Vietnam War

armed conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between North Vietnam and South Vietnam

The Vietnam War (also known as Second Indochina War or American War in Vietnam) lasted from 1 November 1955–30 April 1975, (19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks, and 1 day). It was fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China and North Korea, while South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. People from other countries also went to fight but not in their own national army. The conflict between communist and capitalist countries was part of the Cold War.

Vietnam War
(Chiến tranh Việt Nam)
Part of the Indochina Wars and the Cold War
Clockwise, from top left: US combat operations in Ia Drang, ARVN Rangers defending Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive, two A-4C Skyhawks after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, ARVN recapture Quảng Trị during the 1972 Easter Offensive, civilians fleeing the 1972 Battle of Quảng Trị, burial of 300 victims of the 1968 Huế Massacre.
Date1 November 1955 (1955-11-01) – 30 April 1975 (1975-04-30)
(19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)

Decisive North Vietnamese victory

Unification of North and South Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
A simple video explanation of the Vietnam War

The Viet Cong, also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF, was a South Vietnamese communist force helped by North Vietnam. It fought a guerrilla war against the anticommunist forces in the South. The People's Army of Vietnam (also known as the North Vietnamese Army) engaged in a more conventional war, at times putting large forces to battle.

The Vietnam War was very controversial, especially in the United States, and was the first war to feature live television coverage. It was also the first major armed conflict that the United States lost. The war became so unpopular in the United States that President Richard Nixon eventually agreed to send American soldiers home in 1973.

Background and causesEdit

The Viet Minh waves its flag over a captured French bunker at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The French defeat at the Battle of Ðiện Biên Phủ led to the Geneva Conference and to the partition of Vietnam.
Map of a partitioned Vietnam, 1964. The communist-controlled North Vietnam is in red. Most of the ground fighting was in South Vietnam.

France began to colonize Vietnam between 1859 and 1862, when it took control of Saigon. By 1864, it had controlled all of Cochinchina, the southern part of Vietnam. France took control of Annam, the large central part of Vietnam, in 1874. After France defeated China in the Sino-French War (1884–1885), it took over Tonkin, the northern part of Vietnam. French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from these three areas of Vietnam (Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin), as well as the Kingdom of Cambodia. Laos was added after a war with Thailand, the Franco-Siamese War, in 1893.

During World War II, after Nazi Germany had defeated the French in 1940, French Indochina was controlled by the Vichy French government, a puppet government recognized by Germany. In March 1945, Imperial Japan launched the Second French Indochina Campaign. Japan occupied Indochina until its surrender in August 1945.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Vichy government was no longer in control of France or its territories. The newly-formed Provisional Government of the French Republic attempted to take back control of its former colonies in Indochina by force. if necessary, but France's efforts at regaining its colony in Vietnam were opposed by a Vietnamese army called the Viet Minh.

The Viet Minh had been founded in 1941 by the Vietnamese Communist Party and was led by Hồ Chí Minh. That led to the First Indochina War between France and the Viet Minh. The fighting started with the French bombardment of Haiphong Harbor in November 1946 and ended with a triumph of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu.

In July 1954, France and the Viet Minh signed the Geneva Peace Accord. This resulted in dividing Vietnam along the 17th parallel into a northern section, under the control of the communists, led by Ho Chi Minh as president and a southern section, led by the Catholic anticommunist Ngo Dinh Diem. The partition was to be temporary until elections in 1956. However, Diem started arresting suspected communist sympathizers in 1956 and wanted to keep power for himself. The elections were never held, and in 1957, North Vietnam began guerrilla warfare against the south.

The United States supported the anticommunist government in South Vietnam and began to send military advisors to help train and support the South Vietnamese Army. The South was fighting against the Viet Cong (known as the National Liberation Front to the North Vietnamese), a communist party based in South Vietnam that was allied with North Vietnam. The Viet Cong began a campaign of assassination in 1957. In 1959, North Vietnam dramatically increased its military assistance to the Viet Cong, which then began attacking South Vietnamese military units. In the domino theory, the US feared that if communism took hold in Vietnam, it would then spread to other countries nearby.[1]

Gulf of Tonkin ResolutionEdit

The destroyer USS Maddox

On 2 August 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was in the Gulf of Tonkin, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam's coast. The US said that three North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the destroyer. The Maddox fired back and damaged the three torpedo boats. The US then claimed that two days later, the torpedo boats again attacked the Maddox and the destroyer USS Turner Joy. In the second attack, the US ships did not actually see the torpedo boats, but it was that they had been found by using the ship's radar.

After the alleged second attack the US launched air strikes against North Vietnam. The Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Joint Resolution (H.J. RES 1145) on 7 August 1964 and so gave the president the power to run large-scale military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war. There was little to no proof of the attacks, and it had been believed by some that they were an excuse for expanded US involvement in Indochina.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were supplied by a vast network of hidden trails, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.[2] It was very well hidden although many attempts were made by the US to bomb and destroy it. Supplies and soldiers from North Vietnam were sent through Laos to communists forces in South Vietnam. American planes heavily bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and 3,000,000 short tons (2,700,000 t) of bombs were dropped on Laos.[3] That slowed down but did not stop the trail system.[3]

Severe communist losses during the 1968 Tet Offensive made it possible for the US to withdraw many soldiers. As part of a policy called "Vietnamization," South Vietnamese troops were trained and equipped to replace the Americans who had left. By 1973, 95% of the American troops were gone.

All of the parties signed a peace treaty in Paris in January 1973, but the fighting continued until 1975 when the South Vietnamese government surrendered.

Guerilla warfareEdit

Cross-sectional diagram showing an example of a section of tunnel system used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.

The area with the most tunnels was called the Iron Triangle by the Americans. The Viet Minh and later the Vietcong used these tunnels.

Some of the larger tunnel complexes had kitchens, operating rooms, dorm rooms, storage rooms, and school rooms.

Vietcong soldiers wore typical clothing and sandals in a tunnel.

They often ate and slept in the tunnels and disappeared into them when the Americans raided a village.

There were some large-scale battles during the Vietnam War, but most of the fighting was guerilla warfare, a type of warfare that is different from the large-scale battles fought between armies like those during World War II.

Captured photo showing Vietcong troops traveling in flat-bottomed boats, called sampans
US Airborne troops under attack during the Battle of Dak To (1967)

In guerilla warfare, small units fight limited battles against an enemy force, set up ambushes, make surprise attacks, and then retreat back into the countryside or blend into the local population. That also includes making it difficult for the enemy to operate by engaging in sabotage and harassing the enemy with lethal means such as land mines and booby traps. The communist troops more often engaged in guerilla warfare against the South Vietnamese and American troops[4] than the reverse because they knew of their weakness in conventional (large-scale) warfare.

Although most of the traps were non-explosive, all of the few explosive traps used grenades. A trip wire was placed, and if a soldier tripped over the wire, a grenade pin was pulled out, the grenade would blow, and the soldier would be killed.

Another style of trap was nicknamed “Venus Flytrap” and had about eight barbs attached to a rectangular frame sitting on a small hole. The barbs faced down so that when the soldier’s leg got caught in it, it would not hurt until he pulled his leg out. Then, the barbs would rip through his leg.

Another Vietcong trap was the Punji trap. Two wooden platforms were placed and covered with leaves to camouflage it. There were spikes on the inside of the wood. When a soldier came along and walked on the wood, it caved in, and the spikes would go through the soldier’s foot. That trap was the most common because it was the cheapest and was very effective. It was also often contaminated (often with feces) so that the soldier would also become infected.

Besides hurting or killing people, the traps would cause fear and lower morale.[5]

Fall of SaigonEdit

Fleeing from communist forces, Vietmanese refugees on an American aircraft carrier off the coast of Vietnam on April 29, 1975, the day before the fall of Saigon

The Fall of Saigon was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front on April 30, 1975. That marked the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the formal reunification of Vietnam into a communist state.

Before the city fell, the few American civilian and military personnel had left Vietnam, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians had fled.

The North Vietnamese forces were under the command of General Văn Tiến Dũng and began their final attack on Saigon, which was commanded by General Nguyen Van Toan on April 29, with a heavy artillery bombardment of Tân Sơn Nhứt Airport. That killed the last two American servicemen who died in Vietnam: Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge.

By the afternoon of the next day, North Vietnamese troops had occupied the important points within the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. The government of South Vietnam soon formally surrendered.

The Americans still in Saigon were evacuated by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft. The surrender of Saigon was given in person by South Vietnamese President General Duong Van Minh: "We are here to hand over to you the power in order to avoid bloodshed." He was president for two days as his country crumbled.

Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the communist leader Ho Chi Minh.


After Vietnam was reunified, the communists sent anyone associated with South Vietnam to re-education camps.[6]

The war also made potential farmland useless, as it was bombed and affected by Agent Orange. The economy crashed because inflation was high, so unemployment was common, and there was poor health care. Many people fled Vietnam because of these conditions.[6]

The Đổi Mới reform ended the poor conditions, and now Vietnam is a modern nation.

The war also had lasting effects on the US. It led to divisions in American society still seen today, and many Americans were more wary of their government. Many veterans came back with PTSD, and were not treated well, as people who opposed the war saw them as killers and people who supported the war saw them as losing.

Related pagesEdit


  1. "Domino Theory". History/A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  2. "Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview". Battlefield: Vietnam. PBS. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ho Chi Minh Trail". United States History. U-S-HISTORY.COM. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  4. "Battlefield:Vietnam | Guerrilla Tactics". 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2011.
  5. "Booby Traps". Mcdonald College. 2004. Archived from the original on May 24, 2012. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Seah, Audrey; Nair, Charissa; Piddock, Charles; Nevins, Debbie (2015). Cultures of the World: Vietnam. 243 5th Avenue, Suite 136, New York, NY 10016: Cavendish Square Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-5026-0080-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)

Other websitesEdit