Vietnam War - A Stan klos Website - VietnamWar.org
The Vietnam War
by Neal McLaughlin
-- August 2004
Long before the first 35 American military advisors ever-stepped foot onto
the soil of Southeast Asian and long before the construction of the first
Special Forces out -post, France had already colonized the easternmost region of
the Indochina peninsula.
In the early part of the 19th century the race was on for establishing a
Colonial Empire. The French quickly seized Cochin China as a colony and in 1863
became the protective force of Cambodia, followed by Annam and Tonkin in 1884.
These four states were to be unionized into Indochina in 1887 with Laos
completing the union in 1893. During World War II the French were forced to
allow the Army of Japan to utilize their colonies in North Indochina, however,
when the Japanese moved into South Indochina in 1941, the Americans, deeming
this a threat to the Philippines, reacted by freezing all of the Japanese assets
Toward the end of World War II as the Japanese invaders were pulling out
of French Indochina, France had announced their plans for an alliance of
Indochina within the French union thereby allowing the states to form their own
Cambodia and Laos accepted the federation without question. However, the
Vietnamese Nationalist demanded that the French grant complete independence to
Annam, Cochin China and Tonkin as Vietnam. The French did agree to recognize
Vietnam as a free state with in the French Union.
Ho Chi Minh and his communist political party, the Vietminh, refused to
accept these terms and would not answer to French authority in any form. Shortly
after the negotiations failed, the Vietminh forces, aided by China, began their
highly aggressive attacks against the French out posts along the Vietnam border.
By 1951, the Vietminh forces had created a common front with communist
groups in Laos and Kampuchea, with whom they intensified both the number of and
the aggressiveness of their attacks against the French.
The final days of the French Colonies were nearing when on March 13, 1954,
the communist combatants under the direction of General VO Nguyen Giap attacked
the French stronghold at Dienbienphu in Northwest Vietnam. For 56 straight days
the Vietminh attacked the little outpost with grenades, machinegun fire and
mortars until the French had depleted their ammo supply and was left with only
As this assault was raging and pushing the French nearer to surrender, the
Geneva Conference was compiling a peace treaty that would put an end to the
fighting and allow the French troops to withdraw. The result of this conference
ended with the French losing control of Indochina.
Not long after the French lost control of Indochina the Vietminh set about
establishing a communist government North of the 17th parallel line while the
non-communist Vietnamese established their government to the South of the DMZ.
By the end of July 1954, Vietnam had divided itself in half, with the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North, and in the south, the Republic of
Vietnam. Although the French withdrew this did not end the bitter hostilities
and fighting that would ensue between the communist North and the Republic of
Although the Geneva Conference instituted the ruling that Vietnam would
hold national elections in 1956, which was to both reunify the country and
abolish the 17 parallel, the United States and many anticommunist were against
this, feeling that this empowered Communist Vietnam by a larger margin. Because
of his total distaste for the Accords offered by the Geneva Conference,
Secretary of State, John Forester Dulles decided that if the north was going to
seize the south it would not be without a fight.
When President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem cancelled the 1956
elections Ho Chi Minh, irate by this decision, realizing that the benefits he
had hoped the north would have gained from this election, openly denounced the
decision and soon after, South Vietnam became the target of Viet Cong guerilla
As the Viet Cong insurgents operated with the backing of the North
Vietnamese, The south was receiving advice and aid from the United States.
However, President Diem's army was not able to suppress the master guerillas of
Vo Nguyen Giap, who in 1960 organized the National Liberal Front.
The organization of the NLF began to turn the wheels of war. soon, it
would no longer be a civil war between the north and the south, but an
International war that would eventually result in the deployment of over 500,000
American troops. Washington was accusing the communist of backing the series of
attacks against Saigon, denouncing the NLF as being nothing more than puppets of
When President John F. Kennedy sent investigators to Indochina in 1961 to
assess the condition of South Vietnam and to determine what other assistance
would be required form the United States there was little doubt that the U.S.
would need to send armed troops. The December 1961, White Papers not only urged,
but demanded that in order to crush the NLF, America would have to increase not
only her technical and economic assistance, but she would also need to send
Although President Kennedy did not approve the request for the deployment
of ground troops he did authorize the sending of more machinery and of military
advisors. This was to prove futile however, for by 1963 South Vietnam was so
near collapse it was apparent that a more aggressive action would be required.
Following President Kennedy's assassination in November of 1963, President
Lyndon Baines Johnson was debating the issuance of a more aggressive approach in
order to stabilize the south. The expansion of the U.S. involvement in South
Vietnam became justified when on August 2, 1964, the Communist attacked an U.S.
Navy vessel, patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The Johnson Administration used the August 2nd and the alleged August 4th,
1964 attack (recent disclosures have shown that this 2nd attack may not have
occurred at all) to secure the Congressional Resolution which would give the
president the powers to conduct the war. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed
both the House and Senate by a wide margin with only 2 representatives voting
against the resolution.
In the aftermath of the Tonkin incident, The U.S. retaliated through the
use of limited air attacks on North Vietnam. Debates raged as to the best way to
deal with the hostilities in Vietnam. Some advisors felt that the bombings
should be expanded over North Vietnam while others argued that the bombings
should remain selective and limited.
Following the 1965 NLF attack on 2 American installations President
Johnson ordered the continuous bombing of North Vietnam. As the bombing sorties
continued and the United States began to deploy ground troops, North Vietnam had
to rethink their strategy.
Because the Communist North believed that the Americans had lacked any
defined strategy, they had decided to employ tactics, which would make the war
impossible for the Americans to win and to create unfavorable conditions for a
By 1968 the situation had gone from worse to critical after the communist
had launched coordinated attacks against major southern cities. The Tet
Offensive so disgraced President Lyndon Johnson that in January of 1968 he
announced that he would not seek re-election as President.
In the Spring of 1968, President Johnson held secret peace negotiations in
France in hopes of ending The U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and to put an
end to this highly aggressive and costly war. This did little to redeem the
prior actions and decisions of the Democratic Party and in November of 1968,
Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected as our 37th president.
Nixon's Vietnamization program was successful in that it allowed the U.S.
ground troops to be pulled from the jungles of Vietnam while increasing the air
sorties over North Vietnam. This also turned the bulk of the ground fighting
over to the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). Despite the expansion of the
war into Laos and Cambodia the Communist party refused to accept any terms of a
treaty other than those, which they had imposed.
The debates and the peace talks over ending the Vietnam War met with
constant resistance, rejection and stalemates until early January 1973, when the
Nixon administration was finally able to convince the Thieu -Ku regime that the
U.S. would not abandon the South Vietnamese if they were to sign onto the peace
accord. Likewise, Hanoi convinced the leaders of the NLF that all of the
political prisoners being held in the south would be released following their
signing of the agreement.
Finally, on January 27, 1973 a peace agreement had been reached and agreed
to by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the NLF revolutionary
government. With the hostilities ended, America began to withdraw her troops
from the jungles of Southeast Asia. However, this agreement did not end the
aggression of North Vietnam against the south.
In early 1975, North Vietnam launched a full- scale attack against South
Vietnam. Their cry went out for U.S. intervention but the U.S. denied their
request and soon panic erupted as the advancing Communist troops marched into
Saigon on April 30 1975 and seized the presidential palace.
In July of 1976, Vietnam was reunified and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City.
The fighting which took place in the jungles of Vietnam had been new to the
American combat troops. The guerilla tactics, the hit and run assaults and the
ability to determine who was and who was not the enemy created a brand new
fighting experience and with this a high causality rate.
From the United States entry into the Vietnam war in 1961 to its withdraw
in 1972, the United States military experienced a death toll of more than 50,000
troops. The estimated South Vietnamese death toll totaled more than 400,000
troops, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese combined total was over 900,000 Kia's.