The Vietcong quickly learned that anything visible from the air soon became a target
– so they looked beneath their feet. Viet Cong bases were built in extensive
underground bunkers. These were complex tunnel systems that stretched for over
300km under the forests of Vietnam.
The Viet Cong used their intimate knowledge of the jungles to wait for the American
GIs and ambush them. The idea of Guerrilla warfare was to never face the
Americans head on – but to ambush them and then disappear into the jungle.
The Viet Cong often left
booby traps ranging from
simple pits with „Punji
sticks‟ in, to crossbows and
The idea was to make the
cost in US lives too high for
the US to keep fighting.
As well as launching attacks in
helicopters from their bases in the
jungle. The US also used bombers to
help out the ground troops.
In February 1964 the US air force
launched „Operation Rolling Thunder‟.
This was an enormous bombing
campaign that intended to bomb
Vietnam “back into the stone age”.
For the next eight years, giant B-52 bombers poured high explosive, napalm (burning
petrol jelly) and cluster bombs onto North Vietnam. They also dropped chemicals to
destroy the jungle (Agent Orange) that affected the Vietnamese peasants.
On June 8, 1972 a South Vietnamese aircraft accidentally dropped its napalm payload
on the village of Trang Bang. With her clothes on fire, 9 year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc
ran out of the village with her family to be airlifted to hospital. This photo quickly
made front page news world-wide, with LIFE magazine giving it full cover page
To the young inexperienced GIs it was impossible
to tell the difference between an enemy soldier and
an innocent civilian. As a result they were often
treated the same.
On the 5th of August 1965, CBS evening news
showed a GI setting fire to the straw roof of a
peasant‟s house with his Zippo cigarette lighter.
At the beginning of 1968 the American people were told that the Viet Cong were on
the brink of collapse. Then the Viet Cong launched a massive attack.
It was called the Tet offensive and hit more than 100 locations. People in America
questioned how an army on the brink of collapse could organise such an attack and
even capture the US Embassy in Saigon.
The US army began to use „body count‟ to show they were winning . At My Lai around
400 civilians were killed by GIs including women and children. When the incident
became public knowledge in 1969, it prompted widespread outrage around the world.
The massacre also reduced U.S. support at home for the Vietnam War.
Vietnam was the first television war. The American people were served up a nightly diet of
death and destruction on the evening news. In Vietnam reporters were allowed to
move with the troops and film whatever they wished!
During the Tet
filmed the Chief
by 20 million
of the south
Loan, holding a
pistol to a
they were on
the side of
Loan pulled the
By 1968, 300 Americans were dying every week in the
war. Eventually reaching a total of over 500,000.
The War cost $30,000 million by 1968. preventing
promised reforms in the US taking place. LBJ had
promised the voters, amongst other things, “to
feed…and shelter the homeless”.
Moral cost – Killing civilians.
Using Napalm which left victims with horrible burns.
Toxic chemicals were poisoning people.
On May 4, l970 members of the Ohio National
Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State
University demonstrators, killing four and
wounding nine Kent State students.
The impact of the shootings was dramatic. The event triggered a nationwide student
strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. This affected US
policy towards Vietnam.
Most Americans in the 50s and 60s had supported the war as they had lived through
World War II and wanted to keep America safe.
After the war there was a „baby boom‟ and some 30 million babies were born. Most of
these were about 20 when the war in Vietnam was taking place and saw the world
differently to their parents.
“Hell no, we won‟t go!” became their slogan and up and down America people began to
protest about conscription. Despite it being a minority of Americans President
Johnson was known to be devastated by chants of “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids
did you kill today?”