In the 20th century the Vietnamese have been invaded by the
French, the Japanese, the British, the American, the Cambodians and the
Chinese. They have seen them all off but at a huge cost. The Vietnamese war,
which lasted two decades, began in November 1955 and took place in South
Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South China Sea and the Gulf of
Thailand lasted for almost two decades ending in April 1975. The Vietnam war
was a long and costly conflict between the communistic North Vietnam against
South Vietnam and its ally, the United States of America. Besides Norths and
South Vietnam and the USA other countries fought in the war. South Vietnam was
helped by South Korea, Thailand, Australia, Philippines, New Zealand, Khmer
Republic and Laos and received military support by Taiwan. However, North Korea
had its own allies that contributed to their victory: Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao, China, North Korea
and military support by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Vietnam, a nation in Southeast Asia had been under French colonial rule
since the 19th century. During the War World II the Viet Minh (the
League for the Independence of Vietnam) was formed and even managed to seize
control over the northern city of Hanoi and declaring a Democratic Republic of
Vietnam. The south however, became the State of Vietnam, with the support of
the US and the United Kingdom and France. Only after the Geneva Conference in
1954 France finally relinquished any claim to territory in Indochina. This
marked the end of French involvement in the region, and also the beginning of
serious U.S. commitment, while tensions between North and South Vietnam led to
the Vietnam war.
The reason behind the US involvement in the war was the Domino theory.
This theory said that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many
other countries would follow. That is also the reason that Kennedy increased
U.S. aid. By 1962, the U.S. aid grew so big that the military presence in South
Vietnam had reached round 9000 troops, which is a much bigger number compared
to the 800 that were there during the 1950s.
However, the reality is, that in
the beginning every American soldier believed they were fighting the good fight
against communism, they were there to repel the massive communist invasion from
the north on the freedom loving people of the south, but soon after they
arrived to Vietnam and started fighting, they realised that was just a myth.
We must be aware of the fact that the North Vietnamese were really confused
as to why the Americans tried to invade our homeland. They hadn’t done anything
to them. They didn’t even realise that the United States perceived communism as
a threat, because people didn’t even know what communism was, they just knew
what was going on with their lives, and who was “attacking” their homeland. The
North Vietnamese were only able to follow the progress of the war through
government-controlled radio and newspapers, through which they learned that
this war was a fight for independence. All the people wanted to stand up and
fight and protect the country. Everyone wanted to help the South and see the
country unite again, so they fought against the USA and South Vietnam with this
in their mind.
In 1966 America began the longest
campaign in the history in aerial bombing aimed at north Vietnam. The fact that
civilians were targeted was hardly mentioned in the news. The tonnage of bombs
dropped was many times greater than Hiroshima. In the town of Hon Gai – a coal
mining and fishing town on the Gulf of Tonkin – the bombing here was more
concentrated than even Dresden.
In contrast to the air attacks on North Vietnam, the U.S.-South
Vietnamese war in the south was fought primarily on the ground.
The first major battle between the United States and North Vietnam is
believed to be the Battle of Ia Drang. The battle started on November 14 and
lasted until November 18 in the year of 1965. It was a two-part battle which took place at the la Drang Valley
(South Vietnam). Both sides suffered
major casualties with both claiming victory of their own. The Battle of la
Drang was considered essential because it sets up a change of tactics for both
troops during the conflict. The U.S. Army used air mobility to achieve
their goal, while the Vietnam Army neutralized the U.S. Army by fighting at
By November 1967, the number of U.S. casualties had reached over 15,000
killed and almost 110,000 were wounded. As the war stretched on, even some
soldiers mistrusted the government’s reasons for keeping them there.
Another important battle was the battle of Khe Sanh, which lasted from
the 21 January until April 9 of 1968. The Khe Sanh in Quang Tri province, in
the Northern area of South Vietnam was “protected” by the USA forces from the
beginning of the war. However, on 21 January the North Vietnamese forces tried
to change that by launching a 77-day siege. The battle ended with the victory of the North Vietnamese, but it
wasn’t important because after all this battle was just a distraction used by
the North Vietnamese so they could position their troops deeper into the South
and for the upcoming Tet Offensive.
With the US and South
Vietnamese soldiers focused on Khe Sanh, North Vietnam launched attacks on over
100 towns and cities in South Vietnam on 30 January 1968 to coincide with Tet,
the Vietnamese New Year. Besides attacking military bases, government offices,
and foreign embassies, they also executed thousands of civilians. Initially, the Tet
Offensive was very successful, but after a while, US forces were able to regain
control over the land they have lost to the communists. The Tet Offensive ended
on March 28 with the victory of the USA. Even though North Vietnam lost, they
won a mayor psychological victory, especially because support for the war grew
smaller and smaller in the United States, while the demands for the withdrawal
from the Vietnam war grew stronger every day. This battle is considered by many
to be the turning point in the Vietnam war and the start of South Vietnam’s
As I already said the support for the Vietnam grew smaller and smaller,
but it didn’t start with the Tet Offensive, but with a powerful cover article
“We wade deeper into the Jungle War”, which was published in January 1963 in
Life magazine. The article “woke” people up and showed them – with a dozen
pictures (most of them were in colour) – what was actually going on in Vietnam
and how many people were dying. The support for the Vietnam war was getting
smaller day to day and between July 1966 and December 1973, more than 500,000
U.S. military personnel deserted, and a robust anti-war movement among American
forces started violent protests, killings and mass incarcerations of personnel
stationed in Vietnam as well as within the United States.
Americans, after seeing horrific images of the war on their televisions,
turned against the war and in October 1967 about 35,000 people demonstrated
against the Vietnam war outside the Pentagon. Opponents of the war argued that
civilians, not enemy combatants, were the primary victims and that the United
States was supporting a corrupt dictatorship in Saigon.
The president of the
United States tried to solve the problem with the anti-war movement by
appealing to a “silent majority” of Americans who he believed supported the war
effort. He wanted to limit and
reduce the number of American casualties, so he invented a program called
Vietnamization. Within this programme he would withdraw U.S. troops, increase
aerial and artillery bombardment. He also gave the South Vietnamese the
training and weapons they had needed to effectively control the ground war. He
also held various public peace talks in Paris.
However, the North Vietnamese continued to demand that the United States
of America should make an unconditional and complete withdrawal, as conditions
for peace to begin in Vietnam.
The years that followed brought more battles that were getting cruel and
In my opinion the cruellest event that occurred in the Vietnam war was
the My Lai Massacre, which happened in South Vietnam, on
March 16, 1968. The My Lai Massacre was a mass killing of hundreds of unnamed
Vietnamese civilians. The U.S. Army soldiers killed between 347 and 504
innocent civilians that day. The most horrifying information that I found about
this massacre was the fact that they didn’t only kill man and women but even
children and infants. And what’s even scarier is the fact that only one of
those soldiers was convicted, and even he served only three and a half years under
house arrest. After the incident became public in November 1969, it obviously started
a global outrage. After the My Lai Massacre Americans were shocked and engaged
an even bigger anti-war protests. In the year of 1968 and 1969 hundreds of
protests happened in the United States of America. The biggest anti-war
demonstration took place on November 15, 1969. The demonstration occurred in
Washington, D.C, where over 250,000 Americans came together peacefully and
demanded the withdrawal of the American army from Vietnam. This demonstration is alleged to be the
biggest anti-war movement in American history.
However, I must admit I was surprised
when I found out that not all Americans were against the war. Most of them
were, but some of them thought that opposing the war and with that the
government, was unpatriotic and treasonous.
Another cruel battle (if we can call
it that) was the biggest ever bombing campaign by US B-52 aircraft that took
place over Christmas 1972, when the US dropped at least 20,000 tonnes of
explosives on North Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. More than 1,000 Vietnamese died.
Another fact about the Vietnam war
that I had just now come to realise, was that this was war was not only fought
with weapons and bombs but also with chemicals. That is the reason many people
say, that the Vietnam war was a chemical war. I must emphasize that it didn’t
start that way, but when the conflict got bigger it became clear that chemical
weapons would play a big role in this war.
The reality was, that the Americans were
using so many chemicals (especially defoliants like Agent Orange), that many
feared that the United States were violating the Geneva Protocol’s prohibition
against the first use of chemical weapons in war. Herbicides, such as Agent
Orange were listed as “economic poisons”, which is the reason why their use as
offensive weapons in Vietnam didn’t drew a large public reaction.
Later, the consequences of using such
herbicides became clear, but they were always intended as nonlethal chemical
Nevertheless, that was not the case
when it came to the use of CS gas and napalm. CS gas was officially used to
flush out tunnels, but those caught inside were often smothered and survivors
suffered from respiratory problems. Napalm, which is a highly flammable,
viscous substance, was used many times and caused anything or anyone within
several hundred yards to instantly incinerate. In my opinion the Americans
crossed the line with this. In addition to the chemicals listed above the
Americans also sprayed a deadly poison called dioxin. Its aim was to destroy
the forests where the Viet Cong were.
After international criticism the
newly elected president Nixon finally renounced first use of lethal chemicals
in November 1969. But that didn’t involve the use of napalm on military
targets. The reality is that the American military has never again used
chemicals as extensively as it did in Vietnam. But the legacy remains – Agent
Orange destroyed the lives of thousands of Vietnamese and Americans. The human
cast of the chemical war is all to evident. Deformed children are more likely
to be conceived in Vietnam than almost anywhere in the world. In 1994 the link
between agent orange and cancer was confirmed. Since the end of 1960 around 66
deformed children were born a year.
One of Vietnam’s greatest post-war
achievements is the planting of trees were there are none left because of the
chemicals used in the war. Every school child in Vietnam plants at least 1 tree
a year. result is unbelievable, the earth has come alive again.
The last battle of the Vietnam war
was the battle of Koh Tang. The battle started on May 12, 1975, when the US
shipping vessel was attacked by a Khmer Rouge gunboat and taken to the small
island of Koh Tang. On May 15, US helicopters headed for Koh Tang Island. The
helicopters arrived at the island, but were met with heavy fire from the Khmer
Rouge. The helicopters were being hit and had to abort. Fourteen Americans died
in helicopter crashes. The battle on Koh Tang went on all day, but the US
Marines successfully boarded and took control of the SS Mayaguez. Later, for no
clear reason the Khmer Rouge to release the crew of the SS Mayaguez., which met
up with the USS Wilson. Towards sunset the Americans had to decide whether to
fight or to pull out. They decided to pull out. Nonetheless, that was easier
said than done, but after some time they managed to do just that. However, they
later realised that three marines were inadvertently left on the island, and
were never found. The final toll was 18 Americans killed and 50 wounded.
The end of the war came almost by
surprise. When the USA pulled their troops out of Vietnam, the south Vietnamese
army collapsed, because they never had their hart in it.
The Vietnam war officially ended in
April 30th 1975. With the North Vietnamese victory, which meant that
the American-led forces withdrew from Indochina, the communist governments took
power in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and the South Vietnam is annexed by
North Vietnam. The war left many physical and psychological consequences. The
two decades long war left a significant consequence on Vietnam’s population. An
estimated 2millon Vietnamese were killed, 3 million were wounded and about
twelve million became refugees. The war also left a bad outcome on the
infrastructure and the economy.
Nevertheless, Vietnam was not the only one that suffered a horrible
effect from the war. The Americans lost 58,200 women and men in the Vietnam
With the Americans finally gone
Vietnam was made into an international pariah. The USA mounted an embargo that
covered both trade and humanitarian aid. The Hanoi government hoped to end
their dependence on the Soviet Union, but the blockade gave them nowhere else
to turn. Such were the spoils of victory.
In the late 1980s the Vietnamese
government declared a policy the called ??i M?i – the aim was to break out of
the economic siege for so called free market was embraced, foreigners were
welcomed and the embargo became to crumble. At the same time, personal freedom
was encouraged and people began to speak and criticize openly.
Today Vietnam has been declared an
open market and its people are cheap labour pool. America effectively runs the
currency, Japan the money landing, Singapore the property market and Taiwan and
Korea the sweat shops.
Despite the fact that Hanoi is not a
luxurious city, luxurious golf clubs and exclusive resorts are being built with
the Vietnamese hired as golf caddies. The clubs are meant for rich business man
from all over the world, not for the Vietnamese (they are too expensive for
Life has been easier and more
pleasant, because there is a lot more freedom, and economically speaking
everybody’s life has improved. Vietnam is now a socialist country, but after
some time it is predicted to became a capitalistic country.
Regardless of the act that Vietnam is
in many ways a better state than it was, not everything is better. After the
war the universal education produced a literacy rate of 90%. Today education is
no longer free ¾ of children have been pushed out of the system which has been
tailored to the needs of the new labour market.
In conclusion, the Vietnam war, or
the American war, as the Vietnamese call it, was the longest war in the 20th
century, a cruel and costly conflict that hurt the Vietnam nation in many ways.
However, the interesting reality is that the Vietnamese don’t resent the
Americans, they forgot about that, while the Americans can’t forget because
they lost the war.
Decades after the war ended Vietnam
is still a communist state. Nevertheless, it has become successful and is now
one of the fastest-growing economies in East Asia, thanks to the fact that they
opened up to foreign investment. But, with all these foreigners coming into
this country we have to ask ourselves, is there a danger that they might, by
other means, achieve what they could not achieve through the war?