The Vietnam War[A 3] was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred
in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955[A 1] to the fall of Saigon on 30 April
1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between 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
Vietnamese communist-controlled common front, largely fought a guerrilla war against
anti-communist forces in the region. The Vietnam People's Army (North Vietnamese Army)
engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units into battle. U.S. and
South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct
search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery and airstrikes.
The U.S. government viewed involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover
of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. The North Vietnamese
government viewed the war as a colonial war, fought initially against France, backed by
the U.S., and later against South Vietnam, which it regarded as a U.S. puppet state.
U.S. 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. combat
units were deployed beginning in 1965. Operations spanned borders, with Laos and Cambodia
heavily bombed. Involvement peaked in 1968 at the time of the Tet Offensive. 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U.S. ground forces were withdrawn as part of a policy called Vietnamization.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.
U.S. military involvement ended on 15 August 1973 as a result of the CaseChurch
Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese
army in April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were
reunified the following year. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities
(See: Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and
civilians killed vary from less than one million to more than three million. Some
200,000300,000 Cambodians, 20,000200,000
Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the
* 1 Names for the War
* 2 Background to 1949
* 3 Exit of the French, 19501954
* 4 Transition period
* 5 Diem era, 19551963
o 5.1 Rule
o 5.2 Insurgency in the South, 19561960
* 6 During John F. Kennedy's administration, 19611963
o 6.1 Coup and assassinations
* 7 Lyndon B. Johnson escalates the war, 19631969
o 7.1 Escalation and ground war
o 7.2 Tet Offensive
* 8 Vietnamization, 19691972
o 8.1 Nixon Doctrine / Vietnamization
o 8.2 Operation Menu: the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos
o 8.3 1972 election and Paris Peace Accords
* 9 Opposition to the Vietnam War: 19621975
* 10 Exit of the Americans: 19731975
o 10.1 Campaign 275
o 10.2 Final North Vietnamese offensive
o 10.3 Fall of Saigon
* 11 Other countries' involvement
o 11.1 Pro-Hanoi
+ 11.1.1 People's Republic of China
+ 11.1.2 Soviet Union
+ 11.1.3 North Korea
+ 11.1.4 Cuba
o 11.2 Pro-Saigon
+ 11.2.1 South Korea
+ 11.2.2 Australia and New Zealand
+ 11.2.3 Philippines
+ 11.2.4 Thailand
+ 11.2.5 Republic of China (Taiwan)
o 11.3 Canada and the ICC
* 12 Women in Vietnam
o 12.1 American nurses
o 12.2 Vietnamese women
* 13 Weapons
* 14 Aftermath
o 14.1 Events in Southeast Asia
o 14.2 Effect on the United States
o 14.3 Chemical defoliation
o 14.4 Casualties
* 15 Popular culture
* 16 See also
* 17 Annotations
* 18 Notes
* 19 References
o 19.1 Secondary sources
o 19.2 Primary sources
o 19.3 Historiography
* 20 External links
Names for the War
Further information: Terminology of the Vietnam War
Various names have been applied to the conflict. Vietnam War is the most commonly used
name in English. It has also been called the Second Indochina War, 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 Chi?n tranh Vi?t Nam (The Vietnam War), or as Kháng chi?n ch?ng M?
(Resistance War Against America), loosely translated as the American War.
The main military organizations involved in the war were, on one side, the Army of the
Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the U.S. military, and, on the other side, the Vietnam
People's Army (VPA), or North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and the Viet Cong, or National Front
for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), a South Vietnamese communist army.
Background to 1949
See also: History of Vietnam, Cochinchina Campaign, Can Vuong, Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, and
Yen Bai mutiny
France began its conquest of Indochina in the late 1850s, and completed pacification by
1893. The Treaty of Hu?, concluded in 1884, formed the basis for French
colonial rule in Vietnam for the next seven decades. In spite of military resistance, most
notable by the Can Vuong of Phan Dinh Phung, by 1888, the area of the current-day nations
of Cambodia and Vietnam was made into the colony of French Indochina (Laos was added
later). Various Vietnamese opposition movements to the French rule existed during this
period, such as the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang who staged the failed Yen Bai mutiny in 1930,
but none were ultimately as successful as the Viet Minh common front, controlled by the
Communist Party of Vietnam, founded in 1941 and funded by U.S. and Chinese Nationalist
Party in its fight against Japanese occupation.[A 4]
During World War II, the French were defeated by the Germans in 1940. For French
Indochina, this meant that the colonial authorities became Vichy French, 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.
On May 1941, the Viet Minh was founded as a league for the independence from France. The
Viet Minh also opposed Japanese occupation in 1945 for the same reason. The U.S. and
Chinese national party supported them in the fight against the Japanese. However, they
did not have enough power to fight actual battles at first. Ho Chi Minh was suspected of
being a communist and jailed for a year by the Chinese national party.
Double occupation by France and Japan continued until the German forces were expelled from
France and the French Indochina colonial authorities started holding secret talks with the
Free French. 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 B?o Ð?i.
During 19441945, a deep famine struck northern Vietnam due to a combination of poor
weather and French/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 rice warehouses and refuse to pay their taxes.  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 period.
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 Revolution" (in large part supported by the
Vietnamese population). After their defeat in the war, the Japanese Army gave weapons
to the Vietnamese. To further help the nationalists, the Japanese kept Vichy French
officials and military officers imprisoned for a month after the surrender. The Vi?t Minh
had recruited more than 600 Japanese soldiers and given them roles to train or command
On 2 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh, declared the independent
Democratic Republic of Vietnam before a crowd of 500,000 in Hanoi. In an overture to
the Americans, he began his speech by paraphrasing the United States 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 Happiness.
However, the major allied victors of World War II, the United Kingdom, the United States
and the Soviet Union, all agreed the area belonged to the French. 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. Nationalist Chinese troops entered the country to
disarm Japanese troops north of the 16th parallel on September 14, 1945. When the
British landed in the South, they rearmed the interned French forces as well as parts of
the surrendered Japanese forces to aid them in retaking southern Vietnam as they did not
have enough troops to do this themselves.
Following the party line from 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. On
March 6, 1946, Ho Chi Minh signed an agreement allowing French forces to replace
Nationalist Chinese forces, in exchange for French recognition of the Democratic Republic
of Vietnam as a "free" republic within the French Union, with the specifics of
such recognition to be determined by future negotiation. The French landed in
Hanoi by March 1946 and in November of that year they ousted the Viet Minh from the
city. British forces departed on 26 March 1946, leaving Vietnam in the hands of the
French. 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 Pathet Lao and the
Khmer Serei after the model of the Viet Minh. Globally, the Cold War began in earnest,
which meant that the rapprochement that existed between the Western powers 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 Chinese Communists had largely won the
Chinese Civil War and were free to provide arms to their Vietnamese allies.
Exit of the French, 19501954
Main articles: First Indochina War and Operation Passage to Freedom
In January 1950, the communist nations, led by the People's Republic of China (PRC),
recognized the Viet Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam as the government of Vietnam.
Non-Communist nations recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam in Saigon led by
former Emperor B?o Ð?i 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 1950, the United States created a Military Assistance and Advisory
Group (MAAG) to screen French requests for aid, advise on strategy, and train Vietnamese
soldiers. By 1954, the United States 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 nuclear weapons 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 U.S. bases in the region, supported by
as many as 150 fighters launched from U.S. Seventh Fleet carriers, to bomb Viet Minh
commander Vo Nguyen Giap's positions. 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. U.S. B-29s, B-36s, and B-47s
could have executed a nuclear strike, as could carrier aircraft from the Seventh
U.S. carriers sailed to the Gulf of Tonkin, and reconnaissance flights over Dien Bien Phu
were conducted during the negotiations. According to Richard Nixon 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 United States 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.As an experienced five-star
general, Eisenhower was very wary of getting the United States involved in a land war in
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.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement in Indochina. 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 garrison surrendered. Of the 12,000 French
prisoners taken by the Viet Minh only 3000 survived. At the Geneva Conference the
French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Viet Minh. Independence was granted to
Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Main articles: Geneva Conference (1954), Operation Passage to Freedom, Battle of Saigon
(1955), Ba Cut, and State of Vietnam referendum, 1955
Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel, and under the terms of the
Geneva Convention, civilians were to be given the opportunity to move freely between the
two provisional states for a 300-day period. Elections throughout the country were to be
held in 1956 to establish a unified government. Around one million northerners, mainly
minority Catholics, fled south, fearing persecution by the communists, following an
American propaganda campaign using slogans such as "The Virgin Mary 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. 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
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 were to leave Vietnam in April 1956. The PRC completed their
withdrawal from North Vietnam at around the same time. Around 52,000 Vietnamese
civilians moved from south to north.
In the north, the Viet Minh ruled as the DRV and engaged in a drastic land reform program
in which an estimated eight thousand perceived "class enemies" 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, former Emperor B?o Ð?i's State of Vietnam operated, with Ngô Ðình Di?m
(appointed in July 1954) as his prime minister. In June 1955, Diem 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 B?o Ð?i.
In AprilJune 1955, Diem (against U.S. advice) cleared the decks of any political
opposition in the south by launching military operations against the Cao Dai religious
sect, the Hoa Hao sect of Ba Cut, 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
In a referendum on the future of the State of Vietnam on 23 October, Diem rigged the poll
supervised by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and was credited 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 (ROV), with
himself as president. The ROV was created largely because of the Eisenhower
administration's desire for an anti-communist state in the region.
Diem era, 19551963
Main articles: Ngo Dinh Diem and War in Vietnam (19541959)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles greet President
Ngo Dinh Diem in Washington.
The Geneva Conference, 1954
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 of Communism
overflowed into Vietnam."
See also: Ngo Dinh Diem presidential visit to Australia
A devout Roman Catholic, Diem was fervently anti-communist, nationalist and socially
conservative. Historian Luu Doan Huynh notes, however, that "Diem represented narrow
and extremist nationalism coupled with autocracy and nepotism." As a wealthy
Catholic, Diem was viewed by many ordinary Vietnamese as part of the elite who had helped
the French rule Vietnam; Diem had been interior minister in the colonial government. The
majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist, and were alarmed by actions such as his
dedication of the country to the Virgin Mary.
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 Viet Cong
("Vietnamese communist") by the regime to degrade their nationalist credentials.
As a measure of the level of political repression, about 12,000 suspected opponents of
Diem were killed in the years 19551957 and by the end of 1958 an estimated 40,000
political prisoners had been jailed.
In May, 1957, 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 alternatives.
Robert McNamara 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
Insurgency in the South, 19561960
Main articles: Viet Cong and War in Vietnam (19591963)
The Sino-Soviet split led to a reduction in the influence of the PRC, which had insisted
in 1954 that the Viet Minh accept a division of the country. Tru?ng Chinh, North Vietnam's
pro-PRC party first secretary, was demoted and Hanoi authorized communists in South
Vietnam to begin a low level insurgency 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.
H? Chí 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
Soon afterward, Lê Du?n, a communist leader who had been working in the South, returned
to Hanoi to accept the position of acting first secretary, effectively replacing Tru?ng.
Du?n urged a military line and advocated increased assistance to the insurgency. Four
hundred government officials were assassinated in 1957 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,
health workers, and agricultural officials. Village chiefs were Diem appointees
from outside the villages and were hated by the peasantry for their corruption and
abuse.) According to one estimate, 20 percent of South Vietnam's village chiefs had
been assassinated by the insurgents by 1958. The insurgency sought to completely
destroy government control in South Vietnam's rural villages and replace it with a shadow
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 Trail. In May, South Vietnam enacted Law 10/59, which made political
violence punishable by death and property confiscation.
Observing 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 U.S. military
advisory team, Lieutenant General Lionel C. McGarr, 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, 19611963
Main articles: Strategic Hamlet Program and Pham Ngoc Thao
When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 U.S. presidential election, one major issue Kennedy
raised was whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the United
States. 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 liberty."
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 aftermath 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 would be effective
in a "brush fire" war in Vietnam.
The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the Cold War foreign policy
inherited from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. In 1961, the U.S. had 50,000
troops based in Korea, and Kennedy faced a three-part crisisthe 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
immediately after meeting Khrushchev in Vienna.
In May 1961, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson 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
South Vietnam, Military Regions, 1967
The quality of the South Vietnamese military, however, remained poor. Bad leadership,
corruption, and political promotions all played a part in emasculating the 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 and Walt Rostow 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 Galbraith 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 Program 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. In part, this was because Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, a Diem
favourite who was instrumental in running the program, was in fact a communist agent who
used his Catholicism to gain influential posts and damage the ROV from the inside.
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.
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 Laos.
Coup and assassinations
See also: Kennedy's role, 1960 South Vietnamese coup attempt, 1962 South Vietnamese
Independence Palace bombing, Hu? Ph?t Ð?n shootings and Xa Loi Pagoda raids
Main articles: Cable 243, Arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, Buddhist crisis,
Krulak Mendenhall mission, McNamara Taylor mission, 1963 South Vietnamese coup, and
Reaction to the 1963 South Vietnamese coup
The inept performance of the South Vietnamese army was exemplified by failed actions such
as the Battle of Ap Bac on 2 January 1963, in which a small band of Viet Cong beat off a
much larger and better equipped South Vietnamese force, many of whose officers seemed
reluctant even to engage in combat. The ARVN were led in that battle by Diem's most
trusted General Huynh Van Cao, commander of the IV Corps, and a 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, and had become more paranoid after attempts in 1960, 1962, which he
partly attributed to U.S. encouragement. As Robert F. Kennedy noted, "Diem wouldn't
make even the slightest concessions. He was difficult to reason with..."
Discontent with Diem's policies exploded following the Hu? Ph?t Ð?n shootings of majority
Buddhists who were protesting against the ban on the Buddhist flag on Vesak, the Buddha's
birthday. This resulted in mass protests against discriminatory policies that gave
privileges to the Catholic Church and its adherents. Diem's elder brother Ngo Dinh Thuc
was the Archbishop of Hu? and aggressively blurred the separation between church and
state. Thuc's anniversary celebrations shortly before Vesak had been bankrolled by the
government and Vatican flags were displayed prominently. There had also been reports of
Buddhist pagodas being demolished by Catholic paramilitaries throughout Diem's rule. Diem
refused to make concessions to the Buddhist majority or take responsibility for the
deaths. On 21 August 1963, the ARVN Special Forces of Colonel Le Quang Tung, loyal to
Diem's younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, raided pagodas across Vietnam, causing widespread
damage and destruction and leaving a death toll estimated to range into the hundreds.
U.S. officials began discussing the possibility of a regime change during the middle of
1963. The United States Department of State was generally in favor of encouraging a coup,
while the Defense Department favored Diem.
Chief among the proposed changes was the removal of Diem's younger brother Nhu, who
controlled the secret police and special forces was seen as the man behind the Buddhist
repression and more generally the architect of the Ngo family's rule. This proposal was
conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Saigon in Cable 243.
Ngo Dinh Diem after being shot and killed in the 1963 coup.
The CIA 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 Lodge, 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, the 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
Paramilitary officers from the CIA's Special Activities Division trained and led Hmong
tribesmen in Laos and into Vietnam. The indigenous forces numbered in the tens of
thousands and they conducted direct action missions, led by paramilitary officers, against
the Communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese supporters. The CIA also
ran the Phoenix Program and participation Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Studies and Observations Group (MAC-V SOG), which was originally named the Special
Operations Group, but was changed for cover purposes.
Lyndon B. Johnson escalates the war, 19631969
A U.S. B-66 Destroyer and four F-105 Thunderchiefs dropping bombs on North Vietnam
Main article: Joint warfare in South Vietnam 19631969
Further information: Role of United States in the Vietnam War: Americanization
See also: Opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Gulf of Tonkin incident,
1964 South Vietnamese coup, September 1964 South Vietnamese coup attempt, December 1964
South Vietnamese coup, and 1965 South Vietnamese coup
Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), as he took over the presidency after the death of Kennedy,
initially did not consider Vietnam a priority and was more concerned with his "Great
Society" and progressive social programs. 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
Johnson had reversed Kennedy's disengagement policy from Vietnam in withdrawing 1,000
troops by the end of 1963 (NSAM 263 on 11 Oct.), with his own NSAM 273 (26 Nov.)
 to expand the war.
The military revolutionary council, meeting in lieu of a strong South Vietnamese leader,
was made up of 12 members headed by General Duong Van Minhwhom Stanley Karnow, a
journalist on the ground, later recalled as "a model of lethargy." Lodge,
frustrated by the end of the year, cabled home about Minh: "Will he be strong enough
to get on top of things?" His regime was overthrown in January 1964 by General Nguyen
Khanh. However, there was persistent instability in the military as several
coupsnot all successfuloccurred in a short space of time.
An alleged NLF activist, captured during an attack on an American outpost near the
Cambodian border, is interrogated.
On 2 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. The 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 Resolution, 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."
An 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.
"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 U.S. troops
deployed to Vietnam during the same period were quite different; 2,000 in 1961, rising
rapidly to 16,500 in 1964.
A Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, moves an alleged NLF activist to the rear during
a search and clear operation held by the battalion 15 miles (24 km) west of Da Nang Air
The National Security Council 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 (initiated when Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin was at a state visit
to North Vietnam), Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Arc Light commenced. 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
Commando Hunt, targeted different parts of the NLF and VPA 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 LeMay, however, had long advocated saturation bombing in Vietnam
and wrote of the Communists that "we're going to bomb them back into the Stone
Escalation and ground war
1965-02-08 Showdown in Vietnam.ogv
Universal Newsreel film about an attack on U.S. air bases and the U.S. response. 1965
Peasants suspected of being Vietcong under detention of U.S. army, 1966
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 U.S. Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam. This marked the beginning
of the American ground war. U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported the
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 December, ARVN forces
suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Bình Giã, in a battle that both sides viewed
as a watershed. Previously communist forces had utilized hit-and-run guerrilla tactics,
however at Binh Gia they had successfully defeated a strong ARVN force in conventional
warfare. Tellingly, South Vietnamese forces were again defeated in June, at the
Battle of Ð?ng Xoài.
U.S. soldiers searching a village for NLF
Desertion rates were increasing, and morale plummeted. General William Westmoreland
informed Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Jr., 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 Vietnam]." 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 the war:
* 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 end when the enemy had been
worn down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated areas.
* 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
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 and morale. The opponents were locked in a cycle of
escalation. The idea that the government of South Vietnam could manage its own
affairs was shelved.
Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Glassboro
Summit Conference where the two representatives discussed the possibilities of a peace
The one-year tour of duty deprived units of experienced leadership. As one observer noted
"we were not in Vietnam for 10 years, but for one year 10 times." As a
result, training programs were shortened.
South Vietnam was inundated with manufactured goods. As Stanley Karnow writes, "the
main PX [Post Exchange], located in the Saigon suburb of Cholon, was only slightly smaller
than the New York Bloomingdale's..." The American buildup transformed the
economy and had a profound impact on South Vietnamese society. A huge surge in corruption
The Ho Chi Minh Trail running through Laos, 1967
Washington encouraged its SEATO allies to 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 requests. The U.S. and its allies mounted complex operations, such as
operations Masher, Attleboro, Cedar Falls, and Junction City. However, the communist
insurgents remained elusive and demonstrated great tactical flexibility.
Meanwhile, the political situation in South Vietnam began to stabilize with the coming to
power of Prime Minister Air Marshal Nguy?n Cao K? and figurehead Chief of State, General
Nguy?n Van Thi?u, in mid 1965 at the head of a military junta. This ended a series of
coups that had happened more than once a year. In 1967, Thieu became president with Ky as
his deputy, after rigged elections. Although they were nominally a civilian government, Ky
was supposed to maintain real power through a behind-the-scenes military body. However,
Thieu outmanoevred and sidelined Ky by filling the ranks with generals from his faction.
Thieu was also accused of murdering Ky loyalists through contrived military accidents.
Thieu, mistrustful and indecisive, remained president until 1975, having won a one-man
election in 1971.
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 that 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 developed.
Main article: Tet Offensive
Having lured General Westmoreland's forces into the hinterland at Khe Sanh in Qu?ng Tr?
Province, in January 1968, the NVA and NLF broke the truce that had traditionally
accompanied the T?t (Lunar New Year) holiday. They 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, Saigon.
Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces 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 Hu?, the combined NLF and VPA troops captured the
Imperial Citadel and much of the city, which led to the Battle of Hu?. Throughout the
offensive, the American forces employed massive firepower; in Hu? 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 Hu?", the communist
insurgent occupying forces massacred several thousand unarmed Hu? 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."
U.S. Marines fighting in Hu?
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 Pearl
Harbor. Journalist Peter Arnett quoted an unnamed officer, saying of B?n Tre
(laid to rubble by U.S. 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 quote was attributed to Major Booris of 9th
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, a
commander less inclined to public media pronouncements.
On 10 May 1968, despite low expectations, peace talks began between the United States and
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Negotiations stagnated for five months, until Johnson
gave orders to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. The Democratic candidate, Vice President
Hubert Humphrey, was running against Republican former vice president Richard Nixon.
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 leaflet urging the defection of NLF and North Vietnamese to the side of the
Republic of Vietnam
For more details on this topic, see Role of the United States in the Vietnam
War#Vietnamization,_19691975 and #Vietnamization, 19691974.
Severe communist losses during the Tet Offensive allowed U.S. President Richard 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."
On 10 October 1969, Nixon ordered a squadron of 18 B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons to
race to the border of Soviet airspace to convince the Soviet Union that he was capable of
anything to end the Vietnam War.
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. Nixon also began to pursue détente with the Soviet 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 majority" of Americans to support the war. But revelations of the My Lai
Massacre, in which a U.S. Army platoon 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 U.S. forces concluded Operation
Speedy Express 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
Main article: Operation Menu
Prince Norodom Sihanouk had 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
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, while U.S. forces and ARVN
launched incursions into Cambodia to attack VPA/NLF bases and buy time for South Vietnam.
The invasion of Cambodia sparked nationwide U.S. protests. Four students were killed by
National Guardsmen at Kent State University during a protest in Ohio, which provoked
public outrage in the United States. The reaction to the incident by the Nixon
administration was seen as callous and indifferent, providing additional impetus for the
In 1971 the Pentagon Papers were leaked to The New York Times. 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 Son 719 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 and
ill-discipline grew in the ranks.
The Nguyen Hue Offensive, 1972, part of the Easter Offensive
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 Linebacker, 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 in August.
1972 election and Paris Peace Accords
Phan Th? Kim Phúc, center, running down a road near Tr?ng Bàng, Vietnam, on 8 June 1972,
after a napalm bomb was dropped on the village of Tr?ng Bàng by a plane of the Vietnam
Air Force Photo: Nick Ut / The Associated Press
The war was the central issue of the 1972 presidential election. Nixon's opponent, George
McGovern, campaigned on a platform of withdrawal from Vietnam. Nixon's National Security
Adviser, Henry Kissinger, continued secret negotiations with North Vietnam's Lê Ð?c Th?.
In October 1972, they reached an agreement.
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.
Operation Linebacker II, December 1972
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 1829
December 1972. 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. POWs 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: 19621975
The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a
worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the
talk page. (April 2010)
U.S. Navy riverboat deploying napalm during the Vietnam War
Main article: Opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War
Some advocates within the peace movement advocated a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces
from Vietnam. One reason given for the withdrawal is that it would contribute to a
lessening of tensions in the region and thus less human bloodshed. Early opposition to
U.S. involvement in Vietnam was centered around the Geneva conference of 1954. American
support of Diem in refusing elections was thought to be thwarting the very democracy that
America claimed to be supporting. John Kennedy, while Senator, opposed involvement in
Opposition to the Vietnam War tended to unite groups opposed to U.S. anti-communism,
imperialism and colonialism and, for those involved with the New Left such as the Catholic
Worker Movement, capitalism itself. Others, such as Stephen Spiro opposed the war based on
the theory of Just War. Some wanted to show solidarity with the people of Vietnam, such as
Norman Morrison emulating the actions of Thích Qu?ng Ð?c. Some critics of U.S.
withdrawal predicted that it would not contribute to peace but rather vastly increase
bloodshed. These critics advocated U.S. forces remain until all threats from the Viet Cong
and North Vietnamese Army had been eliminated. 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.
High-profile opposition to the Vietnam War turned to street protests in an effort to turn
U.S. political opinion. On 15 October 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium attracted millions of
Americans. The fatal shooting of four anti-war protesters at Kent State University
led to nation-wide university protests. Riots broke out at the 1968 Democratic
National Convention. After explosive news reports of American military abuses, such
as the 1968 My Lai Massacre, brought new attention and support to the anti-war movement,
some veterans joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Anti-war protests ended with the
final withdrawal of troops after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973. South
Vietnam was left to defend itself alone when the fighting resumed. Many South Vietnamese
subsequently fled to the United States.
Victims of the My Lai Massacre
Exit of the Americans: 19731975
The United States began drastically reducing their troop support in South Vietnam during
the final years of "Vietnamization". Many U.S. troops were removed from the
region, and on 5 March 1971, the United States returned the 5th Special Forces Group,
which was the first American unit deployed to South Vietnam, to its former base in Fort
Bragg, North Carolina. [A 5]
Under the Paris Peace Accords, between North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Lê Ð?c Th? and
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and reluctantly signed by South Vietnamese
President Thi?u, 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 Th?, 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
Tr?n Van Trà.
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 197576 dry season. Trà
calculated that this date would be Hanoi's last opportunity to strike before Saigon's army
could be fully trained.
Map of the United States, showing Nixon's victories in 49 states (red) over McGovern.
Calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, George McGovern's 1972
Presidential Campaign lost 49 of 50 states to Richard Nixon.
In the 1972 Congressional Election, the majority of Americans voted for Democratic
Congressmen. This map shows the House seats by party holding plurality in state
up to 60% Republican
up to 60% Democratic
In the November 1972 Election, McGovern lost 49 of 50 states to Richard Nixon, who was
re-elected U.S. president. Despite supporting Nixon over McGovern, many American voters
split their tickets, returning a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress.
On 15 March 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon implied that the United States 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,
Secretary of 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 Thi?u 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
Gerald Ford 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 197374 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
when the 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 Du?n, who approved of the operation.
Trà's plan called for a limited offensive from Cambodia into Phuoc Long Province. The
strike was designed to solve local logistical problems, gauge the reaction of South
Vietnamese forces, and determine whether 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.
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 Van Ti?n Dung and that
Pleiku should be seized, if possible. Before he left for the South, Dung was addressed by
Lê Du?n: "Never have we had military and political conditions so perfect or a
strategic advantage as great as we have now."