The Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War was an armed struggle in which Communist forces, composed of Viet Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army, fought against the South Vietnamese Army and the United States and Australian troops. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were the theaters of operations of this major conflict, which took place from November 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975, when the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell in the hands of the communists. The Vietnam War had been preceded by the French Indochina War, which had been fought between the French Army and a leftist insurgent army called the Viet Minh. As it was the case with this latter guerrilla group, both the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were backed by the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, who armed the insurgents with modern weoponry such as jet fighters and surface-to-air missiles (SAM).

" In the 1950's the United States began to send troops to Vietnam. During the following 25-years the ensuing war would create some of the strongest tensions in US history. Almost 3 million US men and women were sent thousands of miles to fight for what was a questionable cause. In total, it is estimated that over 2,5 million people on both sides were killed.

This site does not try to document the entire history of the Vietnam War, but is intended as a picture essay illustrating some of the incredible conditions under which soldiers from both sides lived, fought, played and ultimately died. The legendary combat photographer, Tim Page, took almost all of the images shown on this site and they are nothing short of stunning.

Please be advised that strict copyright laws protect this site and under no circumstances may any images be copied or used. Copyright use of the images are handled by Corbis. Please see the acknowledgment section for more details about the pictures and this site. And finally, NO!, I cannot give anyone permission to use the images, they are the property of the photographers or their publishers.

Finally, if you have come here to ONLY look at blood and gore you have come to the wrong place, a soldiers facial expression can be just as terrifying....Continue >> "

Background to the Vietnam War

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Vietnam had been a French colony since the late 19th century. With the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese Army had temporarily taken over the country. During this time, clandestine insurgent movements arose against this foreign occupation of the country and began fighting the Japanese Army. The biggest guerrilla force was the Viet Minh, which was led by the communist leader Ho Chi Minh. After the war, this guerrilla army continued their struggle, but this time against the French government, which had returned to Office.

" The most effective of the nationalist organizations was the Viet Minh, or League for the Independence of Vietnam. It had been founded by Ho Chi Minh, and most of its leaders were members of the Indochinese Communist Party. However, its immediate program was more concerned with national independence than with Communism. As Ho Chi Minh said, before one could practice Communism one had to have a country to practice it in. The Viet Minh invited Vietnamese of any political persuasion to join in the struggle against foreign rule.

The Viet Minh also did everything in its power to make friends with the US, and cooperated with the US in the struggle against Japan. However, while Ho Chi Minh established a good relationship with some individual US representatives in Asia, who even gave him some arms and equipment, he never succeeded in making contact with Washington. The US government was committed to a policy of alliance with France, and in the long run this policy precluded friendship with the Viet Minh.

The Viet Minh had been establishing guerrilla groups and underground organizations in some parts of northern Vietnam since the early 1940's. After the Japanese eliminated the French administration in March 1945, the Viet Minh was able to operate more freely, and it expanded very rapidly.

By the time Japan surrendered to the US in August, the Viet Minh had strong organizations in much of Tonkin and Annam, and significant support in Cochinchina. In the weeks following the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh siezed local authority in most of Vietnam, and declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

By the end of 1945, the French were coming back to Vietnam. Negotiations between France and the Viet Minh went on for about a year, but produced no effective compromise. The Viet Minh wanted Vietnam to have independence, or at least something very close to full independence. The French wanted to regain effective control of the country. By December 1946, all efforts at a peaceful settlement had failed; the French and the Viet Minh were at war. "

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After the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, at which the French lost the war to the Viet Minh, the Geneva Accords had divided Vietnam into two zones at the 17th parallel, a northern zone would be ruled by the leader of the Viet Minh, Ho Chi Minh, and a southern zone would be governed by the State of Vietnam, headed by former emperor Bao Dai. But as soon as South Vietnam became an independent country, a new communist guerrilla force emerged in the south: the Viet Cong. This new insurgent force would militarily be backed and supplied by North Vietnam thorough a complex network of jungle trails known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. In 1955, South Vietnam’s prime minister, Ngo Dinh Diem became the President of the Republic, replacing Bao Dai. As Diem was a staunch anti-communist politician, he received support from the Eisenhower Administration.

Summary of the Vietnam War

The United States of America had been providing aid, military equipment and training to South Vietnam since 1954. This support increased when Ngo Dinh Diem took office in 1955. As the Viet Cong’s military build-up gained strength and the number of terrorist attacks rose, so did the US aid to South Vietnam; more US helicopters, armed personnel carriers and thousands of military advisers landed in South East Asia. In 1961, the new US Administration assured Diem of more aid in molding a fighting force that could resist the communists. Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special forces such as the Green Berets would be effective in a "brush fire" war in Vietnam.

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Nevertheless, corruption was rampant in South Vietnam, and, by 1963, Diem’s government was so discredited that the United States did nothing to stop a military coup orchestrated by dissident generals. Then, a series of short-lived and unstable governments followed, proving no more effective against the insurgency. The catalyst for deeper US involvement came in August 1964, when north Vietnamese torpedo boats shot at a US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. This is known as the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident." As a result, President Lyndon Baynes Johnson began a series of air strikes on naval bases in the north. By the end of 1964, there were 23,000 US military advisers in Vietnam.

" 4 August 2004 - Forty years ago today, President Johnson and top U.S. officials chose to believe that North Vietnam had just attacked U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, even though the highly classified signals intercepts they cited to each other actually described a naval clash two days earlier (a battle prompted by covert U.S. attacks on North Vietnam), according to the declassified intercepts, Johnson White House tapes, and related documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Compiled by Archive senior fellow and Vietnam expert John Prados, today's 40th anniversary electronic briefing book includes Dr. Prados's detailed analysis of the intercepts - only declassified in 2003 - together with audio files and transcripts of the key Tonkin Gulf conversations between President Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The latter are excerpted from Dr. Prados's book, The White House Tapes (New York: The New Press, 2003). The posting also contains photographs and charts from the Tonkin Gulf incident courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center, a detailed documentary chronology compiled by the State Department's Office of the Historian for the Foreign Relations of the United States series, a CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate on possible North Vietnamese responses to U.S. actions from May 1964 (just declassified in June 2004), and links to previous and upcoming Archive publications on Vietnam. "

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US involvement escalated in 1965, when the first US combat units were sent to fight in Vietnam. The conflict would eventually spilled over the borders of Laos and Cambodia, when undercover bombing operations were authorized by the US government to destroy the North Vietnamese Army secret camps from which the Viet Cong launched attacks against South Vietnamese and American military bases and villages. Stretches of land on the borders with Cambodia and Laos had become jungle-covered guerrilla sanctuaries where the North Vietnamese Army hid their military build-up.

American involvement in this protracted war peaked in 1968, when the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Although this communist offensive in South Vietnam failed to achieve its objectives, suffering a great number of casualties and losing the ground they had gained, a biased US media at the time reported it otherwise, and the Vietnam War became even more unpopular. As a consequence of demonstrations, the Nixon Administration was forced to apply a new policy in South East Asia: the Vietnamization of the war, which consisted in the withdrawal of US troops in stages, training and supplying the South Vietnamese Army personnel so they could take over the war. Despite the Paris Peace Accords, signed by all parties in January 1973, fighting continued.

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On August 15, 1973, US Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment, which prohibited use of American military unless the president secured congressional approval in advance. On April 30, 1975, after 20 hours of heavy fighting, the North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon. This final battle marked the end of the Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year under a communist/nationalist government headed by Ho Chi Minh.

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