Before World War ll Vietnam had been part of the French Empire. After World War ll Ho Chi Minh captured Hanoi in 1945 and declared Vietnam independent. The French tried to take control again, but this was unpopular with the people. They were defeated by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Peace was discussed at Geneva in 1954 and the treaty of Geneva agreed that the French would leave Vietnam and the country would be split along the 17th parallel until elections could be held but the election never were held and the country remained divided, North Vietnam was a communist republic led by Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam was a capitalist republic led by Ngo Dinh Diem.
The Vietminh wanted to unite the country under communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Many of the South Vietnamese people supported Ho Chi Minh as they were unhappy with Ngo Dinh Diem. War broke out between the North and South. Ngo Dinh Diem was a corrupt leader who refused to give land. He did not like Buddhism and treated the mainly Buddhist population badly. As a result, much of South Vietnam’s population was rebelling against him. The peasants or the farmers wanted communism and supported Vietminh and the Nation Liberation front. In 1963, President John F Kennedy sent 16, 000 military ‘advisers’ to help the South Vietnamese army. Diem’s Government was overthrown. After this, there was no strong capitalist government in control of the South.
The Domino theory was a belief that id one country fell to communism, it was likely that the neighbouring one would also fall – similar to a row of dominoes falling over. This happened in Eastern Europe after 1945. China had become communist in 1949 and communist were in control of North Vietnam. So the United States were afraid that communism would spread to South Vietnam and then the rest of Asia. They decided to send money, supplies and military advisers to help the South Vietnamese Government.
The North Vietnamese attacked the United States Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin. This incident gave the USA the excuse it needed to escalate the war. Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – US congress gave President Lyndon Johnson permission to wage war on North Vietnam the First major contingent of US marines arrived in 1965. United States involvement increased by 1968 and over half a million American troops were in Vietnam.
American Military tactics were brutal. As a result of this brutality and lack of sensitivity, they turned the Vietnamese people against them. The Americans tried to win the War from the air they used chemical weapons Napalm (jellied petrol) and Agent Orange (weed killer). This was used to clear foliage in the jungle which was the natural hiding place for the Vietcong. They also wanted to see along the Ho Chi Minh trail, the Vietcong’s supply route. Napalm did clear most of the undergrowth but it also stuck to humans and caused horrific injuries. Agent Orange also cleared the foliage but many innocent civilian’s farms and crops were lost, and animals were killed.
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Vietnamese peasants were taken from their villages and settled in ‘strategic’ hamlets’. They were surrounded by barbed wire and controlled by the Americans. The peasants were opposed to this as they were far from their ancestral burial grounds and their farms, which they had tended for generations.
Americans bombed strategic targets in North Vietnam to stop the supply of troops and weapons to the south. Many bombs often missed targets and hit schools and hospitals.
Vietnamese civilians were constantly caught in the crossfire and began to questions whether the US army was really on their side. US troops became very unpopular.
This was the first televised war. It was vividly reported by journalists who went to Vietnam in search of stories. Images of innocent civilians being killed, maimed and tortured were displayed on the TV and in newspapers – many Americans were horrified and turned against the war.
The ‘Draft’ was the conscription of American men into the US army and lasted from 1954 – 1975. As sons, brothers and fathers went to war, people began to questions whether it was worth it. Draft Law hit African Americans hardest. There was opposition to the war from civil rights activist, who were fighting for more rights for African-Americans in the USA. Many African-Americans were drafted and because they were new recruits, they were often given the worst postings and assignments.
The main opposition came from students. In the 1960s, protest movements began in California but spread to all major cities and universities across the USA by 1968. On 4th May 1970, four peaceful student demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio were murdered. They were shot by guardsmen during a noon – time campus anti – war rally.
Singers wrote anti – war songs and songs that criticised the Vietnam War itself. Bob Dylan wrote ‘Masters of War’ and John Lennon wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance’.
The Resignation of President Nixon also weakened US enthusiasm for involvement in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon sought to reach a reduction of tension with the USSR in an attempt to divide the two communist superpowers in their support of North Vietnam. Nixon announced that the USA would not make any more military commitments. Its allies would have to take care of their own security.
While the Vietnam had been supported among some American civilians, the overall feelings towards the war were negative. Especially when they lost the war, it caused controversy throughout the nation. Many Americans thought they had no right or reason to be involved in the Vietnam War in the first place. Across the world, the USA reputations had been tarnished. It was criticised for supporting a corrupt government and the media had shown the world how brutal American tactics were. Approximately 58,000 American soldiers were killed and another 153,000 were wounded. During the Vietnam War, the USA spent $828 billion on it military. From 1965, USA spent more than 50 billion per year. The Additional spending to fund the USA’s involvement in Vietnam has been estimated at $111 billion.