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Pendleton Modern History's insight:
Vietnam War Revision Timeline
During WW2, the resistance against the Japanese Imperialist forces in Vietnam was led by the Vietminh, an organisation of Vietnamese nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh. These fighters were funded and trained by the US and undertook guerrilla warfare to try and rid their country of the Japanese.
When Japan surrendered in 1945 the Vietminh was strong enough to seize Hanoi, the Northern capital, and declare independence for Vietnam. The French, however, wished to reassert their control over the region: they were not yet ready to give up their Indochinese Empire. Consequently, a civil war erupted between the Vietminh and the colonial forces of the French which lasted through into the 1950s. During this time, political and economic support for the French was coming from the USA, once allies of the Vietminh!!
FALL OF CHINA
This was a huge political victory for the USSR. China was a huge country that had a population of more than 800 million! China would also be a significant stepping stone for further Communist expansion into Asia (The Domino Theory). This was now a major concern for the USA, as Vietnam was now under even more Communist pressure.
In the light of the new nuclear threat of Communism, NSC-68 was produced that outlined the new direction that the USA’s foreign policy needed to take in order to contain Communism. This new direction would now focus on rollback, the view that Communism needed to be confronted and pushed back to safeguard the free world. This was therefore the basis of a much more aggressive US foreign policy. The feeling in the USA was that they were losing the Cold War and thus firmer action was needed.
Under the new President, Dwight Eisenhower, the US supplied massive amounts of economic aid to South Vietnam:
1953-57 - $1,100 million
1958 - $241 million
1959 - $249 million
The idea was to fund Asia in a similar way to how the Marshall Plan was keeping Western Europe under control. However, the issue in South Vietnam was that Dai’s and Diem’s governments were very corrupt and distributed the wealth unequally depending on social status and religious beliefs. The largely Buddhist peasantry remained extremely poor, and thus unsettled.
By 1953 it was becoming increasingly apparent that the French would not be able to win this war against the Vietminh. The French General took once last gamble to try and inflict a heavy defeat on the Vietminh. The Vietminh were coaxed into attacking the French stronghold at Dien Bien Phu. When the battle began the French were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. 16,000 French troops were either killed or captured. This was the final nail in the French Indochinese coffin.
The international conference dealt with the issue of Vietnam. A ceasefire was declared, Vietnam was to be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel until national elections could take place in two years, France agreed to withdraw its forces from the region, and Laos ad Cambodia were declared independent states.
The North of Vietnam was to be under the control of the Vietminh while the South was placed under the control of Bo Dai, the emperor of Vietnam who had collaborated with the French. However, Ho Chi Minh resented giving up the South.
The South East Asian Treaty Organisation was set up to try and prevent the spread of Communism across the continent of Asia. In addition to the US, the treaty was signed by Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.
BO DAI REPLACED
Because of his “international playboy” lifestyle, Bo Dai was replaced with Ngo Dinh Diem at the approval of the US. Though an anti-Communist, Diem’s regime was hardly a beacon of freedom. His family and cronies were appointed to important positions both in the government and the armed forces. Corruption and persecution was rife, especially against the Buddhists and peasants (despite the fact that the peasantry made up about 85% of the South’s population and that Buddhism was the biggest religion by far) due to his strict Catholic views.
Non-Catholics were constantly persecuted under Diem’s regime. The Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects were violently crushed and their leaders executed.
NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT FORMED (VIETCONG)
This was formed to oppose Diem’s regime through the use of guerrilla tactics. It was a popular movement in the South, in particular in the very poor rural areas.
KENNEDY ELECTED PRESIDENT
John F. Kennedy narrowly defeats Richard Nixon for the presidency. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President. In his inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens. He famously remarked, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
JFK SENDS ADVISORS
In an attempt to take a more active role in the problem in South Vietnam, JFK sent in over 16,000 advisors (including the Green Berets) to train the South Vietnamese in counter-insurgency tactics to prevent guerrilla groups taking over areas of the country. This move was not however very successful, as the advisors failed to realise that the local populations were in favour of the Vietcong, and thus did not really seek to win their favour.
In an attempt to nullify the guerrilla warfare tactics being used by the Vietcong, the US developed a policy of creating Strategic Hamlets. This involved moving peasants into fortified villages guarded by troops. This however created much resentment amongst the population who were being forcibly moved from their homes and family’s burial sites. The US force were not winning the “hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese population.
In June Quang Duc, a 73 year old monk, sat in the middle of a Saigon street, dowsed himself with petrol and set himself alight. This action in protest at Diem’s religious policy was photographed and soon spread around the world causing outrage.
Diem’s regime was overthrown by the South Vietnamese army, after the US inadvertently failed to stop the coup. The USA now had a serious problem. They would have to become much more involved in Vietnam to prevent a Communist revolution spreading across the South.
JFK ASSASSINATED & JOHNSON TAKES OVER
The assassination of JFK was believed to have been a direct reaction to the assassination of Diem. When Johnson took over, he was more committed to sorting out South Vietnam, and so sent in even more economic aid than had previously been supplied:
1964 - $400 million
1965 - $543 million
1966 - $900 million
In reality though, as soon as Johnson came into power, he was looking for a means by which to get militarily involved in Vietnam. He knew that the only way to stop the rise of Communism was to send in the troops.
HO CHI MINH TRAIL
This was the supply route that the North Vietnamese used to help the Vietcong fight their guerrilla war in the South. It ran through Laos and Cambodia in an attempt to avoid US bombing raids, and the trail was constantly being relocated to prevent the US from gaining enough knowledge to destroy the supply routes.
Outline of US objectives:
Desire to preserve the independence of a non-communist South Vietnam It called for a national mobilisation plan to put South Vietnam on a war footing and increasing the size of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) General Westmoreland was to become commander of the US military forces in Vietnam There was an increase in the number of military advisors from 16,000 to 23,300 and an further expansion of economic assistance by $50 million
GULF OF TONKIN INCIDENT
Incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin, which involved attacks against the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy from North Vietnamese torpedo boats, gave Johnson the opportunity to escalate the war in Vietnam. Congress unanimously approved the resolution which authorised the President “to take all necessary measures to repel an armed attacks against the forces of the US and to prevent any further aggression” This effectively was the green light that Johnson had hoped for, but was in many ways a blank cheque for the President to escalate the war however he chooses. It would later become apparent that the Gulf of Tonkin incidents were at best questionable, and that they may never have been attacked in the first place. The public had been lied to.
OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER
These were bombing raids on North Vietnam. It involved the selection of strategic targets to try and pressure the North to stop supplying the Vietcong, end the war and start negotiations. The aim was to bring the war to an end at a low cost. However, the raids were largely ineffective as the North was a largely agricultural country, and so there few important military and industrial targets to be bombed. Also, supplies to the South actually increased during the bombing raids.
US SEND IN GROUND TROOPS
The first American combat troops, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, arrive in Vietnam to defend the US airfield at Danang. Scattered Vietcong gunfire is reported, but no Marines are injured. By June the number of US troops in Vietnam had reached 220,000 despite the fact that the US were still not officially at war with North Vietnam.
Search & Destroy – these were mission designed to locate Communist bases in the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was used against villages who were accused of harbouring Vietcong guerrillas. It was difficult to ensure that civilians were not amongst the casualties.Zippo Raids – US troops burned down villages to teach the population not to help the Vietcong using their Zippo lighters. This created even more resentment towards the “foreign invaders”.Air attacks – large areas of South Vietnam were designed “free bombing zones” where large numbers of bombs, rockets and napalm were dropped with little regard for the possible target.Helicopters – used to transport troops in and out of the battlefields. Unfortunately, this tactic also helped to further alienate the troops from the people they were trying to help.Chemical weapons – defoliants were used such as Agent Orange to strip the jungle cover. It destroyed over three million acres of vegetation, but also had significant poisonous qualities.Cluster bombs – these were bombs that exploded into thousands of tiny pieces which spread the damage across a wider area. Many civilian casualties were created through the use of these bombs.
Booby traps - the Vietcong sets traps for the US troops including man traps which used bamboo spikes to inflict painful wounds. The troops would then be left to suffer. One particular trap was designed so that you could not escape without further impaling yourself on the bamboo spikes.They were supplied with rockets and weapons by China and Russia. They used the Ho Chi Minh Trail - a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia - to supply their armies. The Americans couldn't attack their supply routes without escalating the war.They mingled in with the peasants, wearing ordinary clothes. The Americans couldn't identify who the enemy was.Their tactic was "hanging onto the belts" of the Americans - staying so close to the Americans so they could not use air or artillery backup without killing their own men.
BATTLE OF IA DRANG VALLEY
Choosing to fight a conventional war, and not initially learning from the mistakes of the French, the US troops were being overrun at the Ia Drang Valley, so much so that over 300 US troops were killed and eventually B52 bombers were called in to use napalm to salvage the situation. In a way, the US saw the battle as a victory due to the high number of NVA (North Vietnamese Army) deaths – 3561 from a total of 6000 troops. However, the major result of the battle was that General Giap (NVA) had realised that the best way for the NVA to fight against the US was going to be using guerrilla tactics.
US troop involvement increases to 385,000
VETERANS STAGE ANTI-WAR RALLY
Veterans from World Wars I and II, along with veterans from the Korean war stage a protest rally in New York City. Discharge and separation papers are burned in protest of US involvement in Vietnam.
By 1967, the Anti-war movement was beginning to take off. In this year, Martin Luther King joined a demonstration of 200,000 people against the war in New York. For the next few years, anti-war demonstrations became a common site in major cities and university campuses. These images were also broadcast across the US and the world, even to the troops in Vietnam! The problems people had with the war included:
It had a negative impact on the US poverty programmeThere was a high number of poor and black troops fighting, out of proportion with the populationHigher class and richer citizens were being allowed to get away with “draft-dodging”The war was escalating every year, including more troops and costing more money than the US public found acceptableThe manner in which the war was being fought was leading US citizens to question whether or not they were still the “good guys”The population of America were starting to see that they had been deceived regarding the justification for the war – the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
At 2.45 am on 30th January, North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces launched attacks against the US embassy in Saigon. This was the start of a massive series of coordinated attacks across the whole of South Vietnam. The Communists launched with a force of 80,000 troops. The attack was timed to coincide with the Vietnamese New Year holiday, thus taking the US and South Vietnamese forces completely by surprise. In most places, the insurgents were repelled quickly, however, in Hué, the battle for control of the city lasted a month.
Symbolically, the Tet offensive was a political disaster for the US, despite the fact that it was a very severe military defeat for the Communists, with as much as 80-90% of their forces being wiped out in little over three days. The Tet offensive had however highlighted major problems with the Vietnam War:
The general public were becoming even more disenchanted with the war. The Tet Offensive is frequently seen as an example of the value of media influence and popular opinion in the pursuit of military objectives. That the Communists were able to mount a major, country-wide assault at all was a blow to U.S. hopes of winning the war rapidly and starkly called into question General Westmoreland's earlier public reports of progress in the War. Likewise, the optimistic assessments of the Johnson administration and The Pentagon came under heavy criticism and ridicule. The attack on the US embassy showed that the forces were not prepared and that nowhere was safe from the Communists. Though the siege lasted only 6 hours, the mere fact that the Communists had managed to take control of the building echoed around the globe as a major political defeat for the Americans. Questions began to be asked as to why the US was even in Vietnam, when it was becoming plainly clear that they were not wanted there. The Tet Offensive was very damaging for Johnson in particular, whose popularity rating dropped to just 26% in March 1968. Walter Cronkite was the most popular news reporter in the USA, and consequently had a significant influence on how the Vietnam War was being perceived by the public. During the Tet Offensive, Cronkite declared that the war was unwinnable. President Johnson, realising the power of such a statement is reported to have said, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
EVEN MORE TROOPS
US troop involvement increases to 535,000. As historian Robert Dallek writes, "Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam divided Americans into warring camps ... cost 30,000 American lives by the time he left office, (and) destroyed Johnson's presidency ...."[
MY LAI MASSACRE
Troops on a search and destroy mission shot in a ditch 300 innocent Vietnamese civilians, mainly women and children. The squadron leader was eventually arrested and put in prison on a charge of mass murder. One soldier claimed innocence stating that “The baby was attacking me!”
JOHNSON & PEACE TALKS
Johnson withdrew from the Presidential election, and then sought to establish peace talks with North Vietnam in the lead up to his leaving. Johnson’s withdrawal speech heralded a change in tactics in the Vietnam War. Though the negotiations with Hanoi went well, Johnson refused to compromise on the important issue of a communist-free and democratic South Vietnam. However, any chance of peace being established was being undermined by Nixon’s representatives, who had secretly struck a deal with the South Vietnamese, promising them a better deal under the new administration. The South Vietnamese then began stalling the talks, even going as far as refusing to sit at a round table during the talks, but instead insisting upon a rectangular one!
NIXON ELECTED PRESIDENT
In November 1968, Nixon was elected as the new President and immediately began his commitment of ending the war through “Vietnamisation” and “peace with honour”.
NIXON DOCTRINE – VIETNAMISATION AND PEACE WITH HONOUR
Vietnamisation – the policy through which the war in Vietnam would slowly but surely be handed back to the South Vietnamese to fight. This would allow US troops to withdraw.Peace with honour – This was a target for the US administration. They wanted to be able to leave Vietnam with their heads held high. This would however prove to be very difficult.
EXTENSION OF THE WAR TO CAMBODIA
Nixon took the decision to extend the war to Cambodia in order to make a point to both North Vietnam and the Soviet Union; that he was prepared to take measures that Johnson had avoided to make North Vietnam negotiate a peace treaty. Over 3500 bombing raids were conducted dropping more than 100,000 tonnes of bombs on Cambodia. The results of this were however not what the US had wanted. They provoked the North Vietnamese into moving further into Cambodia, culminating in a bloody civil war. Such actions also reignited the anti-war campaigns back in the US.
EXTENSION OF THE WAR TO LAOS
In February, Nixon again approved a further extension of the war into Laos. Though in many respects a success, with 15,000 enemy troops being killed, the operation proved only that Nixon’s attempts to force the North Vietnamese to negotiate were not working, and that in many ways, the Vietcong were arguably becoming more assured that they could repel any US attacks sufficiently.
This was a study of US decision-making about Vietnam since the end of WW2. Intended to be secret, the papers were published by the New York Times. The study revealed that Kennedy and Johnson had repeatedly misled the public regarding the Vietnam War. This again fuelled the growing anti-war feeling in the US. The purpose of the war was increasingly less clear as the years went on, and this was now having a dramatic effect on the troops’ morale in the battlefields as well as on the public at home.
NIXON REDUCES TROOP NUMBERS
Responding to charges by Democratic presidential candidates that he is not moving fast enough to end US involvement in Vietnam, President Nixon orders troop strength reduced by seventy thousand.
This was the first attempt by North Vietnam to invade South Vietnam since the third phase of the Tet Offensive had been stalled in May 1968. Estimated troop casualties during the offensive were more then 100,000 for the North and 60,000 for the South. Following the failure of the offensive, General Giap was replaced.
Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the bombing halt instituted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in November 1968. Its purpose was to halt or slow the transportation of supplies and materiel for the Easter Offensive Linebacker played a crucial role in blunting the northern offensive by drying up its vital sources of supply.
This was a scandal that implicated Nixon directly in the secret bugging of the Democratic Party offices during 1972. The information gained was then used to discredit Nixon’s opponent in the Presidential elections, George McGovern. Nixon ended up resigning due to the controversy in 1974, the only US President to have ever done so.
CEASE-FIRE SIGNED IN PARIS
A cease-fire agreement that, in the words of Richard Nixon, "brings peace with honor in Vietnam and Southeast Asia," is signed in Paris by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. The agreement is to go into effect on January 28.
SOUTH VIETNAM LEFT ALONE
In December 1974, Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the South Vietnamese government. The act fixed the numbers of U.S. military personnel allowed in Vietnam: 4000 within six months of enactment and 3000 within one year
COMMUNISTS PLAN MAJOR OFFENSIVE
With North Vietnamese forces in the South believed to be at their highest levels ever, South Vietnamese leaders prepare themselves for an expected Communist offensive of significant proportions.
LAST AMERICANS EVACUATE AS SAIGON FALLS TO COMMUNISTS
South Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivers an unconditional surrender to the Communists in the early hours of April 30. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin accepts the surrender and assures Minh that, "...Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy." As the few remaining Americans evacuate Saigon, the last two US servicemen to die in Vietnam are killed when their helicopter crashes.
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