First World War (1914-1918) = The Great War = The War to End all Wars = Total War Long Term Causes: [animal]



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How the US got involved


image icon: map showing division of indo-china

At the Treaty of Geneva in 1954, Indo-China was divided into Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, although it was agreed to hold elections in 1956 to unify the two parts of Vietnam.

Ngo Dinh Diem, the ruler of South Vietnam, refused to hold elections.



image icon: nlf guerrillas

Ho Chi Minh was a communist, who was supported by China. In 1960, he set up the National Liberation Front (NLF) in South Vietnam, which started a guerrilla war to take over South Vietnam from Diem and his American backers.

The Americans called the NLF guerrillas the Vietcong, and supported Diem with military advisers and money.

Diem's government was made up of rich Christian landowners. It was corrupt and unpopular and persecuted the poor Buddhist peasants. By 1963, most of South Vietnam's rural areas were under Vietcong control - the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) could not defeat them.

In 1963, the US supported a military coup, which murdered Diem and put a military government in South Vietnam.



image icon: uss maddox attacked

In August 1964, sailors on the American warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin claimed they had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, allowing the American President Lyndon B. Johnson to take direct military action in retaliation.

In February 1965, the Vietcong attacked American air bases and killed American soldiers. President Johnson declared war against North Vietnam.





Why did the US get involved?


1. Containment  

  • China had fallen to communism in 1949, and America had fought in Korea in 1950-53 to contain the spread of communism.

  • The US president, Lyndon B. Johnson, said: "I am not going to be the president who saw South-East Asia go the way China went."

2. Domino theory  

  • Americans believed that, if South Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand - and then Burma and India - would follow.

  • President Johnson said: "If you let a bully come into your garden, the next day he'll be in your porch, and the day after that he'll rape your wife."

3. ARVN's weakness  

  • It was obvious the South Vietnamese could not resist communist infiltration by the Vietcong without help.

  • In 1963, the American commander reported that the ARVN - the South Vietnamese army - were "ill-equipped local militia who more often than not were killed asleep in their defensive positions".

  • US advisers believed that good government and an efficient, large-scale war would defeat the Vietcong.

4. The US was attacked  

  • The North Vietnamese had attacked the USS Maddox in August 1964, and then killed US soldiers in February 1965.

  • Johnson became convinced that action in South Vietnam alone would never win the war: "We are swatting flies when we should be going after the manure pile."




The Vietnam War did not seem like a fair match. The Americans, under their president, Lyndon B. Johnson, had a huge army, money and technology at their disposal - the Vietcong were an underground army, which used underground tactics.
So why couldn't the Americans defeat the Vietcong?

image icon: operation rolling thunder

- In February 1965, President Johnson ordered Operation Rolling Thunder - a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
- He sent US troops - 500,000 by 1969 - to fight in Vietnam.

image icon: massive air attack at la drang

- In November 1965, General William Westmoreland, the US commander, lured the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to attack a force of American troops at Ia Drang, then destroyed the attackers with a massive air strike.

image icon: suspected vietcong were arrested, interrogated and killed

- In 1968, the CIA started Operation Phoenix, arresting, interrogating and killing suspected Vietcong activists.
- Despite this, the Americans could not succeed in driving the Vietcong out of the rural areas.

image icon: tet offensive

- In January 1968, the NVA launched the Tet Offensive, capturing a number of towns in South Vietnam.
- The North Vietnamese lost 58,000 men, including many officers. Their morale was damaged - the offensive proved that they could not defeat the Americans by direct attack.
- It took the Americans a month to recover the towns. Their confidence was badly shaken. They won the Tet Offensive, but realized that they would never defeat the Vietcong.
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