The Vietnam War was fought between the communist North Vietnam and the United States supported South Vietnam. But the roots of the Vietnam War did not start growing during the cold war. The Vietnamese had been fighting for their freedom a long time before the Vietnam War. It had gone through the Japanese occupation and the French occupation. The French defeat in Indochina could be regarded as the event that triggered the start of the Vietnam War. After that came a period of peace for Vietnam until the United States supported president, Ngo Dinh Diem came to power in South Vietnam. After Kennedy came to power in the United States he took a stand to stop communist expansion in Vietnam. He did not put much emphasis on Vietnam and communism continued. Lyndon Johnson also tried to stop communism in Vietnam but his attempts failed and he lost support of his own citizens and eventually he had to accept defeat. After Lyndon, President Richard Nixon had to withdraw American forces from Vietnam indicating the victory of Vietnamese communist forces.
The main events that led to the start of the Vietnam war began with the Japanese occupation of Vietnam from 1941 to 1945, and from then on the Vietnamese had to fight for their freedom until the very end of the cold war. The Japanese undermined the reputation of the French and eliminated its army and took control of some parts of Vietnam. The country was then divided between the Japanese and the French colonial administration. During this time, the Viet Minh, formed by Ho Chi Minh, used the Japanese invasion to plan their uprising against both the French colonization and the Japanese. They were very smart in doing this because it led to their eventual rule. After the surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945, Japan withdrew from Vietnam. After this the Viet Minh overthrew the emperor Bao Dai and came to power with Ho Chi Minh as president. They declared Vietnam as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The French wanted back control of Vietnam and they declared a state of Vietnam called South Vietnam with a capital called Saigon. Then war broke out between the French and the Viet Minh and the French suffered a humiliating defeat at the hand of the Viet Minh forces in 1954. By the Geneva Agreement of 1954 the French were made to withdraw from Indochina but Vietnam was temporarily split between the 17th parallel until elections were held. But the U.S supported Ngo Dinh Diem came to power and became the president of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN). This new South Vietnam refused to sign the Geneva Agreement and the elections were not held.
To the United States, Vietnam was just another country that had started gaining communism and needed to be controlled. There were no arguments about what should be done by the United States to control the situation in Vietnam. After the formation of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam came the era of Ngo Dinh Diem. He was an anti-communist leader, which put him on the side of the United States, that wanted to stop communism in Indochina. The United States didn’t exactly want Diem in power but they did not have any better alternatives so they decided to use him. President Eisenhower supported him and even held a parade in Diem’s honor. Eisenhower sent ‘advisors’ to Vietnam in hopes of brining stability to the country. This was to help create the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in hopes of defeating North Vietnamese communist forces. Diem’s forces took down many of the Viet Minh supporters but ultimately he was still being defeated by North Vietnam.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the president of the United States, after the presidential elections. He too, like Eisenhower, did not take the issue of Vietnam as a major issue because he was still fighting the cold war. President Kennedy was against the sending of American troops to Vietnam. He would not bomb the north and was determined to not make Vietnam a full-blown war. He mostly hoped that Diem would deal with the communist North Vietnam and the Viet Minh on his own without help from the United States. Ngo Dinh Diem was a Catholic, which was a problem because the majority of Vietnam was Buddhist. He was also an anti-communist, a nationalist and a puppet to the Americans. This caused uproar from the South Vietnamese against Diem. During this time, with the help of the CIA there was a military coup that overthrew and killed Diem on October 1963, the same year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
After the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem the U.S. tried to create a pro American government but resistance from the Viet Cong, which was a guerilla force, and the National Liberation Front (NLF) met them. President Lyndon B. Johnson became president of the United States and throughout this period the degree of intolerance and torture towards the Vietnamese from the Americans increased. Lyndon used the ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ incident, which was a lie, to persuade the congress to go to war with Vietnam. After war was declared on Vietnam, the United States began their atrocities on Vietnam. They went to such extremes as to use Napalm, a chemical weapon that can cause severe flesh burn. They also engaged in ‘Search and Destroy’ missions to eliminate the Viet Cong. Back in the homeland of the United States the people were being kept ignorant by lying so as to hide their atrocities of war from its people. Despite failed attempts at developing American policies in Vietnam the officials kept lying to the citizens of the United States saying that they were winning the war. Even after all the destruction and killing of its citizens the Vietnamese had a strong will to fight for their freedom.
When the Americans began their war against communism in the Vietnam they had no idea how much the Vietnamese were willing to sacrifice and the will of its people to fight for their own freedom. The Vietnamese forces lacked the weapons, resources and technology that the United States had so this war very surprising. The Vietnamese with their willingness to fight had already defeated the French and taken their country back. And they were ready to do it again with the anti-communist United States who wanted to take away their freedom. They had a strong reason for fighting and so were very organized and committed to their cause. They also felt that they had little to lose. Because the Vietnamese were not ready to accept anything less than their own independence. The Americans did not know this and did not take Vietnam too seriously till the end.
The Vietnamese will to fight led to the ‘Tet offensive’ which caught the United States military off guard, because they expected the Vietnamese to have lost hope and given up by that time. The Tet offensive showed them that even after all the destruction and killing of Vietnamese citizens they refuse to let United States and South Vietnam and control them. The strong will of its people and popularity gave the NLF the will to fight for their freedom. The political victory of the NFL was a turning point in American involvement in the Vietnam War, because the American government lost credibility and the support of its people. Two groups formed in the U.S. as a result. They were Hawks and Doves. The Hawks wanted to escalate the war while the Doves wanted to end the war on their moral grounds. The Hawks considered the Doves as ‘sissies’ and ‘cowards’.
The Tet offensive was a great political victory for the Vietnamese communist forces. After the American Government lost its credibility from its people and Lyndon B. Johnsons carrier ended as he was not popular anymore. American citizens began protesting and began hugely opposing the war. There were many demonstrations by the public on the roads and in colleges. Some cabinet members also began opposing the war. The war was seen as a futile attempt that only cost a lot of budget money and people called for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Lyndon’s refusal to send more troops to Vietnam indicated that the war was lost and it cannot be won by further escalation. Further escalation would only have caused more uprisings by the American people.
Since the Vietnamese communist forces had won the war, the U.S. began withdrawals of their forces from Vietnam. In 1968 presidential elections, Richard Nixon won and began the withdrawal and his own policy called ‘Vietnamization’. Officially the Vietnam War did not end with the withdrawal of American troops. Nixon wanted the ARVN to continue fighting even after the American left. They still wanted to destroy the communist forces. Nixon continued peace talks with the North Vietnamese but they did not accept any peace treaties without the complete withdrawal of the U.S. forces. Soon after, Thieu, the president of South Vietnam and Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords and officially ended all American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Almost all of the United States presidents did not take Vietnam too seriously and it was kept on the sidelines during the cold war. What they did not realize was that the Vietnamese had already been fighting for their freedom long before they came to end their communism. This might have been one reason for their loss of Vietnam to communism. The anti-war movement of the United States was also considered to be a reason why America lost the war. America was a land considered to be all about freedom and everyone was supposed to be patriotic but this war changed the mind of the people and they started protesting. These protests and demonstrations became very regular occurrences in the United states. The media might have been a big reason for this. Even if the president and the government were lying and keeping the people ignorant about their atrocities in Vietnam, the media reported the events of the war so that people could see the destruction and the death of the innocent Vietnamese people because of the war. Because of this the American government had to watch out for any outbreaks caused by their actions. Congress members and senetors were also willing to take the side of the majority of citizens. All this made the war much harder for the American government.
The Vietnam War had a lot of long lasting devastative effects on both Vietnam and the United States. In the Vietnam there were many casualties of the war and the conflict had affected a large portion of the country’s population. During the eight years of war two million Vietnamese had died while three million were wounded and at least ten million citizens left homeless. All this done by the Americans in the name of saving face during the cold war, really leads one to question the morals of the American government. But the Vietnamese spirit of independence was the most surprising thing of this war. If they had simply given up all hope during the atrocities by the United States government, they would not have survived this war with their independence.
The United States also had to face long lasting effects of the Vietnam War. The views of the citizens towards the army had completely changed during this period. They were not considered heroes and were not respected by the citizens. The United States ha also spent more than $111 billion in the war which led to a high inflation. The Americans were also divided due to this war between people who supported the war and the people who called for the end of the war. A lot of American troops who came back had a hard time adjusting to society, as people hated them. 58,000 American soldiers were killed during the war and many had deserted while they were on duty.