels became less afraid of releasing strong anti-war songs, for example Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ (1970) on Motown. By the 1970s, anti-war songs came from a range of backgrounds and perspectives and permeated popular culture. Anti-war sentiment even spread into the traditionally conservative country genre. John Wesley Ryles’ single ‘Kay’ (1968) featured ‘two young soldiers’ who tell the singer how they ‘hate that war in Vietnam’, while the wounded veteran in George Kent’s ‘Mama Bake a Pie’ (1970) pointedly says:
Yes sir it was worth it for the old red, white and blue
And since I won’t be walking, I suppose I’ll save some money buying shoes
But for every protest song decrying the war’s pointless brutality, there was another side to the story.
The Silent Majority?
Anti-war sentiment fuelled a large discography, but so did anti-communist sentiment. Opinion polls showed vast support for presidential policy across the Heartland and Southern states, in areas with ties to agriculture and religion. Patriotic songs supporting the government and troops filled the country charts and radio stations from the JFK to the Nixon eras of the war.
Jimmy Jack’s ‘Battle of Vietnam’ (1964) described the need to stop ‘the Commie charge’ in Vietnam and ‘keep it free’. In 1965 The Lonesome Valley Singers released ‘It’s All Worth Fighting For’, which articulated Dwight Eisenhower’s Domino Theory. The country group sang:
I guess there are people who think we should go ahead and give Vietnam to the enemy
But then what country would they demand next?
We’ve got to call a halt to this transgression somewhere
And it may as well be here in these jungles of South Vietnam
The US flag was an important symbol in patriotic songs. In Hank Snow’s 1966 ‘A Letter From Vietnam’, the narrator vowed he would do his best for ‘old glory, the red, white and blue’. And, like the flag, previous conflicts were often alluded to as patriotic symbols. In ‘What’s Come Over This World’ (1965), Billy Carr sang how
My brother fought in Korea,
My daddy in World War Two,
Now there’s a war in Vietnam,
And there’s a job we must do
On 16 March 1968, 300-500 civilians were murdered by US troops led by platoon leader Second Lieutenant William Calley in the south Vietnamese villages of My Lai and Song My. The My Lai Massacre became one the war’s most controversial events and inspired over 90 songs. But most of them supported Calley.
One of the most interesting of these was ‘Thank God, Calley Wasn’t Black’ (1973) by James Armstrong. The song defended Calley’s actions, but pondered what his fate may have been if he was an African-American. Would the public have been so lenient?
The most well-known song defending Calley was the ‘Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley’ (1971), by Terry Nelson, which sold over one million copies. But the massacre also became a symbol of an unjust war. The sleeve of Yoko Ono’s ‘Now or Never’ (1972) featured a horrific photograph of bodies in a ditch taken by army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle. It was one of the most graphic images to appear on a Vietnam War record.
A significant number of pro-war songs were directed at the war’s protestors and the perceived laziness, permissiveness and pacifism of the ‘Flower Power’ hippie generation. Jan Berry, member of the surf rock duo Jan & Dean, mocked the ‘Universal Coward’ (1965):
He just can’t get it through his thick skull
Why the mighty USA
Has got to be the watchdog of the world
Else that greedy USSR
Will bury us from afar
And he’ll never see the missiles being hurled
The narrator of Jack Sanders’ ‘The Vietnam Blues’ (1965), composed by Kris Kristofferson, comes across a ‘strange looking bunch’ of protestors gathering signatures to send a ‘telegram of sympathy to Ho Chi Minh’. The veteran feels ‘down right sick’. As the anti-war movement grew in the late 60s, a large number of records were recorded in support of Nixon. On 3 November 1969, the president had given a speech: ‘to you, the great silent majority: I ask for your support’. Written in response, George Jay’s ‘The Real Silent Majority’ (1969) expressed a desire to ‘unite with you in your search for an honourable peace’.
‘Now I’m 1-A’
According to the Veteran's Administration, of the 3.5 million people who went to Vietnam, 2.2 million did so via the draft. The experience is reflected in hundreds of songs. ‘1-A’ was the classification for those eligible for service, a recognised phrase sung by Richie Kaye in ‘Here Comes Uncle Sam’ (1965): ‘I'm through with school, now I'm 1-A, I got a letter, they are taking me away’.
The line between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ was clearly demarcated in songs relating to the draft. While Steppenwolf praised the ‘courage’ of the ‘Draft Resister’ (1969), Smiley Smith released the single ‘I Wish I Had a Draft Card’. Merle Haggard noted that ‘we don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street’ in ‘Okie From Muskogee’ (1969). Originally composed in jest, it became one of the most popular patriotic songs. In one of the standout novelty tracks, Chicago group Seeds of Euphoria advised LBJ in 1967: ‘Let’s Send Batman to Viet Nam’.
Draft inequality was a major theme. Gary Laster emphasised in ‘A Drafted Minor’ (1969) the absurd legal discrepancies affecting those drafted: draft age: 18 voting and drinking age: 21. Creedence Clearwater Revival confronted the inequality between the rich and poor in ‘Fortunate Son’ (1969), inspired by President Eisenhower’s grandson, David, who avoided the draft by joining the reserves.
Many songs also focused on the impact of war on those left behind. Some of these were sentimental: from the early 60s, many ‘soldier boy’ themed songs appeared, including ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’ by The Supremes in 1962. Each holiday season galvanised sentiment on the home front and over 70 Christmas songs were written about the war. But not every song about absent soldiers was sentimental. Many artists were not shy about confronting the unethical activities of serving soldiers on furlough. The Soul Patrol’s ‘Saigon Strut’ (1968) described GIs visiting prostitutes on the famous Tu Do Street in Saigon, while ‘What’s Been Going On in Viet Nam’ (1968) by Ginger & Jean is told from the point of view of a veteran’s wife who discovers her husband has fathered a child abroad.
War is Over?
The North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon in April 1975. US military involvement in Vietnam was over, but the war continued to reverberate throughout American society. Almost half of the Vietnam War song discography was released in the postwar period.
The first wave of songs appeared between the 1973 peace agreement and the fall of Saigon. Many American songs of this period focused on returning prisoners of war. As part of the Paris Peace Accords, 591 POWs returned to the US in ‘Operation Homecoming’, an event celebrated in Funkadelic’s ‘March to the Witch’s Castle’:
February 12th, 1973
The prayers of thousands were answered
The war was over, and the first of the prisoners returned
Needless to say, it was the happiest day in up to thirteen years for most
For others, the real nightmare had just begun
That nightmare referred to the experience of returning veterans trying to readjust that the war’s end had terrible consequences for those in South Vietnam who had fought with the Americans was largely overlooked. Only a few records addressed the Vietnamese refugee crisis: ‘The Boat People (A Song of Hope)’ by Canadian jazz singer Dick Maloney, for example.
The 1980s saw a revival of interest in the war. The Reagan-era saw a wave of nationalism that attempted to overcome ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. Applied to veterans, it referred to feelings of guilt or shame about the war, influenced by the domestic climate they had returned to. Reagan spoke about this on 18 August 1980: ‘For too long, we have lived with the Vietnam Syndrome. We dishonour the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died. They deserve our gratitude, our respect and our continuing concern’.
Two prominent themes dominated the new batch of songs. First, the attempt to overcome Vietnam Syndrome second, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, characterised by shell shock, flashbacks and nostalgia. The Charlie Daniels Band released ‘Still in Saigon’ in 1982. The song is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran:
The ground at home was covered in snow
And I was covered in sweat
My younger brother calls me a killer
And my daddy calls me a vet
The completion of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall in Washington DC in 1982 led to over 30 songs of remembrance as Americans sought to come to terms with the war. Hawks and doves remained, but the names of more than 58,000 Americans killed became heroes, as sung by Michael J. Martin & Tim Holiday on ‘Who Are the Names on the Wall?’.
But the 1980s was also the decade in which the long-term negative health effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used in Vietnam to deprive the North Vietnamese guerrillas of concealment and food, became apparent. Peggy Seeger released ‘Agent Orange’ in 1982:
We’d fly above the trail all day and clouds of poison spray
I never thought that chemical would take my life today
But I just found out this morning, the doctor told me so
It killed me in Vietnam and I didn’t even know
Fuelled by anger, a politically conscious anti-Reagan punk movement grew internationally. Over 100 songs used Vietnam as a case study to criticise US interventions in Grenada, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Vietnam continued to be compared to other conflicts throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
The Vietnam War inspired songs on a scale never seen before, or since, and not just in the US. Performed by men and woman of different ethnicities and nationalities, the astonishing breadth of opinions from all levels of society reveals the changing nature of responses to the war. Aided by the development of the portable tape recorder, General Edward Lansdale captured hundreds of songs in Vietnam on tape, performed by US soldiers, Vietnamese guerrillas and civilians. Returning home he identified popular music’s central place in the experience of the war: ‘all along we have been historians without meaning to be. These tapes tell the story of a human side of war.’
Justin Brummer is founding editor of the Vietnam War Song Project and has a PhD on 20th-century American history. A playlist of all the songs mentioned in this article is available here. @VietnamWarSongs
The Vietnam War (1955-1975) essay
The Vietnam War is considered to be one of the most important events in the history of the United States. This event influenced the lives of millions of Americans because many citizens of the United States were enrolled in the army. According to statistical data, “Hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers were wounded and traumatized, and tens of thousands lost their lives” (Friedrichs 131). The war began in 1955 and ended in 1975. This historical period was the era of the Cold War, which was characterized by a lot of tension between the United States and Soviet Union. The Vietnam War took place in Vietnam, and was extended in Laos and Cambodia.
The Vietnam War is also known as Vietnam Conflict and Second Indochina War. It was a prolonged struggle between nationalists aimed at unifying the territories of South and North Vietnam under a communist government and the United States with the South Vietnamese assistance aimed at preventing the spread of communism (Friedrichs 131). North Vietnam was backed by the People’s Republic of China, while South Vietnam was backed by the United States and defiant communist allies. American involvement in the Vietnam War can be explained as a way to prevent a communist takeover not only of South Vietnam, but also other countries. In other words, the U.S. strategy was aimed at preventing the further spread of communism across the world (Friedrichs 131). The leaders of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong wanted to reunify Vietnam under communist government. As a result, they considered the military conflict as an example of the colonial war, which was fought initially against France, then against the United States as France was backed by the U.S.A. and, finally, against South Vietnam, which was the U.S. puppet state (Bostdorff & Goldzwig 520). According to Morena Groll, “it was the longest military conflict, which on top of everything ended in defeat for the Americans”(2). The United States was engaged in a war that many military and political experts analyzed as unnecessary war because of having no way to win. The U.S. political leaders lost the national support for the war because the U.S. citizens were against the war actions in Vietnam. Since the end of the Vietnam War, this event has become a benchmark for the U.S. leaders signifying what they should not do in all future U.S. foreign conflicts. According to researchers, “wartime disagreements about foreign policy persisted in the postwar period as Americans debated the proper ‘lessons’ of the war”(Hagopian 23).
Thesis statement: Although the Vietnam War caused by the U.S. desire to stop the spread of communism had negative consequences on Americans, including social, economic and political consequences, this event helped to shape Modern World History.
The Vietnam War has been widely discussed in the media and academic sources. In order to assess the role of the Vietnam War in shaping the Modern World History, it is necessary to refer to the causes, consequences and solutions to the military conflict. Special attention should be paid to the U.S. President’s policy. According to Denise M. Bostdorff and Steven Goldzwig, “Kennedy’s rhetoric on Vietnam serves as an exemplar of how presidents balance idealistic arguments, which apply principles of genus to public problem-solving, and pragmatic arguments, which emphasize the efficacy or practicality of politics” (515). The idealistic appeals of President Kennedy provided legitimate support to his Vietnam policy, representing him as a “principled leader” (Bostdorff & Goldzwig 515). In other words, the U.S. President’s appeals helped him to avoid criticism of his foreign policy and explain the causes of slow progress.
North Vietnam was under the communist government and South Vietnam wasn’t. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the North Vietnam, wanted to spread communism in the whole Vietnam, uniting North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The leaders of the South Vietnam opposed the spread of communism. The United States took the side of South Vietnam, bringing the war in a different level (Hagopian 73). Thus, the major causes of the Vietnam War include three causes:
- To stop the spread of communism in Vietnam
- As the French soldiers pulled out of war for a number of reasons, the U.S. was ready to take their place in the military conflict
- The U.S. foreign policy was based on providing support to friend countries.
There were several players in the Vietnam War: South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the USA, South Korea, People’s Republic of China, Russia.
The Vietnam War had an enormous impact on the life of Americans, including various spheres of public and private life. The consequences of the military conflict contributed to considerable changes in the U.S. foreign policy. Although the United States is considered to be the world’s greatest superpower, there are some negative effects of the U.S. President’s decision regarding the solutions to the Vietnam conflict. According to researchers, the United States “had entered Vietnam as a powerful, united nation certain of its cause and of victory” (Wiest 83). The defeat in the Vietnam War made millions of Americans reconsider and reassess the established beliefs and values. Besides the above mentioned facts, the country was left battered and depressed because of the uncertainty in the future policy, especially in the face of the complex challenges caused by the Cold War (Wiest 83).
Moreover, the Vietnam War shaped the relations between the role of the political opinion of the public and the politics that was influenced by the media functioning during the military conflict in Vietnam. The legacy of the Vietnam War can be assessed by means of the statistical data, which affected the public opinion regarding the war. According to statistical data, “during the war in Vietnam the French lost some 76,000 dead and 65,000 wounded – while their allies lost 19,000 dead and 13,000 wounded, while American forces lost some 58,000 dead and over 300,000 wounded” (Wiest 83). The U.S. foreign policy was criticized during the war.
In addition, many historians, politicians and journalists indicted the established government policy, providing radically different opinions regarding the major causes of war and its consequences. The most popular journalists and historians were Bernard Fall, Robert Shaplen, John Lewis, George McT. Kahin and others. They provided severe criticism of the war’s efficiency (Marolda 767). The American movement against the Vietnam War promoted anti-war ideas and encouraged Americans to protest against American involvement in this military conflict. This movement influenced the decisions of Johnson’s administration, leading to the policy reversal in 1968. According to researchers, “during the Nixon administration, it hastened the U.S. troops withdrawals, continued to restrain the war, fed the deterioration in the U.S. troop morale and discipline” (Marolda 758).
The major solutions to the war are based on the fact that the Vietnam War was the most significant military conflict of the 20-th century. Although the war in Vietnam was rather small as it involved limited action of the United States, the “9 years of official American involvement in the war over 2 million Vietnamese and 58, 219 Americans lost their lives” (Wiest 5).
The Secrets and Lies of the Vietnam War, Exposed in One Epic Document
With the Pentagon Papers revelations, the U.S. public’s trust in the government was forever diminished.
This article is part of a special report on the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers.
Brandishing a captured Chinese machine gun, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara appeared at a televised news conference in the spring of 1965. The United States had just sent its first combat troops to South Vietnam, and the new push, he boasted, was further wearing down the beleaguered Vietcong.
“In the past four and one-half years, the Vietcong, the Communists, have lost 89,000 men,” he said. “You can see the heavy drain.”
That was a lie. From confidential reports, McNamara knew the situation was “bad and deteriorating” in the South. “The VC have the initiative,” the information said. “Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers.”
Lies like McNamara’s were the rule, not the exception, throughout America’s involvement in Vietnam. The lies were repeated to the public, to Congress, in closed-door hearings, in speeches and to the press. The real story might have remained unknown if, in 1967, McNamara had not commissioned a secret history based on classified documents — which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.
By then, he knew that even with nearly 500,000 U.S. troops in theater, the war was at a stalemate. He created a research team to assemble and analyze Defense Department decision-making dating back to 1945. This was either quixotic or arrogant. As secretary of defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, McNamara was an architect of the war and implicated in the lies that were the bedrock of U.S. policy.
Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst on the study, eventually leaked portions of the report to The New York Times, which published excerpts in 1971. The revelations in the Pentagon Papers infuriated a country sick of the war, the body bags of young Americans, the photographs of Vietnamese civilians fleeing U.S. air attacks and the endless protests and counterprotests that were dividing the country as nothing had since the Civil War.
The lies revealed in the papers were of a generational scale, and, for much of the American public, this grand deception seeded a suspicion of government that is even more widespread today.
Officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” the papers filled 47 volumes, covering the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Their 7,000 pages chronicled, in cold, bureaucratic language, how the United States got itself mired in a long, costly war in a small Southeast Asian country of questionable strategic importance.
They are an essential record of the first war the United States lost. For modern historians, they foreshadow the mind-set and miscalculations that led the United States to fight the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The original sin was the decision to support the French rulers in Vietnam. President Harry S. Truman subsidized their effort to take back their Indochina colonies. The Vietnamese nationalists were winning their fight for independence under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. Ho had worked with the United States against Japan in World War II, but, in the Cold War, Washington recast him as the stalking horse for Soviet expansionism.
American intelligence officers in the field said that was not the case, that they had found no evidence of a Soviet plot to take over Vietnam, much less Southeast Asia. As one State Department memo put it, “If there is a Moscow-directed conspiracy in Southeast Asia, Indochina is an anomaly.”
But with an eye on China, where the Communist Mao Zedong had won the civil war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said defeating Vietnam’s Communists was essential “to block further Communist expansion in Asia.” If Vietnam became Communist, then the countries of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes.
This belief in this domino theory was so strong that the United States broke with its European allies and refused to sign the 1954 Geneva Accords ending the French war. Instead, the United States continued the fight, giving full backing to Ngo Dinh Diem, the autocratic, anti-Communist leader of South Vietnam. Gen. J. Lawton Collins wrote from Vietnam, warning Eisenhower that Diem was an unpopular and incapable leader and should be replaced. If he was not, Gen. Collins wrote, “I recommend re-evaluation of our plans for assisting Southeast Asia.”
'The Father of Naval Special Warfare' Almost Changed the History of the Vietnam War
Phil H. Bucklew was a World War II veteran with a few good years left by the time the United States got involved in Vietnam. The frogman already had a storied military career, but America’s latest conflict showed there was still more for him to do.
Bucklew saw exactly how the North Vietnamese were infiltrating South Vietnam, because that’s exactly how he, a longtime irregular warrior, would have done it. The Navy disregarded his assessment, and it might have changed the war forever.
As a young man, Bucklew first joined the Naval Reserve in 1930 while playing football in what one day would become the NFL. But his life took a total turn for the military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. As a new naval officer, he would learn not only to work in the burgeoning field of special warfare, but he also would shape its entire future.
The Navy Scouts and Raiders were one of the precursors to the Navy SEALs the U.S. employs around the world today. During World War II, the concept of special warfare was far from refined, but the job of these combat swimmers was simple enough on most occasions: scout the beach for its defenses and return with the information.
That was the kind of work Bucklew and other frogmen did before planned amphibious landings throughout the war. Bucklew served with the Scouts and Raiders during Operation Torch, the American invasion of North Africa, as well as at Sicily, Salerno and Normandy.
Bucklew actually landed on Omaha Beach many times before the actual D-Day invasions, taking samples of sand, getting information on the metal obstacles and booby traps that awaited Allied tanks so they could clear the way for landing craft.
When D-Day came, Bucklew led a series of landing craft carrying tanks onto the beaches at Normandy. Having been briefed on the overall invasion plans, he was not allowed to land himself, for fear of being captured.
After his tanks were on the beach, he helped save drowning infantrymen trying to wade ashore, using his boat and rendering similar assistance all along the beaches. A trip to China to gather information and train the Chinese Nationalists there rounded out Bucklew’s World War II missions, but not his military career.
By the early 1960s, Vietnam was becoming the next Cold War flashpoint, and Bucklew’s skills were sorely needed. The Viet Cong, communist guerrillas operating openly in South Vietnam, were moving men and supplies south around the Vietnamese demilitarized zone just by moving them through Cambodia in local fishing boats along the Mekong River.
The U.S. Navy’s efforts to stem the flow of these supplies only caused the communists to increase the flow. It launched Market Time, a Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and South Vietnamese monitoring and interdiction operation that searched coastal vessels and captured tons of materials headed to communist units in South Vietnam. The U.S. Navy also launched Operation Game Warden, a similar operation used to patrol the Mekong River and its delta.
Bucklew argued that these patrol operations were not sufficient, and more concrete, thorough steps were necessary to control communist supply routes. He argued for things such as checkpoints, barricades and curfews to control traffic. The Navy disregarded his recommendations.
The seaborne infiltrations by communist forces went on for years. Despite the U.S. Navy’s patrols successfully intercepting communist supply runs for eight years, the North still stockpiled what it needed to launch the 1968 Tet Offensive. The surprise attack turned American public opinion against the war for the first time.
Had the United States prevented the Tet Offensive by choking its shallow water supply points, the entire history of the war might have been different from 1968 onward.
But Bucklew was long gone before 1968, having been reassigned to the Pentagon before retiring from the military altogether in 1969. He is remembered as the “Father of Naval Special Warfare,” and the Coronado, California Naval Special Warfare Center is named for him, so Phil Bucklew is the first name SEAL recruits learn when they head off to BUD/S or SWCC training.
The Vietnam War - History
Learn About the Vietnam War
Between 1945 and 1954, the Vietnamese waged an anti-colonial war against France and received $2.6 billion in financial support from the United States. The French defeat at the Dien Bien Phu was followed by a peace conference in Geneva, in which Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam received their independence and Vietnam was temporarily divided between an anti-Communist South and a Communist North. In 1956, South Vietnam, with American backing, refused to hold the unification elections. By 1958, Communist-led guerrillas known as the Viet Cong had begun to battle the South Vietnamese government.
To support the Souths government, the United States sent in 2,000 military advisors, a number that grew to 16,300 in 1963. The military condition deteriorated, and by 1963 South Vietnam had lost the fertile Mekong Delta to the Vietcong. In 1965, Johnson escalated the war, commencing air strikes on North Vietnam and committing ground forces, which numbered 536,000 in 1968. The 1968 Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese turned many Americans against the war. The next president, Richard Nixon, advocated Vietnamization, withdrawing American troops and giving South Vietnam greater responsibility for fighting the war. His attempt to slow the flow of North Vietnamese soldiers and supplies into South Vietnam by sending American forces to destroy Communist supply bases in Cambodia in 1970 in violation of Cambodian neutrality provoked antiwar protests on the nations college campuses.
From 1968 to 1973 efforts were made to end the conflict through diplomacy. In January 1973, an agreement reached and U.S. forces were withdrawn from Vietnam and U.S. prisoners of war were released. In April 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to the North and Vietnam was reunited.
1. The Vietnam War cost the United States 58,000 lives and 350,000 casualties. It also resulted in between one and two million Vietnamese deaths.
2. Congress enacted the War Powers Act in 1973, requiring the president to receive explicit Congressional approval before committing American forces overseas.
It was the longest war in American history and the most unpopular American war of the twentieth century. It resulted in nearly 60,000 American deaths and an estimated 2 million Vietnamese deaths. Even today, many Americans still ask whether the American effort in Vietnam was a sin, a blunder, a necessary war, or a noble cause, or an idealistic, if failed, effort to protect the South Vietnamese from totalitarian government.
The Vietnam War
- North Vietnam fires on a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin incident which would eventually escalate US involvement in the Vietnam War Captain Roger Donlon is awarded the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War for successfully repelling a large Viet Cong attack Vietnam War: A car bomb explodes in front of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, killing 22 and wounding 183 others Vietnam War: Battle of Dong Xoai begins, a major engagement between the Viet Cong and South Vietnamese forces Vietnam War: Battle of Dong Xoai ends in a Viet Cong victory Vietnam War: US, Australian and New Zealand forces launch Operation Hump, a search-and-destroy operation near Bien Hoa in South Vietnam 15-25,000 demonstrate against war in Vietnam in Washington, D.C. The Georgia House of Representatives votes 184-12 to deny Julian Bond his seat as a result of his opposition to the Vietnam War Large-scale anti-Vietnam War protests take place in the United States, including in New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago Vietnam War: US planes bomb the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi and the port city of Haiphong for the first time US citizens demonstrate against war in Vietnam Military Working Dog "Nemo" saves the life of his handler Airman Robert A. Throneburg during the Vietnam War, surviving a gunshot wound to the nose
1967-02-23 Noam Chomsky's anti-Vietnam war essay "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" is published by the New York Review of Books
Vietnam War: Fall of Saigon and creation of Socialist Republic of Vietnam
North and South Vietnam continued with the war though. Nixon promised South Vietnam of assisting in case North Vietnam posed a threat to them. But, in August 1974, Nixon resigned and the Congress was in no mood to help South Vietnam. The U.S. cut South Vietnam’s military funding in half. The conditions went from bad to worse when the South Vietnamese soldiers began leaving their military units.
North Vietnam seized the opportunity and defeated the South Vietnamese army at every point. People from South Vietnam began to flee to escape the wrath of North Vietnam. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned amid the crisis.
On April 29, 1975, the DRV forces began their offensive to capture Saigon. On April 30, Saigon fell and North Vietnam claimed victory.
After 30 years of war, over 2 million Vietnamese deaths, and millions of refugees, Vietnam united under a single communist authority. The war destroyed Vietnam’s economy and infrastructure and it did not seem to come back in shape anytime sooner.
In 1976, the war-affected Vietnam became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In new Vietnam, agriculture was collectivized, capitalism was abolished, and the industry was nationalized. This made the conditions worse. The standard of living fell, and the people starved. Most people fled Vietnam to other countries. There was a complete economic breakdown.
It was only by 1986 that the country’s economy came back into shape. The trade and diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam started in 1990.
It was estimated that the U.S. invested around $120 billion during the war between 1965-73.
The veterans of the war faced criticism after returning to the U.S. The opinions were divided. Some criticized them for losing the war, while others criticized them for killing innocent civilians. In any case, they had to live with the consequences.
America honored its war victims by erecting The Vietnam Veterans Memorial that was unveiled in 1982 in Washington D.C. On it is inscribed names of 58,320 American soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
CURATED & WRITTEN BYAYUSH PANDYA
(AUTHOR – THE UNPRECEDENTED CULT)