Vietnam War

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A group of American soldiers with a captured Việt Cộng guerrilla.
I got a letter from LBJ.
It said, This is your lucky day.
It's time to put your khaki trousers on.
Though it may seem very queer,
we've got no jobs to give you here,
so we are sending you to Vietnam.
Lyndon Johnson told the nation,
Have no fear of escalation.
I am trying everyone to please.
Though it isn't really war,
we're sending fifty thousand more
to help save Vietnam from Vietnamese.
~ Tom Paxton, "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation"

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was a conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from November 1, 1955, to the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was a civil war officially fought between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese army was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; the South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war by some US perspectives. The war would last approximately 19 years and would also form the Laotian Civil War as well as the Cambodian Civil War, which resulted in all 3 countries becoming communist states in 1975.

There are several competing views on the conflict. Some on the North Vietnamese and Việt Cộng side view the struggle against the US. forces as a colonial war and a continuation of the First Indochina War against forces from France and later on the United States, especially in light of the failed 1954 Geneva Conference calls for elections. Other interpretations of the North Vietnamese side include viewing it as a civil war, especially in the early and later phases following the US. an interlude between 1965 and 1970 as well as a war of liberation. In the perspective of some, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, the successor to the Vietnamese community, was motivated in part by significant social changes in the aftermath of World War II Vietnam and had initially seen it as a revolutionary war supported by Hanoi. The pro-government side in South Vietnam viewed it as a civil war, a defensive war against communism, or was motivated to fight to defend their homes and families. The US. the government viewed its involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam. This was part of the domino theory of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism.

The primary military organizations involved in the war were as follows: One side consisted of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the United States armed forces, while the other side consisted of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) (more commonly called the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, in English-language sources) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, more commonly known as the Viet Cong in English language sources), a South Vietnamese communist guerrilla force.

Daniel Ellsberg contends that U.S. participation in Vietnam had begun in 1945 when it gave support to a French effort to reconquer its colony in Vietnam, a nation that had just declared independence in August 1945. The wars was later ended by Richard Nixon while ending the draft.


Indochina was a French colony during the 19th century. When Imperial Japan invaded during World War II, the Viet Minh opposed them with support from the US, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China. They received some Japanese arms when Japan surrendered. The Viet Minh, a Communist-led common front under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh (founder and leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam), then initiated an insurgency against French rule. Hostilities escalated into the First Indochina War (beginning in December 1946). By the 1950s, the conflict had become entwined with the Cold War. In January 1950, China and the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, based in Hanoi, as the legitimate government of Vietnam. The following month the United States and Great Britain recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam in Saigon, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại (and later by Ngô Đình Diệm), as the legitimate Vietnamese government. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 convinced many Washington policymakers that the war in Indochina was an example of communist expansionism directed by the Soviet Union, with North Korean premier Kim Il-sung providing support to his communist allies in North Vietnam, while the anti-communist South Korean regimes of Syngman Rhee and his successor Park Chung-hee backed South Vietnam.

Military advisors from the Communist Party of China, under orders from Mao Zedong, began assisting the Viet Minh in July 1950. Chinese weapons, expertise, and laborers transformed the Viet Minh from a guerrilla force into a regular army. In September 1950, the United States created a Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy, and train Vietnamese soldiers. By 1954, the United States had spent US$1 billion in support of the French military effort, shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war.

During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, U.S. carriers sailed to the Gulf of Tonkin and the U.S. conducted reconnaissance flights. There were also talks between the French and Americans in which the possible use of three tactical nuclear weapons was considered, though reports of how seriously this was considered and by whom are vague and contradictory. According to U.S. vice president Richard Nixon, the plan involved the Joint Chiefs of Staff drawing up plans to use three small tactical nuclear weapons in support of the French. Nixon, a so-called "hawk" on Vietnam, suggested that the United States might have to "put American boys in".

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made American participation contingent on British support, but the British were opposed. Eisenhower decided against U.S. military intervention, being wary of getting the United States involved in a land war in Asia. Throughout the conflict, U.S. intelligence estimates remained skeptical of French chances of success. U.S. involvement escalated in 1960 under President John F. Kennedy, with troop levels gradually surging under the Military Assistance Advisory Group program from just under a thousand in 1959 to 16,000 in 1963.

By 1964 there were 23,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, but this escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a U.S. destroyer was alleged to have clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft. In response the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave Lyndon B. Johnson authorization to increase U.S. military presence, deploying ground combat units for the first time and increasing troop levels to 184,000. Every year onward there was significant build-up despite little progress, with Robert McNamara, one of the principal architects of the war, beginning to express doubts of victory by the end of 1966. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. The U.S. conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Following the Tet Offensive, U.S. forces began withdrawal under the Vietnamization phase the Army of the Republic of Vietnam unconventional and conventional capabilities increased following a period of neglect and became modeled on heavy fire-power focused doctrines like US forces. Operations crossed international borders bordering areas of Laos and Cambodia were used by North Vietnam as supply routes and were heavily bombed by U.S. forces.

Gradual withdrawal of U.S. ground forces began as part of "Vietnamization", which aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the task of fighting the communists to the South Vietnamese themselves and begun the task of modernizing their armed forces. Morale declined significantly among U.S. forces during the wind-down period and incidents of fragging, drug-use, and insubordination increased with General Creighton Abrams remarking "I need to get this army home to save it". From 1969 onwards the military actions of the Vietnamese community insurgency decreased as the role and engagement of the NVA grew. Initially fielding less conventional and poorer weaponry, from 1970 onward the People's Army of Vietnam and its branch People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam had increasingly become mechanized and armored, capable of modernized combined arms and mobile warfare and begun to widely deploy newer, untested weapons. These two sides would see significant, rapid changes throughout its lifetime from their original post-colonial armies, and by the mid-1970s the ARVN became the fourth largest army with the PAVN became the fifth-largest army in the world in two countries with a population of roughly 20 million each.

Despite the Paris Peace Accord, which was signed by all parties in January 1973, the fighting continued as both Saigon and Hanoi attempted to take territory before and after the accord; the ceasefire was broken just days after its signing. In the U.S. and the Western world, a large anti-Vietnam War movement developed as part of a larger counterculture, the largest such anti-war movement up to that point in history. The war changed the dynamics between the Eastern and Western Blocs, altered North-South relations, and significantly influenced the political landscape in the United States. Across much of Western Europe and the U.S., ground-force intervention spurred the rise of transnational political movements and campaigning.

Direct U.S. military involvement ended on August 15 1973 as a result of the Case Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress. The fall of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Army in April 1975 marked the end of the war, and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 966,000 to 3.8 million. Some 275,000–310,000 Cambodians, 20,000–62,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict, and a further 1,626 remain missing in action. The Sino-Soviet split re-emerged following the lull during the Vietnam War and ties between the DRV and its Cambodian allies in the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, the newly-formed Democratic Kampuchea under Pol Pot begun almost immediately in a series of border raids by the Khmer Rouge and erupted into the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, with Chinese forces directly intervening in the Sino-Vietnamese War. The end of the war and resumption of the Third Indochina War would precipitate the Vietnamese boat people and the bigger Indochina refugee crisis, which saw an estimated 250,000 people perish at sea.