*By 1893, Vietnam,
were all part of French Indo-China.Wealthy French families and a few Vietnamese who worked with
controlled most of the businesses in Indo-China (mostly rice and rubber
plantations).They also tried to convert
the local people from Buddhism to Catholicism.
and in 1918, Ho Chi Minh went to Versailles
to ask for independence and for America’s
plans to keep Indo-China, Ho began to consider Communism (although he
always a nationalist first).
*During World War II,
occupied Indo-China, and Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh (with American
fought the Japanese.When the war ended,
he declared Vietnam’s
independence from France.
*Under Truman and
Eisenhower the US
decided to support France
as part of the policy of containment and the fear of the Domino
that if one country fell to communism its neighbours would too.Both of them sent money to the French.
*Although the French
did well at first,
in 1954, a major French force was surrounded by Viet Minh forces and
surrender at Dien Bien Phu.
was divided at the 17th Parallel, with the Communists
controlling North Vietnam and
the anti-Communist Republic of Vietnam
in the South.Laos
also received their independence (both as constitutional monarchies).
*There were supposed
to be elections to
choose a leader for a united Vietnam,
but they were never held because the United States was
afraid Ho Chi Minh would win.Instead,
Ngo Dinh Diem became president of South Vietnam, and
Eisenhower and Kennedy sent him money and Kennedy sent military
*Ngo Dinh Diem was
unpopular.He was a Catholic and had
worked with the
French, and he did not have much sympathy for poor farmers.Many South Vietnamese opposed him by joining
the Viet-Cong, a Communist guerrilla group.
*It was hard to fight
the Viet-Cong, as
they looked like any other farmer during the day.To
try to deal with this, the government
rounded farmers up in ‘strategic hamlets’ where they could farm under
guard.Unfortunately, this angered
farmers forced from their homes and, because they mixed with V-C in
many bitter farmers joined the V-C.
*In June 1963 a
Buddhist monk protested Ngo’s
regime by pouring gasoline on himself and immolating himself on a
street in Saigon. Soon other
his example, and newspapers the world over reported it. In
reporters and cameramen had almost total access to major events and
shocking news, pictures, and film back home.
*Opposition to Ngo in
Viet-Nam and America led Kennedy to
permit a coup d’etat by several ARVN
officers. Ngo, his wife, and a younger brother were all murdered
on 1 November 1963.
Three weeks later, Kennedy was assassinated, and LBJ became president.
*The ARVN generals
who took over from Ngo
Dinh Diem governed the country poorly, did not run the ARVN well, and
a rise in Viet Cong activity in RVN. Often former Viet Minh,
guerrillas sabotaged the RVN at night and looked like peaceful peasants
*3 August 1964, some US Navy
patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked by NVN
boats. The damage was minimal (one bullet struck USS Maddox),
but the next day radar reports showed many more boats
approaching and launching torpedoes, and the Navy fired upon
attack allowed Johnson to ask Congress for the power to send troops to
Viet-Nam, because Congress, not the president, deploys and pays
troops. 7 August 1964,
Congress responded with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the
do whatever he felt was necessary as long as he said there was an
It was later discovered that the second wave of attacks detected by
actually thunder clouds.
February 1965, the Viet Cong attacked an American airbase at
ordered the escalation of American activities in Viet-Nam.
Westmoreland received 184,000 troops by the end of the year (eventually
million Americans served in Vietnam, of whom over 58,000
died).Also in 1965, the Air Force began
ROLLING THUNDER, bombing military targets throughout North Viet-Nam
those that might hit a Soviet advisor, like Hanoi, Haiphong, the Chinese Border,
Vietnamese airbases). Like many aerial bombardments, however,
only strengthened the will of the enemy, especially as they quickly
what places were safe.
in Viet-Nam was not like any war Americans had fought. Used to
the jungle, the VC were undetectable in most cases, but they killed and
many soldiers and terrified more, and it was almost impossible to hit
back. Civilians might throw a bomb or try to poison
Soldiers faced booby traps such as pits with punji sticks, land mines
grenades hooked to tripwires, and an enemy working out of vast
tunnel systems that were dangerous to clear out.
*The NVA and the VC had other advantages besides their invisibility and
relative popularity. The US Army had a number of rules of
followed to keep from offending the Vietnamese people or neighbouring
countries. The US would not bomb
cemeteries, so the
VC hid in them. The US would not invade or
bomb Laos or Cambodia, so the NVA and VC
and carried supplies through those countries. These were called
Chi Minh trail. The US conducted bombing raids on North Viet-Nam
suspected VC outposts, but not nearly as many as they could have,
Johnson was afraid of accidentally hitting a Soviet advisor and
*The army could call in the Air Force to help them fight enemy
In these attacks the USAF used fragmentation bombs, which exploded into
little pieces, sending shrapnel everywhere to kill the enemy.
used napalm, jellied gasoline that set the jungle on fire and stuck to
*The US also used Agent
Orange, a defoliant that
killed the jungle vegetation so soldiers could find hiding VC, but it
caused health problems in many Vietnamese people and livestock and, it
later discovered, in many US soldiers as well.
the Vietcong did not fight in traditional battles, Westmoreland ordered
strategy of search and destroy, looking for V-C, killing them, and
their villages.The only way to measure
success was through a body count, but it was hard to tell what was a
kill and who was an innocent bystander.Furthermore, officers often exaggerated body counts.
war damaged America’s economy.Military spending required Johnson to raise
taxes, and it also raised prices as more money flowed into the economy.This led to inflation.Military
spending also took money and energy
away from Johnson’s plans for a Great Society.
1968, Johnson’s popularity was in danger, but he still assured
we were winning the war, and most Americans believed him.However, events in January, 1968, changed
many Americans minds forever.