The Vietnam War, brief history and chronology of the resistance conflict against the USA

There Vietnam War, which broke out in 1955 and ended in 1975, was fought mainly in South Vietnam between the Asian state and the United States of America. It originated from the phenomenon of decolonization. In the 1940s the France, which had lost its colonies in Indochina in the Second World War, tried to reconquer them, but was defeated by the communist-led independence movement. In the 1950s, after the French defeat, they were born two independent states: North Vietnam, in which a communist regime was established, and South Vietnam, governed by a dictatorship linked to the West. In the South a developed movement guerrilla, who fought to reunify the country, and the United States, fearful of the possible expansion of communism, decided to intervene. The war was waged with extreme brutality and, against all odds, the North Vietnam and the guerrillas managed to resist to the American attack. In 1973 the president Nixonrealizing that the war was too costly in economic terms and in terms of human lives, agreed to withdraw the army and two years later Vietnam was reunified.

  • 1The origins of the conflict: the Indochina War and (1945-1955)
  • 2The outbreak of the Vietnam War (1955)
  • 3The resistance of the Vietcong (1955-1968)
  • 4The final stages and the American defeat (1968-1975)
  • 5Casualties and atrocities during the Vietnam War
  • 6The consequences of the conflict in Vietnam
Map of Vietnam
Map of Vietnam today.

The origins of the conflict: the Indochina War and (1945-1955)

In the nineteenth century France occupied a large portion of the Indochinese peninsulabut in 1940, after the defeat suffered by Nazi Germany, it had to cede its territories to Japan. A strong independence movement developed among the Vietnamese population, which in 1941 met in Viet Minha league of Marxist ideology, headed by the leader Ho Chi Minh. In 1945 the Japanese, defeated in the Second World War, were forced to leave Indochina and France tried to reconquer the territorystarting in 1946 the Indochina war. The French army managed to take control of some regions, including the southern part of Vietnam, but had to clash with the Ho Chi Minh's guerrillasactive mainly in the north.

Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh.

The Second World War had significantly changed the international balance of power: the United States and the Soviet Union had established themselves as superpowers and the dominance of European countries, which had previously conquered vast colonial empires, had vanished. Between the end of the 40s and the 60s almost all the colonies became independent.

The French occupation of Vietnam also did not last long. In 1954 the Viet Minh inflicted a harsh defeat to the French army and forced him to leave the country. An agreement signed in Geneva in the same year sanctioned the birth of two states, the North Vietnamruled by the communists, with its capital in Hanoi, and the South Vietnamwith its capital Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).

Vietnamese fighters
Vietminh fighters.

The end of the occupation, however, did not mean peace, because Vietnam was involved in the dynamics of the Cold War.

The outbreak of the Vietnam War (1955)

In the United States the expansion of communism in Asia aroused much apprehension, especially following the birth of the People's Republic of China, and from the end of the 1940s the government of Washington financed France's war against the Viet Minh. After the French withdrawal, the communist guerrillas continued the fight against South Vietnam and in 1960 they reunited in a National Liberation Front (Viet Cong).

The American administration, which had already started sending in 1955 military advisors to support the Saigon government, during the presidency of John Kennedy (1961-1963) significantly increased their numbers, from 685 to 16,000. Nonetheless, the guerrilla war, supported by North Vietnam, did not stop and therefore Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnsondecided to have the US military intervene directly.

The resistance of the Vietcong (1955-1968)

The US Army thus began military operations, employing high-tech weapons and making extensive use of napalm bombings and of defoliants, which served to “thin out” the jungle, in which the guerrillas found refuge. The US troops, however, failed to break down the resistance. In 1968 the Northern Army launched theTet offensive (so called because it began on Tet Day, the Vietnamese New Year), attacking Saigon and other cities. The Americans and South Vietnamese managed to regain all the territories lost during the offensive, but the event was still a shock.

American soldiers in Vietnam
American soldiers in Vietnam.

The final stages and the American defeat (1968-1975)

In the United States the conflict was increasingly unpopular, because it had exorbitant costs and, above all, because it involved the deaths of thousands of young Americans. In 1969, President Nixon, who succeeded Johnson, began looking a way out of the warbut for some years he continued hostilities, also authorizing military operations in two neighboring countries, Cambodia and Laos, against the supply bases of the Viet Cong.

In the early 1970s, however, peace talks also began and in January 1973 the American and North Vietnamese representatives signed the Paris agreements, which called for the complete withdrawal of US forces. South Vietnam was effectively doomed and in 1975 the North's government ordered a new offensive, which conquered Saigon And unified the country. The war was finally over.

How was it possible that the United States, much better armed than its enemies, had been defeated? The main reason is that American technological superiority was ineffective against the guerrillaalso because the Viet Cong enjoyed the support of large part of the population, dissatisfied with the corrupt government of the South and annoyed by the interference of a foreign power. To this were added the Soviet and Chinese support in the North and the lack of motivation of US soldiers.

Casualties and atrocities during the Vietnam War

The number of casualties is not known with certainty, but the Northern and Viet Cong armies are estimated to have lost 1,100,000 soldiers, South Vietnam 270,000 and the United States 58,000. For the Vietnamese population, the war had catastrophic effects: the number of civilian victims is estimated between 500,000 and two million.

The war, moreover, was characterized byextreme brutality of the two warring parties. Both the North and South Vietnamese were responsible for torture and killing of prisoners. The Americans also committed numerous atrocities: they destroyed entire villages and in some cases they accomplished real ones massacreslike that of the village of My Lai of March 1968, in which 504 civilians were killed.

Roundup of a village in 1966
Roundup of a village in 1966.

The consequences of the conflict in Vietnam

After the war, a communist regime, which since the 1980s has opened up to the market and the capitalist economy. However, the political system has not changed and remains the same today a one-party dictatorship.

For the United States, the war represented a enormous damage to image. The country, in fact, lost both the myth of invincibilitybe the aura of defender of freedomnot compatible with interference in a sovereign country and with the atrocities committed by soldiers.

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Essential bibliography