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The Vietnam War


Why It Matters

The Vietnam War created very bitter divisions within the United States. Supporters argued that patriotism demanded that communism be halted. Opponents argued that intervening in Vietnam was immoral. Many young people protested or resisted the draft Victory was not achieved, although more than 58,000 American soldiers died. After the war, the nation had many wounds to heal

The Impact Today

Changes brought about by the war are still evident in the United States today.

• The nation is reluctant to commit troops overseas.

• The War Powers Ad limits a president's power to involve the nation in war.

The American Republic Since 1877 Video The Chapter 25 video, "Vietnam: A Different War," explores the causes and the impact of this longest war in American history.

1954 • Vietminh defeat French

• Geneva Accords signed

1955 • Khrushchev is dominant leader in USSR

1958 • De Gaulle heads France's Fifth Republic

1964 • Congress passes Gull of Tonkin Resolution

1964 • Japan introduces first high-speed passenger train

1965 • U.S. combat troops arrive in Vietnam


1967 • March on the Pentagon takes place

1967 • First heart transplant performed

1968 • Tet offensive

• Students protest at Democratic National Convention in Chicago

1968 • Soviets repress Czechoslovakia's rebellion

1970 • National Guard troops kill students at Kent State University

1971 • Pakistani civil war leads to independent Bangladesh

1973 • Cease-fire signed with North Vietnam

1975 • Evacuation of last Americans from Vietnam

1975 • Civil war breaks out in Angola

The dedication ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., November 13, 1982


Chapter Overview

Visit the American Republic Since 1877 Web site at and click on Chapter Overviews—Chapter 25 to preview chapter information.



The United States Focuses on Vietnam

Guide to Reading

Main Idea

American efforts to stop the spread of communism led to U.S. involvement in the affairs of Vietnam.

Key Terms and Names

Ho Chi Minh, domino theory, guerrilla, Dien Bien Phu, Ngo Dinh Diem

Reading Strategy

Organizing As you read about the increasing involvement of the United States in Vietnam, complete a graphic organizer similar to the one below by providing reasons that the United States aided France in Vietnam.

Reading Objectives

Describe the nationalist motives of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh.

Explain the origins of American involve­ment in Vietnam during the 1950s.

Section Theme

Government and Democracy American involvement in Vietnam was a reflection of Cold War strategy.

Preview of Events

1946 French-Vietminh War begins

1950 The United States supplies military aid to France

1954 Vietminh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu; Geneva Accords signed in Paris

1956 Ngo Dinh Diem refuses to participate in nationwide elections in Vietnam

An American Story

In 1965 the first major battle between American and North Vietnamese soldiers took place in the la Drang Valley in South Vietnam. During the battle, a platoon of American soldiers was cut off and surrounded. Lieutenant Joe Marm's platoon was among those sent to rescue the trapped Americans. When his men came under heavy fire, Marm acted quickly: "I told the men to hold their fire.... Then I ran forward.... That's the principle we use in the infantry, lead by your own example."' Marm raced across open ground and hurled grenades at the enemy, and although he was shot in the jaw, he managed to kill the troops firing at his men. For his extraordinary bravery, Lieutenant Marm received the Medal of Honor:

“I feel I'm the recipient of the medal for the many, many brave soldiers whose deeds go unsung... [The medal is as much theirs as it is mine. It's always tough to get men to go into battle, but we were a tight unit, and there were Americans out there that we were trying to get to. We're all in it together, and we were fighting for each other and for our guys.... I had the best soldiers.... They were fearless, and they were just great Americans and they're going to go down in history.”

quoted in The Soldiers' Story

Early American Involvement in Vietnam

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, most Americans knew little about Vietnam. During this time, however, American officials came to view the nation as increasingly important in the campaign to halt the spread of communism.


The Growth of Vietnamese Nationalism When the Japanese seized power in Vietnam during World War II, it was one more example of foreigners ruling the Vietnamese people. China had controlled the region off and on for hundreds of sears. From the late 1800s until World War II, France ruled Vietnam and neighboring Laos and Cambodia--a region known collectively as French Indochina.

By the early 1900s, nationalism had become a pow­erful force in Vietnam. The Vietnamese formed several political parties to push for independence or reform of the French colonial government. One of the leaders of the nationalist movement was Nguyen Tat Thanh­--better known by his alias, Ho Chi Minh, or "Bringer of Light." He was born in 1890 in central Vietnam. As a young man, Ho Chi Minh taught at a village school. At the age of 21, he sailed for Europe on a French freighter, paying his passage by working in the galley. During his travels abroad, including a stay in the Soviet Union, Ho Chi Minh became an advocate of communism. In 1930 he returned to Southeast Asia, where he helped found the Indochinese Communist Party and worked to overthrow French rule.

Ho Chi Minh's activities made him a wanted man. He fled Indochina and spent several years in exile in the Soviet Union and China. In 1941 he returned to Vietnam. By then Japan had seized control of the country Ho Chi Minh organized a nationalist group called the Vietminh. The group united both Communists and non-Communists in the struggle to expel the Japanese forces. Soon afterward, the United States began sending military aid to the Vietminh.

The United States Supports the French With the Allies' victory over Japan in August 1943, the Japanese surrendered control of Indochina. Ho Chi Minh and his forces quickly announced that Vietnam was an independent nation. He even crafted a Vietnam Declaration of Independence. Archimedes Patti, an American officer stationed in Vietnam at the time, helped the rebel leader write the document. When a translator read aloud the opening—'All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness"—Patti sud­denly sat up, startled, recognizing the words as very similar to the American Declaration of Independence.

Picturing History

Rural Economy Most of Vietnam's people live in the country’s low-lying fertile lands near the Red River delta in the north and the Mekong River delta in the south. What does the image below suggest about the use of human labor in the country’s agriculture economy?

---Refer to image on page 773 in your textbook.

Geography Skills

1. Interpreting Maps. What three countries border North and South Vietnam?

2. Applying Geography Skills. A mountain chain extends nearly 800 miles (1,290 km) from North to South Vietnam. How do you think this terrain aided the Vietnamese guerrillas who were fighting U.S. troops?

---Refer to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Indochina, 1959 map on page 773 in your textbook.


“I stopped him and turned to Ho in amazement and asked if he really intended to use it in his decla­ration.... Ho sat back in his chair, his palms together with fingertips touching his lips ever so lightly, as though meditating. Then, with a gentle smile he asked softly, 'Should I not use it?' I felt sheepish and embarrassed. Of course, I answered, why should he not?”

—quoted in The Perfect War

France, however, had no intention of seeing Vietnam become independent-Seeking to regain their colonial empire in Southeast Asia, French troops returned to Vietnam in 1946 and drove the Vietminh forces into hiding in the countryside, By 1949 French officials had set up a new government in Vietnam.

The Vietminh fought back against the French-dominated regime and slimly increased their control over large areas of the countryside. As fighting between the two sides escalated, France appealed to the United States for help.

The request put American officials in a difficult position. The United States opposed colonialism. It had pressured the Dutch to give up their empire in Indonesia, and it supported the British decision to give India independence in 1947. In Vietnam, however, the independence movement had become entangled with the Communist movement. American officials did not think France should control Vietnam, but they did not want Vietnam to he Communist either.

Two events convinced the Truman administration to help France—the fall of China to communism, and the outbreak of the Korean War. Korea, in particular, convinced American officials that the Soviet Union had begun a major push to impose communism on East Asia. Shortly after the Korean War began, Truman authorized a massive program of military aid to French forces fighting in Vietnam.

On taking office in 1953, President Eisenhower continued to support the French military campaign against the Vietminh. By 1954 the United States was paying roughly three-fourths of France's war costs. During a news conference that year, Eisenhower defended United States policy in Vietnam by stress­ing what became known as the domino theory—the belief that if Vietnam fell to communism, so too would the other nations of Southeast Asia:

“You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.... Asia, after all, has already lost 450 mil­lion of its peoples to the Communist dictatorship, and we simply can't afford greater losses...”

—quoted in America in Vietnam

Reading Check Summarizing Why did Ho Chi Minh lead a resistance movement against France?

Picturing History

Nationalist Leader Ho Chi Minh was already involved in fighting for Vietnam’s independence when this photograph was taken in 1946. What foreign country was he opposing at that time?

The Vietminh Drive Out the French

Despite significant amounts of aid from the United States, the French struggled against the Vietminh, who consistently frustrated the French with hit-and-run and ambush tactics. These are the tactics of guerrillas, irregular troops who usually blend into the civilian population and are often diffi­cult for regular armies to tight. The mounting casual­ties and the inability of the French to defeat the Vietminh made the war very unpopular in France. Finally, in 1954, the struggle reached a turning point.


Defeat at Dien Bien Phu In 1954 the French com­mander ordered his forces to occupy the mountain town of Dien Bien Phu. Seizing the town would interfere with the Vietminh's supply lines and force them into open battle.

Soon afterward, a huge Vietminh force sur­rounded Dien Bien Phu and began bombarding the town. "Shells rained down on us without stopping like a hailstorm on a fall evening," recalled one


French soldier. "Bunker after bunker, trench after trench collapsed, burying under them men and weapons." On May 7, 1954, the French force at Dien Bien Phu fell to the Vietminh. The defeat convinced the French to make peace and withdraw from Indochina.

Geneva Accords Negotiations to end the conflict were held in Geneva, Switzerland. The Geneva Accords temporarily divided Vietnam along the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh in control of North Vietnam and a pro-Western regime in control of the South. In 1956 elections were to be held to reunite the country under a single government. The Geneva Conference also recognized Cambodia's independence. (Laos had gained inde­pendence the previous year.)

Shortly after the Geneva Accords parti­tioned Vietnam, the French finally left. The United States almost immediately stepped in and became the principal protector of the new government in the Smith, led by a nationalist leader named Ngo Dinh Diem (NOH DIHN deh * EHM). Like Ho Chi Minh, Diem had been edu­cated abroad, but unlike the North Vietnamese leader, Diem was pro-Western and fiercely anti-Communist. A Catholic, he welcomed the roughly one million North Vietnamese Catholics who migrated south to escape Ho Chi Minh's rule.

When the time came in 1956 to hold countrywide elections, as called for by the Geneva Accords, Diem refused. He knew that the Communist-controlled north would not allow genuinely tree elections, and that Ho Chi Minh would almost certainly have won as a result. Eisenhower supported Diem and increased American military and economic aid to South Vietnam. In the wake of Diem's actions, tensions between the North and South intensified. The nation seemed headed toward civil war, with the United States caught in the middle of it.

Reading Check Examining What was the effect of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu?

Picturing History

Last stand French troops assemble a tank near the Dien Bien Phu airfield shortly before their defeat by the Vietminh. How did this defeat influence French policy in Indo china?


Checking for Understanding

1. Define: domino theory, guerrilla.

2. Identify: Ho Chi Minh, Dien Bien Phu, Ngo Dinh Diem.

3. Explain the goals of the Vietminh.

Reviewing Themes

4. Government and Democracy Why did Ngo Dinh Diem refuse to hold country­wide elections in Vietnam in 1956?

Critical Thinking

5. Interpreting Why do you think the United States supported the govern­ment of Ngo Dinh Diem?

6. Organizing Use a graphic organizer like the one below to list provisions of the Geneva Accords.

Analyzing Visuals

7. Analyzing Photographs Study the Vietnam scene on page 773. How would you describe the contrast between American and Vietnamese societies? How do you think this con­trast influenced American thinking toward the war?

Writing About History

8. Descriptive Writing Take on the role of a Vietnamese peasant in the 1940s. Write a journal entry on your feelings toward the French.



Going to War in Vietnam

Guide to Reading

Main Idea

After providing South Vietnam with much aid and support, the United States finally sent in troops to fight as well.

Key Terms and Names

Vietcong, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, napalm, Agent Orange, Ho Chi Minh trail

Reading Strategy

Taking Notes As you read about the beginnings of the Vietnam War, use the major headings of the section to create an outline similar to the one below.

Reading Objectives

Describe how President Johnson deep­ened American involvement in Vietnam.

Discuss how the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese were able to frustrate the American military.

Section Theme

Science and Technology American military procedures differed significantly from those of the Vietcong troops.

Preview of Events

1963 Number of American military advisers in South Vietnam reaches around 15,000

1964 Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

1965 The United States begins bombing North Vietnam; first American combat troops arrive in Vietnam

An American Story

Marlene Kramel joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1965 when she was 21, and she went to Vietnam the following year. She was working in a makeshift hospital on what was a particu­larly quiet night. Most of the patients who filled the beds that evening were suffering from malaria.

Suddenly, a row of helicopters roared in from over the horizon, carrying wounded from a nearby battle. As the casualties came in on stretchers, the hospital turned chaotic. Doctors ran about the facility screaming orders and frantically trying to treat patients.

The only nurse on duty at the time, Kramer felt overwhelmed by the confusion. "Every one of the doctors is yelling for me," she recalled. "I didn't know what to do next. 'Start this. Do that.' Everybody's yelling at me. I couldn't do enough." Things happened so quickly that night, she insisted, that she could not remember most of it. "I can't remember blood, even. I can only remember, 'What am I going to do?' And the doctors moving at tremendous speed. And I'm there. And I'm not able to move fast enough.... That's all I remember."

--adapted from The Living and the Dead

American Involvement Deepens

The steps that led to the chaos and casualties Marlene Kramel experienced in 1966 began in the mid-1950s when American officials decided to support the government of South Vietnam in its struggle against North Vietnam. After Ngo Dinh Diem refused to


hold national elections, Ho Chi Minh and his followers began an armed struggle to reunify the nation. They organized a new guerrilla army, which became known as the Vietcong. As fight­ing began between the Vietcong and South Vietnam's forces, President Eisenhower increased American aid, and sent hun­dreds of military advisers to train South Vietnam's army.

Despite the American assis­tance, the Vietcong continued to grow more powerful, in part because many Vietnamese opposed Diem's government, and in part because of the Vietcong's use of terror. By 1961 the Vietcong had assassinated thousands of government offi­cials and established control over much of the countryside. In response Diem looked increasingly to the United States to keep South Vietnam from collapsing.

Kennedy Takes Over On taking office in 1961, President Kennedy continued the nation's policy of support for South Vietnam. Like presidents Truman and Eisenhower before him, Kennedy saw the Southeast Asian country as vitally important in the battle against communism.

In political terms, Kennedy needed to appear tough on communism, since Republicans often accused Democrats of having lost China to commu­nism during the Truman administration. Kennedy's administration sharply increased military aid and sent more advisers to Vietnam. From 1961 to late 1963, the number of American military personnel in South Vietnam jumped from about 2,000 to around 15,000.

American officials believed the Vietcong contin­ued to grow because Diem's government was unpop­ular and corrupt. They urged him to create a more democratic government and to introduce reforms to help Vietnam's peasants. Diem introduced some lim­ited reforms, but they had little effect.

One program Diem introduced, al the urging of American advisers, made the situation worse. The South Vietnamese created special fortified villages, known as strategic hamlets. These villages were pro­tected by machine guns, bunkers, trenches, and barbed wire. Vietnamese officials then moved villagers to the strategic hamlets, partly to protect them from the Vietcong, and partly to prevent them from giving aid to the Vietcong. The program proved to be extremely unpopular. Many peasants resented being uprooted from their villages, where they had worked to build farms and where many of their ancestors lay buried.

The Overthrow of Diem Diem made himself even more unpopular by discriminating against Buddhism, one of the country's most widely practiced religions. In the spring of 1963, Diem, a Catholic, banned the tra­ditional religious flags for Buddha's birthday. When Buddhists took to the streets in protest, Diem's police killed 9 people and injured 14 others. In the demon­strations that followed, a Buddhist monk set himself on fire, the first of several to do so. The photograph of his self-destruction appeared on television and on the front pages of newspapers around the world. It was a stark symbol of the opposition to Diem.

In August 1963, American ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge arrived in Vietnam. He quickly learned that Diem's unpopularity had so alarmed several Vietnamese generals that they were plotting to over­throw him. When Lodge expressed American sympa­thy for their cause, the generals launched a military coup. They seized power on November 1, 1963, and executed Diem shortly afterward.

Diem's overthrow only made matters worse. Despite his unpopularity with some Vietnamese, Diem had been a respected nationalist and a capable administrator. After his death, South Vietnam's

Picturing History

Self-Immolation On June 11, 1963, flames erupted around a Buddhist monk as he set himself on fire the to protest government religious polices. What policies did Ngo Dinh Diem take toward Buddhism?


government grew increasingly weak and unstable. he United States became even more deeply involved in order to prop up the weak South Vietnamese government. Coincidentally, three weeks after Diem's death, President Kennedy was also assassinated. the presidency, as well as the growing problem of Vietnam, now belonged to Kennedy's vice president. Lyndon Johnson.

Reading Check Examining What was the main goal of the Vietcong?

Johnson and Vietnam

Initially President Johnson exercised caution and restraint regarding the conflict in Vietnam. "We seek no wider war," he repeatedly promised. At the same time, Johnson was determined to prevent South Vietnam from becoming Communist. "The battle against communism," he declared shortly before becoming president, "must be joined ... with strength and determination."

Politics also played a role in Johnson's Vietnam policy. Like Kennedy, Johnson remembered that many Republicans blamed the Truman administra­tion for the fall of China to communism in 1949. Should the Democrats also "lose" Vietnam, Johnson feared, it might cause a "mean and destructive debate that would shatter my Presidency, kill my administration, and damage our democracy."


The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution On August 2, 1964, President Johnson announced that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had fired on two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, the president reported that another similar attack had taken place. Johnson was campaigning for the presidency and was very sensitive to accusa­tions of being soft on communism. He insisted that North Vietnam's attacks were unprovoked and immediately ordered American aircraft to attack North Vietnamese ships and naval facilities. Johnson

Different Viewpoints

The Vietnam War

As the war in Vietnam dragged on, a clear division of American opinion emerged. In January 1966, George W. Ball, undersecretary of state to President Johnson, delivered an address to indicate "how we got [to Vietnam] and why we must stay." George F. Kennan, former ambassador to Russia, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that same year, arguing that American involvement in Vietnam was "something we would not choose deliberately if the choice were ours to make all over again today."

George W. Ball:

"Mlle conflict in Vietnam is a product of the great shifts and changes triggered by the Second World War. Out of the war, two continent-wide powers emerged—the United States and the Soviet Union. The colonial systems through which the nations of Western Europe had governed more than a third of the people of the world were, one by one, dismantled.

... [E]ven while the new national boundaries were still being marked on the map, the Soviet Union under Stalin exploited the confusion to push out the perimeter of its power and influence in an effort to extend the outer limits of Communist domination by force or the threat of force.

The bloody encounters in [Vietnam] are thus in a real sense battles and skirmishes in a continuing war to prevent one Communist power after another from violating internationally recognized boundary lines fixing the outer limits of Communist dominion.

... The evidence shows clearly enough that, at the time of French withdrawal ... the Communist regime in Hanoi never intended that South Vietnam should develop in freedom.

... In the long run our hopes for the people of South Vietnam reflect our hopes for people everywhere. What we seek is a world living in peace and freedom."


George F. Kennan:

"Vietnam is not a region of major military and industrial importance. It is difficult to believe that any decisive devel­opments of the world situation would be determined in nor­mal circumstances by what happens on that territory.... Even a situation in which South Vietnam was controlled exclusively by the Vietcong, while regrettable ... would not, in my opinion, present dangers great enough to justify our direct military intervention.

... To attempt to crush North Vietnamese strength to a point where [it] could no longer give any support for Vietcong political activity in the South, would have the effect of bringing M Chinese forces at some point.

... Our motives are widely misinterpreted, and the spec­tacle emphasized and reproduced in thousands of press photographs and stories ... produces reactions among mil­lions of people throughout the world profoundly detrimen­tal to the image we would like them to hold of this country."

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