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Vietnam > Culture and festivals > History :The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War



The Vietnam War, known throughout the region as the “American War (of Aggression)” had a major impact on the entire Indochinese region. Although officially fought only in North and South Vietnam, a flight over Laos and Cambodia makes it clear the war extended to those countries, too.  


Damage is still obvious –bomb craters, defoliated areas, “no-man’s lands,” wounded veterans, and more. 

Recovery has been a long process. The lasting impact on the people of the region is still seen and felt. 


The US Congress determined in the early 1970s that the incursions and battles in Laos and especially Cambodia were illegal. Nonetheless, the damage was done, and people remember. 


Tip: Throughout the region the culturally aware traveler needs to treat mention of the War with care and be respectful of the feelings of the people. You shouldn’t refer to it as the “Vietnam War” while you are there. 



Ho Chi Minh returns, secretly, to Vietnam. 



The Japanese oust the French, famine strikes the North, World War II ends and Vietnam is divided at the 16th Parallel, Ho Chi Minh declares himself President of the “Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Vietnam” (DPRV), European and US forces enter Vietnam, the first American is killed. 



The Chinese leave Vietnam, the French return, and Ho Chi Minh’s army launches its first attack against French troops.  



The French fight back. 



The Vietnamese National Army (South Vietnam) is formed. Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists are defeated by Mao Ze Dong’s communists. 



Mao’s China recognizes Ho’s DPRV, the US and others recognize Bao Dai’s French-controlled government, fighting intensifies, “McCarthyism” and anti-communism pick up speed, the US enters the Korean conflict, the US starts sending money to aid the South Vietnamese and sends the first military advisors. 



Fighting intensifies, French casualties are approaching 100,000. 



More fighting between French and North Vietnamese troops – lots of back and forth movement, no real territorial gains on either side. The Korean conflict and McCarthyism continue and escalate. 



Eisenhower becomes President and continues to increase US financial and military aid to the South, Stalin dies, the Korean conflict enters a truce, the French begin building and fortifying outposts 

around Dien Bien Phu. 



General Giap (North) amasses artillery and men and beat the French around Dien Bien Phu, the first of many miles of tunnels are dug, and the US refuses to increase its role in Vietnam, despite French pleas. Over 10,000 French soldiers died at Dien Bien Phu and many went to prison camps when the French surrendered. The Geneva Convention began and divided the country at the 17th Parallel. Ho Chi Minh takes formal control of the North after spending eight years hiding in the jungle. 



The first direct aid shipment arrives from the US, Ho visits Moscow, PM Diem ousts Bao Dai, the Republic of South Vietnam is declared with Diem as President, and communistic purges and land grabs occur in the North. 



The first South Vietnamese crackdown against suspected Viet Minh (later Viet Cong) takes place, the French complete their pull-out, Diem refuses to hold reunification elections required by the Geneva Convention, and the communists put down peasant revolts in the North. 



The situation continues to deteriorate, with Diem spending money on the military and not the people, resulting in Viet Minh infiltrators having easy pickings. 



Fighting begins in earnest when Ho declares a “peoples’ war.” Two US advisors are killed.  



An attempted military coup against Diem is put down. Soldiers are conscripted for the duration of the war. These actions cause many men to flee North and later return as Viet Cong infiltrators. 



The Russians encourage communists everywhere to rise up, and President Kennedy promises to “fight any battle…” – the war escalates and more Americans (Green Berets) are committed to South Vietnam. 



Costs of the American presence in South Vietnam and support to the South are rapidly approaching several million dollars per day. The war continues to escalate. The US Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, is formed. At this point war activities are still confined to Vietnam. 



The Americans lose their first major battle, Buddhists demonstrate against restrictions, Diem’s government is riddled with patronage and corruption and incompetency. Diem refuses to step down and is killed in a coup. Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson further escalates the US presence. 



Another coup takes place, Americans begin bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail, plans are made to bomb North Vietnam, naval battles escalate, the first American POW is taken to the “Hanoi Hilton,” another coup takes place. Brezhnev takes control in Russia, Johnson wins reelection in a landslide. Another coup 

takes place. The American presence is up to 23,000 military advisors. 



The war escalates yet again. Bombing begins inside North Vietnam. The Russians agree to provide unlimited assistance to the North. The first US combat troops arrive. Naval operations interdict use of the waterways causing a massive shift to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Anti-war protests begin in earnest. Yet another power change takes place in South Vietnam. The first major US ground operations take place. Bombing of the North is halted twice to try to pressure the North to accept a negotiated peace. 

Troop strength approaches 200,000. 



The war escalates as bombing of the North resumes. Anti-war protests increase. Captured US pilots are paraded through the streets of Hanoi on the way to Hoa Loa prison. The Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos is bombed. The DMZ area is bombed for the first time. Defoliating chemicals (Agent Orange) are being used, 

as is napalm. President Johnson makes his first visit to Vietnam. Troop levels are approaching 400,000, and over 5,000 combat deaths have occurred. 



Further escalation, including a dogfight where eight to 10 MiG-21s were shot down over the South. A truce is declared during Tet. Pro- and anti-war activists march across the country. CA Governor Reagan says the US should get out of Vietnam. Battles are now occurring along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, and planes that crossed Chinese airspace were shot down. Defense Secretary McNamara resigns. President Johnson makes his final visit to Vietnam. Troop levels are approaching 500,000, and over 16,000 combat deaths have occurred. 



 The Tet Offensive takes place, despite a declared truce. Hué and Saigon are strenuously attacked and defended. The My Lai Massacre takes place. Johnson announces he will not seek reelection. Reverend Martin Luther King is assassinated. Peace talks begin in Paris but end quickly with no progress. Robert Kennedy is assassinated. Nixon is chosen as the Republican Presidential candidate. Almost 1,000 US aircraft have been shot down so far. Bombing of North Vietnam is once again halted. Nixon wins the 




There is no Tet truce. The My Lai Massacre investigation begins. Bombing is halted in the North, but begins in Cambodia. Troop levels reach their peak of almost 550,000, with over 33,000 killed in action. The North refuses to meet the US for peace talks. The first US troop withdrawals begin. Nixon makes his 

only visit to Vietnam. The draft lottery is held for the first time since World War II. About 115,000 troops have been withdrawn and over 40,000 killed. 



Peace talks are ongoing, but deadlocked, in Paris. A Cambodian coup ousts Prince Sihanouk in favor of General Lon Nol. The ousted Prince and the communist Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, begin to try to retake the country. More troops are scheduled to be withdrawn. The US and South Vietnamese continue to fight in Cambodia. Four student protestors are killed by National Guard soldiers at Kent State. The use of Agent Orange is ended. US troops leave Cambodia. Troop levels are under 350,000. US ground troops are no longer allowed in Laos or Cambodia. By the end of the year troop levels are down to 280,000 and drug use is considered to be a major problem. 



The war is slowly de-escalating. Lieutenant William Caley is found guilty in the My Lai Massacre. Deaths are over 45,000, and the last Marine combat units have left Vietnam. The “Pentagon Papers” are published. Troop withdrawals continue to accelerate. Soldiers begin refusing to perform assigned missions. Saigon releases some of the POWs it holds. Australia and New Zealand withdraw their troops. Troop levels are under 160,000. Bombing of the North is resumed. 



Hanoi rejects Nixon’s peace plan again. Nixon visits China. Further troop withdrawals take place. General Giap stages a massive attack against the reduced forces to try and capture the South. Nixon orders massive B-52 bomb strikes against the North. US troop levels drop below 70,000. Nixon visits Russia. 

The Watergate break-in occurs. Paris peace talks resume and collapse again. The last US combat troops leave on August 23rd, 1972. Nixon wins reelection in a landslide. 



Peace talks resume in Paris. January 27, 1973, the Paris Accords are signed by the US and the North Vietnamese. The draft ends and the last US death in Vietnam occurs. 591 POWs are released 

from Hanoi. The final troops (advisors) are withdrawn on March 29th. Vice President Agnew resigns. 



Impeachment proceedings begin against Nixon. Nixon resigns. President Ford announces a clemency program for many draft evaders. The North’s Politburo decides to invade the South in 1975. 



April 30th, 1975, the last Marines leave the US Embassy in Saigon and the city falls to the North Vietnamese Army. 


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Vietnam History :The Vietnam War