Vietnam War
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Vietnam War. Background. Communism. Economic system Government control of property and resources Single political leader No individual rights. Domino Theory.

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Vietnam War

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Vietnam War



  • Economic system

  • Government control of property and resources

  • Single political leader

  • No individual rights

Domino Theory

  • American leaders believed that if the communists captured one country, nearby nations would also fall to communism, like dominoes falling


The idea that America should keep communism “contained” and not allow it to spread to any more areas in the world

French Indochina

  • France had controlled Vietnam since 1858

  • The colony became known as Indochina

  • Vietnamese fiercely resisted French control, demanding independence

Indochina consisted of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia

Dien Bien Phu

  • May 6, 1954

  • French forces waited in the fortress of Dien Bien Phu

  • Vietnamese forces surrounded the compound and began raining artillery

  • Eventually the French surrendered (similar to the Alamo)

Dien Bien Phu

Geneva Accords

  • May, 1954

  • After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, world leaders met at Geneva, Switzerland

  • Agreed to divide Vietnam at the 17th parallel

  • Ho Chi Minh would be the president of the communist North

Geneva Accords

  • Ngo Dinh Diem would be the president of the non-communist south.

  • Elections were to be held in 1956 on the issue of unification.

  • However, the South refused to hold elections, claiming that the communists would not play fair.

North Vietnam

  • DRVN

  • Democratic Republic of Vietnam

  • Communist dominated

  • President - Ho Chi Minh

  • Capital city - Hanoi

South Vietnam

  • RVN

  • Republic of Vietnam

  • Anti-communist

  • President - Ngo Dinh Diem

  • Capital city - Saigon

  • America backs South Vietnam to prevent a communist takeover

Ho Chi Minh

  • Leader of the League for the Independence of Vietnam

  • He combined many of the goals of communism with his desire to end the exploitation of Vietnam by outside countries

Ho Chi Minh


League for the Independence of Vietnam. Vietnamese who supported the liberation of Vietnam from French control and unification of Vietnam

Vietminh Soldiers

Vietcong (VC)

The military wing of the North Vietnamese communist forces

Vietcong Prisoner 1966

A Vietcong Prisoner

Saigon police chief murders a VC in 1968

National Liberation Front

Political wing of the North Vietnamese push for unification of Vietnam

Flag of the National Liberation Front

American Intervention

  • President Eisenhower sends the first military advisors to Vietnam in the 1950s to provide on the ground intelligence to Washington D.C.

  • America also gives the French $25 million because they were our ally

  • Looks like the U.S. supports colonialism

Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • 34th President

  • 1953 – 1961

  • Republican

  • New York


  • Military Assistance Advisory Group

  • Advised U.S. leaders that it would be unwise to get involved in Vietnam for these reasons:


  • The conflict was more about nationalism than communism since 80% of the Vietminh were NOT communists

  • The Vietminh were extremely popular

  • U.S. soldiers were not trained for guerilla warfare in jungles

Aerial view of the jungle canopy in Vietnam



How many soldiers can you find hidden in the jungle?

Answer: 14

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

  • Elected President in 1960

  • Increased spending on RVN’s efforts to repel the Vietminh

  • Increased U.S. military involvement in Vietnam

  • Wanted to prove to his critics in the U.S. that he was not weak on fighting the communists

John F. Kennedy

  • But he was reluctant to become deeply involved in Vietnam

  • Top ranking military leaders advised him that the situation in Vietnam was growing worse daily - it was only a matter of time before the RVN fell to communist control

Training Mission

  • Reluctantly, the U.S. military engaged in training RVN forces to be able to defend their own country against the communist forces

RVN Trainees

Ap Bac

  • January 2, 1963

  • Ap Bac was a village 40 miles southwest of Saigon in the Mekong Delta

  • RVN (South Vietnam) forces outnumbered the Viet Cong 4:1

  • The Viet Cong were well-supplied with captured American M-1 rifles and 30 caliber machine guns

  • RVN was poorly led and unprepared

Ap Bac

  • 5 U.S. helicopters were shot down

  • 3 U.S. advisors were killed and 8 wounded

  • First major victory for Viet Cong

  • VC used the victory for propaganda purposes

  • VC began to plan for full scale war against the RVN

  • U.S. realized we would need to send additional support for the RVN

Downed chopper at Ap Bac

January 2, 1963

Ap Bac

January 2, 1963

Downed choppers (flying bananas)

January 2, 1963

Ap Bac (January 2, 1963)

Ap Bac Casualties

Ngo Dinh Diem

Ngo Dinh Diem

  • 1954 -appointed prime minister of RVN

  • This alienated many South Vietnamese

  • He was seen as a U.S. puppetleader

  • He refused some basic land reforms

  • He seized peasant land and gave it to friends/family

  • He was Catholic

  • He persecuted the Buddhists

Ngo Dinh Diem

  • U.S. advisors stated that even the non-communists preferred Ho Chi Minh

  • By 1963, we learned that Diem had been secretly trying to create a coalition government that would include the communists

  • U.S. helped to arrange a coup (the overthrow of a government)

Catholic-Buddhist Crisis

  • May 8, 1963

  • On Buddha’s birthday, Diem banned the display of religious flags

  • Buddhists raised their prayer flags to celebrate anyway

  • Diem orders RVN troops to disperse the crowd

Buddhist Prayer Flags

Buddhist Prayer Flags

Catholic-Buddhist Crisis

  • 8 Buddhist monks were killed

  • On June 11, the first of seven monks sets himself on fire in the street of Saigon to protest Diem’s leadership.

  • This becomes the symbol of Diem’s leadership to the American public.

T. Quang Duc

First Buddhist Monk to commit self-immolation

June 11, 1963


Graphic disturbing images follow. Look away if you might be offended.

Douses himself with gasoline and sits calmly in the lotus position

Ignites the flame

The remains are carried away

The unburned heart is displayed in a Buddhist Temple

Overthrow of Diem

  • Nov. 1, 1963, RVN forces overthrew Diem’s leadership

  • He and his family were supposed to be exiled to France

  • RVN army executed Diem and his brother

Overthrow of Diem

  • Their bodies were found in a van in Saigon

  • Created chaos in RVN and instability in the government

  • 12 governments in 18 months

Diem and his brother found murdered in the back of a van in Saigon

Lyndon B. Johnson

  • 36th President

  • 1963 – 1969

  • Democrat

  • Texas

  • Became President when Kennedy was assassinated

  • Substantially increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam

Lyndon B. Johnson

Sworn in on Air Force One by Judge Sarah T. Hughes

William Westmoreland

  • American general in charge of U.S. forces in Vietnam

  • Continually pushed for increasing troop levels in Vietnam

The War Begins

Tonkin Gulf Incident

  • August 4, 1964

  • U.S. patrol ships off the coast of Vietnam claimed to have been attacked by DRVN torpedo boats.

  • President Johnson addressed the nation about the attacks and ordered retaliatory air strikes for the “unprovoked attack.”

Gulf of Tonkin

Tonkin Gulf Incident

Tonkin Gulf Resolution

  • August 7, 1964

  • Legislation that allowed LBJ to take “all necessary measures to prevent further aggression” in Vietnam

  • Johnson said that “it was like Grandma’s night-skirt. It covered everything.”

  • It would be used to drastically escalate American involvement in the war

LBJ signs the Tonkin Gulf Resolution


  • Increasing military pressure on an enemy’s forces

  • By 1967, we had over 470,000 troops in Vietnam.


  • February, 1965

  • A U.S. Army base in RVN was mortared while National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy visited

  • 9 Americans died, and 126 more injured

  • It showed how unstable the situation was: we couldn’t even protect our high-ranking officials.

Pleiku, 1965

Pleiku airfield in 1967



National Security



  • McGeorge Bundy: “Pleikus are like street cars.” (If you wait a while, another one will come along.)

  • LBJ responded by authorizing bombings of North Vietnam.

Operation Rolling Thunder

Aerial bombings of North Vietnam which began in March of 1965

Operation Rolling Thunder

The U.S. wished to avoid a

ground war in the mountainous

jungle terrain of Vietnam

Operation Rolling Thunder

Gen. William Momyer, 7th Air Force commander, meets with President Johnson

Operation Rolling Thunder

LBJ boasted, “I won’t let those Air Force generals bomb the smallest outhouse without checking with me.”

Operation Rolling Thunder

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Operation Rolling Thunder




May, 1965 – Bomber carrying 1000 pound bomb

F 105 Thunderchief

  • Lead Sled, Thud

  • Flew 75 % of the strikes and took more losses over North Vietnam than any other kind of aircraft

  • When Rolling Thunder ended, more than half of the Air Force’s F-105s were gone.

F 105 Thunderchief

Operation Rolling Thunder

At first, bombing missions were not allowed in areas around Hanoi or Haiphong

Operation Rolling Thunder

“Rolling North”

Bombing raids authorized farther north later in 1965 and 1966


  • Policy of wearing away an enemy’s forces until they cannot continue to fight

  • The U.S. strategy in Vietnam

  • We would bomb the VC until they could not continue replacing their casualties; then they would surrender

la Drang Valley

  • November 1965

  • First major battle between VC and U.S. troops

  • The U.S. 7th Cavalry delivered a substantial defeat to a VC unit

  • 7 to 10 times as many VC died as did Americans

la Drang Valley

  • U.S. saw it as proof that attrition works

  • The VC claimed that they had forced the U.S. into combat to inflict casualties and learn about U.S. tactics.

  • VC did not consider this a defeat.

la Drang Valley

la Drang Valley

U.S. Infantry disembarks

la Drang Valley

Lt. Col. Moore checks VC casualties

Scene from 2001 motion picture, We Were Soldiers

Starring Mel Gibson

Operation Phoenix

  • U.S. assassination program

  • We tried to eliminate VC leaders

  • Thousands died in these related attacks.


  • U.S. forces would be used to train RVN forces

  • Eventually, the U.S. would scale back our troop levels until the RVN could function self-sufficiently

Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • North Vietnamese supply line from DRVN and ending at various points near the South Vietnamese border

  • A honeycomb of routes through jungle and grassland areas that totaled 12,000 miles of trail

  • Although Laos was supposedly neutral (per the Geneva agreement of 1954), 100’s of miles of the trail passed through that country

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • Before 1964, the trail was used by bicycles that were specially modified to carry pallets of rifles and ammunition weighing 400 pounds.

  • In 1964 the trail was upgraded with bridges, way stations, underground barracks, storage facilities, workshops, and fuel depots

  • In 1965 80,000 laborers were building 2 miles of new road each day

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • 2,294 trucks passed through from Jan to May of 1965

  • 12,000 DRVN soldiers infiltrated into the South in 1965

  • 24,000 DRVN soldiers in 1966

  • It became of primary importance to stop this infiltration along the trail

  • April 1965, the U.S. began air strikes against the trail called “Steel Tiger”

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • This led to the secret expansion of the war into Laos in 1965

  • In March of 1970 President Nixon finally admitted U.S. military operations in Laos, claiming that the North Vietnamese had violated the Geneva Accord “before the ink was dry” and that over ½ million North Vietnamese troops had entered the South though Laos

The Cu Chi Tunnel

  • Of major importance during the Vietnam War

  • About 250 kilometers long


  • Destructive gelled gasoline chemical that burns uncontrollably

  • Sticks to bodies and sears off flesh

  • Burns at 800 to 1200 degrees Celsius





Agent Orange

  • A deforesting agent that killed jungle life, exposing VC hiding places

  • Contained dioxin – extremely toxic

  • Reported to cause death, debilitating diseases, and genetic defects to those exposed

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

C 123 “Supplier” of Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Service Patch awarded for flying Agent Orange “Ranch Hand” missions

Immediate and Genetic Effects

of Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

Agent Orange

The American Public

is Misled

  • May 1967 – CIA estimates that 430,000 Viet Cong had infiltrated the South

  • Dec 1967 – 45% of American public said our involvement in Vietnam was a mistake

The American Public

is Misled

  • Nov 1967 – Vice President Humphrey says on the “Today Show” – “We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress.”

The American Public

is Misled

  • Nov 21, 1967 – General Westmoreland says that DRVN was “unable to mount a major offensive . . . I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing.”

  • Westmoreland says in interview with Time Magazine, “I hope they try something, because we are looking forward for a fight.”

Tet Offensive

  • Tết Nguyên Dán – January 31 - the lunar new year– most important Vietnamese holiday

  • Both North and South Vietnam had announced on national radio that there would be a three-day cease-fire during the Tet celebration

Tet Offensive

  • The VC launched a series of unexpected highly coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam.

  • 80,000 VC troops struck more than 100 towns and cities – included Saigon

  • U.S. embassy in Saigon was invaded

Tet Offensive

Tet Offensive

Saigon burns

Tet Offensive

  • It showed the public that the government had not been truthful about the situation and our chances in Vietnam.

Tet Offensive

  • The largest military operation by either side in the war up until then

  • Attacks continued until September 1968

  • Ended U.S. hopes of winning the war.

  • After Tet, we were looking for a way out.

My Lai Massacre

  • March 16, 1968

  • “Search and destroy” mission

  • A small village in South Vietnam where 250 VC were rumored to be hiding

  • When we arrived, we found only women and children

My Lai Massacre

  • Lt. William Calley ordered all of the inhabitants rounded up and executed

  • Only one U.S. chopper crew flew in and stopped the slaughter.

  • 407 villagers were killed

  • American public was shocked and outraged

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Lt. William Calley

  • Lt. William Calley was tried for murder

  • Claimed he was only following orders to kill everyone in the village

  • Dishonorably discharged and received a life term in prison

  • His sentence was later reduced by President Nixon

  • Released on parole in November 1975

Lt. William Calley

Lt. Calley escorted to Ft. Benning stockade March 31, 1971

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Memorial at the site of the massacre

Operation Menu

  • The U.S. launched secret attacks on Cambodia starting in 1969, looking for rumored VC headquarters.

  • By 1975, the VC continued to use Cambodian supply lines

  • Protests erupted across the U.S. when the public found out about these bombings.

Operation Menu



Dewey Canyon

  • February 1971

  • RVN forces were to attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos to cut off VC supply lines.

  • Would prove that Vietnamization was working


Dewey Canyon

  • But as the RVN forces prepared, the VC attacked.

  • Only U.S. B-52 bombers saved the day.

  • It was a disaster that proved that the RVN existed only through massive U.S. support.

The Anti-War Movement

The Anti-War Movement

  • Sit-ins

  • Marches

  • Burning of draft cards

  • Blocking troops trains

  • Self-immolation

  • Teach-ins


  • Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee

  • Helped organize many of the war protests on college campuses


Students would pick public businesses or college campuses and simply sit there in protest of the war. Made national news as they were dragged out by police.


University of Berkley 1965


University of Berkley 1965


  • A series of nationwide debates and lectures about U.S. presence in Vietnam

  • The goal was to educate the public and increase pressure on the government to change its Vietnam policy.


  • American youth movement that blamed “the establishment” for the war

  • The establishment – old white men


Beliefs included:

  • questioning authority

  • seeking personal pleasure

  • alternative lifestyles

  • different clothing styles

  • rock music

  • drugs


  • A group that was part of the counterculture

  • Valued youth, individuality, and spontaneity

  • Promoted peace, love, and freedom





  • August 1969

  • 3 day music festival at Max Yazgur’s farm in upstate New York

  • Organizers expected 10,000 – 20,000

  • 400,000 counterculture youth showed up

  • Concert organizers abandoned the plan to set up fences and made the concert free






Jimi Hendrix

Kent State

  • An Ohio working-class commuter university—average for “middle-class” America

  • May 2, 1970 - Student anti-war protesters were demonstrating

  • A fire broke out in the ROTC building

Kent State

  • On May 4, students began throwing things at the armed guards

  • The guards fired into the crowd of students

  • 4 killed; 13 wounded – some not even participants in the protest

Kent State

Candlelight March

  • Thousands marched on Washington D.C. at night with candles to protest the war

Candlelight March

  • Even government officials’ families participated, such as Vice Pres. Agnew’s daughter.

  • Showed that mainstream Americans were opposed to the war, not just Hippies


of War


Those who favored the war


Those who favored peace


LBJ announced that he would not run for reelection, mainly because of the war in Vietnam. The 1968 election was highly turbulent as Americans protested and debated the war. Eventually, it would be Richard Nixon that emerges as the “peace” candidate and wins.


Youth International Party. Young American anti-war protesters who wanted to go the Democratic Convention in 1968 to protest by nominating a pig named “Pigasus” for president and then eating him. Similar to the Hippies in that they wanted free love and peace in Vietnam.


U.S. attorney general who decides to run for president after LBJ announces he was not running for a 2nd term. He was assassinated in 1968 after giving a speech at a hotel.


Ran as a 3rd party candidate in the 1968 election. He took away enough votes from the Democrats to allow Nixon to win the election.


Quaker. Republican. Ran against JFK in 1960 and lost an extremely close election. He wins the presidency in 1968 and is reelected in 1972. Despite his promises to seek peace, Nixon secretly widened the war in Vietnam into neighboring countries and continually bombed N. Vietnam.

26th Amendment (1971)

lowered the voting age to 18. People felt that if you were old enough to die for the nation at age 18, you should have the right to vote.




Nixon’s Secretary of State. Kissinger was responsible for helping to ease tensions between the U.S., China and the Soviet Union. He was also involved in negotiating the peace settlement in Vietnam.

Operation Linebacker II (the Christmas Bombings)


Over 200 B-52 bombers flew round-the-clock missions for 11 days. Over 40,000 tons of bombs were dropped. Over 2000 killed with sufficient collateral damaged to DRVN.

Operation Linebacker II (the Christmas Bombings)

Nixon’s approval rate fell to 39%, world leaders denounced the bombings, and we were forced back to negotiations with DRVN representatives.


Became the President after Nixon’s resignation. Ford would order the remaining U.S. troops out of Vietnam.


Even though the peace terms called for 2 separate nations, VC forces overran Saigon even as the last U.S. troops departed with refugees. We weren’t even gone yet, and the North had taken over South Vietnam.


Prisoners of war. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers had been captured and detained by VC forces. Some had been tortured and executed before being returned at the end of the war.


Missing in Action. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were unaccounted for at the end of the war. We weren’t sure if they had been killed, captured, deserted, or something else.

War Powers Act (1973)

A law designed to limit a president’s ability to wage war without congressional approval. 1) Required president to notify Congress within 48 hours after deployment of troops, including reasons for and the expected length of the mission.


War Powers Act (1973)

2) Limit to 60 days without congressional approval. 3) Congress can demand that the President bring the troops home.

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