Fearing the spread of communism, President Kennedy
committed the people of the United States of America to defending the fledgling
democratic government of South Vietnam. Despite its arguably noble intentions,
the war in Vietnam would prove the greatest challenge to American democratic
idealism since the Civil War.
During the ten years of America's commitment to
the Vietnam war, 55,000 servicemen would be killed or listed as missing;
the presidency would change hands three times; and the American people would
wage their own war at home against the United States government.
The conflict's roots took shape in July 1954, when France was forced out
of Vietnam after one hundred years of colonial rule. In the peace process,
the country was partitioned into northern and southern sections, with a
U.S.-supported government in the south and a communist republic in the north.
On December 20, 1960, the northern Communist Party formed the National Liberation
Front (NLF), with the ultimate goal of reunifying the country. In response,
U.S. President John F. Kennedy began supplying military equipment and advisors
Matters escalated when North Vietnam launched an attack against the C. Turner
Joy and the U.S.S. Maddox, two American ships on call in the Gulf of Tonkin,
on August 2, 1964. In the U.S. Congress, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was
passed, allowing for an expanded war effort. Despite hopes for a limited,
"controlled" war, the conflict would drag itself out for another
In early 1965, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered the first of many sustained
bombing missions over North Vietnam , which would be known as Operation
Rolling Thunder. In March of the same year, the first U.S. combat troops
were sent to Vietnam.
Despite superior U.S. firepower and technology, the North Vietnamese forces
were successful in fighting a protracted, guerilla-style conflict. American
fortunes changed for the worse with the Tet Offensive in 1968, in which
major South Vietnam cities were attacked. Historians disagree on the literal
success of the offensive, but it proved to be a huge boost for North Vietnamese
morale, and had the opposite effect on the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces.
As American servicemembers fought in Vietnam, a different kind of war was
taking place for American citizens back home, where the struggle was between
the American people and their opposition to the fighting in Vietnam; and
the American presidency's (beginning with J.F.K.) determination to halt
the spread of communism. Incidents such as the police riot in Chicago during
the 1968 Democratic National Convention became more common, and even became
tragic with the shootings of Kent State University student protestors in
Ultimately, lacking a credible plan for winning the war, the American government
was forced to give in to the wishes of the American people and withdraw
its troops from Vietnam. In early January 1973, the Nixon administration,
the Paris Peace Agreement ended open hostilities between the U.S. and North
Vietnam. However, the South Vietnamese continued to battle the Communists
from March 1973 until the fall of Saigon and the capture of the South Vietnamese
presidential palace on April 30, 1975, which brought the war to a close.
So divisive was the conflict in Vietnam and America's involvement that relations
among the government, the people and the military would be strained until
they were reunified by the Gulf War 25 years later. As evidenced by numerous
documentaries, books and films about the war, the hard lessons the U.S.
learned in Vietnam are still very much in the public consciousness.
War @ HistoryChannel.com
Locate a summary of the conflict along with links and
Tribute to the fallen soldiers of the war features individual
PBS project offers photographs, timelines, text (including
an abstract on guerilla tactics), and multimedia.
Excerpt from The American Experience offers program transcripts;
the site also provides background on the major figures
of the involved countries, gives a timeline, and discusses
the weapons of war.
War Internet Project
Educational resource provides images, an extensive list
of links, articles, historical documents, and memoirs.
Gain access to the newsletter or visit the archives project.
Vietnam Resource Guide
Directory offers a potpourri of unit histories and related
of the Vietnam War and Vietnam
Find a series of articles devoted to all aspects of the
Veterans Memorial Wall
Search for a veteran listed on the Washington D.C. memorial
and discover the individual's birthdate, home town, and
Twenty-five years later, CNN offers a thorough examination
of how Vietnam has been affected by the war.
Encarta: Vietnam War
Encyclopedic resource presents a lengthy article on the
war, photos and related links.