Everything about Vietnam - Referat
Today the vast majority of questioned people associate the word "Vietnam" with the cruel war, which took place in this small Southeast Asian country after the second World War. This war carried out by the United States cannot be understood without some knowledge of Vietnam's earlier history. The origins of the conflict that has deeply affected Asia in this time have to be searched in the earlier history.
The Geography of Vietnam
For a better understanding of the whole text facts about the geography of Vietnam are very useful and necessary. Vietnam has been likened to two rice bows at the opposite ends of a carrying pole. The rice bowls represent the Red River delta in the north and the Mekong River in the south, and the carrying pole is the long, narrow territory in between. The whole country is located in South East Asia and has a common frontier with China in the north and in the west with Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam is situated on a peninsula that separates the Gulf of Thailand from the South China Sea. In all, it's borders encompass 127300 square miles, or a land area slightly more than that in the state of New Mexico or about twice Austria. The border to China is built by mountains of great altitude. They attain elevations as great as 10000 feet. The other mountain ranges in Vietnam run along the frontier to Laos and Cambodia. So this country is well guarded from these sides. However, the coastline (3451 km) is not much shorter than that of the eastern seaboard of the United States. The country at its widest point is no more than about 250 miles across, and it is only 20 miles wide at it's narrowest waist.
Most visitors to Vietnam are overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the country's natural setting. In the two biggest river deltas rice is grown and it is an experience for its own so take a look at the rich green rice paddies tended by peasant women in the conical hats. There are also no good or bad seasons for visiting Vietnam. When the climate in one region is wet, cold and unfriendly there will always be somewhere a place where the sun is shining at temperatures of more than 35 degrees. Most of the time the climate its very strange because of the mountains that cut the country into pieces. Local conditions can vary from frosty to warm in the winters. Between July and November violent and strong typhoons devastate the country. In Saigon the average temperature is about 27 degrees and the climate in the south is hot and wet. The winters in the north are quite cool and wet and carry a phenomenon with them which is called dust rain, a persistent drizzling rain, by the local population.
Despite widespread deforestation Vietnam's vegetation is as the same as you would find in a tropic country. Wide areas are discovered by dark, unfriendly jungle. During the war in the sixties the vegetation of the forests was still in good condition. The American soldiers had the biggest problems with the jungle and they even tried to get rid of it by dropping poison on the trees. This will be mentioned detail later.
In 1960, Vietnam's two largest cities were Hanoi (population about 600000) in the north and Saigon (population about 1,6 million) in the south. So these two metropols were opposing capitals in the war. They were almost exactly seven hundred miles away from each other. Other very important cities are Hue and Danang.
In contrast to the rather highly populated river deltas only very few citizens are living in the mountains and the central highland in the south. By the early sixties about 30,5 million people were living in Vietnam (approximately 16,5 million north of the 17th parallel and 14 million south of it) So the vast majority populated less than 20 percent of the whole territory. The remaining 1,5 million human beings lived in the more than one hundred thousand square miles and mountains. These peculiarities of geography and demography greatly affected the strategy, and arguments over strategy, of America's war in Vietnam.
Vietnam's History until the French Rule
The Indochinese peninsula as a whole was originally populated by settlers from Indonesia. About two thousand BC Thai and Khmer invaders from the north-west developed settlements in the Mekong delta. Some time later seafaring people from India came to central Vietnam. There they founded an own kingdom. However, the Vietnamese people come after the Chinese, whose ancestors migrated from their original country to settle in the Mekong delta. This small country has always been oppressed by the neighbours in the north. They were independent until 208 B.C, when a Chinese warlord decided to conquer the territory. Regardless of names imposed by China, the Viets never lost their sense of a national identity. Though hey borrowed the Chinese system of ideograms for writing, their religion and the mandarin traditions based on the Confucian code. In history the population has always tried to reject the oppression by other countries. The first revolt against the foreign rule occured already 2000 years ago and was led by a titled Vietnamese lady. Nevertheless this country still had to preserve its freedom in the following centuries, when the independence was menaced by several Chinese invasions. Most of the time the Viets were to weak to fight against the enemies and so they turned to the techniques of guerrilla warfare. With many small wars they broke the other soldiers until they were strong enough to expel them from their country. The last big invasion was at the time of the Ming dynasty in China, but after a overwhelming victory the independence of Vietnam was finally recognised. After this defeat of the Chinese emperors a golden age commenced in this country. A political and bureauristic structure was establishes, the culture prospered and the territory was extended. Meanwhile in 1612 Roman Catholic missonars from France reached the kingdom. They were tolerated and one monk, called Alexandre de Rhodes, undertook to transliterate the Vietnamese language into a written form, using the Roman alphabet. Although the vast majority remained under the religion of Buddhism some people were converted and became Christians. In the meantime the kingdom was split into two pieces, which were ruled by two opposing parties. However, after some decades these both kingdoms were swept up in the great Tay Son Rebellion (1772 - 1802). Its causes are not entirely clear, but they surely involved the Mandate of Heaven, a Confucian concept. Under this Mandate, the ruler had to reign in observance of the tradition and he had to law in a perceived harmonious relationship with the universe. The mandarins were supposed to ensure harmony. If these cases were not totally fulfilled a revolt was justified. Even today the word revolution is expressed by a Vietnamese term that roughly means translated: change the mandate.
The Arrival of French Imperialism and the French Rule (1859 - 1954)
The rebels overthrew the kingdoms in the north and already planned to eradicate the south. The catholic church decides to seek assistance from France and they sent out a monsignor called Pierre Pigneau. He made a trip back to France and begged for support from the French king Louis XVI. he finally secured help from French trades in India, who provided the southern kingdom in Vietnam with munition, arms and tools. With an army consisting of more than fifty well trained Catholic troops they defeated in collaboration with the king Nguyen Anh the rebels and reached the control over the whole territory of Vietnam.
In the 19th century the number of Catholic citizens in Vietnam grew bigger and bigger. The members of the Catholicism started contact to the church in Europe and the Pope in Rome. They also enlarged their power and became a real danger to the traditional culture relating to Buddha. In 1825 the emperor Minh Mang issued edicts which forbade further missionaring in his country. Priests were arrested and France was urged to intervene with the power of weapons in the same year, when a warship bombarded Danang. The arrival of the French Imperialism couldn't be stopped any more. In the late 1850s France developed a greater interest in Vietnam due to protection of the Roman Catholic religion and commercial advances. This colony was rich of natural resources. The French only waited for an excuse to conquer Vietnam.
That was in 1857 when a monk was put to death for interfering in Vietnamese politics. In August 1858 a French fleet put troops ashore at Tourane. The soldiers occupied Hue and big parts of the country but the easy victory everybody expected did not happen. Technologically the imperial army was underdeveloped comparing to the forces from Europe. Nevertheless the resistance supported by tropical heat and diseases was stronger than the French troops, who had to abandon Vietnam. After some more military actions against the Vietnamese kingdom the French finally won the important battle of Ky Hoa in 1861.
In 1887 the French parliament finally created the French Indochinese Union, comprising Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin and Cambodia, and some years later they added Laos as another protectorate. This annexation completed the French empire in this region. They settled down to exploit their Indochinese territories to the fullest extent and this rule would last into the twentieth century. By 1903 opium sales represented a third of the colonial governments income from Vietnam and countries like Laos were encouraged to cultivate the opium poppy. Resources and crop, for example rice, rubber and sugar cane, were exported to Europe. The French rulers even exploited the people. The local population was forced to pay artificially high prices for their daily food, for example salt as a spice.
Though the French rulers had claimed an union peace in whole Indochina figures of protests and resistance movements were increasing. However, the highly motivated rebels were helpless against the French army and many of them were arrested.
From the French administrative capital in Hanoi the whole country was directed and suppressed. The traditional Vietnamese school system was abolished and only children of colons and Catholics were educated in the lycées. The French rulers were on the way to destroy this country with its very well developed culture.
World War II and America's collaboration with Ho Chi Minh
When France fell to Nazi Germany in 1940 the government in Indochina had to accept Japanese troops in Vietnam who exploited the country in the way of a very good strategic position. The only group that did anything significant to resist the Japanese were the Viet Minh, a kind of freedom fighters. They were strongly supported by the United States who saw a good chance to weaken the enemies by helping the Viet Minh with their civil war. The leader of the Viet Minh at this time was Ho Chi Minh. In March 1945 one of their offensives failed and the French government was overthrown and reinstalled by the Japanese emperors. Due to the fact that they exported too much rice and other crop to Japan a big famine broke out and an two million Vietnamese people had to starve. By the spring of the same year the Viet Minh controlled large parts of the country and in the summer Ho formed the National Committee and called for a general uprising also known as the August Revolution. So the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was established under the rule of the communist troops directed by Ho Chi Minh and General Giap in September. The rebellion was also supported by the Potsdam conference which pledged for a disarming and withdrawal of the Japanese troops from Indochina. After the WW2 the French came back to Vietnam and wanted to restore the old order, but the Viet Minh raised strikes and riots. This was the beginning of the Indochina War.
The Indochina War (1946 - 1954)
Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnam's independence on 2 September 1945 made little impression on the Allies. Once Japan had surrendered, they proceeded to put into effect the agreements made at Potsdam in regard to Indochina. During September British troops under the control of General Sir Douglas Gracey occupied the south of Vietnam (in effect Cochinchina and parts of Annam), while Chinese nationalist troops under general Lu Han occupied the north. Soon trouble would follow due to two different systems. The British worked in collaboration with French brigades and they even got support by Japan. On 22 September French paratroops and foreign legionnaires went on rampage in Saigon, attacked the Vietnamese and destroyed Viet Minh institutions. The people reacted by launching physical attacks against the French, riots and city-wide labour strike. The British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Charles de Gaulle were forced to preserve their influence in Indochina. Ten thousands of soldiers were sent to the colony to strike back. The Viethmin stopped all military actions, remained in the underground and were awaiting further instructions by Ho Chi Minh. The north of Vietnam was struggled by a huge famine and political disorder. So he wrote a letter to the US president Truman in which he declared his country as a territory under the control of America if indigence was not achieved immediately. He never got any answer.
The Chinese government offered the French the occupied north. The French abandoned territories in China and got control over whole Vietnam. So Ho Chi Minh offered to accept the French back in the northern part, provided that they recognised the legitimacy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French proposed to grant diplomatic recognition to Ho's republic if it remained under their control. They reached an agreement in March 1946. However, some time later the French troops decided to return back to northern Vietnam. Ho tried to intervene by political petitions. He was humiliated and not taken serious. The enemy armies had occupied the whole territory after some time.
On 23 November there was the first battle at the port of Haiphong, when French troops and warships destroyed the Vietnamese districts of this city. One month later the Viet Minh striked back, drestroyed a municipal power plant and attacked the French garrison. Their forces counter-attacked and the war was totally broken out. By broadcasting over the radio Ho Chi Minh wanted his countrymen to join his organisation for a freedom war. Until 1947 the troops of the VMLA were pressed to the border to China, where they were protected by the friendly population and could plan their guerrilla tactics. As the French war effort finally bogged down, they realized that they would need more military support in the form of weapons delivered by the United States. The US government was largely a spectator. Although they had more sympathy to the French they were favouring a compromise between the two parties. They were also busy with the cold war which broke out after WWII. In Vietnam nothing had changed and the war didn't seem to end soon. So the United States put increasing pressure on the French government to stimulate a non communist nationalism in Vietnam and peace. Eventually the French agreed an independent and united State of Vietnam (SOV) under the rule the former Ho Chi Minh adviser Bao Dai. However, the whole thing was a fraud and the French retained effective control over the army, finances and foreign policy. At the same time the Republic of China and the Soviet Union recognised Ho Chi Minh as the only legitimate leader and the DRV. Almost immediately the Cold War mentality took over in American councils, and on 7 February 1950 the United States and Europe decided to help Bao Dai and the SOV to avoid further extension of the communism. Now the Americans were totally involved in this war. During the Indochina War the United States spent three billion dollars on the effort and paid more than eighty percent of the costs. Due to the well planned tactics and combats of the Viet Minh the situation of the French became more and more critical. As well, the famous Ho Chi Minh trail, a complex of trails and paths through the mountains, was built and the communists were able to infiltrate troops and supply into central and southern Vietnam. In 1952 the French launched heavy air attacks on this trail to stop the supply. Finally they believed they had shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and planned the invasion of the strategic important town Dienbeinphu. Now they believed in the victory and in March 1954 a heavy battle started for this city. Running short of food, water and medical support, always under massive shelling, the French troops were doomed at Dienbienphu. Faced to this great disaster general Paul Ely, the French chief of staff, flew to Washington and formally asked for help in the Vietnam case. So heavy airstrikes were planned in connection with the use of nuclear weapons, but the intervention didn't broke of because of different opinions. President Eisenhower was under pressure to intervene nevertheless to stop communist expansion in Asia. They also insisted that any American military action should be supported by the other allies, especially Britain. Although everybody feared the global communism there was no military intervention to save the last French garrisons at Dienbienphu, which were finally ran over. On 8 May 1954 nine national delegations gathered in the old League of Nations building in Geneva to open discussions on how to end the Indochina War. All in all the final Declaration of Geneva, signed by most of the national delegations, provided free elections under international supervision to the Vietnamese population to decide over its future. These elections held out the possibility that Vietnam would be reunited peacefully. In the meantime the south and the north were separated from each other by a three miles demilitarised zone. During that time the people could choose where they wanted to live, in the SOV or in the DRV. The French also proceeded in their withdrawal from Indochina. The realisation of a peaceful, reunited Vietnam depended on the attitudes of the two different government. That of the SOV was not good and the leaders refused to sign the final treaties. The US government didn't participate the congress in Switzerland, they just observed the whole thing. Although Stalin died in March 1953 they didn't trust the communists and were afraid of a south Vietnam under the control of Ho Chi Minh, who would surely win the elections. The county was still separated in two parts and a collusion between the SOV and the United States would undermine the accords and would make a new war in Indochina a near certainty.
The Road to America's War in Vietnam (1954 – 1960)
The country was separated. In the north Ho Chi Minh ruled his communist government supported by Russia. The capital was Hanoi and all territories north of the 17th parallel line belonged to the DRV. A radical land reform was implemented providing about half a hectare of land each to some 1.5 million peasants. Enemies of the government were imprisoned or executed (more than fifteen thousand people died under the regime of Ho Chi Minh). The contact to the south was totally shut down. In Saigon Ngo Dinh Diem was the new president of south Vietnam. He worked in tight collaboration with the Americans. At first Diem did his job very well but he became more and more tyrannical and the government was more a family affair lead by his relatives.
In the meantime the Americans implemented a military-political force in south-east Asia and at a conference in Manila the SEATO was founded on 8 September 1954. The signatories were countries like Great Britain, France, Australia, the Philippines and Pakistan. They all felt menaced by the communists and had established an union Russia would never dare to overran. Eisenhower also promised Diem that in the future he would render his government every necessary aid, economic as well and military, to develop and maintain a strong, viable state. Without any doubt Diem was a real Vietnamese nationalist, who was born out of a Catholic family in Hue. He always fought for the independence of his country without a communist impact. Menaced by Ho Chi Minh´s party he escaped to America and Europe. Together with his friend Bao Dai he realised that the SOV would never survive without foreign aid from the United States. With their assistance Diem was determined that south Vietnam would remain an independent, anticommunist state, and one firmly under his personal control. In the 1950s about one million refugees from the DRV came to the south because they didn't see a future under the communists. In addition only two hundred thousand people migrated to the DRV. Obviously this was a first victory but the American government slowly lost the confidence in Diem's abilities to rule a viable state. The former prime minister Dulles reported Eisenhower after a short trip to Saigon that many non-communist elements were ready to challenge Diem. However, this man regained his popularity and declared him self as the unique leader of the SOV in 1955. He converted the State of Vietnam in the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) and they reached a membership in the SEATO.
At the beginning of the year 1956 the remaining communists in south Vietnam organised themselves and started to challenge Diem's dictatorship, that suppressed the whole country. For example Diem and the Viet Minh eliminated enemy landowner and redistributed the territories. He also restored the economic system before the war. The citizens were unsatisfied and aided the Viet Cong (VC), a communist organisation who wanted to kill Diem. Always informed by the CIA the United States government were not ignorant of his repressive and undemocratic measures. The VC were defeated and Diem's regime was forced to moderate its policies. But the policies began to alienate even commanders and troops in the national army (ARVN) and the smouldering resentment among the military burst into the open on 11 November 1960. Three paratroop battalions attempted to overthrow the cruel dictatorship. It miscarried and the leaders fled to Cambodia. American officials in Vietnam could no longer shut their eyes to the effects of Diem's policy. They had to handle as soon as possible and find an alternative to Diem.
Doubtless Ho Chi Minh was really provocated by the situation in the south caused by Diem's regime, who refused to participate the elections and had started a war against the supporters of Communism. This had been enough for Ho to support an insurgency against the Republic of Vietnam. Thousands of people were convicted of being enemies of the state. The punishment was usually prison for the rest of the life or the death penalty. He wanted to purify the population and to have a country full of loyal people, but when the first riots started Ho Chi Minh recognised that he had gone too far. One of his generals became the scape goat and in the rehabilitation the image of nice "Uncle Ho" appeared. For some time north Vietnam nevertheless was unable to assist the Viet Cong due to other small mistakes. In the year 1959 the DRV reactivated the Ho Chi Minh trail to infiltrate supply and weapons. The VC had to be supported in their quarrel for the power. They began to support the small farmers in sowing and harvesting the rice crop and opposed Diem to gain their popularity among the citizens of the ROV. There was a rebellion to be created. In December 1960 Eisenhower's administration was over and John F. Kennedy became the new president of the United States.
Counter Insurgency and the Increasing of the Military Power under JFK (1961 – 1963)
The presidential campaign of 1960 was fiercely contested between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon, who had served two terms as Eisenhower's vice president. He had visited Vietnam for many time in cases of political affairs and he strongly supported the policy of containment of communism there. In November 1960 Kennedy won the elections and accordingly his way of dealing with the Vietnam question was not much different from Eisenhower's policy. He was dedicated to help the ROV and if necessary the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. Although Kennedy's foreign policy showed little variation from that of preceding administrations, there were still very important differences between his and Eisenhower's defence policy. During the 1960 presidential campaign many voters supported his view that a war carried out with nuclear weapons would be a global catastrophe. The last president was the opinion that nuclear bombs and rockets were the best measure to protect America against ist enemies to rely on. If his country would have ever been faced to a challenge with the Russians Kennedy expressed this as a choice between holocaust or humiliation. He relied on alternative weapons and favoured expanded army forces.
And so the United States began to increase ist military power in south Vietnam to avoid the extension of the communism. Many small wars would be more effective than one big. By the spring of 1961 several hundred special forces were installed in the ROV to start the counter-insurgency against Ho Chi Minh.
For the vital post of secretary of defence Kennedy chose Robert S. McNamara, former head of the Ford Motor Company who was also interested in new approaches to defence problems by alternative non nuclear weapons. He tightly worked together with a former major of the US army of WW2 called Taylor. Both decided to reform the system of defence and acquired over the making of military policy.
In the first year of Kennedy's presidency he was very busy with other things than the situation in Vietnam. For example the crisis in Cuba, when the Russians built institutions for launching nuclear rockets on the island near the southern coast of America in 1962. In Germany the communists built the Wall, which separated the DDR from the rest of the country.
In 1962 president Diem requested additional American aid to increase the strength of the national army from 170000 troops to 270000 troops in order to combat the Viet Cong more effectively. Such an expansion would also involve increasing the US military assistance and advisory. Kennedy followed Diem's petition for help and sent troopers to Vietnam but much too less to support the desired expansion. Nevertheless the land was menaced by the Viet Cong, who started terrorist actions and maintained their insurgency supported by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Normally they engaged in guerrilla hit-and-run attacks or in terrorist actions and sabotage, but sometimes the communist army (VPLA) appeared in battalion strength (units of more than five hundred men and women). They posed a greater threat to the ROV's self defence militia. The VPLA gained there power and by 1963 the vast majority of the rebels had been recruited south of the 17th parallel. About 74000 troopers were fighting in south Vietnam at this time. The insurgency by the communists became a real danger for Diem's government. But who was to be blamed for this? Kennedy's vice president praised at a short visit in Saigon for Diem and blamed North Vietnam for the insurgency. At the end of 1961 several hundred helicopters were sent to support the ARVN, the self defence army of the ROV. Instead of troops the helicopters should facilitate tactical movements. The power of the airforce was also increased. As much as possible Kennedy played down the growing US military involvement in South Vietnam to the Congress and the public and he avoided all critical voices. Another American Activity was the strategic hamlet program which was directed by the CIA. This project called for the removal of village communities suspected of aiding and abetting the VC. Small villages were surrounded by barbed wire barriers and were observed by guard towers. In this way enemy access and attack could be avoided. It would take more than five years to recognise first positive results.
Despite the expansion of the ARVN, more American assistance and the hamlet project the government in Saigon was losing the war in the year 1963. Kennedy's doubts about this war grew as he became more and more perplexed by the seemingly contradictory information he was receiving on the progress of the military actions. Now he finally recognised that the riots were more the result of Diem's incorrect policy than the influence from the communist north. In act of martyrdom and protest against his policy a Buddhist monk sat down in the lotus position in a public street in Saigon, allowed himself to be doused with gasoline and then he put himself into fire. This affair was documented by the press and appeared all over the world. And matters only became wore when several monks committed suicide. Eventually President Kennedy forced Diem to change his manner in politics or every American involvement would instantly be stopped. For him the war was only to be won with the support of a peaceful ROV. The long expected military coup finally took place on 1 to 2 November 1965 and the government in Saigon was overthrown. The revolution was led by General Van Minh (or Big Minh) and Diem was assassinated together with his sister.
Kennedy was outraged when he was informed about the cruel and violent details of their death but he had no choice and collaborated with the new government. On 22 November he fell victim to an assassin's bullets in Dallas and Lyndon Johnson became the new president of the United States.
Johnson's war (1964 – 1968)
Now the whole power over the ROV lay in the hands of general Duong Van Minh. He also won a large measure of support from Johnson by cancelling martial law, releasing captures monks and nuns and promising total equality between all religions. Everything seemed to be perfect at this moment. However to Johnson's dismay Minh planned to dismantle the discredited hamlet program and seeked contact to the communist rebels. He also favoured neutralisation of his country and the solution of the conflict by returning to the Geneva Accords. Any kind of a coalition government in Saigon that included the communists was anathema to the American president, who described the whole thing as a sell out to the enemies. So Minh turned to be the new big problem and not the long expected solution.
Other Vietnamese generals sensed the American lack of confidence in the new leadership and toppled it in 1964. General Nguyen Khanh took charge of the military junta. Although won Washington's approval by pledging no compromise peace with North Vietnam, this is another chapter in the history of permanent instability in the ROV. After public riots Khanh declared at state of emergency and installed a triumvirate composed by himself, Minh and another general. Under American pressure the government had to restore the facade of a civilian rule. Though President Johnson worried about the chronic political disorder of The ROV and its tendencies to military coups, he persisted in treating the war as if it was entirely the fault of North Vietnam. In consequence he decided to set Ho Chi Minh under massive pressure in early 1964 by approving the Pentagon's Operations Plan 34A (OPLAN34A). Among other things this plan provided for the dropping of South Vietnamese saboteurs into the north and a special army, that helped commandos in carrying out raids on North Vietnam's coastline. The former assistant secretary of state became William Bundy and so he sent some proposals for an open warfare against the DRV. The main features of this program were heavy bombing campaigns on North Vietnam's industries, railroads, barracks and training camps. A naval blockade to choke off any aid by sea from the communist block nations should be also prepared. However, it was not justified for the United States to start a battle without a declaration of war or an emergency authority from Congress. Instead of putting an enabling resolution before Congress, Johnson ventured a diplomatic initiative to secure peace in Vietnam. He offered the DRV diplomatic recognition and aid if they would stop all VC insurgency in South Vietnam. If they disagreed military actions would follow. In response the premier Pham Van Dong refused the proposals and wanted the Americans to leave whole Vietnam alone.
On 3 July navy headquarters sent the specially equipped destroyer Maddox to the Gulf of Tonkin to get further information of DRV's radio and radar electronics. Despite the fact that they claimed a twelve mile limit to its territorial waters Captain John Herrick ordered to bring his ship as close as possible to the limit. On 31 July 1964 South Vietnamese commandos based at Danang raided two DRV island. So there was enough tension in the Gulf of Tonkin and when the Maddox steamed back into international waters patrol torpedo boats followed the vessel and opened fire. With help from other destroyers and planes the two boats were destroyed. The 2 August is therefore the date for the beginning of the "real" Vietnam War. Secretary McNamara claimed the attack as unprovoked and the mission as a routine patrol. Facts about the spionage were not revealed. Journalists, the Congress and the public were led to believe that the attack was a wanton assault on a peaceful US warship in international waters.
Two days after the first occurrence in the Gulf of Tonkin North Vietnamese torpedo boats assaulted the Maddox again. But this time the Americans had not provoked this incident because the vessel lay more than sixty miles away from the coast. Doubtless this incident outraged the society and the government all over the United States. President Johnson arranged to appear on the TV screens to give his public version of these event. He praised the performance of the brave American soldiers and said that repeated acts of violence against the armed forces must be met with defence and a positive reply. After this speech he urged the Congress to pass a resolution making it clear that the US government was united in its determination to take all necessary measure to protect peace and freedom in Southeast Asia. Now Johnson had won the support from both sides in America: from the people and from the Congress because they all had the same opinion. The Viet Cong should feel the rage of the world's biggest superpower. From that moment it was in Johnson's hands to direct the war in Vietnam He ordered the US Air Force to move squadrons into air bases in Thailand and to South Vietnam. The navy increased its forces in the Far East. Meanwhile the presidential elections underway. Johnson was in a very good position because he protected the country and so he won the elections by a big amount of votes.
On 1 November 1964 the Viet Cong attacked an US air base in the environment of Saigon and destroyed several B-57 bombers and killed soldiers and civilists. Some days later terrorists bombed a hotel in the capital. Americans died in this incident again. In part to retaliate for such attacks on 1 December Johnson approved Operation BARREL ROLL, a secret bombing campaign against the Ho Chi Minh Trail to undermine the supply of the VC. But the communist fighters were well prepared too, the planning to destroy their path failed and more and more troops intruded the country. The prospect of finding a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Vietnam was fading away rapidly.
The critical year 1965
The United States forces were consulting about the best war strategy against the DRV. They key to success, as they saw it, was the use of maximum force in the shortest possible time. Before ninety four targets had been chosen and it would take sixteen days to destroy them all by intensive attacks. From the history the Air Force knew that gradually accelerating bombing campaigns had been less effective. For example the bombing of Japan at the end of WW2 was not successful until the mass attacks followed by the use of nuclear bombs.
Due to the fact that the vast majority of North Vietnam's war material came from China and the USSR the economy was not an easy target. As well, many people lived off the land, cropped rice and didn't need other help. So a total eradication of the rice culture would be very effective because the following famine would weaken the country.
Issues of humanity aside a strategy of mass annihilation against a small communist country would provoke an intervention of China and Russia. Both were in possession of nuclear weapons and America was already afraid of a war against the People's Republic of China. Beijing had issued public warning too. Johnson and his secretary of defence McNamara decided to abort huge mass bombings against the DRV and to return to the old strategy they used in WW2, although it was not the more effective one. They wanted to keep the conflict localised and to avoid every foreign intervention. Operation ROLLING THUNDER should be carried out primarily by the huge B-52 bombers and naval attacks. Again President Johnson needed a provocation for justifying the unleashing of ROLLING THUNDER against North Vietnam. His opportunity began to unfold on 7 February 1965 when the Viet Cong assaulted an US helicopter base at Pleiku. These hit and run attacks resulted in the death of nine American citizens and damage of others. Within fourteen hours of the attack in Pleiku more than forty jets launched from the carriers Coral Sea and Hancock to eradicate a military training camp in the DRV. But such retaliation did not deter the Viet Cong and their agents started other acts of terrorism and sabotage. The US forces were fed up with the communists and finally started Operation ROLLING THUNDER.
Events were also moving towards a major American ground combat commitment in South Vietnam. In March 1965 3500 marines landed over the beaches and established defence positions around the airbases. The two Marine battalions were the first US ground combat units sent to the ROV. Some weeks later more than forty thousand troopers were added, plus service and support troops. It was very important to protect airbases, barracks and strategic points. For logistics a large number of people were also flown to South Vietnam. But Johnson was reluctant to go further with the war due to dissent in Congress about his radical policy in Asia. The first anti war demonstration took place in California at the university of Berkely and more protests were cropping up on college campuses. Though the congressional critics and the peace movements were small clouds an Johnson's horizon. He was more concerned about how to reintroduce talks with Ho Chi Minh´s diplomats. For him a withdrawal of the troops was unthinkable but Ho's government would receive diplomatic recognition of the USA if they stopped the VC insurgency in the south. Obviously this proposal ignored the history of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh´s determination of an unified country. In rejecting the plan DRV's premier minister Dong set down three conditions for a peace:
à total withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam
à new government in Saigon with the NFL (communist party)
à cancelling the bombing campaign without conditions
Johnson rejected all three conditions. In the meanwhile the strength of the VPLA forces had grown to more than 150000 fighters and many more would be infiltered with the help of the Ho Chi Minh trail. America had to decide between the total collapse of South Vietnam in the near future or the sending out of combat troops in large numbers. With an initial force of more than 175000 persons the country could be saved from the communists. If that didn't happen in the next time the ROV would surely fall to the north within a few months and the world would also lose its trust in America's credibility. There was still the danger that Russia or China would be involved. As well, nobody could give answers about the costs and how long the war would last.
The situation in South Vietnam deteriorated more and more and Johnson had to make a clear decision. Violating his own criticism of Truman's mode of bringing the United States into the Korean war, he did not go back to Congress for further authority. The forthcoming war in Vietnam would be very, very expensive for his country by increasing the existing budget of $ 100 billion by 10 percent. In the first time McNamara should try to obey the limit of $ 10 billion, but in the following years the costs would balloon to more than $ 26 billion. The war was more important than the predictions Johnson had given to his voters in the election campaign. If America was involved in a huge military action there wouldn't by any money left to fight against poverty and the inflation.
By the time President Johnson had decided to commit a large American ground force for the defence of the ROV. This plan consisted of three stages. At first the resistance should be broken, then the army would start offensives and at last the ARVN should be able to protect South Vietnam themselves. In August 1965 there was the first big battle with American involvement carried out in a valley called Ia Drang. On the American side the fighting was conducted in an innovative fashion and the latest technology was available. The battle saw the large scale use of the helicopters for moving troops, moving artillery and serving as weapons platforms for machine guns and rocket launchers. The US infantry used the new and fully automatic M-16 assault rifle and B-52 bombers could drop more than one hundred bombs of 500 lb. in thirty seconds. On the other side the Viet Cong were armed with the Soviet designed AK-47 automatic assault rifle, mortars and grenades. Despite their own great losses the communist troops never lost their will to fight and brought the Americans big causalities.
Still the outcome was an American victory and the rebels went back to Cambodia. By the end of 1965 there were more than 190000 US troops in South Vietnam and Johnson even pledged the SEATO members for support. By the beginning of 1968 the strength consisted of about half a million Americans, 50000 South Koreans, 12000 Thais, 8000 Australians and 1500 Filipinos. After more bombing campaigns McNamara was sure that there was no danger of a collapse in south Vietnam no more and urged his president to start peace talks with the government of Ho Chi Minh. In America more domestic conflicts appeared when two war opposers burnt themselves to death on the steps of the United Nations building in New York and of the Pentagon in Washington. However, when Premier Dong delivered as the same proposals as some months before ROLLING THUNDER was resumed after a pause of thirty seven days.
Moving towards defeat 1966 - 1977
After the failure of the hit-and-run tactics the Viet Cong decided to change their strategy. As in the early Indochina War the communists placed their faith in the remarkable Vietnamese ability to endure heavy losses and deprivations until they finally achieved victory through wearing down the will of the enemies. The Viet Cong also wanted to attack the enemies in surprising actions to have better chances. In applying their strategy they enjoyed some special advantages by fighting on home ground. They didn't have problems with the deep jungle, the changing climate, the dangerous mountains and the puzzling landscape. To give the fighters shelter wide spread tunnel systems were elaborated, where they could store food, arms, people and munition: the support of increasing numbers of troops sent from the north. These tunnels were very important for the result of the war.
In the meanwhile the government in Saigon had started efforts for pacification, but they failed and were opposed by the United States, who wanted to come to an end by war. In the years 1966 to 1967 the troops tried to clean up the country from communism as well as possible. Only twenty miles north of Saigon there was a real hotbed of communist activity that the ARVN had never dared to enter. In January this area was stormed by thirty thousand US troops and the enemies had to escape to Cambodia or into their underground system. Whenever the American troops discovered such tunnels they destroyed the whole environment by contaminating and moving the earth. Aircrafts used aerosols containing AGENT ORANGE to defoliate whole areas in order to destroy the crop and the jungle. Although the United States tried to get support from the native people and to achieve their trust, more and more people sided with the Viet Cong, who found new recruits. They still found enough food and received munition over Cambodia. Things hardly went better for the allies and even heavy airstrikes could not stop the supply of the communist troops, who sat in the underground and awaited the chance to seize the offensive.
Despite the victory in the Central Highland Viet Cong troops were infiltered again. Of course the United States had the better equipment, but their enemies had much more successful tactics and seized the jungle and their knowledge of the surrounding. When they were defeated they went back to Cambodia to prepare the next battle. Several times they launched surprising attacks against American garrisons, who were finally protected from being doomed by massive support from the Air Force.
The Marines had different problems than the US Army during 1966 and 1967. They had enormous problems with demilitarised zone between North and South Vietnam. In July 1967 DRV divisions infiltrated through the three mile zone and established positions near the coast. With support of the ARVN the Marines launched a counter offensive by air and sea an greater forces became involved when the battle extended inland. After bitter fighting the communists returned into the DMZ, but the soldiers weren't allowed to follow them because they would surely come again. In order to counter further invasions via the DMZ the Marines built a string of combat bases from the coast to the mountains. In the same year the DRV troops started heavy shelling from the other side of the border to destroy these bases. Like in WW1 the American troops had to stay in underground or behind the protection of sandbags for a long time. Although the gun fire wouldn't stop for the rest of the year the Marines were nevertheless requested to hold the DMZ line due to its high importance for the war.
At the same time hundred thousands of people fled the fighting areas to live in the safety of the cities. Around the airbases there were many shantytowns. Young women became prostitutes for the soldiers to earn some money and a lot of drugs were traded. Obviously the American troops were destroyed morally and physically due to drugs, alcohol and laziness. Critics said that America would destroy South Vietnam instead of saving it.
Back to the war more and more young soldiers were sent to Vietnam. As the DRV showed no sign of ceasing its aid to the resistance the bomb line was extended northwards into the communist territories. In the middle of 1966 the Red River Delta was attacked for the first time by the allies, who tried to destroy the heart of the DRV. Great care was given to avoid hitting targets by the border to China or hitting Soviet and Chinese cargo ships in the port of Haiphong. North Vietnam had a very good air defence system with Russian technology and within one year they eliminated more than one thousand US planes. These heavy air losses over the DRV, as well as the disappointing results of the Operation ROLLING THUNDER, urged President Johnson to react. With his "San Antonio Formula" he made a proposal to Ho Chi Minh´s government. America would stop all bombings if Hanoi would agree productive peace talks. However, the communists rejected the formula due to the disappointments some years ago and kept on fighting. By the end of 1967 the air war seemed as deadlocked as the ground war. The costs had exploded too.
Although America was the world's greatest superpower the enemy nevertheless grew stronger and the troops were already resigning. Despite all the causalities suffered from the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail the CIA estimated that one hundred thousand communist fighters had reached the ROV again and the same amount of people was waiting behind the borders to Laos and Cambodia. Without any doubt America had underestimated the power of these troops, which had great ambition to fight for the common freedom of Vietnam. The situation for America became more and more critical until the government was split. The one party wanted to stop all actions to reach peace talks with Hanoi or letting an improved ARVN fight instead of the own troops. The other party still supported the Operation ROLLING Thunder. The government under Lyndon B. Johnson's was also opposed by peace movements at home in the United States. Details will be mentioned at the end of this speech.
The turning Year 1968 - The Tet Offensive
The Viet Cong recognised that they had good conditions to win this war because of the weakness of the enemy troops. They finally decided to launch a major communist offensive to bring the war to an end for their advance. The general offensive would begin on 30 January 1968, the beginning of the three day Vietnamese lunar new year holiday, which is simply known as Tet. In the past years both sides had suspended most of their operations during that period and General Giap was sure to surprise the other troop. About one hundred thousand soldiers would carry out the famous Tet Offensive. Under Giap's plan may places in South Vietnam were to be attacked including the ROV headquarters in Saigon, the US embassy, radio stations, airfields and other sensitive points. But the most important place to be attacked was the old imperial capital Hue. Due to its great symbolical importance to all Vietnamese the capture would have a profound psychological effect.
Allied intelligence detected hints that preparations for such an offensive were running, but in the meantime Giap had prepared a second military action to distract American troops from the areas in South Vietnam. Just past midnight on 21 January 1968 the battle of Khe Sanh commenced as the Viet Cong launched heavy attacks on an US Marines base. The blast swept away tents, small buildings, radio antennas and other equipment. The battle lasted for some days until the VC gave up to concentrate on the Tet Offensive. Giap had to delay its beginning until 31 January when his troops launched this operation with full force. Within the first two days the communists attacked more than forty province capitals. The American forces had been baiting for a long time to engage the VC fighting in an open battle rather than a guerrilla war where they could not see the enemies. The Americans immediately counterattacked with massive firepower. They shelled heavy populated cities and could harm the Viet Cong. But in these operations many civilians were also killed. The Tet Offensive marked the crucial turning point in the whole Vietnam War. Approximately 32000 Viet Cong were killed in opposite to only 1000 American causalities. In three weeks more than 130000 civilians had to die and two million became refugees. Many cities were just eradicated by the Air Force in order to "save" them. The VC could hold the cities for only some days except Hue (25 days). The surviving escaped into the jungle. The well prepared Tet offensive had turned into a real disaster for them.
Although this victory was a great success the Vietnam War public tolerance became less and less while billion of dollars were burnt somewhere in a war in Asia, nobody except the government was interested in. But there were also different opinions in the Congress and so President Johnson told the public in a TV speech that he wanted to seek a negotiated peace with North Vietnam. The military actions should be totally stopped except those in the DMZ, which were vital for the ROV. After three days Hanoi agreed to receive American delegations to talk about peace. The war seemed to come to an end.
It took week to gather both sides in the same room because they all refused to talk with each other due to disparities but after some month the whole thing was aborted. American soldiers were still fighting against the troops of North Vietnam, who launched other attacks after the Tet disaster.
In the election year 1968 the United States were torn by several conflicts for example the assassination Martin Luther King JR. or riots organised by the still suppressed blacks. At these demonstrations hundreds of people were killed and thousands heavily injured. More than fifty thousand federal troops were installed to take control over the rioting. The Republican Richard M. Nixon won the elections (43,7 % of the votes). And when he took office in January 1969 he was dedicated to bring the war in Vietnam to an end as soon as possible without a further dividing of the nation.
The Strategy of Withdrawal under President Nixon (1969 – 1970)
The secret strategy Nixon had talked about during the 1968 campaign for ending the war in Vietnam had three facets. If the DRV did not become more reasonable concerning the peace process, America would take drastic actions against North Vietnam and its supporters (Cambodia and Laos). The second facet should improve the relations with the Soviet Union to avoid other military actions. At last the American troops should return home before they had improved the strength of the ARVN, who should be capable to protect South Vietnam from the DRV alone in the future. In order to protect the allies during the last period Nixon took military risks, both legal and illegal. He resumed the bombardments of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, which Lyndon Johnson had begun in 1968. The Air Force began to attack communist settlements in Cambodia, which was totally embraced by the Viet Cong at this time. The secret bombing campaign was carried to the public in 1970 but after some protests it was partially resumed.
All in all the number of US troops reached its peak of 543000 in 1969. The enemy in the hinterlands of South Vietnam had to be eradicated and with them their supply bases. In May American battalions reached the summit of Ap Bia, where soon a bitter fight broke off. This battle was declared as a victory for the United States and today this mountain is famous under the name "Hamburger Hill" because the soldiers described the situation as in a meat-grinder.
It is well known that American soldiers raped Vietnamese women and killed innocent people because they thought they belonged to the VC. In April 1969 a veteran described in a letter to the Department of Defence a massacre caused by American soldiers. Investigations uncovered that an atrocity had taken place at My Lai 4, a hamlet close to the Chinese Sea. These crimes were committed by American soldiers, who killed several hundred Vietnamese children and women. Many of the killers were set free, but some were sentenced to some months prison and hard work. Finally everybody was released.
On 2 September North Vietnam's leader Ho Chi Minh died of heart disease. His mantle of leadership fell on Duan, Dong and General Giap, who kept the communist system in the DRV. Although Nixon tried to improve the diplomatic contacts with the Russians, who should take an influence on Hanoi's attitude, the new government showed no signs of changing its positions.
So Nixon had to go another way in the war. He ordered reforms of the Selective Service Acts, a draft law enacted in WW2 to select physically and mentally fit young men. The system had worked very well during the Korea War. However, the war in Vietnam became increasingly unpopular and many young men found ways to delay their graduation. Students for example started going to university immediately until they were too old. Until the end of the conflict in Southeast Asia more than half a million people were selected by the draft until it finally expired in 1974.
In the year 1970 Nixon's plan of withdrawal from South Vietnam was proceeding on schedule. By the end of that year the number of troops was reduced to 330000.
The final Round (1971 – 1972)
Nixon urged the South Vietnamese President Thieu to order the ARVN to undertake an independent operation to demonstrate the new self- sufficiency. However, the first great military operation without the aid of American forces failed and many soldiers were killed by the communist troops from the north. This operation is known as LAM SON 19 and is named after a long time ago victory over the Chinese.
By 1971 Nixon and Kissinger were aware that the seeming implacable hostility of the People's Republic of China to the United States seemed to become weaker. The government in Beijing also showed a greater interest in quitting the war in Vietnam. For example they could stop the delivery of weapons to the DRV. These sympathies between these two countries greatly alarmed the leaders in Hanoi. So another military offensive, like the Tet Offensive, was planned and scheduled to begin on 30 March 1972. It should bring more military effort and perhaps a victory over the Americans. Until this time the North Vietnamese troops had reached a strength of more than 750000 soldiers. In opposite there were only 100000 troops remaining troops on the side of the allies. The circumstances augured well for a North Vietnamese Victory. On Thursday before Easter Sunday the DRV launched the offensive with heavy artillery barrages at the DMZ and they soon extended to the whole southern territory. President Nixon tried to counter the communist offensive by ordering massive shipments of arms and equipment to the South Vietnamese forces. What they called the "Easter Offensive" had become a big menace and so Nixon implemented the Operation LINEBACKER. The following bombing and blockade not only damaged the DRV's ability to carry on with its campaign, it heartened the ARVN troops, who fought with greater resolution than before. After a quarrel of more than one year both sides were exhausted and Hanoi proposed an end of the war and peace. After several talks in Paris the North Vietnamese delegations accused the United States of ignoring their interests and refused to sign the documents. As a matter of revenge Nixon launched another bombing campaign at Christmas to doom the DRV. On its first day wave after wave of B-52 bombers hammered Hanoi and the port of Haiphong. Even Pope Paul VI claimed that this air offensive was inhumane and wanted the Americans to quit. Nevertheless Nixon kept the pressure on until Hanoi was ready to resume the talks in Paris. The return of the supposedly chastened communists to the peace table on 4 January 1973 was seen by many Americans as a triumph of their air and naval power. Everybody was still sceptic whether the communists would make meaningful concessions. The Congress also had to limit Nixon's freedom of action in Vietnam and he himself knew that this war could be over soon.
The Paris Peace Accords and the Fall of Indochina (1973 – 1975)
The American bombing of North Vietnam had brought the communists back to the negotiating table at Paris, but they did not move far from their already known positions. They were especially inflexible on the issue of partitioning South Vietnam into areas controlled by themselves and by Saigon. President Nixon's delegation was in no position to haggle over these issues. In January 1973 the US Congress explained clearly that if the war would not come to an end soon it would consider to use more drastic measures. After a month Henry Kissinger signed for America the twenty three articles of the Paris Peace Accords on 23 January. The major provisions may be summarised as follows:
The United States pledged to cease all warlike acts against the DRV, not to intervene again in the internal affairs of the ROV and to respect the unity, independence and sovereignty of Vietnam as recognised in Geneva in the year 1954. The communists pledged that they would not try to unify Vietnam by force.
Except some hundred Marine guards at the US embassy in Saigon all foreign forces had to be withdrawn within sixty days. The own troops were not allowed to increase their strength, not by more soldiers and not by better war techniques.
The parties to the accords also pledged co-operation in exchanging war prisoners and those military personnel listed as MIA (missing in action).
Foreign powers were requested to stop all military campaigns in Cambodia and Laos.
The United States should contribute unstated sums to repair the damage cause by war in Indochina. They also were pledged to obey the peace accords made in Geneva.
When the armistice went into effect on 28 January 1973 the chances for a permanent peace in Vietnam were weak at best. At the one side the communists thought the accords would expel other forces out of their country but at the other side the government in Saigon didn't trust the other party. In consequence fighting soon broke out among the controlled areas in South Vietnam. Although the last US air raid was executed on 15 August 1973 Nixon donated the ARVN more than one billion dollars and some 7000 "civilian" technicians. When Nixon resigned his office on 9 August 1974 in the face of probable impeachment over the Watergate Scandal, he was succeeded in office by Gerald Ford.
In December 1974 General Giap and other members of Hanoi's polit bureau planned operations against South Vietnam. They expected that their forces would be strong enough to launch an offensive to get the provinces of South Vietnam, which was weakened by corruption and disorder. So the chances for the communists were really fine. In March 1975 the first operations started and within one year the ROV's cities and ports fell one after another to the communist advance. President Thieu abruptly resigned his post and fled to Taiwan and on 30 April the American ambassador Martin left the embassy by a Marine helicopter.
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