The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War

One of the major conflicts of the late 20th century, the Vietnam War raged for almost 20 years. It destroyed large swathes of the country and led to the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians. As the conflict dragged on, an international antiwar movement protested what seemed to be a senseless, bloody war.

A difficult war: The US found fighting in Vietnam to be incredibly difficult. The Vietnamese communists were guerilla fighters, which meant their attacks were sporadic and unpredictable. They used the terrain much better than the Americans, and slowly demoralized them by dragging them into a complex and seemingly endless struggle.

Ho Chi Minh (1945)

The defeat of the Japanese in World War II leaves a power vacuum in Vietnam. Communist leader Ho Chi Minh declares North Vietnam independent, and his Viet Minh guerrilla fighters take on France, Vietnam’s old colonial masters.

US support (1950)

The US steps up its military and financial help to France, and President Truman authorizes $15 million in aid. The People’s Republic of China (formed in 1949) and the Soviet Union support North Vietnam.

Withdraw and partition (1954)

The French completely withdraw after a huge defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam is divided in half, with Ho Chi Minh taking control of the North, and anticommunist, US-supported Ngo Dinh Diem ruling in the South.

Ho Chi Minh Trail (1959)

North Vietnam builds a supply route called the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam. They use this to support pro-communist rebels in the South, known as the National Liberation Front.

Agent Orange (1962)

The US sprays Agent Orange, a deadly herbicide, to kill the foliage sheltering communist fighters and to destroy their food supplies. This causes long-lasting
health issues for civilians and troops on both sides, and ruins large swathes of Vietnamese soil.

Gulf of Tonkin (1964 - 1965)

North Vietnam attacks two US warships. In response, the US issues the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, committing the country to defending itself and South Vietnam. The USSR increases support of North Vietnam.

First protests (1965)

The first antiwar marches happen in the US, with mounting casualties and the massive cost of fighting angering many. More than 100,000 people march on Washington DC in 1967.

Tet Offensive (1968)

The communists launch the Tet Offensive - a coordinated series of attacks across South Vietnam. Initially surprised by the assault, the South Vietnamese and US forces regroup and retaliate.

Pentagon Papers (1971)

The Washington Post publishes the Pentagon Papers. These show the government felt the war to be unwinnable, but had lied about it. The US had begun to pull out troops in 1969, and secret peace talks began in 1970.

Fall of Saigon (1975)

A ceasefire is announced in 1973, and US troops are withdrawn. North Vietnam launches another attack and the South’s capital, Saigon, falls. Vietnam is united as a communist state soon after.