The ‘Vietnam War’ – a horror episode in American History

The 29th of April 1973 was the day when the United States finally pulled out of Vietnam and ended the war that the Vietnamese call the “American War”. The “Vietnam War” waged by the USA lasted eight long years, and cost the lives of 58,000 US soldiers, an estimated 250,000 Vietnamese soldiers and between two and four million civilians in the region. The decision of withdrawal was made at a meeting in Paris, where the US, South and North Vietnam and the Viet Cong signed an agreement.

In order to understand the conflict, we need to look back on the recent history of Vietnam. It is a small country in South East Asia, which had been taken over by the French empire in the 19th century, because of its valuable sources of rubber and rice. Vietnam was part of a wider French colony known as French Indochina. French Indochina comprised Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Just like the other colonising powers, the French exploited the riches of French Indochina. Vietnamese farmers suffered the most, as they got nothing for their harvest, while French colonists grew richer and richer on the farmers’ hard work.

During World War II, a Vietnamese named Ho Chi Minh started a revolt by organizing a Vietnamese rebel army to fight against both the French colonists and the Japanese invaders. This army was known as the ‘Viet Minh’. All-out war between French and the ‘Viet Minh’ broke out in 1946. The US president, Harry S. Truman, decided to back the French in the war against the rebels. The reason behind this decision was the communist inclinations of Ho Chi Minh. This was the time of the start of the ‘Cold War’ and the US did not want the Viet Minh to defeat the French forces. Truman’s stance on the war was that if the Viet Minh won the war and Vietnam turned to communism, a domino effect could turn the whole of Asia into a single communist entity. Due to the Viet Minh’s successive victories in the north of the country, in 1954 French authorities signed a treaty with the Viet Minh to divide the country in two. North Vietnam fell under the control of the communist Viet Minh, while the south remained anti-communist. Due to weak government in South Vietnam, there were communist uprisings in that country too, supported by North Vietnam. The US continued to support South Vietnam in the fight against the uprising.

Things took a dramatic turn on August 2, 1964, when an incident occurred involving North Vietnamese and American naval vessels patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson reacted by signing a resolution known as the ‘Gulf of Tonkin Resolution’,  which allowed the US to use military force in North Vietnam. At first, the US used bombers  to attack targets in North Vietnam, but slowly ground forces started moving in. By the end of 1965, there were 184,000 American troops in Vietnam; their number swelled to over 500,000 by 1968, The Daily Signal reports.

When the war ended by agreement in 1975 as a result of defeat of the US, 58,000 U.S troops had been killed in the combat. This war is considered to be one of the deadliest for America, and the US achieved none of its targets in the region. Soon after American troops left the region, North Vietnam attacked the South and formed one reunited Vietnam under communist government.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE