• Starting in 1858, the
French colonized and
controlled most of
Southeast Asia and
began to utilize their
The region became
known as French
• Located in Southeast
Asia, Vietnam is rich
in resources such as
coal, iron ore,
• During WWII, Vietnam is taken
over by the Japanese.
• Following the war, the French
return to take back control of their
• However, some people, such as
Ho Chi Minh, who was a
communist supporter, did not
want to return the country to
• China sends support of the
communists while the U.S. backs
Dien Bien Phu
• In 1954, Ho Chi Minh sends
his forces to attack the French
at the fort Dien Bien Phu.
• The French mistakenly
underestimate their enemy and
• This marks start of the conflict
and the end of French
occupation of Vietnam.
• The country is then divided
into two states: North and
• The country is
divided along the
• North Vietnam is
• South Vietnam is
Why get involved?
President Truman’s policy of containment –
American policy of resisting further expansion
of communism around the world.
Rising communist sentiment in
Vietnam leads U.S. President
Eisenhower to describe the situation as
the “domino theory.” (The fall of one
country to communism will lead to the
fall of its neighbors)
The Domino Theory
• American policymakers developed the “Domino
Theory” as a justification for the involvement. This
theory stated, “If South Vietnam falls to the
Communist, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India
and Pakistan would also fall like dominos. The Pacific
Islands and even Australia could be at risk”.
The split in leadership
Ho Chi Minh – leader of the North, supported by
China and USSR – but also many in South Vietnam
look to him for leadership
•Hero because he broke up large estates
and redistributed land to the peasants.
•He had beaten the French
Ngo Dihn Diem – “placed” into office by the United
States and supported by France.
•Corrupt government that suppressed
opposition of any kind.
•Offered little or no land distribution to peasants.
•He is also Catholic, most Vietnamese are Buddhist
Diem is a corrupt leader and is not
popular amongst the people of
He creates many policies that are
aimed at the persecution of
communists and Buddhists.
As a Result: Massive protests on
the streets of Saigon took place
including the self-immolation of
many Buddhist monks.
Why would these Buddhist monks perform such an act?
The pictures of the monks engulfed in flames made world
headlines, bringing attention to the corrupt government of
Ngo Dinh Diem.
The National Liberation Front:
Founded in 1960, this South
Vietnamese group supported the
unification of Vietnam and
opposed Ngo Dinh Diem and the
U.S. presence in Vietnam. The
group came to be known as the
Viet Cong (VC) which is slang
for Vietnamese Communists.
A Change in Leadership
• Diem is assassinated
• New leaders are not
anymore popular than
• The U.S. fears a
communist takeover is
not far off and
increases it’s military
advisors in Vietnam.
Soon, the number of planes, tanks and other military
equipment sent to South Vietnam increases.
The Spark of the Vietnam War!
By August of 1964, the U.S. needed justification
for its increasing presence in Vietnam.
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson told Congress that North
Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked two American
destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. One of the attacks was
actually never proven to have happened.
President Johnson's Message to
Congress August 5, 1964
“The North Vietnamese regime has conducted
further deliberate attacks against U.S. naval
vessels operating in international waters…
These latest actions of the North Vietnamese
regime has given a new and grave turn to the
already serious situation in southeast Asia.”
“I want to ask the Congress for a resolution expressing the unity and
determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in
protecting peace in southeast Asia.
This resolution obligates the United States and other members to act
against Communist aggression in any nation.”
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
On August 5, 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution that authorized the President to use “war
powers” and send American troops into Vietnam.
Compare the amount of troops sent to Vietnam in 1964 to 1968.
Did you know?
• The United States never ACTUALLY declared
war on North Vietnam?
At the same time, popular support for the Vietcong grew.
Ho Chi Minh strongly supported the Vietcong with troops
and munitions, as did the Soviet Union and China.
Strategies for the War
to force the enemy to surrender
• Will rely on the Guerilla tactics
of surprise and mobility.
• Will use air strikes to bomb the
enemy into submission
• Will avoid major head to head
• Will use search and destroy
missions to pinpoint enemy bases
• Will use knowledge of terrain
to their advantage
• Will use its superior firepower
• Will set up blockades to prevent
supplies from reaching the
• Will fight during the night and
use underground tunnels to
• Will not fight to win, but to
prolong the war and never lose.
• The Vietnamese built
complexes such as the
ones at Cu Chi near
Saigon. This protected
them from the
bombing raids by the
Americans and gave
them cover for
attacking the invaders.
War in the Jungle
• Vietnam’s vast jungle posed many
problems for U.S. troops.
• There were many foreign plants
that would cut or cause rashes.
• The thickness helped the enemy
• Mines, tripwires, traps and holes
with punji stakes were all over the
• Insects were a constant nuisance.
• Many times, rain would fall for
weeks on end making it very
• Of all aircraft, the
helicopter was the
in the jungle
clearings and out
again. They were
• Unable to win a decisive
victory on the ground, the
U.S. turned to air power and
bombed millions of acres of
farmland and forest in an
attempt to destroy enemy
• The bombing missions,
known as “Operation
Rolling Thunder,” caused
the Communist Party to
reassess its own war
The U.S. continued to drop bombs on more
targets through 1967 causing an estimated
$300 million in damage.
Phosphorous & Napalm Bombs
• “Operation Rolling
Thunder” was backed
up by phosphorous and
napalm bombs – the
latter causing dreadful
burns to thousand of
Operation Ranch Hand
• When this failed to break down the jungle cover the
USAF started “Operation Ranch Hand” – the defoliation
program, using Agent Orange.
– This deadly chemical cocktail, containing dioxin, killed off
millions of acres of jungle to try to weaken the Vietcong – but
left a horrendous legacy in Vietnam.
– The dioxin got into the food chain causing chromosome damage
to humans. There were hundreds of cases of children born with
• To Destroy the North Vietnamese economy
• To Hinder the flow of supplies and men
• To Reduce morale and the will to fight
Protracted War Strategy
• After “Operation
Rolling Thunder,” the
moved to a protracted
war strategy: the idea
was to get the United
States bogged down in
a war that it could not
win militarily and create
for political victory.
Major Turning Points
The Tet Offensive
On January 31, 1968, during
the Vietnamese New Year
known as Tet, the North
Vietnamese communist forces
initiated a large scale attack on
major South Vietnamese cities
Why did the north use the Ho
Chi Minh Trail and why was
Results of the Tet Offensive
• Up to 40,000 communists
were killed in action
• The U.S. military quickly
responded to the surprise
attacks and defeated the
• Almost all territory was
regained by the U.S. within
a few days
• However, the public saw
bloody street fighting and
the communist’s temporary
occupation of the U.S.
Embassy in Saigon.
A South Vietnamese officer
questions then executes a man
following the Tet Offensive.
Caught on camera and video.
Search & Destroy Tactics
• The United States countered with
“Search and Destroy” tactics. In
areas where the Vietcong were
thought to be operating, troops
went in and checked for weapons.
If they found them, they rounded up the villagers and burned the
• This often alienated the peasants from the American/South
– As one marine said – “If they weren’t Vietcong before we got
there, they sure as hell were by the time we left”.
– The NFL often helped the villager’s re-build their homes and bury
The My Lai Massacre
On March 16, 1968 a “search and destroy mission” unfolded in My Lai, a
heavily mined area controlled by the VC. Many soldiers of Charlie Company,
11th Brigade, had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks.
The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the
village poised for engagement with the elusive Vietcong.
• Robert Haeberle –
that took pictures of
• His pictures will be
released 2 years later.
• After My Lai – many
Americans view all
Vietnam veterans as
The Tet Offensive and
the My Lai Massacre
were turning points in
the Vietnam War.
The War in America
• The Vietnam War had a major
impact on everyday life in
America, and the Johnson
administration was forced to
consequences of its decisions
• Since there were not enough
volunteers to continue to fight a
protracted war, the government
instituted a draft.
Anti-War Protests on the Homefront
As a result of the ongoing deaths, military draft, civil
rights movement, and television coverage of the war,
many people began to protest the war. 300,000 protested
in New York City in August 1967.
• Protests erupted on college campuses and in
major cities at first, but by 1968 every
corner of the country seemed to have felt
the war's impact.
Nixon Elected President in 1968
• During the late 1960’s,
protests against the war
became more popular in the
U.S. The disgrace and stress
of the war causes Lyndon B.
Johnson not to run for
President for a second term.
• Republican Richard Nixon
wins the presidency and
promises to start withdrawing
troops from Vietnam.
• Nixon's plan involved a process
• This strategy brought American
troops home while increasing
the air war over North Vietnam
and relying more on the South
Vietnamese army for ground
Paris Peace Accords
After years of stalled talks, a cease-fire was finally signed
on January 27, 1973 by the United States, North Vietnam,
and South Vietnam. Its provisions were:
•Cease-fire in-place and troop withdrawal
• All parties committed to no further acts
of force on ground, in the air, and on the sea.
• Return of all captured military personnel
and foreign civilians within 60 day period
The agreement effectively ended all U.S. involvement in
Vietnam. By March, the U.S. had completely withdrawn.
To date; the Vietnam War is the longest conflict in which the
United States has been involved in.
The War Not Over
• The Paris Peace
did not end the
conflict in Vietnam, as
the South continued to
Peace with Honor
By March 1973, the last U.S. forces left Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese overran South Vietnam two years
The last Americans
leave the American
Embassy in South
The Fall of Saigon
North Vietnamese troops march into South Vietnam.
The Communist rename Saigon, the capital of the South,
Ho Chi Minh City.
South Vietnamese trying to flee with U.S. personnel during the fall
of Saigon. Many people wanted out for fear that the Communists
would kill them. Sadly, most were left behind and many died.
Results of the Vietnam War
• There were 58,000 Americans, 400,000 South Vietnamese,
and over 900,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese killed in
• 304,000 Americans wounded
• Over 10,000 American MIA/POW’s
•14,000 are permanently disabled.
•800,000 Vietnam veterans diagnosed as having “significant” to
“severe” problems of readjustment.
• U.S. officially recognized Vietnam in 1989
• Vietnam still remains a united nation under a communist
The Vietnam War Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not dedicated until
1982, more than seven years after the end of the war.
Why Did the United States
Lose the Vietnam War?
1. They underestimated the tenacity and
organization of the North Vietnamese and
the National Liberation Front.
2. Despite dropping
more tonnage of
high explosive on
Vietnam than the
whole of World War
II, the Americans
could not stop the
movement of troops
or supplies to the
south along the Ho
Chi Minh Trail.
3. The North Vietnamese
conducted a “Peoples
war” in which everyone
played a part.
4. At first, most Americans supported the war.
But by 1970, the Peace Movement had
support from all parts of society and no
government could ignore it.
5. After 1969, there were
deep questions about
the efficiency of US
troops. There was a
serious drug problem;
desertion rates were
high and morale low.
Many troops were
counted the days until
the tour was over.
6. The US never really
understood the culture of
the Vietnamese people.
Coca Cola, chewing gum,
ball point pens, and ice
cream cones could not
dislodge their ancient
7. America was not prepared to keep losing
high numbers of casualties for such limited
progress in a difficult jungle war, for which
they were not suited.
8. The strength and resourcefulness of the NLF.
For example, the highly complex Cu Chi
tunnel system the U.S. never shut down.