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The Vietnam War – World History – Free PDF Download

The Vietnam War:

  • The Vietnam War was a conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from one November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
  • It was the 2nd of the Indo-China wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam.

Indochina Wars:

  • Indochina wars refers to the conflicts which took place in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with the principal involvement of France( 1946-54) and later the United States( beginning in the 1950s) during 20th century.

  • The wars are also called the French Indo-China war and the Vietnam War, or the 1st and 2nd Indo-China wars.
  • The latter conflict ended in April 1975.
  • In the latter half of the 19th century, Vietnam was conquered by the French, who controlled it as a protectorate( 1883-1939) and then as a possession( 1939-45).
  • Vietnamese rule returned to the country in September 2, 1945 with the Nationalist leaders Ho Chi Minh’s proclamation of independence.
  • From 1946 to 1954, The French fiercely opposed Vietnam’s independence movement which under Ho Chi Minh had adopted guerrilla warfare against them.
  • The war ended in the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954.
  • Subsequently, an agreement was signed at Geneva on July 21, 1954, providing for a temporary division of the country, at the 17th parallel of latitude, between a communist dominated North and a US supported South.
  • Activities of pro communist rebels in South Vietnam led to heavy US intervention in the mid 1960s and the second Indo-China war.
  • However, a Cease-Fire agreement was signed on 27 January 1973.

  • But, the ideological differences and subsequent communist activities in the South resulted in a resumption of war.
  • In 1975 the South Vietnamese government collapsed and was replaced by a regime dominated by communists.
  • On July 2, 1976, the two Vietnams were united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  • The North Vietnamese army was supported by Soviet Union, China and other Communist allies and the South Vietnamese army were supported by United States, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies.
  • The Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region, while the people’s army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese army( NVA), engaged in more conventional warfare, at times committing large units to the battle.
  • The North Vietnamese government and the Vietcong were fighting to reunify Vietnam.
  • They viewed the conflict as a Colonial war and a continuation of the first Indo-China war against the forces from France and later on the United States.
  • US involvement escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a US destroyer clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft, which was followed by the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave the US president authorization to increase US military presence.
  • Regular US combat units were deployed beginning in 1965.
  • Operations crossed international borders: bordering areas of Laos and Cambodia were used by North Vietnamese supply routes and were heavily bombed by US forces as American involvement in the war peaked in 1968 during what is known as the Tet offensive.

  • In late January, 1968, during the lunar year( or Tet) holiday, North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong forces launched a coordinated attack against a number of targets in South Vietnam.
  • The US and South Vietnamese military sustained heavy losses before finally repelling the communist assault.
  • The Tet offensive failed in its goal of overthrowing the South Vietnamese government, but became the turning point in the war, as it persuaded a large segment of the US population that its governments claims of progress toward winning the war were illusionary despite many years of massive US military aid to the South Vietnam.

End of the War:

  • Under increasing pressure from the American people to withdraw forces from Vietnam, president Nixon assumed office in 1969 and started his efforts to end the war honorably.
  • In line with these efforts, first of all he tried to increase military pressure on North through bombings and increased military raids and at the same time he tried to push pressure on the Soviets to persuade their allies to join serious negotiations.
  • However, this plan did not work, so by June 1969, Nixon started withdrawing American troops from Vietnam and started a program called “Vietnamization” by which the US military work towards training and equipping the local forces of South Vietnam to defend themselves.
  • However, whether the South Vietnamese could build the combat capability, logistics, planning capacity, and leadership at the national and military levels to face the North Vietnamese on their own was an important challenge to the US.
  • Thus, The American administration would continue its triple strategy of Vietnamization, coercing the North Vietnam to negotiation through military pressure and through the Soviets and PRC and seeking negotiation.
  • Finally, in October 1972, Kissinger reached an understanding with the North.
  • However, this agreement was not acceptable to the South and it refused to accept a peace that left North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam, and legitimized the Hanoi controlled communist shadow government, the provisional revolutionary government.
  • Kissinger was, however, unable to find any middle ground, so the president threatened to the South to cut military, financial and logistical aid and eventually persuaded the South to sign the agreement.
  • The South reluctantly accepted the agreement under pressure and the peace agreement was signed on January 27th, 1973.
  • The peace settlement enabled the United States to withdraw from the war and welcome the American prisoners of war back home, however, neither of the Vietnamese parties abided by the settlement, and the war continued.
  • Though the Nixon administration had promised support to the South in the event of a violation of the agreement, both parties understood it as bombings by B-52s.
  • Later on, because of domestic and congressional pressures and the Watergate scandal, the Nixon administration was distracted and could never intervene in Vietnam further.
  • Having rebuilt their forces and upgrading their logistics systems, North Vietnamese forces triggered a major offensive in the central Highlands in March 1975.
  • On April 30, 1975, the North Vietnam army( NVA) tanks rolled through the gate of the presidential Palace in Saigon, effectively ending the war.

Lessons from the War:

  • This was the first war since the dawn of the Cold War where in the US and its allies had to finally concede power to the communists after a prolonged contest which lasted for some 20 odd years.
  • The extent and the scale of the war was huge in which both sides suffered enormous losses of life as well as property.
  • This was also a war which showed the weaknesses of the deliberative approach as well as the Democratic system of government.
  • While the Democrats in the US could build up a public opinion in the US and the allied countries against the war to which the US government had to succumb, the totalitarian communist regimes did not face this problem.
  • Secondly, there was an increased realization that the deliberative approach works only if there are sufficient grounds for offering and receiving benefits, that is both parties are almost on equal footing and are in a position to offer and receive something and would not work if either party realizes that it is in a position to dominate and could hence dictate terms of the settlement.


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