Vietnam War, also known as the Second
Indochina War, was a Cold War
military conflict that may be said to have
occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and
September 26, 1959 to April 30, 1975. The war was fought
between the communist North Vietnam, supported by its communist
allies, and the government of South
Vietnam, supported by the United States and other anti-communist nations.
The Viet Cong
, a lightly armed South
-controlled common front
, largely fought a guerrilla war
forces in the region. The
North Vietnamese Army
in a more conventional war
times committing large units into battle. U.S. and South Vietnamese
forces relied on air superiority
overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy
The United States entered the war to prevent a communist takeover
of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment
. Military advisors
arrived beginning in
1950. U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with U.S.
troop levels tripling in 1961 and tripling again in 1962. U.S.
beginning in 1965. Involvement peaked in 1968 at the time of the
. After this, U.S. ground
forces were withdrawn as part of a policy called Vietnamization
. Despite the Paris Peace Accords
, signed by all
parties in January 1973, fighting continued.
The Case-Church Amendment
passed by the U.S. Congress in response to the anti-war
direct U.S. military involvement after August 15, 1973. U.S.
military and economic aid continued until 1975. The capture of Saigon
by North Vietnamese army in
April 1975 marked the end of Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam
were reunified the following year.
exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities, including 3 to 4
million Vietnamese from both sides, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and 58,159 U.S. soldiers.
Various names have been applied to the conflict. Vietnam
is the most commonly used name in English. It has also
been called the Second Indochina War
, and the Vietnam
As there have been so many conflicts in Indochina, this conflict is
known by the name of their chief opponent to distinguish it from
the others. Thus, in Vietnamese
the war is known as Chiến tranh Việt Nam
War), or as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ
(Resistance War Against
America), loosely translated as the American War
The main military organizations involved in the war were, on the
side of the South, the Army of the Republic of
(ARVN) and the U.S. military, and, on the side of the
North, the Vietnam People's
(VPA), or North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and the Vietcong
, or National Front for the Liberation of
South Vietnam (NLF), a communist army based in the South.
Background to 1949
France began its conquest of Indochina
1859. In spite of military resistance, by 1888 the area of the
current-day nations of Cambodia and Vietnam was made into the
of French Indochina
(Laos was added later).
Various Vietnamese opposition movements to the French rule existed
during this period but none were ultimately as successful as the
Viet Minh common
, controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam
founded in 1941 and funded by United States and Chinese
Nationalists in its fight against Japanese occupation.
During World War II
, the French were
defeated by the Germans in 1940. For French Indochina, this meant
that the colonial authorities became Vichy
, allies of the German-Italian Axis powers
. In turn this meant that the French
collaborated with the Japanese forces after their invasion of French Indochina
during 1940. The French continued to run affairs in the colony, but
ultimate power resided in the hands of the Japanese.
This situation continued until the German forces were expelled from
France and the French Indochina colonial authorities started
holding secret talks with the Free
. Fearing that they could no longer trust the French
authorities the Japanese army interned them all on 9 March 1945 and
assumed direct control themselves through their puppet state of the
Empire of Vietnam
under Bảo Đại
During 1944–1945, a famine
Vietnam due to a combination of poor weather and Japanese
exploitation. 1 million people died of starvation (out of a
population of 10 million in the affected area). Exploiting the
administrative gap that the internment of the French had created,
the Viet Minh in March 1945 urged the population to ransack
warehouses and refuse to pay their
Between 75 and 100 warehouses were consequently raided.
This rebellion against the effects of the famine and the
authorities that were partially responsible for it, bolstered the
Viet Minh's popularity and they recruited many members during this
In August 1945, the Japanese had been defeated and surrendered unconditionally
. In French
Indochina this created a power vacuum
as the French were still interned and the Japanese forces stood
down. Into this vacuum, the Viet Minh entered and grasped power
across Vietnam in the "August
" (in large part supported by the Vietnamese
September 1945, Ho Chi Minh (leader of
the Viet Minh) declared the independent
Democratic Republic of
Vietnam before a crowd of 500,000 in Hanoi.
overture to the Americans, he began his speech by paraphrasing the
Declaration of Independence
: All men are created
equal. The Creator has given us certain inviolable Rights:
the right to Life, the right to be Free, and the right to achieve
the major allied victors of World
War II (the United Kingdom, the USA and the Soviet Union) all agreed that the area belonged to the
As the French did not have the ships, weapons or
soldiers to immediately retake Vietnam, the major powers came to an
agreement that British troops would occupy the south while Nationalist Chinese
forces would move in from the
north. When the British landed they rearmed the interned French
forces as well as parts of the surrendered Japanese forces to aid
them in retaking south Vietnam as they did not have enough troops
to do this themselves.
Following the party line
Moscow, Ho Chi Minh initially attempted to negotiate with the
French who were slowly re-establishing their control across the
country. In January 1946, the Viet Minh won elections across
central and northern Vietnam. The French landed in Hanoi by March
1946 and in November of that year they ousted the Viet Minh from
the city. Soon thereafter the Viet Minh began a guerrilla war
against the French Union
forces, beginning the First Indochina War
The war spread to Laos and Cambodia where Communists organized the
and the Khmer Serai
after the model of the Viet
Minh.Globally, the Cold War
earnest which meant that the rapprochement
that had existed between the
and the Soviet Union
during World War II disintegrated. The Viet Minh fight was hampered
by a lack of weapons; this situation changed by 1949 when the
largely won the Chinese Civil War
and were free to provide arms to their Vietnamese allies.
Exit of the French, 1950–1954
- Main articles: First
Indochina War and Operation Passage to
In January 1950, the communist nations, led by the People's
Republic of China (PRC), recognized the Viet
Republic of Vietnam
as the government of Vietnam. Non-Communist
nations recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam
in Saigon led by former
Emperor Bao Dai
the following month. 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 Kremlin
PRC military advisors began assisting the Viet Minh in July 1950.
PRC weapons, expertise, and laborers transformed the Viet Minh from
a guerrilla force into a regular army. In September, the U.S.
created a Military Assistance and
(MAAG) to screen French requests for aid, advise
on strategy, and train Vietnamese soldiers. By 1954, the U.S. had
supplied 300,000 small arms and spent US$1 billion in support of
the French military effort and was shouldering 80 percent of the
cost of the war.
There were also talks between the French and Americans in which the
possible use of three tactical
was considered, though how seriously this was
considered and by whom are even now vague and contradictory. One
version of plan for the proposed Operation Vulture
envisioned sending 60
B-29s from US bases in the region, supported by as many as 150
fighters launched from US Seventh Fleet carriers, to bomb Viet Minh
commander Vo Nguyen Giap
The plan included an option to use up to three atomic weapons on
the Viet Minh positions. Admiral Arthur W. Radford
, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs
of Staff, gave this nuclear option his backing. US B-29s, B-36s,
and B-47s could have executed a nuclear strike, as could carrier
aircraft from the Seventh Fleet.
U.S. carriers sailed to the Tonkin
reconnaissance flights over Dien Bien Phu were conducted during the
negotiations. According to Richard
the plan involved the Joint Chiefs of Staff drawing up
plans to use 3 small tactical nuclear weapons in support of the
French. Vice president Richard Nixon
a so-called "hawk" on Vietnam, suggested that the U.S. might have
to "put American boys in". President Eisenhower
made American participation
contingent on British support, but London was opposed. In the end,
convinced that the political risks outweighed the possible
benefits, Eisenhower decided against the intervention.
The Viet Minh received crucial support from the Soviet Union and
PRC. PRC support in the Border
Campaign of 1950
allowed supplies to come from PRC into
Vietnam. Throughout the conflict, U.S. intelligence estimates
remained skeptical of French chances of success.
Battle of Dien
Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement in
The Viet Minh and their mercurial commander Vo
Nguyen Giap handed the French a stunning military defeat, and on 7
May 1954, the French Union
surrendered. At the Geneva
the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the
Viet Minh. Independence was granted to Cambodia, Laos, and
Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel
, and under the terms of
the Geneva Convention, civilians were to be given the opportunity
to freely move between the two provisional states. Elections
throughout the country were to be held, according to the Geneva
accords, but were blocked by the South Vietnamese president, who
feared a communist victory. Around one million northerners, mainly
, fled south, fearing persecution
by the communists, following an American propaganda
campaign using slogans such as, "The
is heading south", and aided
by a U.S. funded $93 million relocation program, which included
ferrying refugees with the Seventh Fleet. It is estimated that as
many as two million more would have left had they not been stopped
by the Viet Minh.
In the north, the Viet Minh established a socialist state
—the Democratic Republic of
—and engaged in a drastic land
program in which an estimated eight thousand perceived
" were executed. In 1956
the Communist Party leaders of Hanoi admitted to "excesses" in
implementing this program and restored a large amount of the land
to the original owners.
In the south a non-communist state was established under the
Emperor Bao Dai, a former puppet of the French and the Japanese.
Ngô Đình Diệm
became his prime minister. In addition to the Catholics flowing
south, up to 130,000 ‘Revolutionary Regroupees’, went north for
"regroupment" expecting to return to the South within 2 years. The
Viet Minh left roughly 5,000 to 10,000 cadres
in South Vietnam as a "politico-military substructure within the
object of its irredentism
." The last
French soldiers left Vietnam in April 1956. The PRC completed their
withdrawal from North Vietnam at around the same time.
Diem era, 1955–1963
The Geneva Accords
concluded between France and the Viet Minh in 1954, partitioned
Vietnam pending national elections (under international supervision
) to be held by
20 July 1956. Much as in Korea, the agreement stipulated that the
two military zones were to be separated by a temporary demarcation
line (known as the Demilitarized Zone
or DMZ). In
June 1955, Prime Minister Ngo Dinh
of the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam) announced that
elections would not be held. South Vietnam had rejected the
agreement from the beginning and was therefore not bound by it, he
said. "How can we expect 'free elections' to be held in the
Communist North?" Diem asked. President Dwight D. Eisenhower echoed
senior U.S. experts
when he wrote that, in 1954, "80 per cent of the population would
have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh" over Emperor Bao
The Domino Theory
, which argued that
if one country fell to communist forces, then all of the
surrounding countries would follow, was first proposed as policy by
the Eisenhower administration. It was, and is still, commonly
hypothesized that it applied to Vietnam. 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
overflowed into Vietnam."
Ngo Dinh Diem
was named premier of
South Vietnam in 1954 by former emperor and Head of State Bao Dai
. A devout Roman
, he was fervently anti-communist and was "untainted"
by any connection to the French. He was one of the few prominent
Vietnamese nationalists who could claim both attributes. Historian
Luu Doan Huynh notes, however, that "Diem represented narrow and
extremist nationalism coupled with autocracy and nepotism
wrote that the new
American patrons were almost completely ignorant of Vietnamese
culture. They knew little of the language or long history of the
country. There was a tendency to assign American motives to
Vietnamese actions, and Diem warned that it was an illusion to
believe that blindly copying Western methods would solve Vietnamese
In April and June 1955, Diem (against U.S. advice) cleared the
decks of any political opposition by launching military operations
against the Cao Dai
religious sect, the
sect, and the Binh Xuyen
organized crime group (which was
allied with members of the secret police and some military
elements). As broad-based opposition to his harsh tactics mounted,
Diem increasingly sought to blame the communists.
Beginning in the summer of 1955, he launched the "Denounce the
Communists" campaign, during which communists and other
anti-government elements were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or
executed. Diem instituted a policy of death penalty against any
activity deemed communist in August 1956. Opponents were labeled
("Vietnamese communist") by the
regime to degrade their nationalist credentials. During this period
refugees moved across the demarcation line in both directions.
Around 52,000 Vietnamese civilians moved from south to north.
However, 800,000 people fled north Vietnam to the south, mostly in
aircraft and ships provided by France and the U.S. CIA propaganda
efforts increased the outflow with slogans such as "the Virgin Mary
is going South." The northern, mainly Catholic refugees were meant
to give Diem a strong anti-communist constituency. Diem later went
on to staff his administration's key posts mostly with northern and
central Catholics. As a measure of the level of political repression
, about 12,000
suspected opponents of Diem were killed in the years 1955–1957 and
by the end of 1958 an estimated 40,000 political prisoners
In a referendum on the future of the monarchy, Diem rigged
the poll supervised by his brother
Ngo Dinh Nhu
and was accredited with
98.2 percent of the vote, including 133% in Saigon. His American
advisers had recommended a more modest winning margin of "60 to 70
percent." Diem, however, viewed the election as a test of
authority. On 26 October 1955, Diem declared the new Republic of
Vietnam, with himself as president. The Republic of Vietnam was
created largely because of the Eisenhower administration's desire
for an anti-communist state in the region.
As a wealthy Catholic, Diem was viewed by many ordinary Vietnamese
as part of the old elite who had helped the French rule Vietnam.
The majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist, so his attack on
the Buddhist community served only to deepen mistrust.
In May, Diem undertook a ten-day state visit to the United States.
President Eisenhower pledged his continued support. A parade in New
York City was held in his honor. Although Diem was openly praised,
in private Secretary of
State John Foster Dulles
conceded that he had been selected because there were no better
Insurgency in the South, 1956–1960
Sino-Soviet split led to a
reduction in the influence of PRC, which had insisted in 1954 that the Viet Minh accept a division of the country.
Vietnam's pro-PRC party first secretary, was demoted and Hanoi
authorized communists in South Vietnam to begin a low level
in December 1956. This
insurgency in the south had begun in response to Diem's
Denunciation of Communists campaign, in which thousands of local
Viet Minh cadres and supporters had been executed or sent to
concentration camps, and was in violation of the Northern Communist
party line which had enjoined them not to start an insurrection,
but rather engage in a political campaign, agitating for a free
all-Vietnam election in accordance with the Geneva accords.
Ho Chi Minh
stated, "Do not engage in
military operations; that will lead to defeat. Do not take land
from a peasant. Emphasize nationalism rather than communism. Do not
antagonize anyone if you can avoid it. Be selective in your
violence. If an assassination is necessary, use a knife, not a
rifle or grenade. It is too easy to kill innocent bystanders with
guns and bombs, and accidental killing of the innocent bystanders
will alienate peasants from the revolution. Once an assassination
has taken place, make sure peasants know why the killing occurred."
This strategy was referred to as "armed propaganda."
Soon afterward, Lê Duẩn
communist leader who had been working in the South, returned to
Hanoi to accept the position of acting first secretary, effectively
replacing Trường. Duẩn urged a military line and advocated
increased assistance to the insurgency. Four hundred government
officials were assassinated
alone, and the violence gradually increased. While the terror was
originally aimed at local government officials, it soon broadened
to include other symbols of the status quo
, such as
schoolteachers, , "... Vietcong units regularly threw grenades into
crowds and vehicles, fired small arms into villages at night,
assassinated and kidnapped village leaders and teachers, and burned
down sections of villages." (Online versions available here
(pdf) and here 
(viewable, pdf, and plain text).
Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam. p. II
(1972), p. 65 health workers, and agricultural officials.
According to one estimate, 20 percent of South Vietnam's village
chiefs had been assassinated by the insurgents by 1958. (The
village chiefs were Diem appointees from outside the villages and
were hated by the peasantry for their corruption and abuse.) The
insurgency sought to completely destroy government control in South
Vietnam's rural villages and replace it with a shadow government
In January 1959, the North's Central Committee issued a secret
resolution authorizing an "armed struggle". This authorized the
southern communists to begin large-scale operations against the
South Vietnamese military. North Vietnam supplied troops and
supplies in earnest, and the infiltration of men and weapons from
the north began along the Ho Chi Minh
. In May, South Vietnam enacted Law 10/59, which made
political violence punishable by death and property
the increasing unpopularity of the Diem regime, on 12 December
1960, Hanoi authorized
the creation of the National Liberation
Front as a common front controlled
by the communist party in the South.
Successive American administrations, as Robert McNamara
and others have noted,
overestimated the control that Hanoi had over the NLF. Diem's
paranoia, repression, and incompetence progressively angered large
segments of the population of South Vietnam. According to a
November 1960 report by the head of the US military advisory team,
Lieutenant General Lionel C.
, a "significant part" of the
population in the south supported the communists. The communists
thus had a degree of popular support for their campaign to bring
down Diem and reunify the country.
During John F. Kennedy's administration, 1960–1963
When John F. Kennedy
, one major issue Kennedy raised was
whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those
of the U.S. As Kennedy took over, despite warnings from
Eisenhower about Laos and Vietnam, Europe and Latin America
"loomed larger than Asia on his sights."
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
In June 1961, John F. Kennedy bitterly disagreed with Soviet
premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met in Vienna over key
U.S.-Soviet issues. The Legacy
of the Korean War
created the idea of a limited war.
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 invasion of Europe,
Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special
forces such as the Green Berets
be effective in a "brush fire" war in Vietnam.
The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the
foreign policy inherited from the
Truman and Eisenhower administrations. In 1961, the USA had
50,000 troops based in 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 These 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 determined to "draw a
line in the sand" and prevent a communist victory in Vietnam,
saying, "Now we have a problem making our power credible and
Vietnam looks like the place," to James Reston of The New York Times
meeting Khrushchev in Vienna.
In May 1961, Vice President Lyndon
visited Saigon and
enthusiastically declared Diem the "Winston Churchill
of Asia." Asked why he
had made the comment, Johnson replied, "Diem's the only boy we got
out there." Johnson assured Diem of more aid in molding a fighting
force that could resist the communists.
Kennedy's policy toward South Vietnam rested on the assumption that
Diem and his forces must 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."
The quality of the South Vietnamese military, however, remained
poor. Bad leadership, corruption, and political interference all
played a part in emasculating the Army of the Republic of
(ARVN). The frequency of guerrilla attacks rose as the
insurgency gathered steam. While Hanoi's support for the NLF played
a role, South Vietnamese governmental incompetence was at the core
of the crisis.
Kennedy advisers Maxwell Taylor
recommended that U.S. troops
be sent to South Vietnam disguised as flood relief workers. Kennedy
rejected the idea but increased military assistance yet again. In
April 1962, John Kenneth
warned Kennedy of the "danger we shall replace the
French as a colonial force in the area and bleed as the French
did." By 1963, there were 16,000 American military personnel in
South Vietnam, up from Eisenhower's 900 advisors.
The Strategic Hamlet
had been initiated in 1961. This joint U.S.-South
Vietnamese program attempted to resettle the rural population into
fortified camps. The aim was to isolate the population from the
insurgents, provide education and health care, and strengthen the
government's hold over the countryside. The Strategic Hamlets,
however, were quickly infiltrated by the guerrillas. The peasants
resented being uprooted from their ancestral villages. The
government refused to undertake land reform, which left farmers
paying high rents to a few wealthy landlords. Corruption dogged the
program and intensified opposition. Government officials were
targeted for assassination.
On 23 July 1962, fourteen nations, including the People's Republic
of China, South Vietnam, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and the
United States, signed an agreement promising the neutrality of
Coup and assassinations
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 beat off a much larger and better equipped South Vietnamese
force, many of whose officers seemed reluctant even to engage in
- See also:
Kennedy's role, Kennedy
and Vietnam, Hue Vesak
shootings and Xa Loi Pagoda
The ARVN were led in that battle by Diem's most
trusted General Huynh Van Cao
commander of the IV Corps
Catholic who had been promoted due to religion and fidelity rather
than skill, and whose main job was to preserve his forces to stave
off coups; Cao had earlier vomited during a communist attack. Some
policymakers in Washington began to conclude that Diem was
incapable of defeating the communists and might even make a deal
with Ho Chi Minh. He seemed concerned only with fending off coups.
As Robert F. Kennedy
noted, "Diem wouldn't make even
the slightest concessions. He was difficult to reason
Discontent with Diem's policies exploded following the Hue Vesak shootings
Buddhists who were protesting against the ban on the Buddhist flag
the Buddha's birthday. This resulted in mass protests against
policies that gave privileges to the Catholic Church and its
adherents. Diem's elder brother Ngo Dinh
was the Archbishop of Hue and aggressively blurred the
separation between church and state. Diem refused to make
concessions to the Buddhist majority or take responsibility for the
deaths. On 21 August 1963, the ARVN
of Colonel Le Quang
, loyal to Diem's younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu
, raided pagodas across Vietnam
widespread damage and destruction.
During the summer of 1963 U.S. officials began discussing the
possibility of a regime change. The United
States Department of State was generally in favor of encouraging a coup, while the Defense Department favoured
Chief among the proposed changes was the removal of Diem's younger
brother Ngo Dinh Nhu
. Nhu controlled
the secret police and was seen as the man behind the Buddhist
repression. As Diem's most powerful adviser, Nhu had become a hated
figure in South Vietnam. This was conveyed to the US embassy in
Saigon in Cable 243
Diem after being shot and killed in
the 1963 coup.
was in contact with generals planning to
remove Diem. They were told that the United States would not oppose
such a move nor punish the generals by cutting off aid. President
Diem was overthrown and executed, along with his brother, on 2
November 1963. When he was informed, Maxwell Taylor remembered that
Kennedy "rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on
his face." He had not approved Diem's murder. The U.S. ambassador
to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot
, invited the coup leaders to the embassy and
congratulated them. Ambassador Lodge informed Kennedy that "the
prospects now are for a shorter war".
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 as a puppet of the
Americans; whatever the failings of Diem, his credentials as a
nationalist (as Robert McNamara later reflected) had been
U.S military advisers were embedded at every level of the South
Vietnamese armed forces. They were, however, almost completely
ignorant of the political nature of the insurgency
. The insurgency was a political power
struggle, in which military engagements were not the main goal. 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. advisers other than conventional troop
training. General Paul Harkins
commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, confidently predicted
victory by Christmas 1963. 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".
Paramilitary officers from the CIA's Special Activities Division
trained and led Hmoung 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. The CIA also ran the Phoenix Program and participation
MAC-V SOG (Studies and Observations Group), which was originally
named the Special Operations Group, but was changed for cover
Lyndon B. Johnson expands the war, 1963–1969
Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), as he took over the
presidency after the death of Kennedy, did not consider Vietnam a priority and was more
concerned with his "Great Society" and
progressive social programs.
- For more details on this topic, see Americanization
Presidential aide Jack Valenti
recalls, "Vietnam at the time was
no bigger than a man's fist on the horizon. We hardly discussed it
because it was not worth discussing."
On 24 November 1963, Johnson said, "the battle against communism
... must be joined... with strength and
determination." The pledge came at a time when Vietnam was
deteriorating, especially in places like the Mekong Delta, because
of the recent coup against Diem.
The military revolutionary council, meeting in lieu of a strong
South Vietnamese leader, was made up of 12 members headed by
General Minh—whom Stanley Karnow
journalist on the ground, later recalled as "a model of lethargy."
His regime was overthrown in January 1964 by General Nguyen Khanh.
Lodge, frustrated by the end of the year, cabled home about Minh:
"Will he be strong enough to get on top of things?"
August 1964, the 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. A second attack was reported two days later
on the USS
Turner Joy and Maddox in the same area.
circumstances of the attack were murky. Lyndon Johnson commented to
Undersecretary of State George Ball that "those sailors out there
may have been shooting at flying fish."
The second attack led to retaliatory air strikes, prompted Congress
to approve the Gulf of Tonkin
, and gave the president power to conduct military
operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. 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."
undated NSA publication declassified in 2005, however, revealed
that there was no attack on 4 August.
It had already been
called into question long before this. "The Gulf of Tonkin incident"
writes Louise Gerdes, "is an oft-cited example of the way in which
Johnson misled the American people to gain support for his foreign
policy in Vietnam." George C. Herring argues, however, that
McNamara and the Pentagon "did not knowingly lie about the alleged
attacks, but they were obviously in a mood to retaliate and they
seem to have selected from the evidence available to them those
parts that confirmed what they wanted to believe."
"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." The numbers for US troops
deployed to Vietnam during the same period were quite different;
2,000 in 1961, rising rapidly to 16,500 in 1964.
recommended a three-stage escalation of the
bombing of North Vietnam. On 2 March 1965, following an attack on a
U.S. Marine barracks at Pleiku, Operation Flaming Dart, Operation Rolling Thunder and
Operation Arc Light
The bombing campaign, which ultimately lasted
three years, was intended to force North Vietnam to cease its
support for the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam
(NLF) by threatening to destroy North Vietnam's air defenses and
industrial infrastructure. As well, it was aimed at bolstering the
morale of the South Vietnamese. Between March 1965 and November
1968, "Rolling Thunder" deluged the north with a million tons of
missiles, rockets and bombs.
Bombing was not restricted to North Vietnam. Other aerial
campaigns, such as Operation
, targeted different parts of the NLF and Vietnam People's Army
infrastructure. These included the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran through
Laos and Cambodia.
The objective of forcing North Vietnam to
stop its support for the NLF, however, was never reached. As one
officer noted "this is a political war and it calls for
discriminate killing. The best weapon... would be a knife... The
worst is an airplane." The Chief of Staff of
the United States Air Force Curtis
, 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".
Escalation and ground war
Escalation of the Vietnam War officially
started on the morning of 31 January 1965, when orders were cut and
issued to mobilize the 18th Tactical Fighter
Wing from Okinawa to Da Nang Air Force Base (AFB). A red alert alarm to scramble was sounded at
Kadena AFB at 3:00
, pilots, and support were
deployed from Okinawa and landed in Vietnam that afternoon to join
up with other smaller units who had already arrived weeks earlier.
Preparations were under way for the first step of Operation Flaming Dart
. The mission of
Operation Flaming Dart, to cross the Seventeenth Parallel into
North Vietnam, had already been planned and was in place before the
NLF attack on Pleiku airbase on 6 February.
On 7 February, forty-nine F-105
flew out of Danang AFB to targets located in
North Vietnam. From this day forward the war was no longer confined
to South Vietnam. It took almost an hour to get all forty nine of
the F-105's in the air. On that morning, the continuous loud roar
of the F-105 engines going down the runway, one following another,
was described by the ground crew as a "rolling thunder".
After several attacks upon them, it was decided that U.S. Air Force
bases needed more protection. The South Vietnamese military seemed
incapable of providing security. On 8 March 1965, 3,500 United States Marines
to South Vietnam. This marked the beginning of the American ground
war. U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment.
Public opinion, however, was based on the premise that Vietnam was
part of a global struggle against communism.
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." As former First Deputy Foreign Minister Tran Quang
Co has noted, the primary goal of the war was to reunify Vietnam
and secure its independence. The policy of the Democratic Republic
of Vietnam (DRV) was not to topple other non-communist governments
in South East Asia.
The Marines' assignment was defensive. The initial deployment of
3,500 in March was increased to nearly 200,000 by December. The
U.S. military had long been schooled in offensive warfare.
Regardless of political policies, U.S. commanders were
institutionally and psychologically unsuited to a defensive
mission. In May, Army of
the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN) forces suffered heavy losses at
the Battle of Binh Gia
again defeated in June, at the Battle of Dong Xoai.
Desertion rates were increasing, and morale
plummeted. General William
informed Admiral Grant
, commander of U.S. Pacific forces, that the situation was
critical. He said, "I am convinced that U.S. troops with their
energy, mobility, and firepower can successfully take the fight to
the NLF [National Front for the Liberation of South
With this recommendation, Westmoreland was advocating an aggressive
departure from America's defensive posture and the sidelining of
the South Vietnamese. By ignoring ARVN units, the U.S. commitment
became open-ended. Westmoreland outlined a three-point plan to win
"Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (and other free world) forces
necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to
seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy
forces. This phase would be concluded when the enemy had been worn
down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated
Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of twelve to eighteen
months following Phase 2 would be required for the final
destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote base areas."
The plan was approved by Johnson and marked a profound departure
from the previous administration's insistence that the government
of South Vietnam was responsible for defeating the guerrillas.
Westmoreland predicted victory by the end of 1967. Johnson did not,
however, communicate this change in strategy to the media. Instead
he emphasized continuity. The change in U.S. policy depended on
matching the North Vietnamese and the NLF in a contest of attrition
opponents were locked in a cycle of escalation
. The idea that the government of South
Vietnam could manage its own affairs was shelved.
Members of U.S.
Navy SEAL Team One move down the Bassac River in a Seal team
Assault Boat (STAB) during operations along the river south of
Saigon, November 1967.
It is widely held that the average U.S. serviceman was nineteen
years old, as evidenced by the casual reference in a pop song
" by Paul
); the figure is cited by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
ret. of the Killology Research Group
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and
(p. 265). However, it is disputed by the
Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network Website, which claims the
average age of MOS 11B personnel was 22. This compares with 26
years of age for those who participated in World War II. Soldiers
served a one-year tour of duty. The average age of the US military
men who died in Vietnam was 22.8 years old.
The one-year tour of duty
units of experienced leadership. As one observer noted "we were not
in Vietnam for 10 years, but for one year 10 times."John Paul Vann.
John Paul Vann: Information from Answers.com.
As a result, training programs were shortened. Some NCOs
were referred to as "Shake 'N' Bake
" to highlight their
accelerated training. Unlike soldiers in World War II and Korea,
there were no secure rear areas in which to get rest and relaxation
One unidentified soldier said to United Press International
there was nothing to do in Vietnam and therefore many of the men
. He said, "One of the
reasons I guess -- one of the biggest reasons that a lot of GIs do
get high over here is there is nothing to do; this place is really
a drag, its a bore over here. Like right now sitting around here,
we are getting loaded. Whereas, it doesn’t really get you messed
up, that's I guess the main reason why we smoke it."
South Vietnam was inundated with manufactured goods. As Stanley Karnow
writes, "the main PX, located in the Saigon suburb of Cholon, was only
slightly smaller than the New York Bloomingdale's..."
buildup transformed the economy and had a profound impact on South
Vietnamese society. A huge surge in corruption was witnessed.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail running through
Washington encouraged its SEATO
contribute troops. Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of
Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines all agreed to send troops. Major allies,
however, notably NATO nations,
Canada and the United Kingdom, declined Washington's troop
The U.S. and its allies mounted complex
operations, such as operations Masher
, Cedar Falls
, and Junction City
. However, the
communist insurgents remained elusive and demonstrated great
Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam began to
stabilize somewhat with the coming to power of Vice President
Nguyen Cao Ky
and President Nguyen Van Thieu
in 1967. Thieu,
mistrustful and indecisive, remained president until 1975. This
ended a long series of military juntas
had begun with Diem's assassination. The relative calm allowed the
ARVN to collaborate more effectively with its allies and become a
better fighting force.
The Johnson administration employed a "policy of minimum candor" in
its dealings with the media. Military information officers sought
to manage media coverage by emphasizing stories which portrayed
progress in the war. Over time, this policy damaged the public
trust in official pronouncements. As the media's coverage of the
war and that of the Pentagon diverged, a so-called credibility gap
In October 1967 a large anti-war demonstration was held on the
steps of the Pentagon. Of the thousands of protesters, over 680
were arrested. Some protesters chanted phrases like, "Ho, Ho, Ho
Chi Minh! The NLF is going to win!" and "Hey, hey, LBJ! How many
boys did you kill today?"
lured General Westmoreland's forces into the hinterland at Khe
Sanh in Quang Tri Province, in January 1968, the PVA and NLF broke the truce
that had traditionally accompanied the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday.
launched the surprise Tet Offensive in the hope of sparking a
national uprising. Over 100 cities were attacked, with assaults on
General Westmoreland's headquarters and the U.S. embassy in
Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese were initially taken aback
by the scale of the urban offensive, they responded quickly and
effectively, decimating the ranks of the NLF. In the former capital
city of Huế, the
combined NLF and NVA troops
captured the Imperial Citadel and much of the city, which led to
the Battle of
Throughout the offensive, the American
forces employed massive firepower; in Hue where the battle was the
fiercest, that firepower left 80% of the city in ruins. During the
interim between the capture of the Citadel and end of the "Battle
of Hue", the communist insurgent occupying forces massacred
several thousand unarmed
Hue civilians (estimates vary up to a high of 6,000). After the
war, North Vietnamese officials acknowledged that the Tet Offensive
had, indeed, caused grave damage to NLF forces. But the offensive
had another, unintended consequence.
General Westmoreland had become the public face of the war. He was
featured on the cover of Time
magazine three times and was
named 1965's Man of the Year. Time
described him as "the
sinewy personification of the American fighting man... (who)
directed the historic buildup, drew up the battle plans, and
infused the... men under him with his own idealistic view of U.S.
aims and responsibilities."
In November 1967 Westmoreland spearheaded a public relations drive
for the Johnson administration to bolster flagging public support.
In a speech before the National Press Club
he said that a
point in the war had been reached "where the end comes into view."
Thus, the public was shocked and confused when Westmoreland's
predictions were trumped by Tet. The American media, which had been
largely supportive of U.S. efforts, rounded on the Johnson
administration for what had become an increasing credibility gap.
Despite its military failure, the Tet Offensive became a political
victory and ended the career of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who
declined to run for re-election. Johnson's approval rating slumped
from 48 to 36 percent.
As James Witz noted, Tet "contradicted the claims of progress...
made by the Johnson administration and the military." The Tet
Offensive was the turning point in America's involvement in the
Vietnam War. It had a profound impact on domestic support for the
conflict. The offensive constituted an intelligence failure on the scale of
Harbor. Journalist Peter
Arnett quoted an unnamed officer, saying of Ben Tre (laid to rubble by US firepower) that "it became
necessary to destroy the village in order to save it" (though the
authenticity of this quote is disputed).
According to one
source, this phrase was said by Maj. Booris of 9th Infantry
NLF/NVA killed by U.S. air force
personnel during an attack on the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut Air
Base during the Tet Offensive
Westmoreland became Chief of Staff of the Army in March, just as
all resistance was finally subdued. The move was technically a
promotion. However, his position had become untenable because of
the offensive and because his request for 200,000 additional troops
had been leaked to the media. Westmoreland was succeeded by his
deputy Creighton Abrams
commander less inclined to public media pronouncements.
On 10 May 1968, despite low expectations, peace talks
began between the U.S. and
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Negotiations stagnated for five
months, until Johnson gave orders to halt the bombing of North
Vietnam. The Democratic
President Hubert Humphrey
running against Republican
president Richard Nixon
. Through an
intermediary, Anna Chennault
advised Saigon to refuse to participate in the talks until after
elections, claiming that he would give them a better deal once
elected. Thieu obliged, leaving almost no progress made by the time
Johnson left office.
As historian Robert Dallek writes, "Lyndon Johnson's escalation of
the war in Vietnam divided Americans into warring camps... cost
30,000 American lives by the time he left office, (and) destroyed
Johnson's presidency..." His refusal to send more U.S. troops to
Vietnam was seen as Johnson's admission that the war was lost. It
can be seen that the refusal was a tacit admission that the war
could not be won by escalation, at least not at a cost acceptable
to the American people. As Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
noted, "the dangerous illusion of victory by the United States was
Nixon Doctrine / Vietnamization
Propaganda leaflets urging the
defection of NLF and North Vietnamese to the side of the Republic
- For more details on this topic, see
Severe communist losses during the Tet Offensive allowed U.S.
President Richard M. Nixon
to begin troop withdrawals. His plan,
called the Nixon Doctrine
, was to
build up the ARVN, so that they could take over the defense of
South Vietnam. The policy became known as "Vietnamization
". Vietnamization had much in
common with the policies of the Kennedy administration. One
important difference, however, remained. While Kennedy insisted
that the South Vietnamese fight the war themselves, he attempted to
limit the scope of the conflict.
Nixon said in an announcement, "I am tonight announcing plans for
the withdrawal of an additional 150,000 American troops to be
completed during the spring of next year. This will bring a total
reduction of 265,500 men in our armed forces in Vietnam below the
level that existed when we took office 15 months ago."
Nixon also pursued negotiations. Theater commander Creighton Abrams
shifted to smaller operations, aimed at communist logistics, with
better use of firepower and more cooperation with the ARVN.
also began to pursue détente with the
Union and rapprochement with the
People's Republic of China.
This policy helped to
decrease global tensions. Détente led to nuclear arms reduction on
the part of both superpowers
. But Nixon
was disappointed that the PRC and the Soviet Union continued to
supply the North Vietnamese with aid. In September 1969, Ho Chi
Minh died at age seventy-nine.
The anti-war movement was gaining strength in the United States.
Nixon appealed to the "silent
" of Americans to support the war. But revelations of
the My Lai
Massacre, in which a
went on a rampage and raped and killed civilians, and the 1969
"Green Beret Affair
" where eight
Special Forces soldiers, including the 5th Special Forces Group
Commander were arrested for the murder of a suspected double agent
provoked national and international outrage.
The civilian cost of the war was again questioned when the U.S.
concluded operation Speedy
with a claimed bodycount of 10,889 Communist guerillas
with only 40 U.S. losses; Kevin Buckley writing in Newsweek
estimated that perhaps 5,000 of the
Vietnamese dead were civilians.
Beginning in 1970 American troops were being taken away from border
areas where much more killing took place and instead put along the
coast and interior which is one reason why casualties in 1970 were
less than half of 1969's totals.
Operation Menu: the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos
Prince Norodom Sihanouk
proclaimed Cambodia neutral since 1955, but the communists used
Cambodian soil as a base and Sihanouk tolerated their presence,
because he wished to avoid being drawn into a wider regional
conflict. Under pressure from Washington, however, he changed this
policy in 1969. The Vietnamese communists were no longer welcome.
President Nixon took the opportunity to launch a massive secret
bombing campaign, called Operation Menu, against their sanctuaries
along the Cambodia/Vietnam border.
This violated a long succession of pronouncements from Washington
supporting Cambodian neutrality. Richard Nixon wrote to Prince
Sihanouk in April 1969 assuring him that the United States
respected "the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of
the Kingdom of Cambodia..." In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was deposed
by his pro-American
prime minister Lon Nol
. The country's
borders were closed, and the U.S. and ARVN launched incursions into Cambodia
VPA/NLF bases and buy time for South Vietnam.
The invasion of Cambodia sparked nationwide U.S. protests.
students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University during a protest in Ohio, which
provoked public outrage in the United States.
to the incident by the Nixon administration was seen as callous and
indifferent, providing additional impetus for the anti-war
In 1971 the Pentagon Papers
leaked to The New York
. The top-secret history of U.S. involvement in
Vietnam, commissioned by the Department of Defense, detailed a long
series of public deceptions. The Supreme Court ruled that its publication was legal.
The ARVN launched Operation Lam
in February 1971, aimed at cutting the Ho Chi Minh
trail in Laos. The ostensibly neutral Laos had long been the scene
of a Secret War
. After meeting
resistance, ARVN forces retreated in a confused rout. They fled
along roads littered with their own dead. When they ran out of
fuel, soldiers abandoned their vehicles and attempted to barge
their way on to American helicopters sent to evacuate the wounded.
Many ARVN soldiers clung to helicopter skids in a desperate attempt
to save themselves. U.S. aircraft had to destroy abandoned
equipment, including tanks, to prevent them from falling into enemy
hands. Half of the invading ARVN troops were either captured or
killed. The operation was a fiasco and represented a clear failure
of Vietnamization. As Karnow noted "the blunders were monumental...
The (South Vietnamese) government's top officers had been tutored
by the Americans for ten or fifteen years, many at training schools
in the United States, yet they had learned little."
In 1971 Australia and New Zealand withdrew their soldiers. The U.S.
troop count was further reduced to 196,700, with a deadline to
remove another 45,000 troops by February 1972. As peace protests
spread across the United States, disillusionment grew in the ranks.
Drug use increased, race relations grew tense and the number of
soldiers disobeying officers rose. Fragging
, or the murder of unpopular
officers with fragmentation grenades, increased.
Vietnamization was again tested by the Easter Offensive
of 1972, a massive
conventional invasion of South Vietnam. The VPA and NLF quickly
overran the northern provinces and in coordination with other
forces attacked from Cambodia, threatening to cut the country in
half. U.S. troop withdrawals continued. But American airpower came
to the rescue with Operation
, and the offensive was halted. However, it became
clear that without American airpower South Vietnam could not
survive. The last remaining American ground troops were withdrawn
1972 election and Paris Peace Accords
The war was the central issue of the 1972 presidential
. Nixon's opponent, George
, campaigned on a platform of withdrawal from Vietnam.
Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry
, continued secret negotiations with North Vietnam's
Le Duc Tho
. In October 1972, they reached
However, South Vietnamese President Thieu demanded massive changes
to the peace accord. When North Vietnam went public with the
agreement's details, the Nixon administration claimed that the
North was attempting to embarrass the President. The negotiations
became deadlocked. Hanoi demanded new changes.
To show his support for South Vietnam and force Hanoi back to the
negotiating table, Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker II
, a massive
bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. The offensive destroyed much of the
remaining economic and industrial capacity of North Vietnam.
Simultaneously Nixon pressured Thieu to accept the terms of the
agreement, threatening to conclude a bilateral peace deal and cut
off American aid.
On 15 January 1973, Nixon announced the suspension of offensive
action against North Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords
on "Ending the War
and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" were signed on 27 January 1973,
officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A
cease-fire was declared across North and South Vietnam. U.S.
were released. The agreement
guaranteed the territorial integrity of Vietnam and, like
the Geneva Conference of
1954, called for national elections in the North and South.
The Paris Peace Accords stipulated a sixty-day period for the total
withdrawal of U.S. forces. "This article," noted Peter Church,
"proved... to be the only one of the Paris Agreements which was
fully carried out."
Opposition to the Vietnam War: 1962–1975
advocates within the peace movement advocated a unilateral
withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.
reason given for the withdrawal is that it would contribute to a
lessening of tensions in the region and thus less human bloodshed.
Another, contrasting reason was that the Vietnamese should work out
their problems independent of foreign influence.
Early opposition to America's involvement in Vietnam was centered
around the Geneva conference of
and its mandate that elections be held to unite the
country. America's refusal to sign the Accords, and their support
of Diem, was considered to be thwarting the very democracy that
America claimed to be supporting. John Kennedy, while Senator,
opposed involvement in Viet Nam.
Opposition to the Vietnam War tended to unite groups opposed to
U.S. anti-communism, imperialism
and, for those involved with
the New Left
itself, such as the Catholic Worker Movement
such as Stephen Spiro
opposed the war
based on the theory of Just War
Some critics of U.S. withdrawal predicted that it would not
contribute to peace but rather vastly increased bloodshed. These
critics advocated U.S. forces remain until all threats from the
and North Vietnamese Army
Advocates of U.S. withdrawal were generally known as "doves", and
they called their opponents "hawks
following nomenclature dating back to the War of 1812. This
language has dated little in the intervening years; it is still
High-profile opposition to the Vietnam war turned to street
protests in an effort to turn U.S. political opinion against the
war. The protests gained momentum from the Civil Rights
that had organized to oppose segregation
laws, which had laid a
foundation of theory and infrastructure on which the anti-war
movement grew. Protests were fueled by a growing network of
independently published newspapers (known as "underground papers")
and the timely advent of large venue rock'n'roll festivals such as
Woodstock and Grateful Dead
shows, attracting younger people in search of generational
On 15 October, 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium
was held in Washington D.C. and other US cities. Millions of
Americans, throughout the country, participated.
shooting of four anti-war protesters at Kent State
University cemented the resolve of many protesters.
killings saw campuses erupt all across the country; in May
1970 most universities were strike-bound, for example at Wayne State
The late 1960s in the U.S. became a time of
youth rebellion, mass gatherings and riots, many of which began in
response to the assassination
Martin Luther King, Jr.
which ignited in an atmosphere of open opposition to a wartime
Provocative actions by police and by protesters turned anti-war
demonstrations in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National
into a riot. Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley
brought to bear 23,000 police and
National Guardsman upon 10,000 protestors. Explosive news
reports of American military abuses, such as the 1968 My Lai
Massacre, brought new
attention and support to the anti-war movement.
Veterans of the Vietnam War returned home to join the movement,
including John Kerry
, who spearheaded
Against the War
and testified before Congress in televised
Anti-war protests ended with the final withdrawal of troops after
the Paris Peace Accords
signed in 1973. Momentum from the protest organizations became a
main force for the growth of an environmental movement
in the United
States. South Vietnam was left to defend itself alone when the
fighting resumed. Many South Vietnamese fled to the United States
in one of the largest war refugee migrations in history. There was
no peace movement to protest the renewed bloodshed, and little
media coverage. Saigon surrendered to the North in 1975; Laos and
Cambodia were overrun by Communist troops that same spring.
Exit of the Americans: 1973–1975
The U.S. began drastically reducing their troop support in South
Vietnam during the final years of "Vietnamization
troops were removed from the region, and on 5 March 1971, the U.S.
returned the 5th Special Forces
Group, which was the first American unit deployed to South Vietnam, to its former base in Fort
Under the Paris Peace Accord
between North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Lê
and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
, and reluctantly signed by
South Vietnamese President Thiệu
U.S. military forces withdrew from South Vietnam and prisoners were
exchanged. North Vietnam was allowed to continue supplying
communist troops in the South, but only to the extent of replacing
materials that were consumed. Later that year the Nobel Peace Prize
was awarded to Kissinger
and Thọ, but the Vietnamese negotiator declined it saying that a
true peace did not yet exist.
The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would
favor their side. But Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid
received just before the ceasefire went into effect, began to roll
back the Vietcong. The communists responded with a new strategy
hammered out in a series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973,
according to the memoirs of Trần Văn
As the Vietcong's top commander, Trà participated in several of
these meetings. With U.S. bombings suspended, work on the Ho Chi
Minh Trail and other logistical structures could proceed unimpeded.
Logistics would be upgraded until the North was in a position to
launch a massive invasion of the South, projected for the 1975–1976
dry season. Trà calculated that this date would be Hanoi's last
opportunity to strike before Saigon's army could be fully trained.
three-thousand-mile long oil pipeline would be built from North
Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters in Loc Ninh, about northwest of Saigon.
Although McGovern himself was not elected U.S. president, the
November 1972 election did return a Democratic majority to both
houses of Congress under McGovern's "Come home America" campaign
theme. On 15 March 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon
implied that the U.S. would
intervene militarily if the communist side violated the ceasefire.
Public and congressional reaction to Nixon's trial balloon was
unfavorable and in April Nixon appointed Graham Martin
as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.
Martin was a second stringer compared to previous U.S. ambassadors
and his appointment was an early signal that Washington had given
up on Vietnam. During his confirmation hearings in June 1973,
Defense James R. Schlesinger
stated that he would
recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North
Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. On 4 June
1973, the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment
to prohibit such
The oil price shock of October 1973 caused significant damage to
the South Vietnamese economy. The Vietcong resumed offensive
operations when dry season began and by January 1974 it had
recaptured the territory it lost during the previous dry season.
After two clashes that left 55 South Vietnamese soldiers dead,
President Thiệu announced on 4 January that the war had restarted
and that the Paris Peace Accord was no longer in effect. There had
been over 25,000 South Vietnamese casualties during the ceasefire
took over as U.S. president
on 9 August 1974 after President Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal
. At this time, Congress
cut financial aid to South Vietnam from $1 billion a year to $700
million. The U.S. midterm elections in 1974 brought in a new
Congress dominated by Democrats who were even more determined to
confront the president on the war. Congress immediately voted in
restrictions on funding and military activities to be phased in
through 1975 and to culminate in a total cutoff of funding in
The success of the 1973–1974 dry season offensive inspired Trà to
return to Hanoi in October 1974 and plead for a larger offensive in
the next dry season. This time, Trà could travel on a drivable
highway with regular fueling stops, a vast change from the days was
Ho Chi Minh Trail was a dangerous mountain trek. Giáp, the North
Vietnamese defense minister, was reluctant to approve Trà's plan. A
larger offensive might provoke a U.S. reaction and interfere with
the big push planned for 1976. Trà appealed over Giáp's head to
first secretary Lê Duẩn
approved of the operation.
Trà's plan called for a limited offensive from Cambodia into
Province. The strike was
designed to solve local logistical problems, gauge the reaction of
South Vietnamese forces, and determine whether the U.S. would
return to the fray.
On 13 December 1974, North Vietnamese forces attacked Route 14 in
Phuoc Long Province. Phuoc Binh, the provincial capital, fell on 6
January 1975. Ford desperately asked Congress for funds to assist
and re-supply the South before it was overrun. Congress refused.
The fall of Phuoc Binh and the lack of an American response left
the South Vietnamese elite demoralized and corruption grew
The speed of this success led the Politburo to reassess its
strategy. It was decided that operations in the Central Highlands
would be turned over to General Văn Tiến Dũng
Pleiku should be seized, if possible. Before he left for the South,
Dũng was addressed by Lê Duẩn: "Never have we had military and
political conditions so perfect or a strategic advantage as great
as we have now."
At the start of 1975 the South Vietnamese had three times as much
artillery and twice the number of tanks and armoured cars as the
opposition. They also had 1,400 aircraft and a two-to-one numerical
superiority in combat troops over their Communist enemies.
Nevertheless, they faced a well-organized, highly determined and
well-funded North Vietnam. Much of the North's material and
financial support came from the communist bloc. Within South
Vietnam, there was increasing chaos. Their abandonment by the
American military had compromised an economy dependent on U.S.
financial support and the presence of a large number of U.S.
troops. South Vietnam suffered from the global recession which
followed the Arab oil embargo
On 10 March 1975, General Dung launched Campaign 275, a limited
offensive into the Central Highlands, supported by tanks and heavy
artillery. The target was Ban Me Thuot, in Daklak
Province. If the town could be taken, the provincial
capital of Pleiku and the road
to the coast would be exposed for a planned campaign in
The ARVN proved incapable of resisting the onslaught,
and its forces collapsed on 11 March. Once again, Hanoi was
surprised by the speed of their success. Dung now urged the
Politburo to allow him to seize Pleiku immediately and then turn
his attention to Kontum.
argued that with two months of good weather remaining until the
onset of the monsoon, it would be irresponsible to not take
advantage of the situation.
President Nguyen Van Thieu
former general, was fearful that his forces would be cut off in the
north by the attacking communists; Thieu ordered a retreat. The
president declared this to be a "lighten the top and keep the
bottom" strategy. But in what appeared to be a repeat of Operation Lam Son 719
, the withdrawal
soon turned into a bloody rout. While the bulk of ARVN forces
attempted to flee, isolated units fought desperately. ARVN General
Phu abandoned Pleiku and Kontum and retreated toward the coast, in
what became known as the "column of tears".
As the ARVN tried to disengage from the enemy, refugees mixed in
with the line of retreat. The poor condition of roads and bridges,
damaged by years of conflict and neglect, slowed Phu's column. As
the North Vietnamese forces approached, panic set in. Often
abandoned by the officers, the soldiers and civilians were shelled
incessantly. The retreat degenerated into a desperate scramble for
the coast. By 1 April the "column of tears" was all but
annihilated. It marked one of the poorest examples of a strategic
withdrawal in modern military history.
On 20 March, Thieu reversed himself and ordered Hue, Vietnam's
third-largest city, be held at all costs. Thieu's contradictory
orders confused and demoralized his officer corps. As the North
Vietnamese launched their attack, panic set in, and ARVN resistance
withered. On 22 March, the VPA opened the siege of Hue. Civilians
flooded the airport and the docks hoping for any mode of escape.
Some even swam out to sea to reach boats and barges anchored
offshore. In the confusion, routed ARVN soldiers fired on civilians
to make way for their retreat.
On 31 March, after a three-day battle, Hue fell. As resistance in Hue
collapsed, North Vietnamese rockets rained down on Da Nang and its airport.
By 28 March, 35,000 VPA
troops were poised to attack the suburbs. By 30 March, 100,000
leaderless ARVN troops surrendered as the VPA marched victoriously
through Da Nang. With the fall of the city, the defense of the
Central Highlands and Northern provinces came to an end.
Final North Vietnamese offensive
With the northern half of the country under their control, the
Politburo ordered General Dung to launch the final offensive
against Saigon. The operational plan for the Ho Chi Minh Campaign
called for the
capture of Saigon before 1 May. Hanoi wished to avoid the coming
monsoon and prevent any redeployment of ARVN forces defending the
capital. Northern forces, their morale boosted by their recent
victories, rolled on, taking Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, and Da Lat.
April, three North Vietnamese divisions attacked Xuan
Loc, 40 miles (64 km) east of Saigon.
North Vietnamese met fierce resistance at Xuan Loc from the
ARVN 18th Division
For two bloody weeks, severe fighting raged as the ARVN defenders
made a last stand
to try to block the
North Vietnamese advance. By 21 April, however, the exhausted
An embittered and tearful President Thieu resigned on the same day,
declaring that the United States of America had betrayed South
Vietnam. In a scathing attack on the US, he suggested U.S.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
had tricked him into signing the Paris peace agreement two years
ago, promising military aid which then failed to materialise.
He left for Taiwan on 25 April, leaving control of the government in the hands of General Duong Van Minh. At the same time, North Vietnamese tanks had reached Bien Hoa and turned toward Saigon, brushing aside isolated ARVN units along the way.
By the end of April, the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam had
collapsed on all fronts. Thousand of refugees streamed southward,
ahead of the main communist onslaught. On 27 April, 100,000 North
Vietnamese troops encircled Saigon. The city was defended by about
30,000 ARVN troops. To hasten a collapse and foment panic, the VPA
shelled the airport and forced its closure. With the air exit
closed, large numbers of civilians found that they had no way
Fall of Saigon
Chaos, unrest, and panic broke out as hysterical South Vietnamese
officials and civilians scrambled to leave Saigon. Martial law
was declared. American helicopters
began evacuating South Vietnamese, U.S., and foreign nationals from
various parts of the city and from the U.S. embassy compound.
Operation Frequent Wind
been delayed until the last possible moment, because of U.S.
Ambassador Graham Martin
's belief that
Saigon could be held and that a political settlement could be
Schlesinger announced early in the morning
of 29 April 1975 the evacuation from Saigon by
helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian
Frequent Wind was arguably the largest helicopter
evacuation in history. It began on 29 April, in an atmosphere of
desperation, as hysterical crowds of Vietnamese vied for limited
seats. Martin pleaded with Washington to dispatch $700 million in
emergency aid to bolster the regime and help it mobilize fresh
military reserves. But American public opinion had soured on this
conflict halfway around the world.
In the U.S., South Vietnam was perceived as doomed. President
had given a televised speech
on 23 April, declaring an end to the Vietnam War and all U.S. aid.
Frequent Wind continued around the clock, as North Vietnamese tanks
breached defenses on the outskirts of Saigon. The song "White Christmas
" was broadcast as the
final signal for withdrawal. In the early morning hours of 30
April, the last U.S. Marines
evacuated the embassy by helicopter, as
civilians swamped the perimeter and poured into the grounds. Many
of them had been employed by the Americans and were left to their
On 30 April 1975, VPA troops overcame all resistance, quickly
capturing key buildings and installations. A tank crashed through
the gates of the Presidential Palace, and at 11:30 a.m. local time
the NLF flag was raised above it. Thieu's successor, President
Duong Van Minh
, attempted to
surrender, but VPA officers informed him that he had nothing left
to surrender. Minh then issued his last command, ordering all South
Vietnamese troops to lay down their arms.
The Communists had attained their goal: they had toppled the Saigon
regime. But the cost of victory was high. In the past decade alone,
one Vietnamese in every ten had been a casualty of war—nearly a
million and a half killed, three million wounded.
By war's end, the Vietnamese had been fighting foreign involvement
or occupation (primarily by the French, Chinese, Japanese, British,
and American governments) for 116 years.
Events in Southeast Asia
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, fell to the Khmer Rouge
on 17 April 1975.
Over the next four years, the Khmer Rouge
would enact a genocidal policy that would kill over one-fifth of
all Cambodians, or more than a million people. After repeated
border clashes in 1978, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea
ousted the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian–Vietnamese
In response, China invaded Vietnam in 1979. The two countries
fought a brief border war, known as the Third Indochina War
or the Sino-Vietnamese War
. From 1978 to 1979,
some 450,000 ethnic Chinese
left Vietnam by boat
as refugees or were expelled across the land border with
Pathet Lao overthrew the royalist
government of Laos in December
1975. They established the Lao People's
From 1975 to 1996, the U.S. resettled some
250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand, including 130,000 Hmong
More than 3 million people fled from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia,
many as "boat people
". Most Asian
countries were unwilling to accept refugees. Since 1975, an
estimated 1.4 million refugees from Vietnam
and other Southeast Asian countries have been resettled to the
Effect on the United States
In the post-war era, Americans struggled to absorb the lessons of
the military intervention. As General Maxwell Taylor
, one of the principal
architects of the war, noted "first, we didn't know ourselves. We
thought that we were going into another Korean war
, but this was a different country.
Secondly, we didn't know our South Vietnamese allies... And we knew
less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi
? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know
our allies and know ourselves, we'd better keep out of this kind of
dirty business. It's very dangerous."
Some have suggested that "the responsibility for the ultimate
failure of this policy [America's withdrawal from Vietnam] lies not
with the men who fought, but with those in Congress..."
Alternatively, the official history of the United States Army
noted that "tactics
have often seemed to exist apart
from larger issues, strategies, and objectives. Yet in Vietnam the
Army experienced tactical success and strategic failure... The...
Vietnam War('s)... legacy may be the lesson that unique historical,
political, cultural, and social factors always impinge on the
military... Success rests not only on military progress but on
correctly analyzing the nature of the particular conflict,
understanding the enemy's strategy, and assessing the strengths and
weaknesses of allies. A new humility and a new sophistication may
form the best parts of a complex heritage left to the Army by the
long, bitter war in Vietnam."
U.S. Secretary of State Henry
wrote in a secret memo to President Gerald Ford that
"in terms of military tactics, we cannot help draw the conclusion
that our armed forces are not suited to this kind of war. Even the
Special Forces who had been designed for it could not prevail."
Even Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that "the
achievement of a military victory by U.S. forces in Vietnam was
indeed a dangerous illusion."
Doubts surfaced as to the effectiveness of large-scale, sustained
bombing. As Army Chief of Staff
Harold K. Johnson
noted, "if anything came out of
Vietnam, it was that air power couldn't do the job. Even General
William Westmoreland admitted that the bombing had been
ineffective. As he remarked, "I still doubt that the North
Vietnamese would have relented."
The inability to bomb Hanoi to the bargaining table also
illustrated another U.S. miscalculation. The North's leadership was
composed of hardened communists who had been fighting for
independence for thirty years. They had successfully defeated the
French, and their tenacity as both nationalists and communists was
formidable. Ho Chi Minh is quoted as saying, “You can kill ten of
my men for every one I kill of yours…But even at these odds you
will lose and I will win”
The Vietnam War called into question the U.S. Army doctrine. Marine
Corps General Victor Krulak
criticised Westmoreland's attrition
strategy, calling it "wasteful
of American lives... with small likelihood of a successful
outcome." As well, doubts surfaced about the ability of the
military to train foreign forces. The defeat also raised disturbing
questions about the quality of the advice that was given to
successive presidents by the Pentagon.
Between 1965 and 1975, the United States spent $111 billion on the
war ($686 billion in FY2008 dollars). This resulted in a large
federal budget deficit. The war demonstrated that no power, not
even a superpower, has unlimited strength and resources. But
perhaps most significantly, the Vietnam War illustrated that
political will, as much as material might, is a decisive factor in
the outcome of conflicts.
More than 3 million Americans served in Vietnam. By war's end,
58,193 soldiers were killed, more than 150,000 were wounded, and at
least 21,000 were permanently disabled. Approximately 830,000
Vietnam veterans suffered symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder
An estimated 125,000 Americans fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam
draft, and approximately 50,000 American servicemen deserted. In
1977, United States President Jimmy
granted a full, complete and unconditional pardon to all
Vietnam-era draft evaders
. The Vietnam War POW/MIA issue
concerning the fate of U.S. service personnel listed as missing in action
, would persist for many
years after the war's conclusion.
Other countries' involvement
People's Republic of China
In 1950, the People's Republic of China extended diplomatic
recognition to the Viet Minh
's Democratic Republic of
and sent weapons, as well as military advisors led by
Luo Guibo to assist the Viet Minh in its war with the French. The
first draft of the 1954 Geneva
was negotiated by French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France
Premier Zhou Enlai
who, fearing U.S.
intervention, urged the Viet Minh to accept a partition at the
China's ability to aid the Viet Minh declined when Soviet aid to
China was reduced following the end of the Korean War
in 1953. Moreover, a divided Vietnam
posed less of a threat to China. China provided material and
technical support to the Vietnamese communists worth hundreds of
millions of dollars. Chinese-supplied rice allowed North Vietnam to
pull military-age men from the paddies and imposed a universal
draft beginning in 1960.
In the summer of 1962, Mao Zedong
to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge.
Starting in 1965, China sent anti-aircraft units and engineering
battalions to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American
bombing, rebuild roads and railroads, and to perform other
engineering works. This freed North Vietnamese army units for
combat in the South. Between 1965 and 1970, over 320,000 Chinese
soldiers served in North Vietnam. The peak was in 1967, when
170,000 were stationed there.
Sino-Soviet tensions soured after the
Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
In October, the Chinese
demanded North Vietnam cut relations with Moscow, but Hanoi
refused. The Chinese began to withdraw in November
1968 in preparation for a clash with the Soviets, which occurred at
Island in March 1969.
The Chinese also began
financing the Khmer Rouge
counterweight to the Vietnamese communists at this time. China's
withdrawal from Vietnam was completed in July 1970.
The Khmer Rouge launched ferocious raids into Vietnam in 1975–1978.
Vietnam responded with an invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge. In
response, China launched a brief, punitive invasion of Vietnam in 1979
. The two
nations continued the border wars in the 1980s, with China
capturing disputed islands during the Battle of the Paracel Islands
and the Spratly Island
On the anti-communist
Korea had the second-largest contingent of foreign troops in South
Vietnam after the United States. The first South Korean troops
began arriving in 1964 and large combat battalions began arriving a
year later, with the South Koreans soon developing a reputation for
effectiveness. Indeed arguably, they conducted counterinsurgency
operations so well that American commanders felt that Korean area
of responsibility was the safest.
This was further supported when Vietcong documents captured after
the Tet Offensive warned their compatriots to never engage Koreans
until full victory was certain. Approximately 320,000 South Korean
soldiers were sent to Vietnam, each serving a one year tour of
duty. Maximum troop levels peaked at 50,000 in 1968, however all
were withdrawn by 1973. More than 5,000 South Koreans were killed
and 11,000 were injured during the war.
Australia and New Zealand
An Australian soldier in Vietnam
Australia and New Zealand, both close allies of the United States
and members of the Southeast Asia Treaty
(SEATO), sent ground troops to Vietnam. Both
nations had gained experience in counterinsurgency and jungle
warfare during the Malayan
. Geographically close to Asia, their governments
subscribed to the "Domino Theory
communist expansion and felt that their national security would be
threatened if communism spread further in Southeast Asia
Australia began by sending advisors to Vietnam, the number of which
rose steadily until 1965, when combat troops were committed. New
Zealand began by sending a detachment of engineers and an artillery
battery, and then started sending special forces and regular
infantry. Australia's peak commitment was 7,672 combat troops, New
Zealand's 552. Most of these soldiers served in the
1st Australian Task Force,
a brigade group-type formation, which
was based in what was then Phuoc Tuy
province, in the vicinity of present-day Ba Ria-Vung
Australia re-introduced conscription
its armed forces in the face of significant public opposition
to the war
Australian and New Zealand units
were awarded U.S. unit
citations for their service in South Vietnam, while four Victoria Crosses
—the highest award for
bravery in the Commonwealth
—were awarded to members
of the Australian armed forces for actions in Vietnam.
10,450 Filipino troops were dispatched to South Vietnam.
They were primarily engaged in medical and other civilian
pacification projects. These forces operated under the designation
PHLCAG-V or Philippine Civic Action Group-Vietnam.
Thai Army formations, including the "Queen's Cobra"
battalion, saw action in South Vietnam between 1965 and
Thai forces saw much more action in the covert war in
Laos between 1964 and 1972, though Thai regular formations there
were heavily outnumbered by the irregular "volunteers" of the
CIA-sponsored Police Aerial Reconnaissance Units or PARU, who
carried out reconnaissance activities on the western side of the Ho
Chi Minh Trail.
Union supplied North Vietnam with medical supplies, arms,
tanks, planes, helicopters, artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and
other military equipment.
Soviet crews fired USSR-made
the B-52 bombers
which were the
first raiders shot down over Hanoi. Fewer than a dozen Soviet
citizens lost their lives in this conflict. Following the collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian officials acknowledged that
the Soviet Union had stationed up to 3,000 troops in Vietnam during
result of a decision of the Korean
Workers' Party in October 1966, in early 1967, North Korea sent a fighter squadron to North Vietnam to back up
the North Vietnamese 921st and 923rd fighter squadrons defending
They stayed through 1968, and 200 pilots were
reported to have served.
In addition, at least two anti-aircraft artillery regiments were
sent as well. North Korea also sent weapons, ammunition and two
million sets of uniforms to their comrades in North Vietnam.
Kim Il Sung
is reported to have told his
pilots to "fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were their
Canada and the ICC
Indian and Polish troops (respectively, representatives of NATO, non-aligned states, and the Warsaw Pact) formed the International Control
Commission, which was supposed to monitor the 1954 ceasefire
Canada also had citizens serving in Vietnam as
part of the U.S. armed forces and was a favored destination for
American deserters, conscientious objectors
during the conflict.
Canada hosted 30,000–90,000 Americans seeking asylum.
Other countries and parties
Spain sent thirteen soldiers, including doctors.
Nicaragua and Paraguay also offered to send troops to Vietnam in support
of the United States.
Since November 1967, the Republic of China secretly operated a
cargo transport detachment to assist the US and the ROV, it was
based on existing formation of the 34th squadron of ROC Air force.
The unit's strength included two cargo aircraft, seven flight
officers and two mechanics, even though a higher number of military
personnel was involved through rotation. It was tasked with air
transportation, airdrop and electronic reconnaissance. Some 25
members of the unit were killed, among them 17 pilots and
co-pilots, and three aircraft were lost. Other ROC involvement in
Vietnam included a secret listening station, special reconnaissance
and raiding squads, military advisers and civilian airline
operations (which cost a further two aircraft due to Vietnamese
individually operated AA missiles).
One of the most controversial aspects of the U.S. military effort
in Southeast Asia was the widespread use of chemical defoliants
between 1961 and 1971. They were used
large parts of the
countryside. These chemicals continue to change the landscape,
cause diseases and birth defects, and poison the food chain.
Early in the American military effort it was decided that since the
enemy were hiding their activities under triple-canopy jungle, a
useful first step might be to defoliate certain areas. This was
especially true of growth surrounding bases (both large and small)
in what became known as Operation
. Corporations like Dow
and Monsanto Company
were given the task of developing herbicides for this
The defoliants, which were distributed in drums marked with
color-coded bands, included the "Rainbow Herbicides
, Agent Purple
, Agent Blue
, and, most famously, Agent
, which included dioxin
as a by-product of its
manufacture. About 12 million gallons (45,000,000 L) of Agent
Orange were sprayed over Southeast Asia during the American
involvement. A prime area of Ranch Hand operations was in the
, where the U.S. Navy
patrol boats were vulnerable to attack from the undergrowth at the
In 1961 and 1962, the Kennedy administration authorized the use of
chemicals to destroy rice crops. Between 1961 and 1967, the U.S.
Air Force sprayed 20 million U.S. gallons (75,700,000 L) of
concentrated herbicides over 6 million acres
) of crops and trees, affecting an
estimated 13% of South Vietnam's land. In 1965, 42% of all
herbicide was sprayed over food crops. Another purpose of herbicide
use was to drive civilian populations into RVN-controlled
As of 2006, the Vietnamese government estimates that there are over
4,000,000 victims of dioxin poisoning in Vietnam, although the
United States government denies any conclusive scientific links
between Agent Orange and the Vietnamese victims of dioxin
poisoning. In some areas of southern Vietnam dioxin levels remain
at over 100 times the accepted international standard.
The U.S. Veterans Administration has listed prostate cancer
, respiratory cancers
, multiple myeloma
, type II diabetes
, Hodgkin’s disease
, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
, soft tissue sarcoma
, porphyria cutanea tarda
, peripheral neuropathy
, and spina bifida
in children of veterans exposed to
Agent Orange. Although there has been much discussion over whether
the use of these defoliants constituted a violation of the laws of
war, the defoliants were not considered weapons, since exposure to
them did not lead to immediate death or incapacitation.
The number of military and civilian deaths from 1959 to 1975 is
debated. Some reports fail to include the members of South
Vietnamese forces killed in the final campaign, or the Royal Lao
Armed Forces, thousands of Laotian and Thai irregulars, or Laotian
civilians who all perished in the conflict. They do not include
the tens of thousands of Cambodians killed during the civil war or
the estimated one and one-half to two million that perished in the
genocide that followed Khmer Rouge victory, or the fate of Laotian
Royals and civilians after the Pathet Lao
assumed complete power in Laos.
In 1995, the Vietnamese government reported that its military
forces, including the NLF, suffered 1.1 million dead and 600,000
wounded during Hanoi's conflict with the United States. Civilian
deaths were put at two million in the North and South, and economic
were expected. Hanoi
concealed the figures during the war to avoid demoralizing the
population. Estimates of civilian deaths caused by American bombing
in Operation Rolling
range from 52,000 to 182,000. The U.S. military has
estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese
soldiers died in the war.
The Vietnam War has been featured heavily in television and films.
The war also influenced a generation of musicians and songwriters.
The band Country Joe and the
Rag" in 1965, and it became one of the most influential
anti-Vietnam protest anthems. The musical Miss Saigon
focuses on the end of the war
and its aftermath. In cinema, noted films that have shaped the
popular conception of the war include Apocalypse Now
, The Deer Hunter
, Hamburger Hill
, Forrest Gump
, Full Metal Jacket
, Good Morning, Vietnam
Born on the Fourth
, the Rambo
films and We Were Soldiers
, as well as
serves as the setting for numerous video
, such as Battlefield
, Elite Warriors: Vietnam
, The Hell in
, Line of Sight: Vietnam
, Men of Valor
, Shellshock: Nam '67
and its sequel
, and Wings Over Vietnam
. It was
represented on television by the series Tour of Duty
. A common
misconception by people who were not fans of the show is that the
media franchise M*A*S*H
is set in
the Vietnam War; it is actually set in the Korean War
theater. The TV series China Beach
which aired from 1988 to 1991
in the US focused on the everyday lives of those stationed in
Vietnam.The Korean Horror film R-Point
set in the Vietnam war. Many books and computer, video and board
games have also been made about the Vietnam War.
- Primary sources
- Anonymous. We Had to Destroy it in Order to Save it.
infamous quote from unidentified U.S. officer, illustrating the
illogic which is sometime part of war.
- Carter, Jimmy. By The President Of The United States Of America, A
Proclamation Granting Pardon For Violations Of The Selective
Service Act, 4 August 1964 To 28 March 1973 (21 January
- Central Intelligence Agency. " Laos," CIA World Factbook
- BBC News: On this Day in 1975: Saigon surrenders
- Praeger, "America at War since 1945"
- Church, George. Lessons From a Lost War TIME. 24 June 2001
- Kolko, Gabriel The End of the Vietnam War, 30 Years Later
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. Mandate for Change. (1963) a
presidential political memoir
- Ho, Chi Minh. "Vietnam Declaration of Independence,"
Selected Works. (1960–1962) selected writings
- Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy. (1961)
- International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos.
- LeMay, General Curtis E. and Kantor, MacKinlay. Mission
with LeMay (1965) autobiography of controversial former Chief
of Staff of the United States Air Force
- Kissinger, United States Secretary of State Henry A. "Lessons on Vietnam," (1975) secret memoranda to
U.S. President Ford
- McMahon, Robert J. Major Problems in the History of the
Vietnam War: Documents and Essays (1995) textbook
- Kim A. O'Connell, ed. Primary Source Accounts of the
Vietnam War (2006)
- McCain, John. Faith of My Fathers: A
Family Memoir (1999) describes the early life and
military career of John McCain, including as a naval aviator
and POW during Vietnam War
- Marshall, Kathryn. In the Combat Zone: An Oral History of
American Women in Vietnam, 1966–1975 (1987)
- Martin, John Bartlow.
Was Kennedy Planning to Pull out of Vietnam? (1964) oral
history for the John F. Kennedy Library, tape V, reel 1.
- Myers, Thomas. Walking Point: American Narratives of
- Major General Spurgeon Neel. Medical Support of the
U.S. Army in Vietnam 1965–1970 (Department of the
Army 1991) official medical history; online complete text
- Roosevelt, Franklin D. "Franklin Roosevelt Memorandum to
Cordell Hull." (1995) in Major Problems in American Foreign
- Public Papers of the Presidents, 1965 (1966) official
documents of U.S. presidents.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr.Robert Kennedy and His
Times. (1978) a first hand account of the Kennedy
administration by one of his principle advisors
- Sinhanouk, Prince Norodom. "Cambodia Neutral: The Dictates of
Necessity." Foreign Affairs. (1958) describes the
geopolitical situation of Cambodia
- Sorley, Lewis, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and
Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (1999), based
upon still classified tape-recorded meetings of top level US
commanders in Vietnam, ISBN 0-15-601309-6
- Sun Tzu. The Art of War. (1963), ancient military
- Tang, Truong Nhu. A Vietcong Memoir (1985), revealing
account by senior NLF official
- Terry, Wallace, ed. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam
War by Black Veterans (1984)
- The landmark series Vietnam: A Television History, first
broadcast in 1983, is a special presentation of the award-winning
PBS history series, American Experience.
- The Pentagon Papers (Gravel ed. 5 vol 1971);
combination of narrative and secret documents compiled by Pentagon.
- U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United
States (multivolume collection of official secret documents)
vol 1: 1964; vol 2: 1965; vol 3: 1965; vol 4: 1966;
- U.S. Department of Defense and the House Committee on Armed
Services.U.S.-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967. Washington,
DC. Department of Defense and the House Committee on Armed
Services, 1971, 12 volumes.
- Vann, John Paul Quotes from Answers.com Lt. Colonel, U.S.
Army, DFC, DSC, advisor to the ARVN 7th Division, early critic of
the conduct of the war.
- Secondary sources
- Anderson, David L. Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War
- Baker, Kevin. "Stabbed in the Back! The past and future of a
right-wing myth," Harper's Magazine (June, 2006)
- Angio, Joe. Nixon a Presidency Revealed (2007) The
History Channel television documentary
- Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to
- Blaufarb, Douglas. The Counterinsurgency Era (1977) a
history of the Kennedy Administration's involvement in South
- Brigham, Robert K. Battlefield Vietnam: A Brief
History a PBS interactive website
- Buckley, Kevin. "Pacification’s Deadly Price",
Newsweek, 19 June 1972.
- Buzzanco, Bob. "25 Years After End of Vietnam War: Myths Keep
Us From Coming To Terms With Vietnam," The Baltimore Sun
(17 April 2000)
- Church, Peter ed. A Short History of South-East Asia
- Cooper, Chester L. The Lost Crusade: America in
Vietnam (1970) a Washington insider's memoir of events.
- Demma, Vincent H. "The U.S. Army in Vietnam." American
Military History (1989) the official history of the United
States Army. Available online
- Duiker, William J. The Communist Road to Power in
- Duncanson, Dennis J. Government and Revolution in
- Fincher, Ernest Barksdale, The Vietnam War
- Ford, Harold P. CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three
Episodes, 1962–1968. (1998).
- Gerdes, Louise I. ed. Examining Issues Through Political
Cartoons: The Vietnam War (2005).
- Gettleman, Marvin E.; Franklin, Jane; Young, Marilyn
Vietnam and America: A Documented History. (1995).
- Hammond, William. Public Affairs: The Military and the
Media, 1962–1968 (1987); Public Affairs: The Military and
the Media, 1068–1973 (1995). full-scale history of the war by
U.S. Army; much broader than title suggests.
- Herring, George C. America's Longest War: The
United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975 (4th ed 2001), most
widely used short history.
- Hitchens, Christopher. The Vietnam Syndrome.
- Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History (1983), popular
history by a former foreign correspondent; strong on Saigon's
- Kutler, Stanley ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War
- Leepson, Marc ed. Dictionary of the Vietnam War (1999)
New York: Webster's New World.
- Lewy, Guenter. America in Vietnam (1978), defends U.S.
- McMahon, Robert J. Major Problems in the History of the
Vietnam War: Documents and Essays (1995) textbook.
- McNamara, Robert, James Blight, Robert Brigham, Thomas
Biersteker, Herbert Schandler, Argument Without End: In Search
of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy, (Public Affairs,
- Moise, Edwin E. Historical Dictionary of the Vietnam
- Moss, George D. Vietnam (4th ed 2002) textbook.
- Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War,
1954–1965, (Cambridge University Press; 412 pages; 2006). A
revisionist history that challenges the notion that U.S.
involvement in Vietnam was misguided; defends the validity of the
domino theory and disputes the notion that Ho Chi Minh was, at
heart, a nationalist who would eventually turn against his
Communist Chinese allies.
- Nulty, Bernard.The Vietnam War (1998) New York: Barnes
- Palmer, Bruce, Jr. The Twenty-Five Year War (1984),
narrative military history by a senior U.S. general.
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- Schulzinger, Robert D. A Time for War: The United States
and Vietnam, 1941–1975 (1997).
- Spector, Ronald. After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in
Vietnam (1992), very broad coverage of 1968.
- Tucker, Spencer. ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War
(1998) 3 vol. reference set; also one-volume abridgement
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- Young, Marilyn, B. The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990.
- Xiaoming, Zhang. "China's 1979 War With Vietnam: A
Reassessment," China Quarterly. Issue no. 184, (December,
- Further reading
- Diem instituted a policy of death penalty against any communist
activity in 1956. The Vietcong began an assassination campaign in
early 1957. An article by French scholar Bernard Fall published in
July 1958 concluded that a new war had begun. The first official
large unit military action was on September 26, 1959, when the
Vietcong ambushed two ARVN companies.
- Vietnam War Statistics and Facts 1 25th Aviation
- Kolko, Gabriel Anatomy of War, pages 457, 461 ff.,
- Vietnamwar.com archive.org record
- Moore, Harold. G and Joseph L. Galloway We Are Soldiers
Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 3, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 17, ISBN
- The Việt Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội had previously
formed in Nanjing,
China, at some point between August 1935 and early 1936 when the
non-communist Vietnamese Nationalist Party (Việt
Nam Quốc Dân Đảng, or Việt Quốc), led by Nguyễn Thái Học, and
some members of the Indochinese Communist Party
(ICP) and a number of other Vietnamese nationalist parties formed
an anti-imperialist united front. This organisation soon lapsed
into inactivity, only to be revived by the ICP and Ho Chi Minh in 1941. NGUYEN,
Sai D. "The National Flag of Viet Nam."
Quinn-Judge, Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years,
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 18, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 18–19, ISBN
- Kolko, Gabriel Anatomy of War, page 36, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 19, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 20, ISBN
- Kolko, Gabriel Anatomy of War, page 37, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 24, ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 23–24 ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 24 ISBN
- Neale, Jonathan The American War, page 25 ISBN
- McNamara, Argument Without End pp 377–79
- Pentagon Papers, Gravel, ed, Chapter 2, 'U.S.
Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War', p. 54.
- Ang, Cheng Guan, The Vietnam War from the Other Side,
p. 14. Routledge (2002).
- Herring, George C.: America's Longest War, p. 18.
- Zinn, A People's History of the United States, p.
- Vietnam The Ten Thousand Day War, Thames 1981, Michael Maclear,
- Vietnam at War: The History: 1946-1975, ISBN
9780195067927, page 263
- Dien Bien Phu, Air Force Magazine 87:8, August
- Vietnam, Routledge, 1999, Spencer Tucker, ISBN
9781857289220, page 76
- The U.S. Navy: a history, Naval Institute Press, 1997,
Nathan Miller, ISBN 9781557505958, pages 67-68
- The Pentagon Papers. Gravel, ed. vol. 1, pp
- Press release by the Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam, quoted
from the Washington D.C. press and Information Service, vol l. no.
18 (22 July 1955) and no. 20 (18 August 1955), in Chapter 19 of
Gettleman, Franklin and Young, Vietnam and America: A
Documented History, pp. 103–105]
- Jacobs, pp. 45–55.
- Two Viet-nams by Bernard B. Fall. Praeger, 1964
- Vietnam Divided by B.S.N. Murti, Asian Publishing
- Robert Turner, Vietnamese Communism: Its Origin and
Development, 102 (Stanford Ca: Hoover Institution Press,
- Christian G. Appy (2008) Vietnam: The Definitive Oral
History, Told From All Sides. London, Ebury Press: 46
- Christian G. Appy (2008) Vietnam: The Definitive Oral
History, Told From All Sides. London, Ebury Press: 46–7
- Anatomy of a war, Gabiel Kolko, Phoenix press 1994 , page
- 1 Pentagon Papers (The Senator Gravel Edition), 247,
328 (Boston, Beacon Press, 1971)
- Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in
Viet-Nam, 20 July 1954
- Kolko, Gabriel, Anatomy of a War page 98, ISBN
- Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mandate for Change. Garden City,
NJ. Doubleday & Company, 1963, p. 372.
- Pentagon Papers
- McNamara Argument Without End p. 19.
- John F. Kennedy. " America's Stakes in Vietnam". Speech to the
American Friends of Vietnam, June 1956.
- McNamara Argument Without End p. 200–201.
- Robert K. Brigham. Battlefield Vietnam: A Brief History.
- The Pentagon Papers Gravel Edition Volume 1, Chapter
5, "Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960"]
- John Prados, " The Numbers Game: How Many Vietnamese Fled South In
1954?", The VVA Veteran, January/February 2005.
Retrieved 21 January 2007.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 238.
- Anatomy of a War by Gabriel Kolko, ISBN 1-56584-218-9, page
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 239.
- Gerdes (ed.) Examining Issues Through Political Cartoons:
The Vietnam War p. 19.
- ;Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 230.
- James Olson and Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell:
America and Vietnam, 1945-1990, p. 67 (New York: St. Martin’s
- Neil Sheehan (1988) A Bright Shining Lie. New York,
- Vo Nguyen Giap, "The Political and Military Line of Our Party",
in The Military Art, pp. 179–80
- Part 1 Part 2 (a monograph prepared for the United
States Mission, Vietnam).
- Op. cit. .
- Pentagon Papers Gravel, 335.
- Pentagon Papers Gravel, 337.
- Anatomy of a War by Gabriel Kolko, ISBN 1-56584-218-9, pages
- See Mark Moyar, "The War Against the Viet Cong Shadow
Government," in The Real Lesson of the Vietnam War (John
Norton Moore and Robert Turner eds., 2002) pp. 151–67.
- Excerpts from Law 10/59, 6 May 1959
- U.S. Department of Defense, U.S.-Vietnam Relations,
vol. 2, p. 2.
- Anatomy of a War by Gabriel Kolko, ISBN 1-56584-218-9, page
- Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, (New York: Viking
Press, 1983), 264
- The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy.
- Karnow, Vietnam, 265 suggested that "Kennedy
sidestepped Laos, whose rugged terrain was no battleground for
- The case of John F. Kennedy and Vietnam Presidential
- Mann, Robert. A Grand Delusion, Basic Books,
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 267.
- U.S. Department of Defense, U.S.-Vietnam Relations,
vol. 3, pp 1–2.
- McNamara Argument Without End p. 369.
- John Kenneth Galbraith. "Memorandum to President Kennedy from
John Kenneth Galbraith on Vietnam, 4 April 1962." The Pentagon
Papers. Gravel. ed. Boston, Mass. Beacon Press, 1971, vol. 2.
- International Agreement on the Neutrality of
- Neil Sheehan (1989) A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann
and America in Vietnam. New York, Vintage: 201–66
- Live interview by John Bartlow Martin. Was Kennedy Planning
to Pull out of Vietnam? New York, NY. John F. Kennedy Library,
1964, Tape V, Reel 1.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 326.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 327.
- McNamara Argument Without End p. 328.
- Demma, Vincent H. "The U.S. Army in Vietnam." American
Military History (1989) the official history of the United
States Army. Available online
- Douglas Blaufarb. The Counterinsurgency Era. New York,
NY. Free Press, 1977, p. 119.
- George C. Herring. America's Longest War: The United States
and Vietnam, 1950-1975. Boston, Mass. McGraw Hill, 1986, p.
- Foreign Relation of the United States, Vietnam,
1961-1963. Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1991,
vol. 4., p. 707.
- U.S. Special Forces: A Guide to America's Special Operations
Units : the World's Most Elite Fighting Force,By Samuel A.
Southworth, Stephen Tanner,Published by Da Capo Press, 2002,ISBN
- Shooting at the Moon by Roger Warner – The history of CIA/IAD'S
15-year involvement in conducting the secret war in Laos,
1960–1975, and the career of CIA PMCO (paramilitary case officer)
- Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin
books, 1983): p. 336–339: Johnson viewed many members whom he
inherited from Kennedy's cabinet with distrust because he had never
penetrated their circle early in Kennedy's presidency; to Johnson's
mind, such as Averill Harriman and Dean Acheson spoke a
- Shortly after the assassination of Kennedy, when McGeorge Bundy called
LBJ on the phone, LBJ responded: "Goddammit, Bundy. I've told you
that when I want you I'll call you." Brian VanDeMark, Into the
Quagmire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 13
- Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin books, 1983), p.
339. Before a small group, including Henry Cabot
Lodge Jr., the new president also said, "We should stop playing
cops and robbers [a reference to Diem's failed leadership] and get
back to... winning the war... tell the generals in Saigon that
Lyndon Johnson intends to stand by our word...[to] win the contest
against the externally directed and supported Communist
- Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin
books, 1983), 339 notes, talking about the Mekong Delta, that, "At
a place called Hoa Phu, for example, the strategic hamlet built during the
previous summer now looked like it had been hit by a hurricane....
Speaking through an interpreter, a local guard explained to me that
a handful of Vietcong agents had entered the hamlet one night and
told the peasants to tear it down and return to their native
villages. The peasants complied without question."
- Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin
books, 1983), 340 who quote Minh as enjoying playing tennis more
than bureaucratic work.
- Stanley Karnow, quoted in Vietnam: A History (New
York: Penguin books, 1983), p. 341
- Hanyok, Robert J., Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish:
The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-August 4, 1964, NSA
Cryptologic Quarterly, (archived from the original on 26 February 2008).
- Gerdes (ed.) Examining Issues Through Political Cartoons:
The Vietnam War p. 26.
- Gerdes (ed.) Examining Issues Through Political Cartoons:
The Vietnam War p. 25.
- George C. Herring, America's longest war: the United States
and Vietnam 1950-1975 (New York: Wiley, 1979), 121
- The United States in Vietnam: An analysis in depth of the
history of America's involvement in Vietnam by George
McTurnan Kahin and John W. Lewis, Delta Books, 1967
- Nalty 1998, p. 97 and 261.
- Earl L. Tilford, Setup: What the Air Force did in Vietnam
and Why. Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press,
1991, p. 89.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 468.
- Gen. Curtis E LeMay
- (archived from the original on 2 February 2008)
- Ho Chi Minh. Letter to Martin Niemoeller. December,
1966. quoted in Marilyn B. Young. The Vietnam Wars:
1945–1990. New York, NY. Harper, 1991, p. 172.
- McNamara, Argument Without End p. 48
- McNamara, Argument Without End pp 349–51
- U.S. Department of Defense, U.S.-Vietnam Relations
vol. 4, p. 7
- McNamara Argument Without End p. 353
- U.S. Department of Defense, U.S.-Vietnam Relations
vol. 5, pp 8–9.
- U.S. Department of Defense, U.S.-Vietnam Relations
vol. 4, pp 117–119. and vol. 5, pp 8–12.
- Public Papers of the Presidents, 1965. Washington, DC.
Government Printing Office, 1966, vol. 2, pp 794–799.
- McNamara Argument Without End pp 353–354.
- (archived from the original on 27 January 2008)
- Vietnam: Looking Back - At the Facts - by K. G. Sears,
- Vietnamization: 1970 Year in Review,
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 453.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 566.
- Peter Church. ed. A Short History of South-East Asia.
Singapore, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, p. 193.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 706.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History p. 18.
- Rovira, Carlito. "The 1967 March on the Pentagon and lessons for
today", Socialism and Liberation Magazine, March 2007
- Carroll, Anne W. Christ and the Americas, Rockford,
IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1997, p. 413.
- McNamara Argument Without End pp 363–365
- Anatomy of a War by Gabriel Kolko ISBN 1-56584-218-9 pages
- "The Guardians at the Gate," Time: The Weekly
Newsmagazine 7 January 1966, vol. 87, no.1.
- Witz The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War pp
- Larry Berman. Lyndon Johnson's War. New York, W.W.
Norton, 1991, p. 116.
- Karnow Vietnam: A History. p. 556.
- Harold P. Ford. CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers pp
- Survivors Hunt Dead of Bentre, Turned to Rubble in
Allied Raids nytimes.com
- "Peter Arnett: Whose Man in Baghdad?", Mona Charen, Jewish World
Review, 1 April 2003
- Saving Ben Tre
- Gerdes (ed.) Examining Issues Through Political Cartoons:
The Vietnam War p. 27.
- Command Magazine Issue 18, page 15
- McNamara Argument Without End pp 366–367.
- Jeff Stein, Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story that
Changed the Course of the Vietnam War. (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1992) 60–62.
- Seals, Bob (2007) The "Green Beret Affair": A Brief
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Necessity." Foreign Affairs 1958, p. 582–583.
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Singapore. John Wiley & Sons, 2006, pp 193–194.
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trans. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press, 1963.
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- List of Australian winners of the Victoria
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was the last Australian to be awarded the imperial Victoria Cross. In 1991
the Victoria Cross for Australia
replaced the original Victoria Cross as the highest award for
bravery for Australians, whilst in 1999 the Victoria Cross for New
Zealand replaced the award for New Zealanders. Both have since
been awarded for acts of bravery during the conflict in
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the Vietnam War
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