Vietnam War

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Part One: History Leading Up to the Vietnam War

Vietnam was once a province of China under the Chi'i Dynasty. In 221 BC, after the death of its first ruler, Emperor Shih Huang Ti- a group of generals in the southeastern province saw a chance to carve out a kingdom of their own. In circa 223 BC, the southeastern country of Nam Viet (Vietnam) was founded. In the coming centuries, Vietnam was reconquered several times by China. Each time, the Vietnamese managed to regain their independence, but only to loss it again to powerful emperors of the Chi'i and Han dynasties. In the early 11th century, the first of the great Vietnamese dynasties was founded. Under the astute leadership of several dynamic rulers, the Ly dynasty ruled Vietnam for more than 200 years, from 1010 to 1225. Other prominent Vietnamese dynasties included the Nguyen. Vietnam is best known for its rich natural resources and the country's past and present economy is based upon agriculture.

In 1800's, a French missionary, led by Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, raised an army to help a man named Nguyen Anh ascends to the Vietnamese throne. The French did this under the assumption that Emperor Nguyen would open Vietnam to French trade and missionary works with special privileges. This did not happened. In contrary, the Nguyen was suspicious of Western influence. In the 1830's, Vietnam (a country composed of more than 95% Buddhists) began to persecute Roman Catholic missionaries and their followers by way of executions. When news of such suppression reached France, the French were horrified and demanded retribution. With the consent of Emperor Napoleon III, a French fleet was sent to Vietnam, not so much for punishing the actions of the Vietnamese as for forcing open Vietnam's rich natural resources. The Vietnamese were able to fend off the first attack at Da Nang Harbor. However, the second attack, further south of that area, was a complete success. In 1862, the imperial court of Hue turned over a large portion of the country to the French. In the same year, Vietnam became a French protectorate. Under the control of the French, its name was changed to Indochina, which also included the French colonies of Cambodia and Laos.

During World War II, the empire of Japan temporarily occupied Vietnam. After the Japanese left in 1945, many Vietnamese were sure that France would give Vietnam its independence. The contrary happened as the French tried to reestablish their rule. This angered the Vietnamese who, at this time, were equally spilt into two factions- the Communists and Nationalists. Led by a young Vietnamese communist leader named Ho Chi Minh, on December of 1946, nationalist and communist Vietnamese fought along side each other to drive out the French. These Vietnamese soldiers were called the Viet Minh (freedom fighters). The United States, under President Harry S. Truman, did not support the cause of the Viet Minh. In fact, the U.S. financially supported the French campaign. In 1954, the French lost a major battle in the northern province of Dien Bien Phu. At that point, the French felt that the war was too costly and did not want to commit further funding or toops. In June of the same year, the French surrender. A conference was held in Geneva, where both sides agreed to end the war under certain conditions. It was agreed that Vietnam would be separated, at the 17° north latitude, into two parts. The north, whose capital was Hanoi, was occupied by the communists, whose leader was Ho Chi Minh. The South, whose capital was Saigon, was occupied by the French and their supporters. The French promised that they would leave South Vietnam in two years, at which time they would hold a free election. During their two-year stay in Vietnam, the French laid the groundwork for a democratic government under the leadership of temporary President Ngo Dinh Diem. It was agreed on both sides that after the two-year period, at which time the end of Diem's term in office, a free election would be held. This election would unify Vietnam into one whole country and determine its future government of either democratic or communist.

During this time, the United States began to take notice of the events unfolding in Vietnam. The Americans were distraught that the French gave up its colony. With the defeat of the French, the United States saw a rising threat to the rest of Asia. American involvement was primarily based upon the domino theory set forth by U.S. President Eisenhower. The theory states that if one country falls to communism then surrounding countries will sooner or later follow in the pattern. This theory was formed as a consquence of the Red (communist) Scare which was present in the minds of all Americans of that era. As counter-measures against the domino theory, the ideas of containment as well as the Truman Doctrine, set forth by U.S President Harry S. Truman, were committed to prevent the spread of Communism. The idea of containment was a foreign policy adopted in late 1940's, in which the United States tried to stop the spread of communism by creating alliances and helping weak countries to resist Soviet or any communist advances. The Truman Doctrine was a policy of giving economic and military aid to free nations threatened by internal or external opponents (especially communists).

Thus, the United States brought into office a man named Ngo Dinh Diem, who was a minor civil servant at that time in New Jersey, U.S. In the first part of his term, the Catholic President was extremely popular. Diem acted as a puppet for the United States government. In 1956, when the two-year period was over, under the urging of the U.S., Diem cancelled the free election. The U.S. did this because it was afraid that an election might lead to a victory for the communists.

Part Two: The Vietnam War (1957-1975)

Due to the cancellation of the election, public opinion toward Diem took a turn for the worse. At the same time, Ho Chi Minh and his followers were gaining national support. In the north, those who were communists were known as the Vietcong. In the south those who were communists or supported the communist party was known as the Viet Minh.

In the early stages of the conflict between north and south vietnam, armerd resistance to Diem was organized and regularly attacked government posts. By 1959, however, Diem was in trouble. His unwillingness to tolerate domestic opposition, his alleged favoritism of fellow Roman Catholics, and the failure of his social and economic programs seriously alienated key groups in the populace and led to rising unrest. Eventually, in 1963,with the blessing of the U.S. government, a group of South Vietnamese generals planned a coup, which killed Diem and his brother. Vice-president Nguyen Van Thieu succeeded Diem. Gradually, the Vietcong won control of large areas of the countryside. At this point in time, the north communists were extremely organized and their attacks on South Vietnam were in full scale.

Faced with the real possibility that the communists could attack Saigon and bring Vietnam under communist rule, the United States decided to escalate its involvement. The United States had been sending advisers to Vietnam to train the military and aid in the government. At the situation escalated in Vietnam, the number of advisers grew over time and soon troops were being sent. In response to North Vietnamese aggression, the Americans began to bomb certain locations in the communist territory.

On August 1964, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson announced to Congress that a number of North Vietnamese patrol boats had atacked two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress basically gave the President and Secretary of State, a blank check saying that they could approach the problem in anyway they wished. The United States Congress did not official declare war on Vietnam. Yet, the U.S. was very much involved in the war.

In late 1965, more than 185, 000 Americans soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. By 1971, the number of U.S. troops increased to 1 million. The United States, from the start, was doing poorly. Although well equipped with state-of-the-art weapons, the troops were inexperience and were not accustomed to the terrain of Vietnam. Furthermore, the guerilla warfare played by the Vietcong, who were supported by the Soviet Union and China, took hundreds of thousands of American lives.

The soldiers quickly lost sight of their cause for fighting the war. They did not know why they were in a distant land fighting in a country that was not their own. As the numbers of body bags being sent home increased, American opposition of the war grew strong. Prominent politicians and civil leaders, such as Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were against American involvment in Vietnam.

In 1969, public pressure finally convinced President Richard Nixon to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam. Following his plan of Vietnamization, which allowed for U.S. troops to gradually pull out, whill the South Vietnamese increased their combat role, Nixon withdrew more than 85% of his troops in 1972. Nixon also authorized bombings in neighboring Laos and Cambodia in an attempt to rid any Vietcong hidouts.The last U.S forces left in 1973. The war in Vietnam continued for two more years. In 1975, Vietnam fell to the Communist. On April the 30th of that year, newly elected President Duong Van Minh unconditionally surrender to the North.

After the communist take over, suviving former South Vietnamese soldiers were sent to ģeducational campsē, which were really hard labor camp. In the Vietnam war more than 1.5 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed. In this war more bombs were dropped than that of World War II.


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