Map of Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was an extremely long, armed conflict between the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies known as Viet Cong against South Vietnam and its biggest ally, the United States. This took place from November 1st, 1955 to the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975.¹
The war began in 1955 although regional conflict dates back to the mid-1940s after Ho Chi Minh came into power under the communist Viet Minh party in North Vietnam.¹ The War continued alongside the Cold War.
Because the Cold War was intensifying, the United States hardened its policies against any allies of the USSR. In 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower pledged support to South Vietnam and the anti-Communist President of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam Ngo Ding Diem.¹
In the 1950s there were only around 800 American troops in Vietnam. By 1962 there was 9000. When President Kennedy took office, he increased United States aid short of a full military intervention.¹ The Kennedy Administration was operating under the assumption of the ‘domino theory,’ leading them to believe that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many would follow.
Three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, anti-communist President Ngo Ding Diem was killed in a coup by his generals.¹ This political instability led to Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson increasing United States military support. United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving Johnson war-making powers. In March of 1965, Johnson had the support of the American public in sending United States combat forces into battle in Vietnam.The year 1969 marked the peak of United Stated involvement with more than 500,000 U.S forces involved.¹
The United States used air attacks in North Vietnam but South Vietnamese war efforts were typically fought on the ground. The Americans were fighting a war of attrition, aiming to kill as many enemy troops as possible rather than securing territory.¹
Meanwhile, Americans on the homefront began turning against the war due to the number of civilian casualties. This growing opposition created an extremely divisive culture in America, both before and after President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of United States forces in 1973.¹ The largest anti-war protest in American history happened in Washington D.C. where 250,000 Americans gathered peacefully.¹
In January of 1973, U.S and North Korea concluded a final peace agreement. The war between North and South Vietnam continued until April 30th, 1975 when DRV forces captured Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.¹
In 1975, communist forces seized control of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of VIetnam the following year.¹
There were huge losses in both Vietnam and America as a result of the war. More than 3 million people were killed in the War. About 58,000 of these were Americans and more than half of them were Vietnam civilians. In total it is estimated that 2 million Vietnamese died. America spent more than $120 billion on the conflict in Vietnam, resulting in significant domestic inflation. The war divided many Americans and was one of the first times the idea of America’s invincibility was questioned.