The Vietnam War

The First Indochina War

Vietnam had been under French colonial rule as part of French Indochina for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. After their occupation by Japan in World War II, Vietnamese nationalists, led by Ho Chi Minh, declared independence from French rule.

However, the French sought to reassert control over Vietnam, leading to the First Indochina War between the French colonial forces and Vietnamese nationalists, including the communist Viet Minh.

The war was characterized by guerrilla warfare and battles between French forces and the Viet Minh, who were fighting for Vietnamese independence. The Viet Minh received support from the Soviet Union and China, while the French were backed by the United States and other Western powers.

The Viet Minh defeated French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954. The war ended with the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1954, which temporarily divided Vietnam along the 17th parallel, with the north under communist control and the south under anti-communist rule. The division of Vietnam was meant to be temporary, and elections were scheduled to be held in 1956 to reunify the country under a single government. 

American intervention in Vietnamese reunification

These reunification elections were never held due to opposition from the United States and the South Vietnamese government, who feared that Ho Chi Minh and the communists would win.

Therefore, both North and South Vietnam established separate governments. In North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh's communist government sought to consolidate its power and implement socialist policies. Meanwhile, the US helped Ngo Dinh Diem to set up the Republic of South Vietnam despite his corruption and the Vietnamese People's hatred towards him due to his anti-communism. 

In the 1950s, the US supplied him with $1.6 bn in aid, and helped him to establish South Vietnam's own military force, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), to defend against communist insurgency and external threats. However, the government of South Vietnam continued to face internal and external threats, including opposition from communist guerrillas known as the Viet Cong.

The Establishment of the Viet Cong

The Viet Cong was formed on December 29th 1960 and was supported by the communist government of North Vietnam with the main goal of overthrowing the anti-communist government of South Vietnam and reunifying the country under communist rule. 

The Viet Cong were composed of a mix of regular soldiers and local fighters, often blending in with the civilian population to avoid detection and launch surprise attacks. They employed Guerilla tactics such as ambushes, booby traps, and hit-and-run raids to harass and weaken their opponents. The Viet Cong received support, training, and supplies from North Vietnam, which allowed them to sustain their insurgency campaign against the government of South Vietnam and its allies. They also sent supplies and reinforcements to guerrilla fighters who attacked American Air Force and supply bases. 

As a result of the actions of the anti-communist government of South Vietnam, support for the Viet Cong increased among citizens.

Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown in a military coup on November 1, 1963 as a result of growing discontent with his authoritarian rule, religious discrimination, corruption, and his handling of the Buddhist crisis, which sparked widespread unrest and condemnation.

The coup was carried out by a group of South Vietnamese generals who were unhappy with Diem's leadership, with the support of the United States CIA. It began with coordinated attacks on key government installations in Saigon. Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, who was his chief advisor, attempted to flee but were assassinated by rebel forces on November 2.

US involvement had been increasing under President Kennedy, with the number of military advisors rising from under one thousand in 1959 to over 23,000 by 1964, but this involvement was different. 

After the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963, a series of military juntas ruled South Vietnam for brief periods but were unable to establish stable governance or effectively address the country's political and social challenges.

How did US involvement in Vietnam escalate?

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, was prepared to commit to full-scale conflict to prevent the spread of communism.

The domino theory was a theory put forward by President Eisenhower in the 1950s. It theorised that communism would spread throughout Asia as each country is influenced by its neighbour.