A Short History of the Vietnam War


United States

French colonialism/mercantilism abuses locals and embarrasses U.S. anti-colonial stand - Vichy / Nazi collaboration angers Washington

World War II - FDR's anti-colonialism evident in the Atlantic Charter - FDR displays anti-French temperament for his aides

Japanese occupy Indochina - French collaboration / submission with / to Japanese tarnishes French colonialist / white supremacist image with Vietnamese populace - Vietnamese anti-Japanese resistance becomes synonymous with Vietnamese independence

anti-French temperament permeates Indochinese OSS operations - OSS establishes a relationship with Ho Chi Minh (ICP) - guerrilla teams created to harass Japanese and rescue downed pilots - based upon OSS reports State Dept. views Ho as "nationalist"

A-bomb forces rapid/unexpected Japanese surrender - French Indochina left in political vacuum - Ho unites Japanese resistance into anti-French independence movement - Viet Minh controlled by ICP - Ho calls upon Washington for moral support and official recognition

OSS delays French return to colony - OSS assists Ho's rise to power - gives unofficial recognition to Ho government - OSS support leaves Vietnamese populace believing official U.S. support for independence/Ho exists in Washington - Washington withholds official recognition

French claim return to Indo China as anti-communist campaign - French label Viet Minh, Viet Cong - French pressure and global [Cold War] politics forces U.S. to reevaluate its opinion of Ho Chi Minh

Red Scare, Containment Doctrine, Iron Curtain Speech, Soviet a-bomb, Fall of China, Rosenbergs, etc. shakes America - State Dept. now views Ho as "communist" not "nationalist" - "China Lobby" and "Friends of Vietnam" under attack by HUAC - State Dept. terminates relationship with Ho Chi Minh

Viet Minh/Ho abandoned Hanoi and wage guerrilla war for independence - French lose support of populace to independence movement and Cong terrorism - Ho intertwines nationalism-communism - Ho cements "father of his country" image

U.S. indirectly finances 80% of French effort war effort through Marshall Plan - French colonialism becomes intertwined with American Cold War Containment Policy

Giap defeats French at Dein Bein Phu - Geneva Accords call for temporary partition and free elections - Ho and Viet Minh become recognized government of independent northern Viet Nam - become known as the Hanoi Government

Eisenhower refuses to intervene to save French colony/army - US prefers French out of Viet Nam, sees Accords and newly created southern zone as opportunity for "nation building" without French colonialism - Domino Theory dominates Washington temperament

Hanoi govt./Ho balk at canceled elections and vow to reunite nation - brutal land reform imposed in north - communist rule oppressive/murderess

(U.S.) SVN refuses to sign Accords - cancels pending election - U.S. claims partition permanent - new American "can-do" attitude of "nation-building" begins in south - U.S. seeks alterative to Ho Chi Minh, finds Ngo Dinh Diem in New Jersey

Viet Cong (Viet Minh) heighten anti-West activity with terrorist and guerrilla tactics - concentrated communist indoctrination effort begins - battle for "hearts and minds" becomes a communist speciality - later a bad American joke

nation building ends in Diem - Diem's image never rises above that of colonial puppet - Diem regime corrupt - Catholic minority [Diem and family] brutalize Buddhist majority - Buddhist protests cause world-wide condemnation of Diem

NLF (Viet Cong) control southern villages via shadow governments - assassinations, terrorism, atrocities commonplace - Cong discipline southern rural populace to communist doctrine

U.S. tries to legitimize permanent partition with treaty - SEATO confirms U.S. containment policy - Diem controls cities, black market, and military but has no presence in country-side - "pacification" / Strategic Hamlet program fails

NLF / NVA coordinate effort - infiltration regularized - despite Strategic Hamlet program Viet Cong maintain consistent terrorism and taxation over southern peasants

JFK advisers build ARVN - ARVN ineffective - SVN viewed as unstable - JFK abandons Diem - Diem assassinated in coup - counter insurgency effort failing - JFK assassinated

NVA invade south - Da Nag threatened - Saigon threatened - Ho Chi Minh Trail opened - infiltration of men and supplies into southern zone virtually unchecked

LBJ views containment policy political liability seeks "free hand" over limited intervention - Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed - troop commitments and bombings begin

Ho paints U.S. as French colonists - builds national effort of liberation - American "pacification" effort proves clumsy and ineffective

LBJ's "beautiful lady" (Great Society) stops full American commitment to war - LBJ tries to hide his "ugly whore" as second-page news - War fought as SEATO containment effort - LBJ argues "guns and butter" is possible

NVA and VC deploy circular front - trade-off control of ground for control over contact - NVA and VC control frequency of engagements and therefore body counts

pacification strategy employed - control of the country-side elusive - search and destroy missions degrade into an attrition policy ("body count" reporting permeates news) - attrition begets escalation - over one half million American troops committed by early '69

Soviet/Chinese supply line guarantees prolonged capability of Vietnamese war effort

LBJ Policy: Korean lesson makes conquest of north improbable - Chinese intervention feared - limited war under Cold War rules invoked - Soviet's comply

NVA and VC are committed to liberation - troops motivated, patriotic, and effective

Vietnamization of the War fails - ARVN unmotivated and ineffective - supported (maintained) by U.S. fire power - home-front draft accelerated - anti-draft protest accelerated

Tet Offensive - tactical defeat-strategic victory - Viet Cong broken - infiltration of northerners to fill VC units necessary - Hanoi nows controls NLF / VC - southern representation in a united Viet Nam now unlikely

late '67 LBJ seeks negotiated peace - claims light at end of tunnel - Westmoreland returns home, creates sense of victory - Tet Offensive an embarrassment to LBJ and Westmoreland - media portrays military victory as strategic defeat - Tet marks the "end of getting in and the beginning of getting out"

Ho sends secret feelers to Washington - hints at possible negotiated peace - Ho dies - crusade survives

juxtaposition of "light at the end of the tunnel" rhetoric and Tet Offensive creates "creditability gap" between government and press - negative press fuels anti-war protest - protest against draft becomes protest against war; mainstream

Hanoi government seeks to manipulate western press - commits to Paris Peace Talks (sincerity questionable) - disputes over northern infiltration, recognition of SVN, role of VC during negotiations, and American bombing, prove insurmountable hurdles - talks degrade into squabble over table assignments - peace effort stalls

LBJ quits - calls for bombing halt, looks for "deal" (peace) - "deal" sunk by SVN - SVN decide to wait for Nixon - Nixon claims secret plan to end (win) war

NVA control highlands of northern South Vietnam - Nixon continues bombing of Ho Chi Minh Trail - begins secret bombing of Cambodia - American re-effort to halt infiltration fails

Nixon revitalizes Vietnamization - begins slow withdrawal of American ground troops - supplements withdrawals with escalated bombing - draft lottery and Nixon's "silent majority" speech silence protest, temporally

Kissinger begins secret talks with NVN - Nixon ready to concede continued NVA occupation of northern South Vietnam - Hanoi sensing victory 'ups the ante' - POW list altered - Kissinger accepts new (shortened) POW list and continued NVA occupation of SVN

Mi Li, Pentagon Papers, Cambodian Invasion, re-ignites protests - Kent State Massacre shakes American populace - Archie Bunker (All in the Family) questions commitment - Nixon facing re-election seeks any deal he can get - Nixon begins to make concessions

Kissinger gets LBJ's deal four years later - SVN protest ignored by Washington

 Nixon "plays China Card" - visits Moscow/Beijing to lessen blow to failed containment effort - Nixon ready to dump SVN

NVA assaults south - Saigon conquered - Ho Chi Minh City becomes new capital of south - south dominated by Hanoi - no political roll for NLF (VC)

Nixon re-elected, announces "peace with honor" - withdraws from Viet Nam - promises continued support for SVN - Nixon swept from office by Watergate - War Powers Act passed - Ford and Congress dump Vietnam - containment effort fails - détente lessens blow

Vietnam united - communist doctrine brutally imposed on southern populace - large percentage of farm land rendered unusable by war - herbicides, land mines, communist economic policies, and diminished manpower forces Vietnam to import rice

Domino Theory fails to materialize - détente (China Card) eases red scare panic into neo-isolationism - U.S. refuses recognition of Viet Nam

Hanoi, politcally dependent Moscow and at odds with China, attempts to re-build - lingering French-American influence of Saigon leaves Ho Chi Minh City the "sin city" of Viet Nam - sundry NVA officers executed for involvement with black market - Western culture never driven from south

"arrogance of power" checked - sense of inadequacy permeates weak foreign policy - détente lessens stakes - collapse of (Soviet) communism ends containment policy - Russia joins NATO - POW issue makes recognition of Vietnam political liability