It’s hard to put the whole of the Vietnam war in a nutshell because it was quite a complicated event, but I have tried to remove all the confusing information to give you a high level view of what happened.
Vietnam was a colony for the French, but Vietnamese revolutionaries led by Ho Chi Minh fought the French for independence and managed to push them out of the country by 1954. The US didn’t like the fact that Ho Chi Minh was a communist and helped elect Ngh Dinh Diem as a leader for a new democratic government. This left Vietnam divided, the communist north run by Ho Chi Minh, and the democratic south run by Ngh Dinh Diem. There was a vote to decide who would rule Vietnam, but it was cancelled when it looked like it was going to result in a communist majority. The US, lead by President Johnson, wanted to stop communism spreading through southern Asia so he sent over 400 personnel in 1961 to advise and train the south Vietnamese troops so they could overthrow Ho Chi Minh.
Up until this point the US President was not allowed to send in troops to fight for southern Vietnam because congress needed to pass a declaration of war, and they did not see it as their fight. However in 1964 two US spy ships were “apparently” attacked by the Vietnamese and this gave the US president the ammo he needed and conjured up the “Golf Of Tonking Resolution”, allowing him to send troops in to Vietnam without a proper declaration of war issued by the US congress.
The US troops had a hard time, they were not allowed to advance on northern Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, their directive was to help southern Vietnam get strong, and not just win the war for them. In the south the US troops were fighting Ho Chi Minh and also fighting the “Viet Cong” who were local rebels that supported Ho Chi Minh. The jungles provided a very difficult place to fight, and the enemy would dress the same as the local farmers resulting hundreds of thousands of innocents dying. The Viet Cong also lived in extensive tunnel networks and set hideous traps for the US soldiers, read more about that here in my blog post Terror Tunnels.
Very little progress was being made and once Nixon was elected as US president he immediately started pulling US troops out of Vietnam in 19v69 and consequentially the US lost. Southern Vietnam surrendered to the north in 1975 and Vietnam officially became ‘The Socialist Republic of Vietnam’.
58,000 US troops and millions of Vietnamese lost their lives because the US didn’t want communism to spread through Vietnam, but the Vietnamese all seemed to love Ho Chi Minh and his communist ways. Saigon, a large city in the south, was even renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in honour of him and a huge monument built. Further reading will also tell you that Ngh Dinh Diem, the leader the US help get elected, was hated buy his people and executed by the Vietnamese before US troops had even been deployed.
I have left out one detail, the use of Agent Orange by the USA during the war. A powerful chemical defoliant that was sprayed over 4.5 million acers of forest to reduce cover and over their crops to destroy their food supply. The terrible part is that Agent Orange is highly toxic even in minute doses, and has caused horrific physical and mental health problems. Three generations on people are still suffering from severe birth defects.
Agent Orange is a very controversial topic, was it inhumane for the US to use it? Should they have even interfered in the first place?
We would love to know your thoughts or questions in the comments.