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The Vietnam War. French Indochina. France had been ruling the people of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Ho Chi Minh organized a communist party in Vietnam known as the Vietminh . This group fought for Vietnam’s independence from France.

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The Vietnam War

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The vietnam war l.jpg

The Vietnam War


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French Indochina

  • France had been ruling the people of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).

  • Ho Chi Minh organized a communist party in Vietnam known as the Vietminh.

    • This group fought for Vietnam’s independence from France.

  • U.S. first entered the conflict in the 1950s by supporting France with money (billions $$).

  • Vietminh defeated France at Dien Bien Phu.


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U.S. Initial Involvement

  • After France lost, the U.S. still wanted to prevent Ho Chi Minh’s party from taking control, even though…

    • He was very popular with everyone in North Vietnam and many in South Vietnam.

    • He was seen as a hero for his fighting in WWII and the fight for independence from France.

  • The U.S. supported the nationalist president Ngo Dinh Diem, who was anti-communist.


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Ngo Dinh Diem’s Issues

  • He was unpopular with the people, especially Buddhists.

  • He was a corrupt, oppressive, ineffective leader.

  • He cancelled the Vietnam election of 1956 because he thought he was going to lose! (which he probably would have)

  • U.S. supported canceling the election because they thought he was going to lose!

  • Communist group called Vietcong began staging attacks on Diem’s corrupt gov’t.


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Gulf of Tonkin Incident

  • U.S. ship was in North Vietnamese waters (Gulf of Tonkin).

  • U.S. sailors said the ship was attacked while in the Gulf (we still don’t know for sure).

  • This gave President Johnson (LBJ) an excuse to authorize more military force in Vietnam.

  • By June 1965, over 50,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam.


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Escalating the War

  • President Johnson was advised by Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk to escalate the war. (remember these guys?)

  • By the end of 1965, over 180,000 troops were sent to Vietnam.

  • By 1967, there were 500,000 troops.


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War Tactics

  • Vietcong used guerilla tactics.

  • They used the jungle to their advantage.

  • They created a system of underground tunnels in which they lived.

  • They used a tactic of wearing down the enemy.

  • They were so intent on obtaining their independence that they would have fought to the end.


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U.S./South Vietnam Tactics

  • Napalm: a bomb that set fire to the jungles.

  • Agent Orange: a chemical spray released from planes that destroyed the entire landscape.

  • Both were harmful to humans, too.

  • Also conducted search-and-destroy missions in which they burned Vietcong villages and killed livestock.


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“We had to destroy the town in order to save it.”– U.S. Major in 1968


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Public Support Wavers: 1965-1967

  • Public opinion began shifting away from the war.

  • People were finding ways to avoid the draft, such as college, fake medical excuses, moving to Canada…

  • Many people became conscientious objectors.

  • Hawks still supported the war.

  • Doves supported peace.


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Tet Offensive

  • Surprise attack by the Vietcong on the U.S./South Vietnamese.

    • Lasted for over a month.

    • Vietcong lost 32,000 lives; U.S. lost 3,000.

  • American public now knew that the gov’t reports saying the Vietcong were “close to defeat” were wrong.

  • Public now distrusted gov’t info on Vietnam.


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Nixon Replaces Johnson

  • Johnson doesn’t run; Nixon is elected.

  • Began gradual withdrawal of troops in 1969 (took until 1973 to bring all of them home).

  • At the same time, Nixon continued bombing.

    • Called his tactic the “madman theory”…..

  • Then, the following four incidents greatly affected public opinion…


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Four Divisive Incidents

  • My Lai Massacre: U.S. soldiers killed all the women and children in a town with no enemy soldiers. Orders were “kill anything that breathes”.

  • Invasion of Cambodia: 1970, Nixon orders troops to invade Cambodia, just as they were supposed to be winding it down.

  • Kent State Shooting: Students were protesting; ROTC building set afire; National Guard came in shooting; killed 4 students (2 who were just bystanders).

  • Pentagon Papers: Showed that LBJ had planned to go to war when he was still telling the public he wouldn’t; also showed that there were no plans to end the war ever.


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The End of the War

  • U.S. withdrawals completely in 1973.

  • War continued in Vietnam.

  • In 1975, North Vietnamese were victorious.

  • Vietnam exists today as a unified communist nation.


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