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AMST 3100 The 1960s Vietnam Chronology. Powerpoint 8 Read Chafe Chapter 9, FDR’s Atlantic Charter , Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence , and Ho’s Letter to President Truman requesting that he honor the Atlantic Charter.

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amst 3100 the 1960s vietnam chronology

AMST 3100 The 1960sVietnam Chronology

Powerpoint 8

Read Chafe Chapter 9, FDR’s Atlantic Charter, Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence, and Ho’s Letter to President Truman requesting that he honor the Atlantic Charter.

Post-1954 region after division into two regions, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, with a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the middle. The Vietnamese nationalists never accepted this division as permanent, despite the American intention to make it so.
Vietnam War Web Resource Page

Please click this link for the PBS web-companion to its Vietnam: A Television History program. Begin with the timeline, followed by Who’s Who, etc.Please click this link to examine some of the key people and issues involved in the Vietnam War.Please click this link for a comprehensive listing of documents related to the Vietnam War.Please click this link to examine FDR’s 1941 Atlantic Charter declaring U.S. support for national sovereignty across the globe. Click this link to examine Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence (1945), and click this link to examine Ho’s letter to President Truman asking the U.S. to honor its Atlantic Charter principles (1946).Please click this link to examine the Vietnam War from a conservative-ideology perspective in order to get a fuller view of the conflict. My view leans toward the progressive rather than the conservative perspective, but I am open to all perspectives and would like you to decide for yourself how you view this experience after reviewing as much information as possible.Please click this link to briefly examine some of the lessons learned from the Vietnam experience from different perspectives. These discussions occurred in 1985.Please click this link to examine the relevant battles.

1946 54 the indochina war
1946-54 The Indochina War
  • Indochina War
  • Americans support the French with weapons and money
  • Ho Chi Minh effectively fights a guerrilla war

The French Indochina War pitted the French against the Vietnamese in France’s effort to re-install colonialism in Vietnam. The Americans provided money and supplies to the French, including the American plane you see in the background of this photo.

  • French lose at the battle of Dien Bien Phu
  • Geneva Accords
    • Vietnam to be temporarily divided into 2 regions, North and South.
    • National referendum to be held in 2 years to resolve how to unify the country. All likelihood was that Ho Chi Minh would have emerged as the leader of all of Vietnam by 1956.
  • U.S. installs a puppet dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem, and proceeds in nation-building to create a permanent South Vietnam, despite the Geneva Accords.

The caption beneath this photo says “Supplies for the beleaguered French garrison in Dien Bien Phu are parachuted in. The Vietnamese occupied the high ground.”

1954 63
  • Viet Cong form in the South Vietnam to resist U.S. nation-building efforts.
  • Diem claims electoral victory in South Vietnam in 1956 in a rigged election that violated the Geneva Accords. No national referendum was ever held in 1956 – the two Vietnams remained divided, just as the Americans desired.
  • Diem fails to provide significant reforms while favoring Catholics over Buddhists in a country that is mainly Buddhist.
  • Diem’s brother, Nhu, brutally represses political dissent. South Vietnam was essentially a right-wing dictatorship supported by the U.S., while North Vietnam was essentially a left-wing communist state supported by China and Russia.

President Eisenhower, seen here with John Foster Dulles next to him, chose Ngo Diem to be his “puppet” leader in South Vietnam. The U.S. fabricated what appeared to be a legitimate election to give him credibility to outside observers. Diem was never popular among the South Vietnamese.

1960 63
  • JFK elected. Proceeds to increase advisors in South Vietnam while trying to keep his options open.
    • 16,000 advisors by ’63.
  • S.Vietnamese Buddhist monks burn themselves in protest of Diem’s pro-Catholic policies in 1963. Much world coverage, and the Diem regime is seen to be clearly unpopular in South Vietnam. JFK is frustrated with Diem’s stubborn refusal to allow popular reforms. The Diem regime is overthrown in late ’63 as Diem is assassinated in a U.S.-approved political coup. South Vietnam falls into political chaos.
  • JFK is assassinated two weeks later, on Nov. 22, 1963, leaving Vietnam policy in disarray for LBJ to sort out.

A Buddhist monk commits public suicide in 1963 to draw world attention to the anti-Buddhist policies of Ngo Diem, the American-supported dictator of South Vietnam. Diem did not consider himself a puppet of the U.S., despite being propped up by the U.S.. He heeded some, but not all, of the advice given to him by the Americans and was therefore frustrating.

  • LBJ rejects any exit strategy and commits to win in Vietnam. He is a Cold Warrior who sees South Vietnam as an American commitment and as a test of U.S. anti-communist resolve in a key region of the globe. He, like Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy before him, subscribes to the domino theory and the National Security Council Report 68 (NSC 68, 1950) that advises against passive “containment” and advocates an aggressive “rolling back” of communism. Click here for a good site to examine, including a 1950’s map showing the fear of communist expansion that lies behind NSC 68.
  • Gulf of Tonkin incident leads to a Congressional resolution giving LBJ a green light to escalate the war. This resolution gave LBJ war-making powers. It was later withdrawn by Congress as one of the lessons of Vietnam after Vietnam became a “quagmire.”
  • LBJ increases advisors in S. Vietnam to 20,000 with private plans for a dramatic increase if the generals seek this. This is an election year, however, so he can’t be too openly aggressive. At this time, LBJ is mostly focused on domestic policy, and most Americans - including the mainstream commercial press - know little about Vietnam and American policy there.

The domino theory suggested that if Vietnam fell, then all of Southeast Asia would also fall to the communists, and this would threaten the entire free world.

  • First combat troops arrive.
  • Troop numbers increase to 175,000.
  • Operation Rolling Thunder.
    • Sustained and massive air bombings.
  • The draft is escalated (draft age was 19), thus politicizing the war and aggravating the youth culture.
    • First major war protest occurs, with 15,000 attending.

Welcome to Vietnam. Troops arrived mostly by plane but the military wanted this image, reminiscent of WWII, as an icon. There was no enemy firing upon U.S. soldiers as they landed in this photo.


B-52 dropping 500 pound bombs and the damage caused by such bombing raids.

  • Troop strength increased to 380,000.
  • First B-52 raids on North Vietnam.
  • Heaviest air bombings of the war.
  • U.S. commercial media coverage is biased toward LBJ’s spin on the war.
  • U.S. uses conventional military strategy against an enemy using a guerrilla strategy.
  • U.S. is failing to win over the hearts and minds of the indigenous population of South Vietnam. GIs cannot tell friend from foe.
  • U.S. troop strength reaches nearly 500,000.
  • Massive anti-war demonstrations, yet LBJ ignores them, committed to a “victory” he has yet to clearly define. Privately he suspects the war may be un-winnable. Yet he is afraid of being labeled “soft” by Republican hawks and feels he cannot afford to lose Vietnam. Publicly he maintains a confident face.
  • M. L. King, Jr comes out against the war.
  • U.S. commercial media coverage is still generally slanted toward LBJ’s spin. Most Americans still support the war, but attitudes are changing.
  • 9,342 troops killed this year.
  • Little sign of progress toward “victory.”
  • Tet offensive in January exposes a credibility gap for LBJ and the generals.
    • The turning point in the war.
  • McCarthy and RFK: antiwar platform.
  • Massive antiwar protests as the country is deeply polarized.
  • Walter Cronkite and mainstream media shift toward anti-war slant.
  • LBJ announces in March he will not run for re-election.
  • MLK and RFK, both peace advocates, are assassinated in April and June, throwing liberal reformers in turmoil. King’s death results in 100+ riots.
  • Troop strength increased to 530,000. Gen. Westmorland wants more troops.
  • My Lai massacre occurs but is covered up. The story broke much later.
  • Nixon is elected, ending the idealistic liberal reform era of JFK and LBJ.

The Tet offensive began in late January, 1968 and involved attacks all across South Vietnam. While the U.S. eventually succeeded in pushing back the attackers militarily, this offensive revealed that the U.S. did not have as much control in the war as they had maintained. It was a political disaster for LBJ and contributed to Americans turning against a war in which they were frequently told victory was “just over the horizon.”

  • Nixon secretly bombs Cambodia.
  • Nixon begins troop withdrawal in his Vietnamization policy.
    • Troop numbers down to 475,000.
  • A massive Peace Moratorium March is held across the country.
  • Ho Chi Minh dies.
  • The counterculture is increasingly radicalized and fractured as the liberal reform era collapses.
  • Many “Silent Majority” mainstream Americans, seeking stability, are getting fed up with the counterculture.

The Peace Moratorium March brought out 250,000 people in Washington DC and more than 2 million people overall.

  • Troop strength decreases to 284,000 under Nixon’s Vietnamization policy.
  • Nixon invades Cambodia, arousing the anti-war counterculture from a brief lull.
  • Four dead in Ohio: Four Kent State students are killed by the National Guard during a protest against Nixon’s widening of the war into Cambodia.
  • Nixon’s “Peace with Honor” policies, in effect, are prolonging the war because Nixon cannot get the North Vietnamese to bargain. Nixon views it as a matter of U.S. honor and commitment to get some kind of a treaty with North Vietnam, lest the U.S. lose face. Besides invading Cambodia (and Laos) he relies mostly on heavy bombing, hoping to drive them to the table, and this angers the antiwar movement.

This is a photo of the Kent State shooting. Angry students across college campuses protested the invasion of Cambodia, exposing tensions with the police and national guard. The Kent State shooting by the Ohio National Guard left four students dead. Several weeks later, in Mississippi, the police opened fire on students at Jackson State College, killing two. These killings led many colleges to close up for the semester to avoid a repeat of such violence.

  • Nixon invades Laos with the ARVN.
  • Nixon’s military strategy is to hit the enemy hard with air power to try to bring them to peace talks. He is frustrated the North Vietnamese don’t play along.
  • Troop strength down to 160,000.

This is a photo of unmarked CIA planes being armed to attack Laos. The U.S. had been secretly bombing Laos since 1964. In 1971, Nixon authorized the ARVN to openly attack Laos to demonstrate the success of his Vietnamization policy in producing a South Vietnamese army capable of defending itself. However, the Laos invasion was a disaster and the ARVN were routed. The defeat demonstrated the failure of Vietnamization and spurred increased communism and anger at the U.S. in Laos. By 1975 a communist government was established in Laos.

  • Nixon visits China, accepting an invitation by China to open up diplomatic ties. Under Nixon’s triangulation policy, Nixon played China and the Soviet Union off each other. This is perhaps Nixon’s most significant foreign policy achievement. With such diplomacy Nixon succeeded in reducing Soviet military aid to North Vietnam, and this may have helped drive North Vietnam to the bargaining table as they began to run out of Soviet-supplied SAM missiles.
  • U.S. mines Haiphong harbor.
    • Nixon is increasingly bombing North Vietnam to get them to the peace talks.
  • Secret peace talks begin.
  • By now, only 20 GIs are killed each week.

Nixon and Chou En Lai toast to friendship. Nixon’s visit to China was a bit ironic because it was hawks like himself who helped drive U.S. foreign policy to take such a hard line anti-diplomacy position against communism to begin with. Of course, there were also hawks in the Chinese and Soviet leadership. This visit was enabled by a new breed of Chinese leader, Chou En Lai, who favored increased Chinese diplomacy with the world.

  • Peace agreement is finally reached. The Paris Peace Accords were carried out by negotiators Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho.
    • Recognized the 1954 Geneva Accords that established all of Vietnam as one country (a victory for the nationalists because the U.S. had been trying to build South Vietnam).
    • Established a temporary peace to allow the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam and recognized the North Vietnamese army in all of their locations across Vietnam.
    • Allowed for the release of U.S. prisoners of war.
  • In effect, the North Vietnamese had won the war, but it was not a military defeat for the U.S. so much as it was a political victory for those seeking national unification, albeit under communism. The U.S. had decided by as early as 1968 that it was not worth the price to continue their nation-building efforts. What strikes many doves is how long it took the U.S. to withdraw after this realization. What strikes many hawks is how Nixon managed to save face by securing a treaty, albeit at the cost of more than 15,000 American soldiers.

Operation Homecoming, 1973. Former American POWs celebrate after their plane takes off from Vietnam to fly them home. Approximately 591 POWs were released.

  • Last of U.S. troops leave Saigon as the communist nationalists enter the city in triumph.
    • By now the U.S. had left only skeleton troops to manage the final withdrawal.
  • Mass evacuation created a “boat people” refugee problem for those fleeing.
  • Southeast Asia has been rendered unstable by the Vietnam conflict, and the murderous regime of Pol Pot emerges in Cambodia. See the movie “The Killing Fields” for a dramatic portrayal of events that were unfolding there.

Vietnamese civilians flee from a Saigon rooftop as North Vietnamese troops enter the city. Most of these people had civil service or other connections with the South Vietnamese government and feared communist reprisals.