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Vietnam 101: A Short Introduction

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Vietnam 101: A Short Introduction

Vietnam. "Home is where you dig" was the sign over the fighting bunker of Private First Class Edward, Private First Class Falls and Private First Class Morgan of the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, during Operation Worth. 1968

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration
Vietnam 101: A Short Introduction

Napalm bombs explode on Viet Cong structures south of Saigon in the Republic of Vietnam. 1965

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration
Vietnam 101: A Short Introduction

General William C. Westmoreland, Commanding General, MACV, watches the ceremonies on the arrival of the Royal Thai Volunteer Regiment in Vietnam. 09/21/1967

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Vietnam War Summary:

The Vietnam War occurred in present-day Vietnam, Southeast Asia. It represented a successful attempt on the part of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam, DRV) and the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (Viet Cong) to unite and impose a communist system over the entire nation. Opposing the DRV was the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam, RVN), backed by the United States. The war in Vietnam occurred during the Cold War, and is generally viewed as an indirect conflict between the United States and Soviet Union, with each nation and its allies supporting one side.

Vietnam War - Dates:

The most commonly used dates for the conflict are 1959-1975. This period begins with North Vietnam's first guerilla attacks against the South and ends with the fall of Saigon. American ground forces were directly involved in the war between 1965 and 1973.

Vietnam War - Causes:

The Vietnam War first began in 1959, five years after the division of the country by the Geneva Accords. Vietnam had been split into two, with a communist government in the north under Ho Chi Minh and a democratic government in the south under Ngo Dinh Diem. Ho launched a guerilla campaign in South Vietnam, led by Viet Cong units, with the goal of uniting the country under communist rule. The United States, seeking to stop the spread of communism, trained the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and provided military advisors to help combat the guerillas. Causes of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War - Americanization of the War:

In August 1964, a US warship was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Following this attack, Congress passed the Southeast Asia Resolution which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to conduct military operations in the region without a declaration of war. On March 2, 1965, US aircraft began bombing targets in Vietnam and the first troops arrived. Commanded by General William Westmoreland, US troops won victories over Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces around Chu Lai and in the Ia Drang Valley that summer. Americanization of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War - The Tet Offensive :

Following these defeats, the North Vietnamese avoided fighting conventional battles and focused on engaging US troops in small unit actions in the sweltering jungles of South Vietnam. In January 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched the massive Tet Offensive. Beginning with an assault on US Marines at Khe Sanh, the offensive included attacks by the Viet Cong on cities throughout South Vietnam. Though the North Vietnamese were beaten back with heavy casualties, Tet shook the confidence of the American people and media who had thought the war was going well. The Tet Offensive

Vietnam War: Vietnamization:

As a result of Tet, President Lyndon Johnson opted not to run for reelection and was succeeded by Richard Nixon. Nixon's plan for ending US involvement was to build up the ARVN so that they could fight the war themselves. As this process of “Vietnamization” began, US troops started to return home. The mistrust of the government that had begun after Tet worsened with the release of news about US soldiers massacring civilians at My Lai (1969), the invasion of Cambodia (1970), and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers (1971). Vietnamization of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War - End of the War and the Fall of Saigon:

The withdrawal of US troops continued and more responsibility was passed to the ARVN, which continued to prove ineffective in combat, often relying on American support to stave off defeat. On January 27, 1974, a peace accord was signed in Paris ending the conflict. By March of that year, American combat troops had left the country. After a brief period of peace, North Vietnam recommenced hostilities in late 1974. Pushing through ARVN forces with ease, they captured the Saigon on April 30, 1975, forcing South Vietnam’s surrender and reuniting the country. The End of the Vietnam War

Casualties:

United States: 58,119 killed, 153,303 wounded, 1,948 missing in action

South Vietnam 230,000 killed and 1,169,763 wounded (estimated)

North Vietnam 1,100,000 killed in action (estimated) and an unknown number of wounded

Key Figures:

  • Ho Chi Minh – Communist leader of North Vietnam until his death in 1969.
  • Vo Nguyen Giap – North Vietnamese general who planned the Tet and Easter Offensives.
  • General William Westmoreland – Commander of US forces in Vietnam, 1964-1968.
  • General Creighton Abrams – Commander of US forces in Vietnam, 1968-1973.

 

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