THE CONFLICT IN VIETNAM
The Vietnam conflict began in the late nineteenth century. The French conquered Vietnam and made it a protectorate. For nearly forty years, Vietnam had not experienced settled peace. The League for the Independence of Vietnam (Viet Minh) was formed in 1941, seeking independence from the French. On September 2nd, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed it independent of France. The French opposed their independence from 1945 to 1954. The first representatives of de Gualle’s government landed by parachute in Saigon and Hanoi on August 23rd, 1945. The French wanted to reestablish their rule in Vietnam but were beaten at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7th, 1954. The French Expeditionary Force tried to prevent the Viet Minh from entering Laos and Dien Bien Phu was the place chosen to do so. The French were not very careful and this allowed the Viet Minh to cut off their airway to Hanoi. After a siege that had lasted for fifty – five days, the French surrendered. Ho Chi Minh led the war against France and won.
After the war there was a conference in Geneva where Vietnam was divided into two parts along the seventeenth parallel. North Vietnam was mainly Communist and supported Ho Chi Minh, while the south was supported by the United States and the French were based there. There were still some Communist rebels within South Vietnam. These were the Viet Cong. The South Vietnam ruler was Ngo Dinh Diem who was anti – Communist. At the conference, Laos and Cambodia became independent states.
North Vietnam wished to unify North and South Vietnam through military force. Since the United States feared the spread of communism in Asia, John F. Kennedy provided economic and military aid to South Vietman to prevent the takeover by North Vietnam. At this time, this was still a civil war. The United States were not yet officially involved.
The North Vietnamese resented the little intervention by the United Sates and so, three Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on the U.S. destroyer, “Maddox “on August 2nd, 1964. The “Maddox “had been in the Gulf of Tonkin (international waters), thirty miles off the coast of Vietnam. On August 3rd, 1964, Johnson gave the right “to attack with the objective of destroying attacking forces “(Pimlott 1982, 36). Retaliation air attacks began on August 3rd. Their aim was to destroy North Vietnam’s gunboat capability. As two more United States destroyers were supposedly sunk, more air and sea forces were sent (Wicker August 5, 1964, 1). Up until now, the U.S. had refrained from direct combat. This is when the United States formally entered the Vietman War. The U.S. did this for two reasons. We wished to maintain the independence of South Vietnam and we had to prove to allied nations that we would help them resist Communist overtaking. As Congress was about to vote whether or not to allow the combat to move into North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese attacked a major U.S. airbase at Bein Hoa. On February 7th, 1965, Johnson ordered retaliation bombing on North Vietnam. Rolling Thunder was the name of this operation. Its purpose was to put pressure on Hanoi and convince them that Communism could not and would not win.
At the end of 1965, one hundred and eighty thousand Americans were in South Vietnam under General William S. Westmoreland (Encyclopedia Britannica, 12,361). The U.S. mainly depended on superior firepower and helicopters. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese depended on surprise attack and concealment.
The United States soldiers realized that the war would last for many more years and wondered if the U.S. war effort could succeed. At the end of 1968, The number of American troops in South Vietnam reached its peak of 542, 000 men (Pimlott 1982, 53 ). The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched a major invasion against the United States called the Tet offensive from January 30th to February 25th, 1968. At the Khe Sanh U.S. firebase, there was a major ground battle. There was a siege from January 21st to April 14th. It was thought to be the “American Dien Bien Phu “. The United States turned it around however, with their victory at Hue. By 1969, combat decreased rapidly and American troops began to return home.
The role of Communism was extremely important in this conflict. Communism was one of the main reasons of why the United States entered the war in the first place. The U.S. “had “to enter the war to stop the spread of Communism in Asia since North Vietnam was Communist. If North Vietnam were to succeed in converting Vietnam into a Communist country, it could become very powerful and go on to “persuade “other countries to become Communist. The U.S. believed that Vietnam could become powerful. They were amazed that France, an Allied power, had been beaten by the Vietnamese.
North Vietnam was a Communist country. The man who had proclaimed Vietnam independent, Ho Chi Minh, was a Communist. He was a Marxist and believed in “national Communism “(Encyclopedia Britannica, 5,955). During the war with the French, Ho Chi Minh took refuge in northern Vietnam and settled there with his followers. He founded the Indochina Communist Party and the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh did not become Communist until the 1950’s. He became the president of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. North Vietnam was a poor area and was cut off from the agricultural benefit of South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was forced to ask assistance from major Communist allies – the Soviet Union and China. Both aided North Vietnam before and during the war.
The North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam. They wanted to use military tactics to force unification. The United States did not allow their unification. The U.S. knew that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese wished to establish one ruling government, the Communist Party. This led to the Vietnam War and U.S. intervention.
On January 27th, 1.973, South Vietnam Communist forces (Viet Cong), North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the United States agreed on many things during peace talks that were held in Paris. The talks had lasted for over two years before any agreements were made that suited all of them. The forces involved agreed that U.S. troops would gradually withdraw from Vietnam and all prisoners of war would be released. They also agreed that South Vietnam had the right to choose their own future, whether or not to unite with North Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops were given the right to remain in South Vietnam but they could not be reinforced. Nixon was the U.S. president who finalized the accepted treaty and began to remove United States troops.
Even after the peace talks, fighting continued between the North and South Vietnamese. After the majority of American soldiers had left, North Vietnam went against all that was enforced at the peace talks. North Vietnam planned a major invasion on the south in 1975 or 1976. By April 30th, 1976, North Vietnamese tanks had occupied Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, with no trouble.
On July 2nd, 1976, the country was united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The capital became Hanoi and it was under Communist rule. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the instigator of Communism. The North Vietnamese had won. Forty – seven thousand Americans were killed in action and three hundred and thirteen soldiers were wounded, physically as well as mentally. The war had cost the United States an estimated two hundred billion dollars (Encyclopedia Britannica, 12,361). There were two thousand, two hundred and sixty – one United States servicemen listed as missing in action (Time, February 15, 1993, 44). The tally is still incomplete. Some say that this war was fought for nothing. There were only losses and nothing was gained.
After the war, southern Vietnam’s agriculture, business and industry were devastated. The newly Communist Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia became an important South – Asian power. Today, Vietnam remains under Communist rule. The Vietnamese Communist Party is the major political party. The State Council Chairman is Vo Chi Chong. The Prime Minister is Do Muoi.
After the Vietnam War, United States Presidents tried to punish Vietnam for the losses suffered by their country. They cut off all trade to Vietnam. Vietnam’s economy was severely damaged. This came about by the U.S. decision to stop trade and the new efforts to install a Soviet — style system in the unified country. By 1985, ten years after its “liberation”, Vietnam had to beg for help from the Soviet Union (Time, February 15, 1993, 43).
In 1986, the government leaders began an economic plan, doi moi to get Vietnam back on its feet. When aid from the Soviet Union stopped, the country was able to stand on its own. The Vietnamese veterans don’t regard the Americans as enemies but the government leaders do. The government fears that if contact with the United States increases, it might result in a revolution that would destroy their authority. Meanwhile, even without United States help, Vietnam is seen to be an important exporter in the future. Japan has already exported goods to Vietnam and the United States is afraid that they will soon gain economic control over the entire region.