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Vietnam War. How did the US lose when the odds were in their favour???. Focus Questions. Why was the Vietnam War so controversial? Why did America lose the Vietnam War? What were the policies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, the stated reasons for those policies, and the results?

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vietnam war

Vietnam War

How did the US lose when the odds were in their favour???

focus questions
Focus Questions
  • Why was the Vietnam War so controversial?
  • Why did America lose the Vietnam War?
  • What were the policies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, the stated reasons for those policies, and the results?
  • How did nationalism play a role in the war from the Vietnamese perspective?
difference between korean war and vietnam
Difference between Korean War and Vietnam:
  • Korean War was fought by foreign forces


  • Vietnam War fought by Nationalists against foreign forces
  • Vietnam is under the control of China until French Colonialism in 1885 after a war with China
  • Japan takes Indochina (Vietnam) during WWII
  • France attempts to reoccupy Vietnam after WWII
  • America aids France but France is defeated and America continues
  • Ngo Dinh Diem, the ruler of South Vietnam, refused to hold elections
  • Ho Chi Minh (communist supported by China) set up the National Liberation Front (NLF)/ Vietcong (to the US) in South Vietnam In 1960
    • started a guerrilla war to take over South Vietnam from Diem
    • Guerrilla warfare utilizes knowledge the surroundings to defeat the enemy physically and psychologically
  • In 1963, the US supported a military coup, which murdered Diem and put a military government in South Vietnam
gulf of tonkin incident
Gulf of Tonkin Incident
  • August 2, 1964, US ship is torpedoed by a N. Vietnamese ship
  • Two days later another ship is attacked
  • August 7, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is passed by President Lyndon Johnson
    • Not a declaration of war but “necessary steps” to protect the US

Photograph taken from USS Maddox (DD-731) during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, 2 August 1964.The view shows one of the boats racing by, with what appears to be smoke from Maddox' shells in its wake.

president johnson s message to congress august 5 1964
President Johnson's Message to Congress August 5, 1964

“As President of the United States I have concluded that I should now ask the Congress, on its part, to join in affirming the national determination that all such attacks will be met, and that the United States will continue in its basic policy of assisting the free nations of the area to defend their freedom.

As I have repeatedly made clear, the United States intends no rashness, and seeks no wider war. We must make it clear to all that the United States is united in its determination to bring about the end of Communist subversion and aggression in the area. We seek the full and effective restoration of the international agreements signed in Geneva in 1954, with respect to South Vietnam, and again in Geneva in 1962, with respect to Laos... “

reasons for the us declaring war
Reasons for the US declaring war
  • Policy of Containment/ Domino Theory
  • Weakness of the AVRN (South Vietnamese Army)
  • Attacks from the Vietcong on the Americans
spark of war
Spark of War
  • February 1965, Vietcong attacks American air bases in Vietnam and killed American soldiers
    • US declares war against N. Vietnam

Vietcong attack on U.S. military barracks at Pleiku

the war in vietnam
The War in Vietnam

Operation Rolling Thunder:

  • February 1965
  • Bombing against N. Vietnam
the war in vietnam1
The War in Vietnam

2) Air attack on Ia Drang:

  • November 1965
  • US troops lure the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) into Ia Drang and then attacked by air
the war in vietnam2
3) Phoenix Program:


US begins to arrest, interrogate and kill suspected Vietcong activists in Vietnam

Most documents about the program were destroyed in the 70s

Goes against the Geneva Convention

“Indeed, a US officer would lament on this "mania of the body count" propelling Phoenix. Operatives found it a "matter of expediency just to eliminate a person in the field rather than deal with the paperwork." An "awful lot of vendettas (were) carried out with Phoenix license" where covert operatives—which included ex-convicts, corrupt police and military officials, and other mercenaries attracted to the CIA money—"assassinated a lot of the wrong damn people." 

The War in Vietnam

the war in vietnam3
4) Tet Offensive:

January 1968

Vietcong and North Vietnam Army directly attack South Vietnam

Lost 58,000 men

Took 50 small towns + most major cities

NVA and VC retreat but America has seen the resolve of the Northern forces and realizes they’ll need more soldiers to defeat them

Public support for the war is lost

The War in Vietnam
guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla Warfare
  • NVA and Vietcong would hide in villages to attack Americans
  • Impossible for Americans to tell who were civilians and who weren’t
  • Supply routes from China were through the jungles so it was difficult for Americans to cut it off (also could start a war with China)
  • NVA would stay close to American troops to prevent air attacks
  • Demoralizes American troops and gains more support from villagers for the NVA

Massacre of 300 civilians at My Lai

  • ambushing US patrols, setting booby traps and landmines, and planting bombs in towns
  • Nixon is President in 1969 and wins on a policy of ending the war
    • Turn over control of the war to the South Vietnamese and get Americans out
    • Support the South financially
why didn t americans support the war
Why didn’t Americans support the war?
  • 58,000 Americans - average age 19 - were killed.
  • It was hard for Americans to believe that they were defending America by fighting in a war 8,000 miles away.
  • Extensive media coverage brought all the failures and horrors of the war into US homes.
  • Atrocities such as the massacre at My Lai undermined the moral authority of the US to continue the war.
  • The war was opposed particularly by Martin Luther King and by America's black community (because wealthier white men could avoid the draft by going to university or to Canada, and young black men were twice as likely to be killed).
paris peace agreement 1973
Paris Peace Agreement 1973
  • Nixon begins operations to bomb the North (ineffective)
  • North and South forced to sign the peace agreement with the US
  • US leave Vietnam in January 1973
The Vietcong's tactics

Fought a guerrilla war, ambushing US patrols, setting booby traps and landmines, and planting bombs in towns. They mingled in with the peasants, wearing ordinary clothes. The Americans couldn't identify who the enemy was.

Supplied with rockets and weapons by China and Russia. They used the Ho Chi Minh Trail - a jungle route through Laos and Cambodia - to supply their armies. The Americans couldn't attack their supply routes without escalating the war.

Tactic was "hanging onto the belts" of the Americans - staying so close to the Americans so they could not use air or artillery backup without killing their own men.

The Americans' tactics

Fought a hi-tech war, using B52 bombers, artillery, helicopters, napalm and defoliants (Agent Orange). This killed many innocent civilians, and failed to stop the Vietcong guerrillas.

Forced the peasants to leave Vietcong-controlled areas and made them live in defended strategic hamlets in loyal areas. This created immense opposition, and allowed Vietcong infiltrators into loyal areas.

Troops were sent on patrols, then supported by air and artillery when attacked. This demoralised the soldiers, who realised they were being used just as bait.

Search and destroy patrols went out looking for "Charlie", as they called the Vietcong. But the patrols were very visible, and easy to ambush. This led to atrocities such as "zippo raids" to burn villages, and the unprovoked massacre of peaceful villagers at My Lai in 1968.

Evaluate the following quote: “The Vietcong's tactics helped them to defeat the Americans; the Americans' tactics merely helped them to lose."

vietnam after the war
Vietnam after the War
  • 1975 South Vietnamese regime collapses and Vietnam is united under communists
  • NVA massacred South Vietnamese which led to S Vietnamese fleeing by boat
  • Infrastructure is ruined by war