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The Vietnam War was a time of great confusion and tension in the United States. One part of the nation was against the war while the other side was for it. The Vietnam War is classified as the Second Indochina War, which grew out of the long conflict between France and Vietnam. If the Vietnam War never occurred, Asia would probably be more of a communist nation than it already is so, if we didn’t get involved would communism have spread further throughout Asia?

The French had control over Vietnam since the 1800s and ruled it for nearly 60 years until Japan invaded and occupied the island during World War II. It was during that time when French rule was interrupted. Ho Chi Minh, a communist, led a group of Vietnamese soldiers called Vietminh against the Japanese and in 1945, the Japanese surrendered. Ho had asked America for help earlier, but was denied the support since he was a communist. Some Vietnamese saw the Japanese defeat as an opportunity to free themselves from French colonial rule. With the defeat of the Japanese, the Vietminh occupied Hanoi in North Vietnam and declared the nation as independent. Ho was also made the President of Vietnam.

Because the French were not going to surrender, they took control of the southern part of Vietnam in 1949 and made the French-educated Emperor Bao Dai leader. They made their capital Saigon. The French and Vietnamese then fought for many years. Armed conflict continued until a decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 ended in French defeat by Viet Minh forces. After the many years of fighting, a peace treaty was signed at Geneva, which split Vietnam in half along the latitude line known as the 17th parallel. French control in Vietnam was ended, Ho was left with control of the north, and Bao had control of the south. In 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem, a strong anti-communist person, overthrew Bao and gained control of South Vietnam. The U.S feared that since China, Korea, and now half of Vietnam was under communist rule, all of Southeast Asia would become communist. This idea was called the domino theory.

The U.S hoped that stopping communism in Vietnam would prevent other countries in Asia from becoming communist, so The U.S promised to support Ngo Dinh Diem and South Vietnam. Under Eisenhower’s administration, the U.S began giving military aid to South Vietnam. Elections to unify the country were planned to be within a few years, but Diem’s government blocked them, and many people in South Vietnam didn’t like this. A group of guerrillas in South Vietnam, called the Vietcong, started terrorizing villages controlled by Diem’s officials in an effort to overthrow him. Using secret trading routes, the North Vietnamese were supplying the Vietcong with weapons. President Kennedy soon came into power, and he continued in Eisenhower’s footsteps by giving more aid and military advisers to South Vietnam in 1961. President Diem’s actions were making the South Vietnamese government unpopular and many people became angry with him.

U.S leaders feared that Diem’s actions were increasing support for the Vietcong so, in 1963 when Diem ordered a crackdown against his opponents, Kennedy withdrew his support. In November, military leaders took control of the government and assassinated Diem and his brother Nhu. Three weeks later, Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson became the new President of the United States. After Diem’s death, the South Vietnamese government became very unstable, which led to Johnson ordering an increase in economic aid and military advisers to the South Vietnam government while the Soviet Union and China were supporting the Vietcong. Johnson also authorized secret actions against North Vietnam.

On August 2 and 4, 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked and destroyed American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. This act of aggression against the U.S made President Johnson determined to plan a counter attack against North Vietnam. He asked Congress for the authority to do whatever was needed to resolve the conflict. The Congress gave Johnson the authority by signing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the power to escalate U.S involvement in the Vietnam War. After North Vietnam attacked an American base in Pleiku, South Vietnam, Johnson ordered a new series of air strikes against North Vietnam, which continued for three years. In March 1965, Johnson ordered 3,500 marines to protect the American air base in Da Nang, which held the first American combat troops in Vietnam. After Johnson authorized the usage of ground troops for offensive reasons, thousands of American troops were being shipped to Vietnam. In 1968, 500,000 combat troops were in Vietnam. During the same year, antiwar demonstrations were starting in the U.S and in France.

America’s entry into the ground war gave the South Vietnam government a big boost. Political issues were also beginning stabilize in South Vietnam’s government when military leader, Nguyen Cao gained power in June 1965. Now that South Vietnam’s government isn’t as corrupt as it was before, it is now able to focus on its fight with the Vietcong. The American troops coming in to Vietnam were equipped with the latest gear and high-tech weapons. Napalm and Agent Orange were used against the Vietcong soldiers which would later be a controversial topic in the U.S. Many blamed the herbicide for medical problems in U.S and Vietnamese soldiers. But the Vietcong also had advantages of their own. Because they were familiar with the swamps and jungle terrains of Vietnam, they could easily perform hit-and-run attacks on American soldiers. The Americans also had a hard time trying to distinguish friends and enemies while fighting. A new form of fighting used by the U.S was called search-and-destroy, where American troops in armed helicopters would find an enemy stronghold and start bombarding it with machine-gun fire. After the base was completely destroyed, U.S troops would land and search the area for surviving Vietcong, then kill them. American military leaders hoped that the search-and-destroy missions would locate and kill enough Vietcong to make them want to surrender.

On January 31st, 1968, the Vietnamese began celebrating their New Year holiday called Tet. The Vietcong and North Vietnam used the celebrations as cover for their planned attacks on every major city in South Vietnam called the Tet Offensive. Though these surprise attacks caught the U.S and South Vietnam off guard, they were able to quickly strike back, leaving the Communist unable to keep any of the targets they attacked. By February 25th, the attack had ended and about 40,000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong had died. Tet had seemed like a U.S victory, but it proved otherwise when Americans became shocked that enemy forces were able to do that. It also undermined the whole point of the U.S mission in Vietnam. Many Americans began to argue that the U.S troops should leave Vietnam because the war could not be won. Even Johnson began to think that the war was unwinnable.

As the war dragged on, people in America became divided. America was divided into two types of people, hawks and doves. Hawks were people who supported the war and doves were people who were against the war. Doves arranged sit-ins and nonviolent protests as a way to stop the war. Men who were doves also went to drastic measures by burning their draft cards and fleeing to Canada. President Johnson dedicated the rest of his term to trying to find a peaceful way to end the war. Johnson 's new plan, laid out in a March 1968 speech, met with a positive response from Hanoi, and peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam opened in Paris that May.

During the election of 1968, the Vietnam War played a big part in America’s decision for a new president. Johnson decided not to run for reelection because of all the criticism he got from the democrats. Hubert Humphrey, who supported Johnson’s war policy, entered the election. The democrat’s nominating convention in Chicago was known to many Americans as a police riot. Thousands of antiwar demonstrators and other people were abused with fists and clubs by police officers, which led to hundreds being injured or arrested. Nixon was the candidate for the republicans and George Wallace was chosen as a third-party candidate. The election was close, but Nixon ended up winning.

Nixon knew that many Americans thought that the war was a mistake, so he made sure that U.S involvement in the war became limited. In June 1969, Nixon made his policy of Vietnamization public to the people of America. Using his plan, Nixon began to gradually pull troops out of Vietnam and let the South Vietnamese fight their own battles. By April 1970, nearly 150,000 soldiers left Vietnam. While this was happening, Nixon took the fight to Cambodia. Cambodia had tried not to get involved in the war, but because North Vietnam was using the Ho Chi Minh trail, which runs through Cambodia, to smuggle supplies into South Vietnam, being attacked by the U.S was inevitable. In 1969, Nixon ordered bombings and ground attacks on the Communist bases in Cambodia. Nixon hoped that the attacks would remove a military threat by the Communists and make North Vietnam want to negotiate peace, but the North Vietnamese were barely affected by the bombings. And the attacks lead to chaos and a civil war in Cambodia.

The attacks on Cambodia made many people in the U.S angry, and it led to a new wave of protests. Several antiwar demonstrations ended badly, but the worst of all was at Kent State University in Ohio. The National Guardsmen became nervous and started firing on the crowd, killing four students in the process. Another incident like this happened at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi where two students were found dead and twelve were injured.

While the fighting was still taking place, advances toward peace between the U.S and North Vietnam were prolonged in Paris. For three years, the U.S and North Vietnam argued back and forth about whose troops should leave South Vietnam. North Vietnam also wanted South Vietnam’s government to be replaced with a new regime that would include Communist representatives, and the U.S didn’t want that. In 1970, Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, began to talk in secret with North Vietnam’s leader, and by September 1972, only 60,000 troops remained in South Vietnam. In 1973, peace was finally at hand when, after 12 days of concentrated U.S bombings, North Vietnam agreed to renegotiate an agreement. On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed. America pulled out its last remaining troops from Vietnam and by March 1973, the longest war in U.S history was over.

The fighting in Vietnam didn’t end though. Once the U.S soldiers were out of South Vietnam, North Vietnam attacked with unrelenting force. The Paris Peace Accords allowed North Vietnam to keep 150,000 troops in South Vietnam, which later helped in the South’s defeat. By the end of 1974, the Communists launched a series of attacks against South Vietnam. The South tried to fight back, but was helpless in their attempt to stop the North. In April 29th, 1975, North Vietnamese forces were approaching Saigon. With the help of the U.S, thousands of Americans and South Vietnamese supporters were able to escape the country by helicopters and boats. On April 30th, 1975, North Vietnamese soldiers invaded Saigon and forced the South Vietnamese government to surrender. The capital was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam reunited under a Communist government.

I think that the Vietnam War was ultimately a bad decision. Thousands of U.S soldiers died or came back wounded, the U.S was put into a $200 billion debt because of the war’s costs, and trust in American leaders was undermined all for a lost cause. We tried to stop the spread of Communism with Vietnam and in the end, Communism prevailed and took over the country. I think that if we didn’t get involved in the war, the world would look like a different place in a good way. The U.S probably wouldn’t owe as much money as it does now and we could have focused more on making peace with the communists.

Works Cited

Brigham, Robert K. "Battlefield: Vietnam." PBS. PBS. Web. 03 June 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/history/index.html>.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Vietnam War." About.com 20th Century History. About.Com 20th Century History. Web. 03 June 2012. <http://history1900s.about.com/od/vietnamwar/a/vietnamwar.htm>.

"Vietnam War." History.com. A&E Television Networks. Web. 03 June 2012. <http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war>.

Davidson, James West., and Michael B. Stoff. "The Vietnam Era." Prentice Hall America, History of Our Nation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 906-27. Print.

Lawrence, Mark Atwood. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. http://www.pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/history/index.html
[ 2 ]. Social studies 8th grade textbook page 906
[ 3 ]. http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war
[ 4 ]. Social studies 8th grade textbook page 909
[ 5 ]. http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war

Cited: Davidson, James West., and Michael B. Stoff. "The Vietnam Era." Prentice Hall America, History of Our Nation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 906-27. Print. Lawrence, Mark Atwood. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

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