The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.

The term Vietnam War, or War on Terror: The Prequel, generally means the United States' military involvement in Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. However, the roots of the conflict go back for centuries. It is also known as the Second Indochina War. Although the American involvement is often highlighted, the vast majority of casualties were Vietnamese. It is estimated that approximately 3 million Vietnamese died in the war. The United States' casualties are 58,217 dead, 1,947 missing (presumed dead).

U.S. involvement began in 1950, when President Truman approved US$10 million in military assistance for anti-communist efforts in Indochina, and sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Indochina to Vietnam to assist the French colonial forces.


French Indochina

In a series of military conquests from 1859 until 1885, France colonized Vietnam and the entire country became part of French Indochina. A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Dinh Phung, Emperor Ham Nghi and Ho Chi Minh calling for independence. However, the French maintained control of their colonies until World War II.

World War II

During World War II, the establishment of a Vichy French administration meant that Vietnam was supporting the Axis powers, including Imperial Japan.

Japan, however, was unsatisfied with the arrangement and launched an invasion of Vietnam, known as the Vietnam Expedition to blockade China and prevent it from importing arms, fuel and 10,000 tons/month materials supplied by the United States through the Haiphong-Yunnan Fou railway line. The Japanese succeeded in gaining concessions from the Vichy French.

In the Second French Indochina Campaign from March to May 1945, Japan captured all of Vietnam.

After World War II

After the defeat of Japan, France again asserted control over Vietnam, but came into conflict with the Viet Minh, a coalition of Communist and Vietnamese nationalists under French-educated Ho Chi Minh.

U.S. involvement

U.S. involvement in Vietnam can be said to have begun on December 8, 1941, when the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan. Vietnam was under Axis control and the goal of the United States was to remove Vichy French and Japanese forces.

During World War II, the United States supported the Viet Minh in resistance against the Japanese.

Post World War II

The Viet Minh was in control of the country apart from the cities since the French gave way in March 1945. After persuading Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate in his favor, on September 2, 1945, Viet Minh leader and communist Ho Chi Minh — as president — declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This was democratic in name only and in reality was a Totalitarian government. He repeatedly petitioned American President Harry Truman for support for Vietnamese independence, citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman never responded.

Before the end of September, a force of British, French, and Indian soldiers, along with captured Japanese troops, restored French control. Bitter fighting ensued in the First Indochina War.

First Indochina War

The First Indochina War was fought in French Indochina from December 19, 1946 until August 1, 1954 between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp.

The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against French authority. However, after the Chinese communists reached the Northern border of Vietnam in 1949, the conflict became a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States, China, and the Soviet Union.

At the beginning of the war, the U.S. was neutral in the conflict because of opposition to imperialism, and consequently refused to help colonial empires regain their power and influence, because the Viet Minh had recently been their allies, and because most of its attention was focused on Europe where Winston Churchill argued an Iron Curtain had fallen.

Then the U.S. government gradually began supporting the French in their war effort, primarily through Mutual Defense Assistance Act, as a means of stabilizing the French Fourth Republic in which the French Communist Party - created by Ho Chi Minh himself - was a significant political force.

A dramatic shift occurred in American policy after the victory of Mao Zedong's Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War. By 1949, however, the United States became concerned about the spread of communism in Asia, particularly following the end of the Chinese Civil War, and began to strongly support the French as the two countries were bound by the Cold War Mutual Defense Program. After the Moch-Marshall meeting of September 23, 1950, in Washington, the United States started to support the French Union effort politically, logistically and financially.

On June 30, 1950, the first U.S. supplies for Indochina were delivered. In September, Truman sent the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to Indochina to assist the French.

In addition to sending weapons, and political, logistical and financial help, the American CIA was also involved in covert operations.

Geneva Conference (1954)

After the French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a set of treaties known as the Geneva Accords was signed, which was supposed to end the conflict.

On April 27, 1954, the Conference produced a declaration which supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indochina thereby granting it independence from France. In addition, the Conference declaration agreed upon the cessation of hostilities and foreign involvement (or troops) in internal Indochina affairs.

Northern and southern zones were drawn into which opposing troops were to withdraw, to facilitate the cessation of hostilities between the Vietnamese forces and those that had supported the French. The Viet Minh, awaited unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections to be held in July 1956.

The agreement was between Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), France, Laos, the People's Republic of China, the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The United States refused to participate in the conference or recognize the accords.

After the Accords

Communist forces had been instrumental in the defeat of the French; the ideology of communism and nationalism were closely linked. Many viewed the South Vietnamese leadership as a French colonial, and later, an American puppet regime. Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam looked forward fairly comfortably to being elected in the forthcoming elections.

The U.S. replaced the French as a political backup for Ngo Dinh Diem, then President of the State of Vietnam, and he asserted his power in the south. A referendum rigged by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu saw Diem gain 98% of the vote, with 133% in Saigon. American advisers had suggested that he win by a lesser margin since it was felt that he would be able to win any fair poll against current leader Emperor Bao Dai.

Three days after the fraudulent election, Diem proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Vietnam, naming himself as its president. The United States government hailed Diem as a new hero of the "free world".

Diem refused to hold the national elections agreed on in the Geneva Accords, noting that the State of Vietnam never signed the Geneva Accords and went about attempting to crush all remnant of communist opposition.

With a national election ruled out, the Viet Minh, Communist, and North Vietnamese saw their only chance to remove foreign influence and gain control of the nation was through armed force.

Hanoi authorized communists in South Vietnam to begin a low level insurgency in December 1956. Four hundred government officials were assassinated in 1957 alone, and the violence gradually increased. While the terror was originally aimed at local government officials, it soon broadened to include other symbols of the status quo, such as schoolteachers, health workers, and agricultural officials. One estimate says that by 1958, 20 percent of South Vietnam's village chiefs had been murdered by the insurgents

Finally, in January 1959, the North's Central Committee issued a secret resolution authorizing an "armed struggle." This authorized the southern communists to begin large-scale operations against the South Vietnamese military.

Second Indochina War (Vietnam War)

In March 1959, the armed revolution officially begins as Ho Chi Minh declares a People's War to unite all of Vietnam under his leadership. His Politburo now orders a changeover to an all-out military struggle. Thus begins the Second Indochina War.

President Kennedy's policy toward South Vietnam rested on the assumption that Diem and his forces must ultimately defeat the guerrillas on their own. He was against the deployment of American combat troops and observed that "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences."

Still, he was afraid of the political consequences. He knew that if South Vietnam fell, the Republicans would blame him. By mid-1962, the number of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam had risen from 700 to 12,000.


There isn't oil in Vietnam, so it is still a puzzle why conservatives decided to attack. 


This enraged a lot of opposition in the US, and spawned a new bunch of Supreme Court cases.

  • Burning draft cards. In United States v. O'Brien, it became illegal for people to burn draft cards. 
  • Dumping rubbish onto US navy ships. US navy ships that went under bridges had to face booing crowds shouting 'Murderers' and people dumping rubbish down.
  • Hanging effigies of Lyndon B. Johnson. Poor guy.
  • Carrying empty coffins.
  • Sending hate mail to US soldiers
  • Wearing armbands. Conservatives tried to stop kids doing that in Tinker v. Des Moines, but failed.