The Vietnam War or Second Indochina War (also known colloquially as Vietnam or Nam as well as the American War to the Vietnamese) was a conflict between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN, or North Vietnam). It was allied with the Communist World, namely the Soviet Union and China against the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam). Also with its allies; notably the United States military in support of the South, with US combat troops involved from 1965 until the official withdrawal in 1973.
The earliest troop involvement was by the end of 1962 there were 12,000 military advisers in Vietnam. Kennedy denied any American combat action occurring but American pilots were becoming increasingly involved in fighting. After Kennedy’s assassination in December 1963 Lyndon.B Johnson became America’s new president.
Johnson quickly became pressured into using more force action against the north Vietnamese by his chief of staff in the military, to do so this action would have to be justified to the rest of the world. Johnson got his chance when the American destroyer the ‘Maddox’ was fired upon by 3 Vietnamese torpedo boats. Although there was very little evidence to say this event actually happened it was enough for Johnson to launch ‘operation rolling thunder.’
‘Operation rolling thunder’ was the code name used for the strategic bombing of all North Vietnamese targets and to destroy her economy, this would leave her unable to help the guerrillas in the south. This began on the 24th February 1965
The Vietnamese response was to strategically attack American military air bases, generals based in Vietnam argued that with so little men they could not defend these bases, so on March 8th 1965 Americas first wave of American marines landed in Vietnam.
At this point in the war 80% of the general American public agreed with the bombing and sending of American troops to Vietnam.
Americas defeat to an enemy they considered to be an army made of under equipped peasants and was viewed worldwide. By the end of the war 1000’s of American soldiers had lost their lives (58,226 is the figure recorded). Countless more were injured (153,303 being the ruff estimate of wounded) bringing American casualties to a total of around 211,529. This was in a war many did not understand and feel the need for involvement in. With so many dead and wounded the atrocities of the war were beginning to be reported daily, The My Lai incident (March 16, 1968) was a notorious massacre of unarmed civilians by an American ‘Charlie company’ of the 11th brigade. It was reported that senior officers were reported saying this…
“This is what you’ve been waiting for — search and destroy — and you’ve got it.”
To lower ranking soldiers, many believe the killings were due to frustration and anger due to heavily sustained losses in earlier weeks. The photos taken by war journalists were published.
These shocking photos made even those who believed in the war slightly unsure, back home this took its toll on an already divided America.
America struggled to maintain support for the war at home and on the battlefield, the average age of an American G.I serving in Vietnam was 19. Soldiers as young as this were witnessing friends being killed. They were facing the constant dangers of ambushes, booby traps such as Bouncing Betty’s and pits filled with sharpened bamboo spikes. Living conditions in general with the intense heat, mosquito’s carrying malaria and the dense terrain meant that life as a soldier serving in Vietnam was a harrowing experience. Many dealt with incompetent officers who generally did more harm than good. All this made soldiers rebel against being there and began to question the motives of the war.
The Vietnam War also came as a new type of warfare to the Americans. They were fighting guerilla tactics…
“The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.”
Against an experienced enemy with a good knowledge of there surroundings and terrain. The terrain became an important issue for the Americans as moving large numbers of ground troops into attacking positions became difficult, to beat this America use helicopter gun ships to drop men in and out of ‘hot zones’. It was the first time technology had been used like this and in many ways worked with great effect. It allowed the Americans to counter attack quickly and retreat just as fast if needed.
Also there was the problem of dense foliage which provided the V.C with ample cover from above ground. To combat this Americans used chemicals. The operation code name for this was ‘Operation ranch hand’. This involved the spraying of chemicals from the air in an attempt to destroy the NLF hiding places. In 1969 alone, Operation Ranch Hand destroyed 1,034,300 hectares of forest. ‘Agent Orange’, the chemical used in this defoliation programme not only destroyed trees but caused chromosomal damage in people.
Napalm was also used to clear forests it was also later used as a weapon against the V.C a liquid jelly that burns at incredible temperatures and if caught on a victims skin would burn down to the bone. Napalm became a well known trait of the Vietnam War. It is estimated that the United States used a total of 338,237 tons of napalm in the Vietnam War between 1963 and 1971. Also the ability to hide amongst local villages undetected meant the V.C would be feed and hidden etc.
Again horrific photos taken by war journalists of children, clothes torn of them and badly burnt by napalm were viewed by citizens back home, this caused more controversy and lost more support for the war back home.
The Americans also had to win over the civilians in Vietnam. However the killing of American soldiers was rising and there were no soldiers to retaliate against them. When the enemy retreated to avoid casualties it led to American aggression taken out on the villagers. Also the ability to hide amongst local villages undetected meant the V.C would be feed and hidden etc. There was little way of distinguishing between V.C and peasants, this meant that when American platoons arrived at villages they extract they’re revenge on the civilians, burning homes, destroying rice and killing live stock. In the long run this turned the villagers and many changed from opposing the Americans to actual resistance. They actively helped hide V.C or in some extreme cases took up arms with the V.C to fight the Americans. The villagers hiding the V.C meant extra work hands as the V.C when not fighting the Americans had to fit in as to go unnoticed. Given this situation, it is not surprising that the peasants saw the V.C as their friends and the US as the enemy.