Encarta Encyclopedia defines the Vietnam War as a military struggle fought in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975, involving the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) in conflict with United States forces and the South Vietnamese army. The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular war in which Americans ever fought. From 1946 until 1954, the Vietnamese had struggled for their independence from France during the First Indochina War. At the end of this war, the country was temporarily divided into North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam came under the control of the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France and who aimed for a unified Vietnam under Communist rule. Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French controlled the South.
The United States became involved in Vietnam because it believed that if all the country fell under a Communist government, Communism would spread throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. This belief was known as the domino theory. The U.S. government, therefore, supported the South Vietnamese government. This governments repressive policies led to rebellion in the South, and the NLF was formed as an opposition group with close ties to North Vietnam. The toll in suffering, sorrow, in rancorous national turmoil can never be tabulated. No one wants ever to see America so divided again. And for many of the more than two million American veterans of the war, the wounds of Vietnam will never heal. An estimated fifty-eight thousand Americans lost their lives. The losses to the Vietnamese people were appalling. During the conflict, approximately 3 to 4 million Vietnamese on both sides were killed, in addition to another 1.5 to 2 million Lao and Cambodians who were drawn into the war. The financial cost to the United States comes to something over 150 billion dollars. Direct Americans involvement began in 1955 with the arrival of the first advisors. In 1965 the United States sent in combat troops to prevent the South Vietnamese government from collapsing and we fought the war until the cease-fire of January 1973. The United States failed to achieve its goal, and in 1975 Vietnam was reunified under Communist control; in 1976 it officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1983, the unfolding of the Vietnam tragedy was the focus of an extraordinary documentary series broadcast on public television. When first aired, the series was recognized immediately as a landmark. It had taken six years to make. Researchers had combined film archives in eleven countries and the result was a stunning record of the conflict as it happened.
A Brief History
From the 1880s until World War II (1939-1945), France governed Vietnam as part of French Indochina, which also included Cambodia and Laos. The country was under the nominal control of an emperor, Bao Dai. In 1940, Japanese troops invaded and occupied French Indochina. In December of that year, Vietnamese nationalists established the League for the Independence of Vietnam, or Viet Minh, seeing the turmoil of the war as an opportunity for resistance to French colonial rule. The United States demanded that Japan leave Indochina, warning of military action. The Viet Minh began guerrilla warfare against Japan and entered an effective alliance with the United States. Viet Minh troops rescued downed U.S. pilots, located Japanese prison camps, helped U.S. prisoners to escape, and provided valuable intelligence to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Ho Chi Minh, the principal leader of the Viet Minh, was even made a special OSS agent. When the Japanese signed their formal surrender on September 2, 1945, Ho used the occasion to declare the independence of Vietnam, which he called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Emperor Bao Dai had abdicated the throne a week earlier. The French, however, refused to acknowledge Vietnams independence, and later that year drove the Viet Minh into the north of the country.
He wrote eight letters to U.S. president Harry Truman, imploring him to recognize Vietnams independence. Many OSS agents informed the U.S. administration that despite being a communist, Ho Chi Minh was not a puppet of the Communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and that he could potentially become a valued ally in Asia. Tensions between the United States and the USSR had mounted after World War II, resulting in the Cold War. The foreign policy of the United States during the Cold War was driven by a fear of the spread of Communism. Eastern Europe had fallen under the domination of the Communist USSR, and Communists ruled China. United States policymakers felt they could not afford to lose Southeast Asia as well to the Communists. The United States therefore condemned Ho Chi Minh as an agent of international Communism and offered to assist the French in recapturing Vietnam.
In 1946 United States warships ferried elite French troops to Vietnam where they quickly regained control of the major cities, including Hanoi, Haiphong, Hue, and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), while the Viet Minh controlled the countryside. The Viet Minh had only 2000 troops at the time Vietnams independence was declared, but recruiting increased after the arrival of French troops. By the late 1940s, the Viet Minh had hundreds of thousands of soldiers and were fighting the French to a draw. In 1949 the French set up a government to rival Ho Chi Minhs, installing Bao Dai as head of state.
In May 1954 the Viet Minh mounted a massive assault on the French fortress at Dien Bien, in Northwestern Vietnam. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu resulted in perhaps the most humiliating defeat in French military history. Already tired of war, the French public forced their government to reach a peace agreement at the Geneva Conference. France asked the other world powers to help draw up a plan for French to withdraw from the region and for the future of Vietnam. Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from May 8 to July 21, 1954, diplomats from France, the United Kingdom, the USSR, China, and the United States, as well as representatives from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, drafted a set of agreements called the Geneva Accords. These agreements provided for the withdraw of French troops to the south of Vietnam until they could be safely removed from the country. Viet Minh forces moved into the north. Vietnam was temporarily divided at the 17th parallel to allow for a cooling-off period and for warring factions among the Vietnamese to return to their native regions. Ho Chi Minh maintained control of North Vietnam, or the DRV, while Emperor Bao Dai remained head of South Vietnam.
Elections were to be held in 1956 throughout the north and south and to be supervised by an International Control Commission that had been appointed at Geneva and was made up of representatives from Canada, Poland, and India. Following these elections, Vietnam was to be reunited under the government chosen by popular vote. The United States refused to sign the accords, because it did not want to allow the possibility of Communist control over Vietnam. The U.S. government moved to establish the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a regional alliance that extended protection to South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in case of Communist subversion. SEATO, which came into force in 1955, became the mechanism by which Washington justified its support for South Vietnam; this support eventually became direct involvement of U.S. troops. Also in 1955, the United States picked Ngo Dinh Diem to replace Bao Dai as head of the anti-Communist regime in South Vietnam. With U.S. encouragement, Diem refused to participate in the planned national elections, which Ho Chi Minh and the Lao Dong, or Workers Party, were favored to win. Instead, Diem held elections only in South Vietnam, an action that violated the Geneva Accords. Diem won the elections with 98.2 percent of the vote, but many historians believe these elections were rigged, since 200,000 more people voted in Saigon than were registered. Diem then declared South Vietnam to be an independent nation called the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), with Saigon as its capital. Vietnamese Communists and many non-Communist Vietnamese nationalists saw the creation of the RVN as an effort by the United States to interfere with the independence promised at Geneva.
The Beginning of the War: 1959-1965
The repressive measures of the Diem government eventually led to increasingly organized opposition within South Vietnam. Diems government represented a minority of Vietnamese who were mostly businessmen, Roman Catholics, large landowners, and others who had fought with the French against the Viet Minh. The United States initially backed the South Vietnamese government with military advisers and financial assistance, but more involvement was needed to keep it from collapsing. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution eventually gave President Lyndon B. Johnson permission to escalate the war in Vietnam.
When Vietnam was divided in 1954, many Viet Minh who had been born in the southern part of the country returned to their native villages to await the 1956 elections and the reunification of their nation. When the elections did not take place as planned, these Viet Minh immediately formed the core of opposition to Diems government and sought its overthrow. The Viet Minh were greatly aided in their efforts to organize resistance in the countryside by Diems own policies, which alienated many peasants. Beginning in 1955, the United States created the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in South Vietnam. Using these troops, Diem took land away from peasants and returned it to former landlords, reversing the land redistribution program implemented by the Viet Minh. HE also forcibly moved many villagers from their ancestral lands to controlled settlements in an attempt to prevent Communist activity, and he drafted their sons into the ARVN.
Diem sought to discredit the Viet Minh by contemptuously referring to them as Viet Cong (the Vietnamese equivalent of calling them Commies), yet their influence continued to grow. Most southern Viet Minh were members of the Lao Dong and were still committed to its program of national liberation, reunification of Vietnam, and reconstruction of society along socialist principles. BY the late 1950s they were anxious to begin full-scale armed struggle against Diem but were held in check by the northern branch of the party, which feared that this would invite the entry of U.S. armed forces. By 1959, however, opposition to Diem was so widespread in rural areas that the southern Communists formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), and in 1960 the North Vietnamese government gave its formal sanction to the organization. The NLF began to train and equip guerrillas, known as the Peoples Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). Diems support was concentrated mainly in the cities. Although he had been a nationalist opposed to French rule, he welcomed into his government those Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French, and many of these became ARVN officers. Catholics were a minority throughout Vietnam, amounting to no more than 10 percent of the population, but they predominated in government positions because Diem himself was Catholic. Between 1954 and 1955, operatives paid by the CIA spread rumors in northern Vietnam that Communists were going to launch a persecution of Catholics, which caused nearly 1 million Catholics to flee to the south. Their resettlement uprooted Buddhists who already deeply resented Diems rule because of his severe discrimination against them.
In May 1963 Buddhists began a series of demonstrations against Diem, and the demonstrators were fired on by police. At least seven Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the repression. Diem dismissed these suicides as publicity stunts and promptly arrested 1400 monks. He then arrested thousands of high school and grade school students who were involved in protests against the government. After this, Diem was viewed as an embarrassment both by the United States and by many of his own generals. The Saigon Governments war against the NLF was also going badly. In January 1963 an ARVN force of 2000 encountered a group of 350 NLF soldiers at AP Bac, a village south of Saigon in the Makong River Delta. The ARVN troops were equipped with jet fighters, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers, while the NLF forces had only small arms. Nonetheless, 61 ARVN soldiers were killed, as were three U.S. military advisers. By contrast, the NLF forces lost only 12 men. Some U.S. military advisers began to report that Saigon was losing the war, but the official military and embassy press officers reported Ap Bac as a significant ARVN victory. Despite this official account, a handful of U.S. journalists began to report pessimistically about the future of U.S. involvement in South Vietnam, which led to increasing public concern. President John F. Kennedy still believed that the ARVN could become effective. Some of his advisers advocated the commitment of U.S. combat forces, but Kennedy decided to try to increase support for the ARVN among the people of Vietnam through counterinsurgency, an opposing revolt or uprising. United States Special Forces (Green Berets) would work with ARVN troops directly in the villages in an effort to match NLF political organizing and to win over the South Vietnamese people.
To support the U.S. effort, the Diem government developed a strategic hamlet program that was essentially an extension of Diems earlier relocation practices. Aimed at cutting the links between villagers and the NLF, the program removed peasants from their traditional villages, often at gunpoint, and resettled them in new hamlets fortified to keep the NLF out. Administration was left up to Diems brother Nhu, a corrupt official who charged villagers for building materials that had been donated by the United States. In many cases peasants were forbidden to leave the hamlets, but many of the young men quickly left anyway and joined the NLF. Young men who were drafted into the ARVN often also worked secretly for the NLF. The Kennedy administration concluded that Diems policies were alienating the peasantry and contributing significantly to NLF recruitment.
The number of U.S. advisers assigned to the ARVN rose steadily. In January 1961, when Kennedy took office, there were 800 U.S. advisers in Vietnam; by November 1963 there were 16,700. American air power was assigned to support ARVN operations; this included the aerial spraying of herbicides such as Agent Orange, which was intended to deprive the NLF of food and jungle cover. Despite these measures, the ARVN continued to lose ground. As the military situation deteriorated in South Vietnam, the United States sought to blame it on Diems incompetence and hoped that changes in his administration would improve the situation. Nhus corruption became a principal focus, and Diem was urged to remove his brother. Many in Diems military were especially dissatisfied and hoped for increased U.S. aid. General Duong Van Minh informed the CIA and U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge of a plot to conduct a coup detat against Diem. After much discussion, Kennedy approved support for the coup. He was reportedly dismayed, however, when the coup resulted in the murder of both Diem and Nhu on November 1, 1963. Far from stabilizing South Vietnam, the assassination of Diem ushered in ten successive governments within 18 months. Meanwhile, the CIA was forced to admit that the strength of the NLF was continuing to grow.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu
The battle of Dien Bien Phu was a climatic battle of the First Indochina War (1946-1954) fought between the French and the Viet Minh, a nationalist group seeking independence from French colonial rule. The battle took plave in 1954 at the town of Dien Bien in northwestern Vietnam, near the countrys border with Laos. The defeat of the French led to the singing of peace agreements that set the terms for ending the war.
The French reinforced their garrison at Dien Bien in November 1953 to prevent the Viet Minh from gaining control of northern Laos and the middle and lower Mekong River Valley. The outpost was strategically linked to the cities of Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, and Louangphrabang, in northern Laos. The Viet Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, began attacking the French at Dien Bien on March 13, 1954. The base was finally overrun by the Viet Minh forces on May 7, 1954.
The battle forced the French to negotiate peace agreements at a conference hald in Geneva, Switzerland, and the war was brought to an end on July 20, 1954. According to the terms of the agreements, known as the Geneva Accords, Vietnam was temporarily divided at the 17th parallel into North Vietnam to a Communist government led by Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam remained under the government of Bao Dai, the former Vietnamese emperor who had been named as head of state by the French during the war.
The Gulf of Tonkin
Succeeding to the presidency after Kennedys assassination on November 22, 1963, Lyndon B Johnson felt he had to take a forceful stance on Vietnam so that other Communist countries would not think that the United States lacked resolve. Kennedy had begun to consider the possibility of withdraw from Vietnam and had even ordered the removal of 1000 advisors shortly before he was assassinated, but Johnson increased the number of U.S. advisers to 27,000 by mid-1964. Even though intelligence reports clearly stated that most of the support for the MLF came from the south, Johnson, like his predecessors, continued to insist that North Vietnam was orchestrating the southern rebellion. He was determined that he would not be held responsible for allowing Vietnam to fall to the Communists.
Johnson believed that the key to success in the war in South Vietnam was to frighten North Vietnams leaders with the possibility of full-scale U.S. military intervention. In January 1964 he approved top-secret, convert attacks against North Vietnamese territory, including commando raids against bridges, railways, and coastal installations. Johnson also ordered the U.S. Navy to conduct surveillance missions along the North Vietnamese coast. He increased the secret bombing of territory in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a growing network of paths and roads used by the NLF and the North Vietnamese to transport supplies into South Vietnam. Hanoi concluded that the United States was preparing to occupy South Vietnam and indicated that it, too, was preparing for full-scale war.
On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese coastal gunboats fired on the destroyer USS Maddox, which had penetrated North Vietnams territorial boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson ordered more ships to the area, and on August 4 both the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy reported that North Vietnamese patrol boats had fired on them. Johnson then ordered the first air strikes against North Vietnamese territory and went on television to seek approval from the U.S. public. (Subsequent congressional investigations would conclude that the August 4 attack almost certainly had never occurred.) The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively handed over war-making powers to Johnson until such a time as peace and security had returned to Vietnam.
After the Gulf of Tonkin incident Johnson steadily escalated U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, which bean to dispatch well-trained units of its Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) into the south. The NLF guerillas coordinated their attacks with PAVN forces. Between February 7 and February 10, 1965, the NLF launched surprise attacks on the U.S. air base at Pleiku, killing 8 Americans, wounding 126, and destroying 10 aircraft; they struck again at Qui Nhon, killing 23 U.S. servicemen and wounding 21. Johnson responded by bombing Hanoi at a time when Soviet premier Aleksey Kosygin was visiting, thus pushing the USSR closer to North Vietnam and ensuring future Soviet arms deliveries to Southeast Asia. Johnsons advisers, chiefly Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, declared that a full-scale air war against North Vietnam would depress the morale of the NLF. The bombing did just the opposite, however. The inability of the ARVN to protect U.S. air bases led Johnsons senior planners to the consensus that U.S. combat forces would be required. On March 8, 1965, 3500 U.S. Marines landed at Nang. By the end of April, 56,000 other combat troops had joined them; by June the number had risen to 74,000.
The Tet Offensive
From February 1965 to the end of all-out U.S. involvement in 1973, South Vietnamese forces mainly fought against the Vietcong guerrillas, while U.S. and allied troops fought the North Vietnamese in a war of attrition marked by battles in such places as the la Dang Valley, Dak To, Loc Ninh, and Khe Sanh-all victories for the non-Communist forces. During his 1967-68 campaign, the North Vietnamese strategist, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, launched the famous Tet Offensive (from the name of the Vietnamese lunar new year in mid-February), a coordinated series of fierce attacks on more than 100 urban targets. Despite its devastating psychological effect, the campaign, which Giap hoped would be decisive, failed, and Vietcong forces were ultimately driven back from most of the positions they had gained. In the fighting, North Vietnam lost 85,000 of its best troops.
A turning point in the war appeared near in the early spring of 1968. On March 31, President Johnson announced a halt in U.S. bombings over North Vietnam. The announcement, intended as a new peace gesture, evoked a positive response from Hanoi, and in May peace talks were expanded to include South Vietnam and the Vietcong NLH. The talks, however, made no progress despite the fact that U.S. raids on North Vietnam were completely halted in November.
My Lai Massacre
On March 16, 1969 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company, 11th brigade American Division entered the village of My Lai. This is what youve been waiting for-search and destroy-and youve got it, said their superior officers. A short time later the killing began. When news of the atrocities surfaced, it sent shockwaves through the US Political establishment, the militarys chain of command, and an already divided American public. My Lai lay in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, a heavily mined area of Vietcong entrenchment. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed of killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the village poised for engagement with the elusive Vietcong.
As the search and destroy mission unfolded it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped, then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.
Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November of 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with ex-GI and Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calleys being charged with murder in September 1969-a full two months before the Hersh story hit streets.
As the gruesome details of the massacre reached the American public serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. A military commission investigating the My Lai massacre found widespread failures of leadership, discipline, and morale among the Armys fighting units. As the war progressed, many career soldiers had either been rotated out or retired. Many more had died. In their place were scores of draftees whose fitness for leadership in the field of battle was questionable at best. Military officials blamed inequities in the draft policy for the often-slim talent pool from which they were forced to choose leaders. Many maintained that if the educated middle class (the Harvards, as they were called) had joined in the fight, a man of Lt. William Calleys emotional and intellectual stature would never have been issuing orders.
Calley, an unemployed college dropout, had managed to graduate from Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1967. At his trial, Calley testified that he was ordered by Captain Ernest Medina to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. Still, there was only enough photographic and recorded evidence to convict Calley, alone, of murder. He was sentenced to life in Prison, but was released in 1974, following many appeals. After being issued a dishonorable discharge, Calley entered the insurance business.
The man in charge of the whole Charlie Company was Captain Ernest Medina. Medina, nicknamed Mad Dog for his tenacity, was also known to believe everything that moved in North Vietnam and didnt wear a uniform was VC, the enemy. He also gave a briefing on March 15, right before Calley delivered his speech. Although members of Charlie Company later testified Medina never gave an order to slaughter women and children, many Charlie Company troops said Medinas main message was one of revenge. The U.S. soldiers thought Medina told the men in his command to go into My Lai, think of their slain comrades and settle some scores.
Regardless of whether the briefings were a purposeful deception or not, there was little truth in what was said at that briefing. Although the villages had been in the past a stronghold for VC soldiers, on the day of the March 16 massacre there were no VC or N north Vietnamese Army regulars; there were only women, children and noncombatant men. As the villagers of My Lai began what they thought was to be another normal day in war-torn Vietnam, Cally and the men of Charlie Company were enroute to the LZ. Medina did not accompany his men on the mission, making Calley the ranking officer. Calley and his men were on one of the first choppers to arrive at the LZ, and they were charged with securing the area to make it safe for the coming waves of U.S. troops. Usually this mission is dangerous and risky because the enemy still has superiority in the area. But when Calley and his troops arrived in the early morning, they met with literally no enemy resistance.
Charlie Companys orders that morning were to act as the hammer in a hammer-and-anvil mission in the My Lai villages. Charlie Company was to advance through the villages, killing any moving target, not letting any of the enemy get behind their line and force those fleeing ahead of them into a waiting anvil of other U.S. troops involved in the operation. Eventually, the hammer and the anvil would combine to smash the enemy forces. What happened next was clear: the members of Charlie Company began to round up and fire upon the unarmed civilians living in My Lai. How it started, though, is still not entirely clear. As the soldiers advanced on My Lai, they were on edge, nervous and still psyched from the previous days briefing. They were still expecting strong enemy resistance. These factors mixed to produce a terrible result: the U.S. soldiers opened fire on anything that moved, including livestock, chickens, birds and , worse, fleeing civilians. No enemy resistance was encountered, but the soldiers still threw grenades into huts, screamed orders they expected to be followed, and killed indiscriminately. The atrocities continued for much of the morning. Babies were shot, young children were shot, and women were raped at gunpoint. Most of the U.S. soldiers at My Lai participated in the killing of civilians. Some waited until directly ordered to do so, while others participated with self-confidence. Very few refused to commit these deadly acts. But it was Calley who participated in the worst of the violence.
In the beginning, many of the civilians encountered by Calleys Charlie Company were merely rounded up, kept in one specific area and guarded. But doing so slowed the progress of the hammer in its movement toward the anvil. When Medina and Calley spoke on the radio about the progress of Calleys troops, Medina was dismayed to learn of the slow march through the village. Calley told Medina the guarding the problem came from guarding the My Lai residents; later, Calley testified Medina then ordered him to waste the Vietnamese and get my people out in line, out in the position where they were supposed to be.
Apparently Calley followed Medinas instructions to the letter. His orders to his troops, including Conti and Meadlo, were to kill the unarmed civilians. Conti later testified Meadlo and Calley rounded up a group of civilians and proceeded to open fire into the group. After firing one full clip Meadlo stopped shooting, but Calley appeared to be enjoying his grim task. By this point, Calley was shooting on children.
Soon, over 500 civilians lay dead. But the operation had yet to be completed. Calley thought the village could still be of use to the VC, as did Medina, so the order came for My Lai to be burned to the ground. Under orders from Calley, the soldiers of the Charlie Company began to burn everything in the village. Bodies, homes, supplies, food-all were torched by the men of Charlie Company. Despite the coldness, brutality and viciousness of the massacre, some of todays scholars argue the atrocities were committed in the fog of war. But what happened next was more calculated and planned. The army proceeded to cover the incident up, and the players involved extended up the chain of command to include not only Calley and Medina, but also lieutenant colonels, colonels and generals, including Samuel Koster, the commander of the American division in Vietnam.
In the end, a commission headed by Lt. Gen. William Peers, made aware of the atrocities by a U.S. serviceman who was told about the My Lai incident, Ronald Ridenhour, identified 224 serious violations of the military code. His commission recommended the indictment of many members of the chain of command in Vietnam on charges such as war crimes and obstruction of justice. But in the end, only four soldiers were tried in court on the charges, and only one, Calley, was convicted.
The massacre at My Lai was not preplanned. But the seeds from which the massacre grew had been planted by Medina, Calley and simply the circumstances of the Vietnam War. Some present-day speculation, for example, theorizes the reason no one but Calley was convicted was because Vietnam was seen as being another world, a surrealistic realm where different standards of civilization prevailed. But regardless of the standards of civilization, more than 500 Vietnamese citizens, unarmed civilians, lost their lives at the hands of U.S. troops. This fact is undisputed.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh was a seasoned revolutionary and passionate nationalist obsessed by a single goal: independence for his country. Sharing his fervor, his tattered guerrillas vaulted obstacles to crush Frances desperate attempt to retrieve its empire in Indochina; later, built into a largely conventional army, they frustrated the massive U.S. effort to prevent Hos communist followers from controlling Vietnam. For Americans, it was the longest war-and the first defeat-in their history, and it drastically changed the way they perceived their role in the world.
To Western eyes, it seemed inconceivable that Ho would make the tremendous sacrifices he did. But in 1946, as war with the French loomed, he cautioned them, You can kill 10 of my men for every one I kill of yours, yet even at those odds, you will lose and I will win. The French, convinced of their superiority, ignored his warning and suffered grievously as a result. Senior American officers similarly nurtured the illusion that their sophisticated weapons would inevitably break enemy morale. But, as Hos brilliant commander, General Vo Nguyen Giar said in 1990, his principal concern had been victory. When asked how long he would have resisted the U.S. onslaught, he thundered, Twenty years, maybe 100 years-as long as it took to win, regardless of cost.
In 1911 Ho Chi Minh sailed to France to study and work. 30 years later he formed the Vietnam Independence League, or Viet Minh. In 1954, he defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam id divided, and Ho becomes first President of North Vietnam. Five years later his began an armed revolt against South Vietnam. In 1967 Lyndon B. Johnson told him, We will never negotiate! And, in 1969, Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack in Hanoi.
On November 3, 1969, President Richard Nixon officially unveiled his Vietnamization program. The purpose of this program was to gradually transfer combat operations in Vietnam entirely to the South Vietnamese army. Peak American troop levels of 543,400 fell to 334,600 by 1970, and had diminished to 156,800 at the end on 1971. The Vietnamization program was meant to implement Nixons 1968 campaign promise to bring the fighting to an honorable end. With this policy, the South Vietnamese assumed a greater combat role and consequently suffered an increase in their casualty rate. However, serious questions arose concerning the South Vietnamese military capacity and willingness to take the offensive. At the same time, American military capacity was itself affected by morale problems that included high levels of drug abuse and racial tension.
Despite the decrease in troop strength and lowered morale, military actions actually expanded during these years. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia (1970) and the South Vietnamese, supported by the U.S., invaded Laos (1971). These overt incursions stirred controversy in the United States, particularly in Congress and among college students (although covert military operations, including secret bombings, had been conducted for nearly a decade-mainly in Laos). With American troop strength declining, the North Vietnamese initiated a broad offense in March 1972 (Easter offensive), to which Nixon responded with an unprecedented bombing campaign throughout Vietnam that included the mining of Haiphong Harbor.
If the nature of the war had changed on the U.S.-Saigon side, it was also transformed for the NLF and the North Vietnamese. NLF casualties as a result of the military failure of the Tet offensive, the various pacification programs conducted by the C.I.A. and the U.S. Army, and the ongoing bombing and defoliation efforts were enormous. Slowly the weight of fighting shifted from southern-born and organized guerrilla units to main-force North Vietnamese regular army troops. In the 1972 spring offensive and, more tellingly, in a final offensive in 1975, the war finally became that which the United States had always claimed it was: a war for the unification of Vietnam by force, under Hanois direction.
By the fall of 1972, both sides had reached a state of military stalemate. The situation facing the Nixon administration was almost brutal in its simplicity: how to extricate American troops without betraying what the President took to be a commitment to the Thieu government. A breakthrough occurred in the peace talks that had been going on between Washington and Hanoi in Paris since 1968. Concessions on both sides yielded an agreement that National Security Adviser Kissinger (negotiating for the U.S.) was confident would fulfill Nixons pledge to end the war with honor. The Thieu regimes firm resistance to this agreement surprised the American government. To persuade Thieu that the U.S. would not desert him and to demonstrate to Hanoi a U.S. commitment to a separate, independent South Vietnamese nation with an anti-communist leadership, Nixon ordered the heaviest bombing of the north in the history of war (Christmas bombing of 1972). Shortly after this twelve-day offensive, the Paris peace agreement was signed.
The Paris Accords allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in place in the south, and, for the first time, officially recognized the existence of the NLF and promised a future political role for its constituency. However, the agreement also permitted continuing American military supply of the Thieu government.
Violations of the accords began before the ink was dry. It seems likely, in retrospect, that the United States would have re-entered the war-certainly the air war-had Congress not intervened. On July 31, 1973, Congress voted to end all bombing in Indochina and to ban any future military moves in the area without prior Congressional approval. Nixons requests for aid were consistently cut down (although it should be noted that the U.S. did send $7 billion to the Thieu regime from 1973 to 1975; for the same period, China and the Soviet Union supplied Hanoi with $1.5 billion in aid). It became increasingly clear that the Saigon government was on its own.
Although the American people and Congress had essentially disengaged from the war, the fighting continued between 1973 and 1975. The inherent weaknesses of the South Vietnamese government, no longer bolstered by American military participation, resulted in its ultimate defeat. Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. The war had come to an end.
Effects and recovery in Vietnam
Although South Vietnam was ostensibly the U.S. ally in the conflict, far more firepower was unleashed on South Vietnamese civilians than on northerners. About 10 percent of all bombs and shells went unexploded and continued to kill and maim throughout the region long after the war, as did buried land mines. Vietnam developed the highest rate of birth defects in the world, probably due to the use of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants. The defoliants used during the war also destroyed about 15 percent of South Vietnams valuable timber resources and contributed to a serious decline in rice and fish production, the major sources of food for Vietnam.
There were 800,000 orphans created in South Vietnam alone. At least 10 million people became homeless refugees in the south. Vietnams government punished those Vietnamese who had been allied with the United States by sending them to re-education camps and depriving their families of employment. These measures combined with economic hardships throughout Vietnam led to the exodus of about 1.5 million people, most of them to the United States as refugees. The children of U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese women, often called AmerAsians, were looked down upon by the Vietnamese, and many of them immigrated to the United States.
Nixon promised #3.25 billion in reconstruction aid to Vietnam, but the aid was never granted. Neither Gerald Ford, who became president after Nixons resignation, not Congress would assume any responsibility for the devastation of Vietnam. Instead, in 1975 Ford extended the embargo already in effect against North Vietnam to all of newly unified Vietnam. In the Foreign Assistance Appropriation Act of 1976, Congress forbade any assistance for Vietnam of Cambodia.
President Jimmy Carter attempted to resume relations with Vietnam in 1977, declaring that the destruction was mutual. Talks broke down, however, over the issue of American MIAs and over the promised reparations, especially after the Vietnamese released a copy of Nixons secret letter of 1973, which promised aid without any preconditions. Fearing that reparations would amount to an admission of wrongdoing, Congress added amendments to trade bills that also cut Vietnam off from international lending agencies like the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Normalization was suspended, deepening the economic crisis facing Vietnam in the aftermath of the wars destruction. The crisis was worsened by new wars with China and Cambodia in 1978 and 1979.
Cut off from all other sources of aid, the SRV turned to the Soviet Union for loans and technical advisers. The SRV reasoned that, faced with widespread hunger and enormous health problems, restoring agricultural production was paramount. The government therefore seized private property, collectivized plantations, and nationalized businesses. About 1 million civilians were forcibly moved from cities to new economic zones. Mismanagement and corruption became common, and popular disillusion with the regime grew. At the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, the SRV leadership declared Communism a failed experiment and vowed radical change. Calling the reforms doi moi (economic renovation), the SRV opened Vietnam to capitalism. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the SRV leadership was forced to move further in this direction.
Stepping up efforts to find American MIAs and cooperating with World Bank and IMF guidelines for economic reform. Vietnam worked to improve relations with the United States. In February 1994 President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo, and on July 11, 1995, the United States formally restored full diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
As a result of more than eight years of these methods of warfare, it is estimated that more than 2 million Vietnamese were killed, 3 million wounded, and hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. IT has been estimated that about 12 million Indochinese people became refugees. Between April 1975 and July 1982, approximately 1,218,000 were resettled in more than 16 countries. About 500,000, the so-called boat people, tried to flee Vietnam by sea; according to rough estimates, 10 to 15 percent of these died, and those who survived the great hardships of their voyages were eventually faced with entry ceilings in the countries that agreed to accept them for resettlement.
In the Vietnam War U.S. casualties rose to a total of 57,685 killed and about 153,303 wounded. At the time of the cease-fire agreement there were 587 U.S. military and civilian prisoners of war, all of whom were subsequently released. A current unofficial estimate puts the nukmber of personnel still unaccounted for in the neighborhood of 2500.
Less measurable but still significant costs were the social conflicts within the U.S. that were engendered by the war-the questioning of U.S. institutions by the American people and a sense of self-doubt.
Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia- Volume 27; Leon L. Bram; Funk & Wagnalls Inc.
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