IB History Year one
Period 8
September 28, 2009
Vietnam War
Aladin Saleh, Jon Borchert, Jamie Stock


The Vietnamese conflict is the most iconic conflict of the late 20th century, as well as one of the most controversial American conflicts. Much like World War I, the causes of the Vietnamese dispute stemmed from a regional conflict and led to a large-scale military engagement.
The Vietnam War had evolved from a civil war to a guerrilla war, and then ultimately became a total war. The Vietnam Conflict started out as a civil war, because after the French left the colony of Vietnam the country divided into two rival factions, North and South. (Britannica Online p.6). The communist nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh, whose ideals were based on communist China, led the north. The south was empathized the ideals of a democracy. Because of this difference, at the Geneva conference, they decided to split Vietnam into two different countries: North and South Vietnam.
After the United States became involved on the side of the south, the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong fought guerrilla warfare. Ho Chi Minh and his people did not have the money or the weapons to fight a total war. The Vietcong used their strengths to fight the war against the South Vietnamese and the United States by using their knowledge of hit and run guerrilla war. This tactic placed the United States at a disadvantage because the U.S was not familiar with the terrain of Vietnam or the will of their opponent.
The United States tried to combat this strategy by using conventional military tactics. President Johnson, after he received congressional consent with the use of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, believed he could bomb the north into submission. They started off with Operation Rolling Thunder. It is considered that Operation Rolling Thunder dropped more bombs on North Vietnam then the United States dropped on Germany during World War II. To try and level the playing field, the United States used a defoliant called Agent Orange and increased troop levels to attempt to turn the conflict into a conventional war. (Britannica Online p.14).
The Vietnam Conflict is unique because it had all three descriptions of war. A Civil War between the North and the South Vietnamese. Guerrilla warfare by the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong to kill their enemy. Finally, it was considered a total war when the United States entered the conflict with the use of bombs, Agent Orange, and massive troop increases.
Many years before the war, the French partitioned Vietnam into a northern and southern country, despite a unified Vietnamese language and ethnicity. The nationalist north wanted to unify into one Vietnam, and was thus a source of tension long before the actual fighting started. The countries were split by political ideologies- “with communists retreating to the north and non-Communists moving to the south” (Carson 2), so the conflict became not only a civil war, but also a war of communism versus democracy. This caused it to become a source of world tension and involved the two superpowers of the world at that time.
Short-term causes stemmed from the political tension in the region and American and Soviet interests in the region’s political status. Americans feared “that in a national election Ho Chi Minh would defeat the American-supported president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem” (Carson 2), and therefore Vietnam would become an entirely communist region. The communists of South Vietnam were pro-unification and were a source of short-term tension in the region.
The U.S. slowly increased its presence in Vietnam after the Viet Cong emerged in South Vietnam. The death of Diem caused a power vacuum, which contributed to the rise of the Viet Cong, and the failure of many of the replacement Vietnamese government in a short amount of time (Carson 2). In America, the elections of 1964 created controversy about the success or failure of the American policies in Vietnam. After 1964, the Americans began to commit more advisors and troops to protect the Asian countries from what they perceived as the threat of “Vietnam and its neighboring countries [toppling] like dominoes into the lap of the Communists” (Carson 2).
Immediately before the conflict, the Gulf of Tonkin incident provided the spark to start a major conflict in Vietnam. The U.S. claimed that Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked one of its ships. Lyndon Johnson used this event as a reason to expand the powers of the president in the U.S, and began to launch attacks on North Vietnamese targets.
The war itself was fought in a fashion similar to that of our modern wars, minus most of the computer technology that characterizes our current military. From the perspective of the Vietnamese, a conventional war was to be fought in the north, on their home turf. However, in the south, guerrilla tactics would pay an important role in a North Vietnamese victory. Their guerrilla tactics hinged on the success of the Ho Chi Minh trail through Cambodia and Laos, which was off limits technically for the U.S. to bomb. The battles were fought on the home front of the Vietnamese, and therefore the countries were fairly frantic and chaotic, with many civilian casualties.
For the U.S., the war was fought alongside many technological breakthroughs. Modern machine guns, along with the appearance of the M-16 rifle made American infantry the most technologically advanced in the world. The Americans fought war with many more weapons that are insidious, such as the chemical defoliant “Agent Orange”, and napalm. This paired with the total war bombing strategies of the U.S. Air Force, made Vietnam a true warzone. In the air and sea, the U.S. dominated. In the air, U.S. fighter aircraft destroyed many more Vietnamese planes than were killed. At sea, the Vietnamese had no navy to compete with the U.S.
In the United States, a significant resistance movement grew to oppose the Vietnam War. Peace demonstrations occurred often, at a time, when confidence in the government plummeted. The war was opposed for many reasons, but a large portion of the dissent came from a “U.S. public confronted nightly by television images of bloody battles that accompanied mounting casualties” (Carson 3), much like the second Iraq war. Along with the resistance, a significant feminist movement was growing in the United States, and with that movement came a slight change in the cultural attitudes toward women, as well as their right to speech on the Vietnam Conflict.
Tensions grew even more on May 1st 1970 when the United States president, Richard Nixon, ordered the U.S invasion of Cambodia. Cambodia is a medium sized nation that borders Vietnam to the west. From the beginning of the Vietnam War, Cambodian Khmer Rouge rebels were allowing the NVA to build supply lines through Cambodia in order to supply the Vietcong in South Vietnam. President Nixon ordered around several thousand U.S soldiers into Cambodia in order to destroy the Communist/NVA presence in Cambodia. The plan was to quickly move into Communist sanctuaries, destroy them, and quickly move out. The invasion of Cambodia sparked huge tensions between U.S citizens, and Richard Nixon’s administration, as it further expanded the war.
The end of the war was complicated. President Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger concluded a secret peace agreement with North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese president demanded changes to the document so the North Vietnamese told the US the details they wanted in the treaty and stalled the negotiations. In 1973, the United States, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 (Gale, 4). The treaty did not bring peace to Vietnam. On April 23, Gerald Ford conceded that the war was “finished” (Gale, 4). The next day, the South Vietnamese surrendered.
The Vietnamese conflict was one of the most iconic conflicts in the 20th century. Still today American citizens still fight over whether the United States should have entered the conflict. Just like World War I, it was a world conflict with many nations fighting for communism or against it.





End Notes

"Vietnam War Ends, 1975." DISCovering U.S. History. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Upper Arlington High School. 28 Sep. 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/infomark.do?&contentSet=GSRC&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=SRC-1&docId=EJ2104240536&source=gale&srcprod=SRCG&userGroupName=uppe28149&version=1.0>.

Britannica. "Vietnam War." Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition.
Britannica, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <http://www.school.eb.com/eb/
article-9075317?query=Vietnam%20War&ct=>.

Sanders, Vivienne. The USA and Vietnam 1945-75. London: Hodder Murray, 2007.
Print.

Carson, Thomas. "Vietnam War." Gale Virtual Reference Library. Detroit Gale
Group, 1999. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/ retrieve.do?subjectParam=locale%252...pe=BasicSearchForm&displaySubject=&docld=EJ1667500734&docType=GSRC>.

Loory, Stuart. "Nixon Orders U.S. Drive Into Cambodia." Encarta. 1970. Web. 11 Oct. 2009. <http://encarta.msn.com/sidebar_761593972/Nixon_Orders_US_Drive_Into_Cambodia.html>.