Essay Preview: Vietnam War
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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