Vietnam War 1953-1975


The Vietnam War

Under the rule of imperial China since 111 BCE, Vietnam became an independent country in CE 939. It was governed by royal dynastic families until the mid-1800s, when it came under French colonial rule.

In the aftermath of World War II and the Viet Minh independence movement, Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Fighting ensued between Viet Minh and colonial French forces, which lasted until 1954 and came to be known as the Indochina War, or the Anti-French Resistance War. Although the new socialist French government and the Viet Minh reached an accord that year giving the latter control of Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, the agreement resulted in growing tensions with the United States. As part of its containment policy to stop the spread of Communism, the United States increased its involvement in Vietnam beginning in the early 1950s.

On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats after firing warning shots. The skirmish that followed resulted in the deaths of four North Vietnamese sailors; there were no American casualties, and the Maddox sustained only a single bullet hole in damage. It has since been speculated that the incident was exaggerated or even fabricated. In any event, the encounter resulted in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized president Lyndon B. Johnson to employ any means necessary to prevent the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia per the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, which had been signed in 1954.

Starting in 1965, US combat troops were deployed to Vietnam, and neighboring areas in Cambodia and Laos were bombed. US involvement faced opposition from citizens and from Congress, but it would not end until 1973.

The ensuing conflict, which came to be known as the Vietnam War, was fought primarily between Communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam. However, the North Vietnamese were supported by China, the Soviet Union, and southern Vietnamese guerrilla forces known as the Viet Cong, and the South Vietnamese by the United States and the Philippines.

Generally considered the turning point of the war, the Tet Offensive was launched by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces on January 30, 1968, it consisted of a wave of surprise attacks targeting both military and civilian locales throughout South Vietnam. South Vietnamese and United States forces eventually managed to beat back the attacks, but not before both sides sustained heavy casualties--including massacres of thousands of citizens.

As part of the process of “Vietnamization,” President Richard Nixon’s protocol to end United States involvement in Vietnam in the early 1970s, the US began to withdraw its troops quickly. Signed by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese Leader Le Duc Tho on January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords officially ended American involvement in Vietnam and halted fighting for the time being. In April of 1975, the North Vietnamese Army captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, ending the war and effecting the reunification of Vietnam.

It is estimated that nearly 3.8 million people died in the Vietnam War, including up to 430,000 South Vietnamese civilians; 180,000 North Vietnamese civilians; 250,000 South Vietnamese military personnel; 440,000 North Vietnamese and members of other Communist forces; 360,000 Laotians and Cambodians, and nearly 60,000 members of the United States military.

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