As the conclusion of World War II liberated Southeast Asia from Japanese domination, Indochinese Communist Party leader Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) swiftly moved ahead with his political goal of a unified and independent Vietnam, proclaiming a Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945.
As the conclusion of World War II liberated Southeast Asia from Japanese domination, Indochinese Communist Party leader Ho Chi
However, with a Cold War developing between the United States and the Soviet Union, U.S. president Harry S.
The Geneva Conference
North Vietnam, determined to conquer the South, had the political, financial, and technological support of the Soviet Union and China. The South Vietnamese government sought, with the support of the United States, to maintain its rule in the South. The United States government feared a so-called “domino effect”; if South Vietnam fell to communism, it reasoned, so would other nations in Asia, including India. Both North and South Vietnam were now markers in the Cold War conflict between the three superpowers–the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. During its long struggle in Vietnam, the United States remained hampered by Cold War concerns and the desire to avoid pushing either of the other superpowers into active engagement in the fighting.
The crushing defeat of the French at Dien Bien
The date often given for the beginning of the Second Indochina War, or what Americans call the Vietnam War, is 1956, the year in which the United States and Diem rejected the Geneva-mandated reunification elections. In 1959, North Vietnam’s Central Executive Committee formally changed the country’s approach from political to armed struggle. Remnants of the Viet Minh who had stayed in the South (the Viet Cong) were activated by the North Vietnamese Poliburo.
Vietnam Conflict, 1954-1975
U.S. president Richard M.
As the Korean War (1950-1953) neared its end, arms and other equipment began to flow into North Vietnam from the Soviets and Chinese. Russian heavy-duty Molotova trucks proved invaluable for transporting arms and supplies. Russia provided rifles, machine guns, and a variety of heavier weapons, including 120-millimeter mortars, recoilless cannons, and bazookas.
Effective additions to Viet Minh uniforms were two large wire-mesh disks, one over the helmet, the other hanging from the back. The wire mesh was filled with foliage to hide the troops from both aerial and ground observation.
In the Second Indochina War, or the Vietnam War, the most powerful aerial weapon for the United States was the Air
The North Vietnamese essentially had no air force until the mid-1960’s when China and the Soviet Union started supplying the North with MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21 jet
The United States relied heavily on
U.S. artillery included 105-millimeter towed artillery, 105-millimeter and 155-millimeter self-propelled howitzers, 175-millimeter guns, and 8-inch howitzers. The portable, shoulder-fired M72 light antitank
Communist forces in the South had only machine guns and rifles to use against planes early in the war but near the end had Soviet SA-7 antiaircraft missiles and Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air
U.S. F-105 Thunderchiefs drop bombs over Vietnam in 1966.
Americans switched in 1967 from the heavy M-14 rifle to the lighter and shorter
Less conventional weapons included mines and booby traps. The United States and its allies used the antipersonnel Claymore
Military uniforms of generally standard types were worn by the regular forces. Although Viet Cong are associated with the black pajamas and sandals they sometimes wore in combat, they often mingled during the day with other South Vietnamese, wearing no uniform or other clothing that would set them apart.
Despite the often inhospitable terrain, the United States and South Vietnamese troops used
The United States made wide use of armored personnel
Both the French and Communist forces used traditional patterns of organization such as battalions, regiments, and divisions. However, Viet Minh general Vo Nguyen
During the Second Indochina War, or Vietnam War, American decision making was fragmented, split along various vectors that included the president of the United States as commander in chief, the secretary of defense, the joint chiefs of staff, and the commander in chief of the Pacific Command (CINCPAC), the latter stationed in Honolulu and responsible for prosecution of the war.
The United States/Vietnam-based command and control entity after 1962 was MACV (U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam). As a “subordinate unified command,” MACV was required to seek approval from the Honolulu-based CINCPAC headquarters. Virtually all military control for the North Vietnamese was unified under Giap, who was a member of the ruling Politburo, minister of defense, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The United States divided South Vietnam into four tactical zones numbered, from north to south, I, II, III, and IV Corps. Air
The basic units of the U.S.
The South Vietnamese Armed
The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were organized generally along the same lines as the U.S. forces, starting with divisions but including regiments rather than brigades. The Viet Cong had a party secretary and various supply, social welfare, and propaganda units. After Tet, remaining Viet Cong were organized into cadres under North Vietnamese control.
The primary doctrines that drove the First and Second Indochina Wars were colonialism, nationalism, communism, and democracy. At the conclusion of World War II, France sought to reestablish its colonial rule over
The Second Indochina War, or the Vietnam War, achieved Ho’s nationalist goal of unifying all of Vietnam, but as a Communist
The French tried to fight a war of
The United States, during its Vietnam War, fused a war of attrition with both a limited war to contain communism and a misjudgment that the Viet Cong were engaged in an insurgency that could be opposed with counterinsurgency tactics. Because the United States never fully recognized that North Vietnam was the true enemy and that the Viet Cong were an arm of the North, its primary goals, which included supporting the South Vietnamese government and rooting out insurgent elements in the South, at best addressed only parts of the problem.
President Lyndon B.
To weaken the enemy’s resolve, the United States bombed the North in a campaign called Operation Rolling
Airpower never achieved the major goals the United States set for it, but it did help win many battles in the South with bombing and close support for ground operations. Helicopters proved extremely effective in transporting men and supplies and evacuating the wounded. In addition, the bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 bought time for the South Vietnamese armed forces to try to improve their war capabilities.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara discussing strikes on North Vietnam during a 1966 Pentagon news conference.
On the ground, American forces attempted to engage the enemy in direct combat operations, which first occurred in the fall of 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley. Like most such encounters, the short-term effect was a victory for the Americans.
Counterinsurgency tactics included such pacification efforts as educational, medical, and economic-development programs and search-and-destroy operations such as Cedar Falls (1967) and Junction City (1967) to deny the Viet Cong access to the countryside and its people. The hammer-and-anvil tactic caught Viet Cong between forces already in place (the anvil) and forces sweeping in from the sides (the hammer). These operations cleared the land for a time, but the Viet Cong inevitably moved back in.
A Vietnamese and a U.S. paratrooper drop from a helicopter during a battle with the Viet Cong. Helicopters were the key transport vehicles during the war.
The Tet Offensive of
With a plan to capture as much territory as possible before a final peace agreement, the North Vietnamese army launched attacks against provincial and district capitals throughout much of South Vietnam in the spring of 1972. Like Tet, the offensive was a military defeat for the North but a psychological victory, demonstrating how dependent the South Vietnamese were on U.S. support.
By 1975 the North Vietnamese army had twice as many tanks as did the South Vietnamese, and the more than 25,000 North Vietnamese troops in the Central Highlands were easily reinforced from the North. The U.S. failure to recognize North Vietnam as the central enemy had led to peace with the supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail still functioning and the war production effort in the North unimpeded after 1973. The strategic definition of the war as counterinsurgency and the principle of
With the expectation that the March, 1975, offensive would be both a prelude to a final triumph the following year and a test to see whether the United States would intervene, the North began its military push on March 11 with a victory at Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands. South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van
Historians who expressed insights during the Indochina Wars included Joseph Buttinger, author of The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam (1958) and Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled (1967); and George Coedès, author of Histoire ancienne des états hindouisés d’Extrome-Orient (1944; The Indianized States of South-east Asia, 1968). French colonialism was analyzed in John T. McAlister’s Vietnam: The Origins of Revolution, 1885-1946 (1968) and David G. Marr’s Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925 (1971).
Bernard Fall’s important Street Without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-1954, first published in 1961, was followed by a string of other important critiques of French and American policy in Vietnam: The Two Viet-Nams: A Political and Military Analysis (1963), Viet-Nam Witness, 1953-1966 (1966), and Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (1967).
The Pentagon Papers (1971), including official statements and Defense Department memos, depicts, in some 7,000 pages written between 1967 and 1969, the actions and policies of the United States in Vietnam starting in 1945.
Americans would have better understood the enemy by examining a variety of books published by North Vietnamese, including General Vo Nguyen
Arnold, James R. Tet Offensive, 1968: Turning Point in Vietnam. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1990. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. Cash, John A. Seven Firefights in Vietnam. New York: Bantam, 1993. Dunn, Peter M. The First Vietnam War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Ha, Mai Viet. Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008. Harder, Robert O. Flying from the Black Hole: The B-52 Bombardiers of Vietnam. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2009. Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. 2d rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1997. Lawrence, Mark Atwood, and Fredrik Logevall, eds. The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Moore, Harold G., and Joseph L. Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: Ia Drang, the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1992. Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Neville, Peter. Britain in Vietnam: Prelude to Disaster, 1945-6. New York: Routledge, 2007. Olson, James Stuart, and Randy Robert. Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945-1995. Rev. 5th ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2008. Palmer, Dave Richard. Summons of the Trumpet: A History of the Vietnam War from a Military Man’s Viewpoint. San Rafael, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1978. Summers, Harry G., Jr. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1995. Van Staaveren, Jacob. The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1960-1968. Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1993. Wiest, Andrew, ed. Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam War Revisited. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2006. Windrow, Martin. The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2004. Apocalypse Now. Feature film. United Artists, 1979. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Docudrama. , 1992. Born on the Fourth of July. Feature film. Universal, 1989. Chopper Wars. Documentary. Video Treasures, 1987. The Deer Hunter. Feature film. EMI/Universal, 1978. The Fog of War. Documentary. Sony Pictures Classics, 2003. Full Metal Jacket. Feature film. Natant, 1987. The Green Berets. Feature film. Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 1968. Hamburger Hill. Feature film. RKO Pictures, 1987. Hearts and Minds. Documentary. Rainbow Pictures, 1974. Jacob’s Ladder. Feature film. TriStar, 1990. Indochine. Feature film. Sony/Roissy, 1992. Platoon. Feature film. Hemdale Film, 1986. Ulzana’s Raid. Feature film. Universal, 1972. Vietnam: A Television History. Documentary. Public Broadcasting Service, 1983. The War at Home. Feature film. Touchstone Pictures, 1996. We Were Soldiers. Feature film. Icon Entertainment, 2002. Winter Soldier. Documentary. Winterfilm Collective, 1972.
China: Modern Warfare
The Cold War: The United States, NATO, and the Right
The Cold War: The Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Left
The Cold War: The Nonaligned States
Colonial Wars of Independence
Warfare in Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict