, Research Paper
Although it was called the Vietnam War, the U.S. was primarily involved and participated in most of the warfare to defend democracy. South Vietnam’s government and army were not well organized. The U.S. fought most of the war, then when it turned the war over to the South Vietnamese, they couldn’t fight the North.
Ngo Dinh Diem, prime minister of South Vietnam, was opposed in South Vietnam. Buddhists grew inpatient since Diem’s government had long offered benefits to Catholics, and in May 1963 protests were held in the city of Hue since Diem refused to allow Buddhists to fly Buddha’s flag on the anniversary of his birthday (Detzer 69-71). Diem’s soldiers opened fire and killed nine people, then some Buddhists began to publicly burn themselves to death as a protest (Detzer 71). Another problem for Diem was his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu was in charge of South Vietnam’s police and imprisoned or killed virtually anyone who opposed Diem (Detzer 69). Nhu, under the strain, started to take opium, became addicted, and became increasingly dangerous (Detzer 69). Some of Diem’s generals began to plot against Diem and Nhu and asked American representatives in Saigon to help them (Detzer 71). Kennedy would continue to support Diem if he would rid himself of Nhu, but Diem refused to even listen to the suggestion so Kennedy turned his back on Diem (Detzer 71). On November 1, 1963, Diem and Nhu were overthrown and murdered by half a dozen frightened generals (Detzer 71). Political events in Saigon became unstable:
When Diem was murdered, his successors, the junta of generals, began to replace his people with their own followers. In Saigon and out in the provinces the result was political turmoil; in the army it was almost as bad. Meanwhile, the members of the junta wrestled with one another. One of them would be ousted and another would take his place. Each time this happened, the man at the top put some of his followers in critical positions. The result, inevitably, was chaos. (Detzer 76)
The U.S. did not fight for Vietnam right away. Instead it sent military advisors and goods to Vietnam. By November 1963 there were 16,000 military advisors in Vietnam and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was mostly helicopters and armored personnel carriers (Detzer 68-69). The help provided by the U.S. seemed to help the South, but eventually the Vietcong learned how to counter them (Detzer 69). The U.S. government wanted an excuse for going to war and in 1964 they got one.
In the Tonkin Gulf the U.S. was running two operations. OPLAN 34A was a secret operation, supervised by the CIA, in which small speed boats carrying South Vietnamese went up the coast of Vietnam and attacked coastal installations in North Vietnam (Detzer 74). Desoto was an operation in which destroyers with technical equipment sailed near the coast of North Vietnam and spied (Detzer 74). On July 31, 1964, the coast of Vietnam was attacked by 4 boats part of OPLAN 34A. The Maddox, a ship part of Desoto, was only a few miles away and was attacked by the North Vietnamese since they believed it was part of the operation (Detzer 74). Although little damage was done to the Maddox, Lyndon Johnson sent a second destroyer, the U.S.S. Turner Joy to accompany the Maddox (Detzer 74-75). Several days after the first incident, the crews of both destroyers believed they were being fired at by the North Vietnamese (Detzer 75). Evidence seems to show that the attack was just a misreading of some confusing sonar and radar signals, yet Johnson was informed of this second attack within minutes (Detzer 75). Johnson ordered an immediate bombing raid of some North Vietnamese torpedo-boat bases and asked Congress to support this action and any similar actions in the future (Detzer 75). Three days after the Tonkin Gulf incident Congress almost unanimously voted for the Tonkin Gulf incident which let the president “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression” (qtd. in Detzer 75).
The Tonkin Gulf Resolution pulled the U.S. further into the Vietnam War. In February 1965 the ARVN was dissolving because of the Vietcong’s spring offensive and Saigon probably would have soon fallen if the U.S. did not send in combat troops (Detzer 104). The U.S. had over 20,000 American soldiers, most military advisers, stationed in Vietnam by March 1965 (Detzer 85). In March 1965, Rolling Thunder, a program of regular bombings on North Vietnam, began and continued for three years (Detzer 86). According to the Pentagon, more than twice the bomb tonnage dropped on Japan and Germany in Word War II was dropped on Laos’ jungles by the end of the war (Detzer 82). By the end of 1966 there were already 383,000 American troops in Vietnam, with another 42,000 scheduled to be deployed by mid-1967 (Dougan 88). In 1968, at its peak, about 540,000 troops were in Vietnam.
Since there were so many people in Vietnam, there were also a lot of deaths. 5,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam in 1966, 9,000 in 1967, 14,314 in 1968, 9,414 in 1969, 4,211 in 1970, 1,380 in 1971, and 312 in 1972 (Detzer 150-152). By the end of the war over 58,000 Americans were killed. The return of dead Americans from Vietnam began to make Americans question “Why?” (Dougan 90).
American protests made the government realize they should start to let the Vietnamese fight their own war. This process was called Vietnamization of the war. The U.S. gradually started to pull out in January 1969 (Detzer 124). Nixon withdrew 25,000 troops that year (Detzer 151). During the late spring and summer of 1969, the 1st Infantry Division “devoted an ever-growing share of its time, energy, and resources to the task of preparing the ARVN for the eventual departure of U.S. combat troops” (Casey 24). The 1st Infantry Division “began to send out mixed ambush patrols, to man its fire support bases with ARVN as well as U.S. troops, and to establish combined tactical operation centers throughout its area of responsibility” (Casey 24). By 1970 vietnamizing the war was a priority of the 1st Infantry Division (Casey 25). The 199th Brigade “organized a ten-man Mobile Training Team to instruct ARVN officers and soldiers in skills ranging from simple weapon maintenance to air mobile tactics, convoy counter ambush techniques, land navigation, and demolition” (Casey 118). When ARVN soldiers were used to control areas American troops had just won, many couldn’t and American troops would have to fight for the same ground again and again (Detzer 104-05). “Battalions instituted training programs for Regional and Popular Force units under such acronyms as HUT (Hamlet Upgrading Team), LIFT (Local Improvement of Forces Team), and SAM (Stamina Accuracy and Marksmanship)” (Casey 118). In 1971, American combat units left after fighting their last battles and Nixon ordered the U.S. to assume only a defensive role (Detzer 136,151).
On January 27,1973, Le Duc Tho, representative of North Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, representative of South Vietnam, and Nixon signed the Paris Accords (Detzer 136-37). In the Paris Accords Nixon agreed t increase aid to the ARVN and to respond with massive military retaliation if North Vietnam launches a new offensive (Detzer 136-37). In 1975, more than two years after the last soldiers had departed, North Vietnam attacked the South but Gerald Ford and Congress did not want to get involved in Vietnam (Detzer 138). The ARVN collapsed, and Americans and thousands of Vietnamese in Saigon were evacuated by the U.S. (Detzer 136-40). On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam fell only a few hours after the last helicopter departed, and the Vietnam War was finally over.
The U.S. fought most of the Vietnam War. South Vietnam was in chaos and didn’t have a very powerful army. The U.S. eventually started to hand the war to the South and tried to train their army. The ARVN was still too weak and the North defeated it.
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