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Vietnam War

Contents

1 Names for the war 6

2 Background 10

3 Transition period 13

4 Diệm era, 1954–63 17

4.1 Rule 17

4.2 Insurgency in the South, 1954–60 18

4.2.1 North Vietnamese involvement 20

5 Kennedy's escalation, 1961–63 22

5.1 Ousting and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm 25

6 Johnson's escalation, 1963–69 29

6.1 Gulf of Tonkin incident 30

6.2 Bombing of Laos 32

6.3 The 1964 Offensive 33

6.4 American ground war 34

6.5 Tet Offensive 40

7 Nixon Doctrine and Vietnamization, 1969–72 45

7.1 Nuclear threats and diplomacy 45

7.2 Hanoi's war strategy 45

7.3 U.S. domestic controversies 46

7.4 Collapsing U.S. morale 47

7.5 ARVN taking the lead and U.S. ground-force withdrawal 48

7.6 Cambodia 49

7.7 Laos 51

7.8 Easter Offensive and Paris Peace Accords, 1972 52

8 U.S. exit and final campaigns, 1973–75 53

8.1 Campaign 275 57

8.2 Final North Vietnamese offensive 58

8.3 Fall of Saigon 59

9 Opposition to U.S. involvement in the war, 1964–73 61

10 Involvement of other countries 63

10.1 Pro-Hanoi 63

10.1.1 China 63

10.1.2 Soviet Union 65

10.1.3 Czechoslovakia 67

10.1.4 North Korea 68

10.1.5 Cuba 68

10.1.6 East Germany and Poland 69

10.2 Pro-Saigon 70

10.2.1 South Korea 71

10.2.2 Thailand 72

10.2.3 Australia and New Zealand 73

10.2.4 Philippines 74

10.2.5 Taiwan 75

10.2.6 Brazil 75

10.3 Neutral and non-belligerent nations 75

10.3.1 Canada and the ICC 75

11 United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races (FULRO) 76

12 War crimes 77

12.1 Allied war crimes 77

12.2 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong war crimes 80

13 Women in the Vietnam War 82

13.1 American nurses 82

13.2 Vietnamese women 83

13.3 Female journalists 85

14 Black servicemen in Vietnam 86

15 Weapons 87

15.1 Radio communications 89

15.2 Extent of U.S. bombings 90

16 Aftermath 91

16.1 Events in Southeast Asia 91

16.2 Effect on the United States 95

16.2.1 Views on the war 95

16.2.2 Cost of the war 97

16.2.3 Impact on the U.S. military 98

16.3 Effects of U.S. chemical defoliation 101

16.4 Casualties 104

16.5 In popular culture 107

16.5.1 Myths 110

16.6 Commemoration 111

17 See also 111

18 Annotations 112

19 Notes 114

20. Reference



































Names for the war

Various names have been applied to the conflict. Vietnam War is the most commonly used name in English. It has also been called the Second Indochina War[76] and the Vietnam Conflict.

As there have been several conflicts in Indochina, this particular conflict is known by the names of its primary protagonists to distinguish it from others.[104] In Vietnamese, the war is generally known as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ (Resistance War Against America),[105] but less formally as 'Cuộc chiến tranh Mỹ' (The American War). It is also called Chiến tranh Việt Nam (The Vietnam War).[106]

The Vietnam War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Việt Nam), also known as the Second Indochina War,[76] and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America (Vietnamese: Kháng chiến chống Mỹ) or simply the American War, was a conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955[A 1] to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese army was supported by the Soviet Union, China,[29] and other communist allies; the South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies.[77] The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war by some US perspectives.[78] The war would last approximately 19 years and would also form the Laotian Civil War as well as the Cambodian Civil War, which resulted in all 3 countries becoming communist states in 1975.



There are several competing views on the conflict. Some on the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front side view the struggle against U.S. forces as a colonial war and a continuation of the First Indochina War against forces from France and later on the United States,[79] especially in light of the failed 1954 Geneva Conference calls for elections. Other interpretations of the North Vietnamese side include viewing it as a civil war, especially in the early and later phases following the U.S. interlude between 1965 and 1970,[80] as well as a war of liberation.[79] In the perspective of some, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, the successor to the Việt Cộng, was motivated in part by significant social changes in the post-World War II Vietnam, and had initially seen it as a revolutionary war supported by Hanoi.[81][82] The pro-government side in South Vietnam viewed it as a civil war, a defensive war against communism,[80][83] or were motivated to fight to defend their homes and families.[84] The U.S. government viewed its involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam. This was part of the domino theory of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism.[85]



Beginning in 1950, American military advisors arrived in what was then French Indochina.[86][A 3] Most of the funding for the French war effort was provided by the U.S.[87] The Việt Cộng, also known as Front national de libération du Sud-Viêt Nam or NLF (the National Liberation Front), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region, while the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in more conventional warfare, and had launched armed struggles from 1959 onward. U.S. involvement escalated in 1960 under President John F. Kennedy, with troop levels gradually surging under the MAAG program from just under a thousand in 1959 to 16,000 in 1963.[88][89]



By 1964 there were 23,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, but this escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a U.S. destroyer was alleged to have clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft. In response the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave Lyndon B. Johnson authorization to increase U.S. military presence, deploying ground combat units for the first time and increasing troop levels to 184,000.[88] Every year onward there was significant build-up despite little progress, with Robert McNamara, one of the principal architects of the war, beginning to express doubts of victory by the end of 1966.[90] U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. The U.S. conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Following the Tết Offensive, U.S. forces began withdrawal under the Vietnamization phase; the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) unconventional and conventional capabilities increased following a period of neglect and became modeled on heavy fire-power focused doctrines like US forces. Operations crossed international borders: bordering areas of Laos and Cambodia were used by North Vietnam as supply routes and were heavily bombed by U.S. forces.



Gradual withdrawal of U.S. ground forces began as part of "Vietnamization", which aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the task of fighting the communists to the South Vietnamese themselves and began the task of modernizing their armed forces. Morale declined significantly among U.S. forces during the wind-down period and incidents of fragging, drug use and insubordination increased[91] with General Creighton Abrams remarking "I need to get this army home to save it".[92] From 1969 onwards the military actions of the Việt Cộng insurgency decreased as the role and engagement of the PAVN grew. Initially fielding less conventional and poorer weaponry, from 1970 onward the PAVN had increasingly became mechanised and armoured, capable of modernised combined arms and mobile warfare and begun to widely deploy newer, untested weapons.[93] These two sides would see significant, rapid changes throughout its lifetime from their original post-colonial armies, and by mid-1970s the ARVN became the fourth largest army[94] with the PAVN became the fifth largest army in the world[95] in two countries with a population of roughly 20 million each.[96]



Despite the Paris Peace Accord, which was signed by all parties in January 1973, the fighting continued as both Saigon and Hanoi attempted to take territory before and after the accord; the ceasefire was broken just days after its signing.[97] In the U.S. and the Western world, a large anti-Vietnam War movement developed as part of a larger counterculture, the largest such anti-war movement up to that point in history.[98] The war changed the dynamics between the Eastern and Western Blocs, altered North–South relations,[99] and significantly influenced the political landscape in the United States.[100] Across much of Western Europe[101] and the U.S., ground-force intervention spurred the rise of transnational political movements and campaigning.[102]



Direct U.S. military involvement ended on 15 August 1973 as a result of the Case–Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress.[103] The capture of Saigon by the PAVN in April 1975 marked the end of the war, and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 966,000[43] to 3.8 million.[72] Some 275,000–310,000 Cambodians,[73][74][75] 20,000–62,000 Laotians,[72] and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict, and a further 1,626 remain missing in action.[A 2] The Sino-Soviet split re-emerged following the lull during the Vietnam War and ties between the DRV and its Cambodian allies in the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, the newly-formed Democratic Kampuchea begun almost immediately in a series of border raids by the Khmer Rouge and erupted into the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, with Chinese forces directly intervening in the Sino-Vietnamese War. The end of the war and resumption of the Third Indochina War would precipitate the Vietnamese boat people and the bigger Indochina refugee crisis, which saw an estimated 250,000 people perish at sea.



Background

See also: History of Vietnam, Cochinchina Campaign, Cần Vương, Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, Yên Bái mutiny, Vietnam during World War II, War in Vietnam (1945–46), 1940–46 in the Vietnam War, 1947–50 in the Vietnam War, First Indochina War, Operation Vulture, Operation Passage to Freedom, and 1954 in the Vietnam War

The primary military organizations involved in the war were, on one side, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the United States armed forces, and, on the other side, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) (more commonly called the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, in English-language sources), and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, more commonly known as the Viet Cong in English language sources), a South Vietnamese communist guerrilla force.[107]



Daniel Ellsberg contends that U.S. participation in Vietnam had begun in 1945 when it gave support to a French effort to reconquer its colony in Vietnam, a nation which had just declared independence in August 1945.[108]



Indochina was a French colony during the 19th century. When the Japanese invaded during World War II, the Viet Minh opposed them with support from the US, the Soviet Union and China. They received some Japanese arms when Japan surrendered. The Viet Minh, a Communist-led common front under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, then initiated an insurgency against French rule. Hostilities escalated into the First Indochina War (beginning in December 1946). By the 1950s, the conflict had become entwined with the Cold War. In January 1950, China and the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, based in Hanoi, as the legitimate government of Vietnam. The following month the United States and Great Britain recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam in Saigon, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, as the legitimate Vietnamese government.[109][110] The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 convinced many Washington policymakers that the war in Indochina was an example of communist expansionism directed by the Soviet Union.[111]



Military advisors from the People's Republic of China (PRC) began assisting the Viet Minh in July 1950.[112] PRC weapons, expertise, and laborers transformed the Viet Minh from a guerrilla force into a regular army.[113] In September 1950, the United States created a Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy, and train Vietnamese soldiers.[114] By 1954, the United States had spent US$1 billion in support of the French military effort, shouldering 80 percent of the cost of the war.[115]



During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu U.S. carriers sailed to the Gulf of Tonkin and the U.S. conducted reconnaissance flights. There were also talks between the French and Americans in which the possible use of three tactical nuclear weapons was considered, though reports of how seriously this was considered and by whom are vague and contradictory.[116][117] According to U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon, the plan involved the Joint Chiefs of Staff drawing up plans to use three small tactical nuclear weapons in support of the French.[116] Nixon, a so-called "hawk" on Vietnam, suggested that the United States might have to "put American boys in".[118] U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made American participation contingent on British support, but the British were opposed.[118] Eisenhower decided against U.S. military intervention, being wary of getting the United States involved in a land war in Asia.[119] Throughout the conflict, U.S. intelligence estimates remained skeptical of French chances of success.[120]



On 7 May 1954, the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu surrendered. The defeat marked the end of French military involvement in Indochina. At the Geneva Conference, the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Viet Minh, and independence was granted to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.





Transition period

At the 1954 Geneva peace conference, Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh had wished to continue the war in the south, but was restrained by his Chinese allies who convinced him that he could win control by electoral means.[121][122] Under the terms of the Geneva Accords, civilians were to be given the opportunity to move freely between the two provisional states for a 300-day period. Elections throughout the country were to be held in 1956 to establish a unified government.[123] Around one million northerners, mainly minority Catholics, fled south, fearing persecution by the communists.[124] This followed an American psychological warfare campaign, designed by Edward Lansdale for the CIA, which exaggerated anti-Catholic sentiment among the Viet Minh and which falsely claimed the US was about to drop atomic bombs on Hanoi.[125][126][127] The exodus was coordinated by a U.S.-funded $93 million relocation program, which included the use of the Seventh Fleet to ferry refugees.[128] The northern, mainly Catholic refugees gave the later Ngô Đình Diệm regime a strong anti-communist constituency.[129] Diệm staffed his government's key posts mostly with northern and central Catholics.



In addition to the Catholics flowing south, up to 130,000 "Revolutionary Regroupees" went to the north for "regroupment", expecting to return to the south within two years.[130] The Viet Minh left roughly 5,000 to 10,000 cadres in the south as a "politico-military substructure within the object of its irredentism."[131] The last French soldiers were to leave Vietnam in April 1956.[113] The PRC completed its withdrawal from North Vietnam at around the same time.[112] Around 52,000 Vietnamese civilians moved from south to north.[132]



Between 1953 and 1956, the North Vietnamese government instituted various agrarian reforms, including "rent reduction" and "land reform", which resulted in significant political oppression. During the land reform, testimony from North Vietnamese witnesses suggested a ratio of one execution for every 160 village residents, which extrapolated nationwide would indicate nearly 100,000 executions. Because the campaign was concentrated mainly in the Red River Delta area, a lower estimate of 50,000 executions became widely accepted by scholars at the time.[133][134][135][136] However, declassified documents from the Vietnamese and Hungarian archives indicate that the number of executions was much lower than reported at the time, although likely greater than 13,500.[137] In 1956, leaders in Hanoi admitted to "excesses" in implementing this program and restored a large amount of the land to the original owners.[138]



The south, meanwhile, constituted the State of Vietnam, with Bảo Đại as Emperor and Ngô Đình Diệm (appointed in July 1954) as his prime minister. Neither the United States government nor Ngô Đình Diệm's State of Vietnam signed anything at the 1954 Geneva Conference. With respect to the question of reunification, the non-communist Vietnamese delegation objected strenuously to any division of Vietnam, but lost out when the French accepted the proposal of Viet Minh delegate Phạm Văn Đồng,[139] who proposed that Vietnam eventually be united by elections under the supervision of "local commissions".[140] The United States countered with what became known as the "American Plan", with the support of South Vietnam and the United Kingdom.[141] It provided for unification elections under the supervision of the United Nations, but was rejected by the Soviet delegation.[141] The United States said, "With respect to the statement made by the representative of the State of Vietnam, the United States reiterates its traditional position that peoples are entitled to determine their own future and that it will not join in any arrangement which would hinder this".[142] U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in 1954,



I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly eighty percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bảo Đại. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bảo Đại was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for.[143]

According to the Pentagon Papers, however, from 1954 to 1956 "Ngô Đình Diệm really did accomplish miracles" in South Vietnam: "It is almost certain that by 1956 the proportion which might have voted for Ho—in a free election against Diệm—would have been much smaller than eighty percent."[144] In 1957, independent observers from India, Poland, and Canada representing the International Control Commission (ICC) stated that fair, unbiased elections were not possible, with the ICC reporting that neither South nor North Vietnam had honored the armistice agreement.[145]



From April to June 1955, Diệm eliminated any political opposition in the south by launching military operations against two religious groups: the Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo of Ba Cụt. The campaign also focused on the Bình Xuyên organized crime group, which was allied with members of the communist party secret police and had some military elements. As broad-based opposition to his harsh tactics mounted, Diệm increasingly sought to blame the communists.[56]

In a referendum on the future of the State of Vietnam on 23 October 1955, Diệm rigged the poll supervised by his brother Ngô Đình Nhu and was credited with 98.2 percent of the vote, including 133% in Saigon. His American advisors had recommended a more modest winning margin of "60 to 70 percent." Diệm, however, viewed the election as a test of authority.[146] Three days later, he declared South Vietnam to be an independent state under the name Republic of Vietnam (ROV), with himself as president.[147] Likewise, Ho Chi Minh and other communist officials always won at least 99% of the vote in North Vietnamese "elections".[148]



The domino theory, which argued that if one country fell to communism, then all of the surrounding countries would follow, was first proposed as policy by the Eisenhower administration.[149] John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. Senator, said in a speech to the American Friends of Vietnam: "Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam."[150]



Dim era, 1954–63

Rule

A devout Roman Catholic, Diệm was fervently anti-communist, nationalist, and socially conservative. Historian Luu Doan Huynh notes that "Diệm represented narrow and extremist nationalism coupled with autocracy and nepotism."[151] The majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist, and were alarmed by actions such as Diệm's dedication of the country to the Virgin Mary.



Beginning in the summer of 1955, Diệm launched the "Denounce the Communists" campaign, during which communists and other anti-government elements were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or executed. He instituted the death penalty against any activity deemed communist in August 1956.[152] According to Gabriel Kolko about 12,000 suspected opponents of Diệm were killed between 1955 and 1957 and by the end of 1958 an estimated 40,000 political prisoners had been jailed.[153]

In May 1957, Diệm undertook a ten-day state visit to the United States. President Eisenhower pledged his continued support, and a parade was held in Diệm's honor in New York City. Although Diệm was publicly praised, in private Secretary of State John Foster Dulles conceded that Diệm had been selected because there were no better alternatives.[154]



Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote in Argument Without End (1999) that the new American patrons of the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) were almost completely ignorant of Vietnamese culture. They knew little of the language or long history of the country.[109] There was a tendency to assign American motives to Vietnamese actions, though Diệm warned that it was an illusion to believe that blindly copying Western methods would solve Vietnamese problems.

Insurgency in the South, 1954–60

Main articles: Viet Cong and War in Vietnam (1959–63)



Viet Cong Guerrillas bear automatic weapons and use leafy camouflage as they patrol a portion of the Saigon River in small boats somewhere in South Vietnam.

Between 1954 and 1957 there was large-scale but disorganized dissidence in the countryside which the Diệm government succeeded in quelling. In early 1957 South Vietnam enjoyed its first peace in over a decade. Incidents of political violence began to occur in mid-1957, but the government "did not construe it as a campaign, considering the disorders too diffuse to warrant committing major GVN [Government of Vietnam] resources." By early 1959, however, Diệm had come to regard the (increasingly frequent) disorders as an organized campaign and implemented Law 10/59, which made political violence punishable by death and property confiscation.[155] There had been some division among former Viet Minh whose main goal was to hold the elections promised in the Geneva Accords, leading to "wildcat" activities separate from the other communists and anti-GVN activists.[25]



In December 1960, the National Liberation Front (NLF, a.k.a. the Viet Cong) was formally created with the intent of uniting all anti-GVN activists, including non-communists. It was formed in Memot, Cambodia, and directed through a central office known as COSVN. According to the Pentagon Papers, the Viet Cong "placed heavy emphasis on the withdrawal of American advisors and influence, on land reform and liberalization of the GVN, on coalition government and the neutralization of Vietnam." Often the leaders of the organization were kept secret.[25]



Support for the NLF was driven by peasant resentment of Diem's reversal of land reforms in the countryside. The vast majority of the population lived in villages in the countryside, where a key demand was for land reform. In areas they controlled, the Viet Minh had confiscated large private landholdings, reduced rents and debts, and leased communal lands, mostly to the poorer peasants. Diem brought the landlords back to the villages. People who were farming land they had held for years now had to return it to landlords and pay years of back rent. This rent collection was enforced by the South Vietnamese army. The divisions within villages reproduced those that had existed against the French: "75 percent support for the NLF, 20 percent trying to remain neutral and 5 percent firmly pro-government".[156]





North Vietnamese involvement

See also: North Vietnamese invasion of Laos and Ho Chi Minh trail

The Ho Chi Minh trail, known as the Truong Son Road by the North Vietnamese, cuts through Laos. This would develop into a complex logistical system which would allow the North Vietnamese to maintain the war effort despite the largest aerial bombardment campaign in history.

Sources disagree on whether North Vietnam played a direct role in aiding and organizing South Vietnamese rebels prior to 1960. Kahin and Lewis assert:



Contrary to United States policy assumptions, all available evidence shows that the revival of the civil war in the South in 1958 was undertaken by Southerners at their own—not Hanoi's—initiative… Insurgency activity against the Saigon government began in the South under Southern leadership not as a consequence of any dictate from Hanoi, but contrary to Hanoi's injunctions.[25]



Similarly, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. states that "it was not until September 1960 that the Communist Party of North Vietnam bestowed its formal blessing and called for the liberation of the south from American imperialism".[25]





The Ho Chi Minh trail required, on average, four-months of rough-terrain travel for combatants from North Vietnam destined for the Southern battlefields.

By contrast, James Olson and Randy Roberts assert that North Vietnam authorized a low-level insurgency in December 1956.[24] To counter the accusation that North Vietnam was violating the Geneva Accord, the independence of the Viet Cong was stressed in communist propaganda.[157]



In March 1956, southern communist leader Lê Duẩn presented a plan to revive the insurgency entitled "The Road to the South" to the other members of the Politburo in Hanoi, but as both China and the Soviets opposed confrontation at this time, Lê Duẩn's plan was rejected.[157] However, the North Vietnamese leadership approved tentative measures to revive the southern insurgency in December 1956.[158] Communist forces were under a single command structure set up in 1958.[159] The North Vietnamese Communist Party approved a "people's war" on the South at a session in January 1959,[160] and in May Group 559 was established to maintain and upgrade the Ho Chi Minh trail, at this time a six-month mountain trek through Laos. About 500 of the "regroupees" of 1954 were sent south on the trail during its first year of operation.[161] The first arms delivery via the trail was completed in August 1959.[162] About 40,000 communist soldiers infiltrated into the south from 1961 to 1963.[157]



Kennedy's escalation, 1961–63

Main articles: War in Vietnam (1959–63) and Strategic Hamlet Program

See also: Phạm Ngọc Thảo



President Kennedy's news conference of 23 March 1961

In the 1960 U.S. presidential election, Senator John F. Kennedy defeated incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. Although Eisenhower warned Kennedy about Laos and Vietnam, Europe and Latin America "loomed larger than Asia on his sights."[163] In his inaugural address, Kennedy made the ambitious pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."[164] In June 1961, he bitterly disagreed with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met in Vienna to discuss key U.S.–Soviet issues. Only 16 months later, the Cuban Missile Crisis (16–28 October 1962) played out on television worldwide. It was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war, and the U.S. raised the readiness level of Strategic Air Command (SAC) forces to DEFCON 2.



The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the Cold War foreign policy inherited from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. In 1961, the U.S. had 50,000 troops based in South Korea, and Kennedy faced a three-part crisis—the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the pro-Western government of Laos and the Pathet Lao communist movement.[165] These crises made Kennedy believe that another failure on the part of the United States to gain control and stop communist expansion would fatally damage U.S. credibility with its allies and his own reputation. Kennedy was thus determined to "draw a line in the sand" and prevent a communist victory in Vietnam. He told James Reston of The New York Times immediately after his Vienna meeting with Khrushchev, "Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place."[166][167]





South Vietnam, Military Regions, 1967

Kennedy's policy toward South Vietnam rested on the assumption that Diệm and his forces had to ultimately defeat the guerrillas on their own. He was against the deployment of American combat troops and observed that "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences."[168] The quality of the South Vietnamese military, however, remained poor. Poor leadership, corruption, and political promotions all played a part in weakening the South Vietnamese Army (formally Army of the Republic of Vietnam or ARVN). The frequency of guerrilla attacks rose as the insurgency gathered steam. While Hanoi's support for the Viet Cong played a role, South Vietnamese governmental incompetence was at the core of the crisis.[169]



One major issue Kennedy raised was whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the United States. Although Kennedy stressed long-range missile parity with the Soviets, he was also interested in using special forces for counterinsurgency warfare in Third World countries threatened by communist insurgencies. Although they were originally intended for use behind front lines after a conventional Soviet invasion of Europe, Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special forces such as the Green Berets would be effective in a "brush fire" war in Vietnam.





Kennedy and McNamara

Kennedy advisors Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow recommended that U.S. troops be sent to South Vietnam disguised as flood relief workers.[170] Kennedy rejected the idea but increased military assistance yet again. In April 1962, John Kenneth Galbraith warned Kennedy of the "danger we shall replace the French as a colonial force in the area and bleed as the French did."[171] By November 1963, there were 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam, up from Eisenhower's 900 advisors.[172]



The Strategic Hamlet Program was initiated in late 1961. This joint U.S.–South Vietnamese program attempted to resettle the rural population into fortified camps. It was implemented in early 1962 and involved some forced relocation, village internment, and segregation of rural South Vietnamese into new communities where the peasantry would be isolated from Communist insurgents. It was hoped these new communities would provide security for the peasants and strengthen the tie between them and the central government. However, by November 1963 the program had waned, and it officially ended in 1964.[173]



On 23 July 1962, fourteen nations, including China, South Vietnam, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and the United States, signed an agreement promising to respect the neutrality of Laos.



Ousting and assassination of Ngô Đình Dim

Main articles: Cable 243, Arrest and assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm, Buddhist crisis, Krulak Mendenhall mission, McNamara Taylor mission, 1963 South Vietnamese coup, and Reaction to the 1963 South Vietnamese coup

See also: Role of the United States in the Vietnam War § John F. Kennedy (1961–1963), 1960 South Vietnamese coup attempt, 1962 South Vietnamese Independence Palace bombing, Huế Phật Đản shootings, and Xá Lợi Pagoda raids

The inept performance of the South Vietnamese army was exemplified by failed actions such as the Battle of Ap Bac on 2 January 1963, in which a small band of Viet Cong won a battle against a much larger and better-equipped South Vietnamese force, many of whose officers seemed reluctant even to engage in combat.[174] The Army of the Republic of Vietnam forces were led by Diệm's most trusted general, Huỳnh Văn Cao, commander of the IV Corps. Cao was a Catholic who had been promoted due to religion and fidelity rather than skill, and his main job was to preserve his forces to stave off coup attempts; he had earlier vomited during a communist attack. Some policymakers in Washington began to conclude that Diệm was incapable of defeating the communists and might even make a deal with Ho Chi Minh. He seemed concerned only with fending off coups, and had become more paranoid after attempts in 1960 and 1962, which he partly attributed to U.S. encouragement. As Robert F. Kennedy noted, "Diệm wouldn't make even the slightest concessions. He was difficult to reason with ..."[175] Historian James Gibson summed up the situation:





ARVN forces capture a Viet Cong.

Strategic hamlets had failed ... The South Vietnamese regime was incapable of winning the peasantry because of its class base among landlords. Indeed, there was no longer a 'regime' in the sense of a relatively stable political alliance and functioning bureaucracy. Instead, civil government and military operations had virtually ceased. The National Liberation Front had made great progress and was close to declaring provisional revolutionary governments in large areas.[176]



Discontent with Diệm's policies exploded in May 1963 following the Huế Phật Đản shootings of nine unarmed Buddhists who were protesting against the ban on displaying the Buddhist flag on Vesak, the Buddha's birthday. This resulted in mass protests against discriminatory policies that gave privileges to the Catholic Church and its adherents over the Buddhist majority. Diệm's elder brother Ngô Đình Thục was the Archbishop of Huế and aggressively blurred the separation between church and state. Thuc's anniversary celebrations shortly before Vesak had been bankrolled by the government, and Vatican flags were displayed prominently. There had also been reports of Buddhist pagodas being demolished by Catholic paramilitaries throughout Diệm's rule. Diệm refused to make concessions to the Buddhist majority or take responsibility for the deaths. On 21 August 1963, the ARVN Special Forces of Colonel Lê Quang Tung, loyal to Diệm's younger brother Ngô Đình Nhu, raided pagodas across Vietnam, causing widespread damage and destruction and leaving a death toll estimated to range into the hundreds.



U.S. officials began discussing the possibility of a regime change during the middle of 1963. The United States Department of State was generally in favor of encouraging a coup, while the Defense Department favored Diệm. Chief among the proposed changes was the removal of Diệm's younger brother Nhu, who controlled the secret police and special forces, and was seen as the man behind the Buddhist repression and more generally the architect of the Ngô family's rule. This proposal was conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Saigon in Cable 243.





Ngô Đình Diệm after being shot and killed in a coup on 2 November 1963

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in contact with generals planning to remove Diệm. They were told that the United States would not oppose such a move nor punish the generals by cutting off aid. President Diệm was overthrown and executed, along with his brother, on 2 November 1963. When Kennedy was informed, Maxwell Taylor remembered that he "rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face."[177] Kennedy had not anticipated Diệm's murder. The U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, invited the coup leaders to the embassy and congratulated them. Ambassador Lodge informed Kennedy that "the prospects now are for a shorter war".[178] Kennedy wrote Lodge a letter congratulating him for "a fine job".[179]



Following the coup, chaos ensued. Hanoi took advantage of the situation and increased its support for the guerrillas. South Vietnam entered a period of extreme political instability, as one military government toppled another in quick succession. Increasingly, each new regime was viewed by the communists as a puppet of the Americans; whatever the failings of Diệm, his credentials as a nationalist (as Robert McNamara later reflected) had been impeccable.[180]





Viet Cong fighters crossing a river

U.S. military advisors were embedded at every level of the South Vietnamese armed forces. They were however criticized for ignoring the political nature of the insurgency.[181] The Kennedy administration sought to refocus U.S. efforts on pacification and "winning over the hearts and minds" of the population. The military leadership in Washington, however, was hostile to any role for U.S. advisors other than conventional troop training.[182] General Paul Harkins, the commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, confidently predicted victory by Christmas 1963.[183] The CIA was less optimistic, however, warning that "the Viet Cong by and large retain de facto control of much of the countryside and have steadily increased the overall intensity of the effort".[184]



Paramilitary officers from the CIA's Special Activities Division trained and led Hmong tribesmen in Laos and into Vietnam. The indigenous forces numbered in the tens of thousands and they conducted direct action missions, led by paramilitary officers, against the Communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese supporters.[185] The CIA also ran the Phoenix Program and participated in Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MAC-V SOG), which was originally named the Special Operations Group, but was changed for cover purposes.[186]



Johnson's escalation, 1963–69

Main article: Joint warfare in South Vietnam, 1963–69

Further information: Role of the United States in the Vietnam War § Americanization

See also: 1964 South Vietnamese coup, September 1964 South Vietnamese coup attempt, December 1964 South Vietnamese coup, and 1965 South Vietnamese coup

President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson had not been heavily involved with policy toward Vietnam.[187][188] Upon becoming president, however, Johnson immediately focused on the war: on 24 November 1963, he said, "the battle against communism ... must be joined ... with strength and determination."[189] Johnson knew he had inherited a rapidly deteriorating situation in South Vietnam,[190] but he adhered to the widely accepted domino theory argument for defending the South: Should they retreat or appease, either action would imperil other nations beyond the conflict.[191]



The military revolutionary council, meeting in lieu of a strong South Vietnamese leader, was made up of 12 members headed by General Dương Văn Minh—whom Stanley Karnow, a journalist on the ground, later recalled as "a model of lethargy".[192] Lodge, frustrated by the end of the year, cabled home about Minh: "Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?" His regime was overthrown in January 1964 by General Nguyễn Khánh.[193] There was also persistent instability in the military, however, as several coups—not all successful—occurred in a short period of time.



In a statement similar to that made to the French almost two decades earlier, Ho Chi Minh warned that if the Americans "want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea."[194] Some have argued that the policy of North Vietnam was not to topple other non-communist governments in South East Asia.[195]



Gulf of Tonkin incident

Main article: Gulf of Tonkin incident

Further information: Credibility gap

On 2 August 1964, USS Maddox, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam's coast, allegedly fired upon and damaged several torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin.[196] A second attack was reported two days later on USS Turner Joy and Maddox in the same area. The circumstances of the attacks were murky.[197] Lyndon Johnson commented to Undersecretary of State George Ball that "those sailors out there may have been shooting at flying fish."[198] An undated NSA publication declassified in 2005 revealed that there was no attack on 4 August.[199]



File:1965-02-08 Showdown in Vietnam.ogv

Universal Newsreel film about the attack on the U.S. Army base in Pleiku and the U.S. response, February 1965

The second "attack" led to retaliatory air strikes, and prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964.[200][201] Although most Congressmen at the time denied that this was a full-scale war declaration, the Tonkin Resolution granted the president unilateral power to launch any military actions he deemed necessary.[201] In the same month, Johnson pledged that he was not "committing American boys to fighting a war that I think ought to be fought by the boys of Asia to help protect their own land".[202]





A U.S. B-66 Destroyer and four F-105 Thunderchiefs dropping bombs on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder

The National Security Council recommended a three-stage escalation of the bombing of North Vietnam. Following an attack on a U.S. Army base in Pleiku on 7 February 1965,[203] a series of air strikes was initiated, Operation Flaming Dart, while Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin was on a state visit to North Vietnam. Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Arc Light expanded aerial bombardment and ground support operations.[204] The bombing campaign, which ultimately lasted three years, was intended to force North Vietnam to cease its support for the Viet Cong by threatening to destroy North Vietnamese air defenses and industrial infrastructure. It was additionally aimed at bolstering the morale of the South Vietnamese.[205] Between March 1965 and November 1968, "Rolling Thunder" deluged the north with a million tons of missiles, rockets and bombs.[206]



Bombing of Laos

Main article: Laotian Civil War



Ho Chi Minh awards a medal to Nguyễn Văn Cốc, who was claimed to have been responsible for downing 11 enemy aircraft.

Bombing was not restricted to North Vietnam. Other aerial campaigns, such as Operation Barrel Roll, targeted different parts of the Viet Cong and NVA infrastructure. These included the Ho Chi Minh trail supply route, which ran through Laos and Cambodia. The ostensibly neutral Laos had become the scene of a civil war, pitting the Laotian government backed by the US against the Pathet Lao and its North Vietnamese allies.



Massive aerial bombardment against the Pathet Lao and People's Army of Vietnam forces were carried out by the US to prevent the collapse of the Royal central government, and to deny the use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos, nearly equal to the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history relative to the size of its population.[207]



The objective of stopping North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was never reached. The Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Curtis LeMay, however, had long advocated saturation bombing in Vietnam and wrote of the communists that "we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age".[208]



The 1964 Offensive



ARVN Forces and a US Advisor inspect a downed helicopter, Battle of Dong Xoai, June 1965

Following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Hanoi anticipated the arrival of US troops and began expanding the Viet Cong, as well as sending increasing numbers of North Vietnamese personnel southwards. At this phase they were outfitting the Viet Cong forces and standardising their equipment with AK-47 rifles and other supplies, as well as forming the 9th Division.[209] "From a strength of approximately 5,000 at the start of 1959 the Viet Cong's ranks grew to about 100,000 at the end of 1964 ... Between 1961 and 1964 the Army's strength rose from about 850,000 to nearly a million men."[181] The numbers for U.S. troops deployed to Vietnam during the same period were much lower: 2,000 in 1961, rising rapidly to 16,500 in 1964.[210] During this phase, the use of captured equipment decreased, while greater numbers of ammunition and supplies were required to maintained regular units. Group 559 was tasked with expanding the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in light of the near constant bombardment by US warplanes. The war had begun to shift into the final, conventional warfare phase of Hanoi's three-stage protracted warfare model. The Viet Cong was now tasked with destroying the ARVN and capturing and holding areas; however, the Viet Cong was not yet strong enough to assault major towns and cities.



In December 1964, ARVN forces had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Bình Giã,[211] in a battle that both sides viewed as a watershed. Previously, communist forces had utilised hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. At Binh Gia, however, they had defeated a strong ARVN force in a conventional battle and remained in the field for four days.[212] Tellingly, South Vietnamese forces were again defeated in June 1965 at the Battle of Đồng Xoài.[213]


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