The Vietnam War

It would be difficult to conjure a time of greater irony, when good fortune was sacrificed to pride.  Emerging victorious from World War II the United States of America prospered, promoting its policies of free market diplomacy.  Unfortunately, five successive Presidents secretly escalated the war in Vietnam, ultimately sacrificing the lives of 58,000 American soldiers and as many as 3,000,000 Vietnamese.

LBJ in VietnamAlthough the war began earlier, events in the Tonkin Gulf in North Vietnam led to a critical juncture in August 1964, providing a rationalization for its escalation.  While Vietnam waited for the democratic elections promised when the Geneva Convention divided it in half, increasing numbers of American surveillance ships and South Vietnamese Luc Luong Dac Biet commandos violated Northern Vietnamese coastal sovereignty.  In late July when South Vietnamese Special Forces raided coastal defense and radar installations in the Tonkin Gulf, North Vietnam became concerned about becoming vulnerable if there was an invasion.

On August 2nd, 1964 the naval facility on Hon Me Island in Halong Bay in the Tonkin Gulf received orders that patrol boats should repel further attacks by confronting the enemy and launching torpedoes.  The sky was clear and the sea smooth and glistening as patrol boats racing across the gulf encountered South Vietnamese boats.  Warned of the approaching patrol the South Vietnamese boats turned southeast and fled out to open sea.  During the pursuit the patrol boats caught up with the U.S. Maddox, an American destroyer and fired two torpedoes from a distance, but missed.   Another patrol boat nearly closed the gap so that it could get into position to fire, when the destroyer began firing.  Two F8 jets suddenly came screaming like wounded beasts down from the skies, firing rockets and strafing the boats.  Three patrol boats were damaged, killing crewmembers and the boats withdrew.    This incident became the pretext for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the United States the formal pretext military intervention in Viet Nam where it had clandestinely been involved since December, 1956.

In Vietnam, the Vietnam War was known as the American War. Fought across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, a proxy war, the war was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States.  The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a lightly armed South Vietnamese communist common front directed by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region.  Unable to win on the ground, the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct targeted air strikes. In the course of the war, the U.S. conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

LBJ with model of Khe SanhAmerican involvement in the war by the U.S. government was viewed as a way to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam, part of their wider strategy of containment, which aimed to stop the spread of communism. According to the U.S. domino theory, if one nation went Communist, other nations in the region would follow. On the other hand, the North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam. They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against France, then against South Vietnam and the United States. The North Vietnamese Constitution echoes our own. It says that the state should guarantee “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

While “advisors” had been sent earlier, regular U.S. combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. Military operations crossed international borders, with Laos and Cambodia heavily bombed by the U.S. American involvement in the war and casualties peaked in 1968, the same year as the Communist side launched the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive failed to overthrow the South Vietnamese government, but became the turning point in the war as it showed that South Vietnam, in spite of many years of massive U.S. military aid, was unable to fend for itself. With a U.S. victory being uncertain, ground forces were gradually withdrawn as part of a policy known as “Vietnamization,” which aimed to end American involvement in the war while transferring the duty of fighting the Communists to the South Vietnamese. Despite the Paris Peace Accords, which was signed by all parties in January 1973, the fighting continued.

As a result of the Case–Church Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress, direct U.S. military involvement ended on August 15 1973. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Army in April 1975 marked the end of the war, and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese service members and civilians killed vary from 800,000 to 3.1 million.Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict. (Wikipedia)