Far East Conflict - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

Ngo Dinh Diem

Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1945,the French re-occupied Vietnam from the Japanese, originally before the war this had been a French colony. In Vietnam nationalist feeling was particularly strong. In 1930,Ho Chi-minh, who had studied Marxism in Paris and Moscow, founded a communist Party there. During the Second World War he became leader of the Vietminh fiercely nationalist party, opposed to either Japanese or French domination. When the war ended he proclaimed a Democratic Republic of Vietnam at Hanoi. The French struggled hard to regain control of Vietnam, but in 1954 suffered a major defeat when their garrison at Dien Bien Phu, established to prevent the Vietminh from infiltrating into neighbouring Laos, surrendered. A ceasefire followed and in May 1954,at an international conference at Geneva, it was decided that Vietnam should be partitioned at the 17th parallel; however provision was also made for the holding of free elections, at a later date, with the object of re-uniting the country. The French left the southern zone in 1956. The Northern regime, under the leadership of Ho Chi- Minh, was communist: South Vietnam, at least in theory, was democratic under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem.

In 1959 the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north Vietnam) demanded free elections as provided for in the Geneva agreement. This demand had the support of the Vietcong, communist partisans who operated in the south. Corrupt, divided among themselves, politically ineffective, afraid that union implied not co-operation but rather a take-over by the communists, the rulers of South Vietnam rejected the demand. Thereafter there developed a struggle between the governments of South Vietnam and its Vietcong insurgents; the latter were more and more assisted by regular forces from North Vietnam, which in turn obtained varying amounts of aid from China and Russia. South Vietnam turned for assistance to the USA.

International Conference Geneva 1954

International Conference Geneva 1954

American policy makers feared the threat and growth of communism in what they called the "Domino theory"; whereby the fall of one country to communism would lead to the collapse of another nation in nearby, such as Burma, Thailand and India.

For Senator J. F. Kennedy Vietnam represented the cornerstone of the free world in SE Asia. So as President in 1961 it came as no surprise that he ordered support and military aid for Diem's Vietnamese party, against Ho Chi Minh's National Liberation Front (NLF), which had started a guerrilla war in the south so to topple Diem's Government. In1964 this aid package escalated after the North Vietnamese attacked the USS warship Maddox.

Early 1965 the USA President Lyndon B. Johnson continued the theme of his predecessor when he said" If we are driven from the field in Vietnam then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in... American protection".

USAF Boeing B-52

USAF Boeing B-52

B-57 Canberra

B-57 Canberra

By February 1965 Johnson declared war against North Vietnam and started a bombing campaign against the country. Massive air raids and the deployment of over half-a-million USA troops soon followed neither ever having any lasting effect. In January 1968 the NVA launched what became known as the communist Tet Offensive into South Vietnam, stalemate eventually enthused, the Americans later recapturing the territory, yet failing to defeat the Vietcong. Despite their superiority with hi-tech weaponry, B52 bombers, helicopters and artillery the Americans failed to stop the Vietcong and their guerrilla tactics of ambushes and traps. All of this fed by the supply of weapons from China and Soviet Union along jungle paths through Laos and Cambodia, (known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail).

Within two years, the American optimism of its leaders had given way to frustration. The new USA President, Nixon, ordered the scaling down of land forces in Vietnam, but the bombing of targets in Cambodia and Laos.

Early in 1968 the rebel Vietcong, aided by north Vietnam aided by North Vietnam, staged a violent offensive. This gradually ground to a halt but the war dragged on. Perhaps in recognition of the futility of massive bombing raids, perhaps on account of the widespread disapproval for the war within the United States itself; perhaps because of growing awareness of the need for a political solution, the USA agreed to stop its bombing raids in North Vietnam. In May1968 peace talks began in Paris. The death of Ho Chi-Minh, in 1969, who had instigated the revolt against France and who as the revered leader of the North Vietnam had become the embodiment of Vietnamese national spirit Did not appear to have altered the situation. On the other hand, the majority of US land forces were gradually withdrawn as indicators showed a certain amount of growing political stability in South Vietnam.

Operation Frequent Wind

Vietnamese civilians scramble to board an Air America helicopter during Operation Frequent Wind (April 1975)

In 1973 a cease-fire was called and the American troops withdrawn. When North Vietnam mounted a major offensive in the spring of 1975,there was little opposition and South Vietnam dramatically soon collapsed.