The Vietnam War (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Việt Nam; more rarely Kháng chiến chống Mỹ “Vietnam War against the USA” or “American War“) was fought in and around Vietnam from about 1955 to 1975. The main warring parties were North Vietnam and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), also known as the “Vietcong”, against the USA and South Vietnam. Since the conflict immediately followed the Indochina War (1946–1954) between the colonial power France and the Vietnamese independence movement of the Việt Minh and extended to the whole of Indochina, it is also called the Second Indochina War. Because of the directly and indirectly involved superpowers, it is considered a proxy conflict in the Cold War. It ended with the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam and the reunification of Vietnam.
After the partition of Vietnam in 1954, political reprisals and fraudulent free elections by South Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm, a civil war broke out from 1955 to 1964: The Việt Minh, from which the NLF emerged in 1960, wanted to overthrow the country’s anti-communist government and reunite it with the north. The NLF was supported by communist-ruled North Vietnam under Hồ Chí Minh and Lê Duẩn, while South Vietnam was increasingly supported by the United States. The successive US administrations under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon feared, on the basis of the so-called domino theory, that with Vietnam all of Southeast Asia could fall under the control of communist governments.
After the so-called Tonkin Incident of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson had North Vietnam bombed directly for the first time in February 1965. In March, he sent more and more ground troops to South Vietnam to fight the NLF. As a result, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China supported North Vietnam. Six states participated in the conflict on the side of the USA and South Vietnam with their own troop contingents. From 1964 the fighting spread to Laos, from 1970 to Cambodia.
After the NLF’s Tet Offensive, Johnson stopped bombing by November 1968. His successor Richard Nixon gradually withdrew US troops from South Vietnam from 1969 onwards, but at the same time extended the war to Cambodia. After another militarily inconclusive bombing campaign, his government concluded a ceasefire with North Vietnam in January 1973. By March 29 of that year, all U.S. troops withdrew, and North Vietnam released all American prisoners of war. On May 1, 1975, the war ended with the capture of the South Vietnamese capital Saigon by North Vietnamese troops.
The number of Vietnamese war victims is estimated at 1.3 to over three million. In addition, 58,220 US soldiers and 5,264 soldiers of their allies died. In addition, many were exposed to the toxic agent orange, which led to up to a million Vietnamese being disabled or having health problems after the war, according to the Red Cross.
The Vietnamese nationalist Hồ Chí Minh had proposed an independent, united and democratic Vietnam at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 according to the principles of US President Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point program. Wilson had refused. In 1920, Ho became a follower of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, according to which capitalism had entered a worldwide final stage and that its rule could best be broken and overcome in the long term by popular uprisings in industrially underdeveloped countries. Ho wanted to realize this theory in Vietnam, independent of Soviet or Chinese dominance.
Since 1858, Vietnam was under French colonial rule. In June 1940, Nazi-ruled Germany defeated France in the Western Campaign. From July 1940, Vietnam was subject to the French Vichy regime tolerated by the Nazi regime during the Second World War. This allowed the Empire of Japan, allied with Nazi Germany, to occupy Vietnam with Japanese troops from July 1940. Against this dual power, Ho Chi Minh formed a coalition of anti-colonialist, nationalist and communist groups, the Vietminh, in 1941.
They fought with initially about 5000 men against the occupiers and for Vietnam’s independence. Since March 1945, the United States supported the Vietminh militarily and logistically. They took advantage of Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, for the August Revolution. After that, they had competing nationalists, Trotskyists, followers or partners of French and religious sects arrested as “traitors to the fatherland”, tortured many times and murdered by “killing committees”. On September 2, 1945, Ho proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), becoming its president.
France, which under Charles de Gaulle wanted to regain its former colonies in Indochina, occupied South Vietnam until the end of 1945 and agreed with Ho in March 1946 a transitional arrangement limited to five years. The French attack on Hải Phòng (November 1946) triggered the Indochina War of the Vietminh against France, which was waged as an anti-colonial guerrilla war. In order to obtain further U.S. financial aid for its colonial troops, France promoted anti-communist nationalism in Vietnam. To this end, in 1949 it agreed with the former Emperor Bảo Đại on an independent, united “State of Vietnam” (SOV) within the framework of the overseas Union française, appointed him head of state and committed itself to the establishment of a national army and state administration. When Bao Dai realized that he was to be an uninfluential representative of a French-controlled puppet state, he left Saigon and went to France.
During the Indochina War, the Communist Party of Vietnam initiated an agrarian reform based on the Chinese model, in which up to 50,000 peasants and Vietminh of the older generation, who were considered corrupted by the French colonial rulers, were murdered.
After the defeat of French troops in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, war opponents and participating Great Powers agreed at the Indochina Conference in Geneva (8 May–21 July 1954) an immediate armistice, the mutual withdrawal of troops, a demilitarized buffer zone along the 17th parallel and nationwide, internationally supervised democratic elections of the future government for 1956.
Cambodia, Laos and both parts of Vietnam should become independent and not a Military alliance. The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China thus followed the demands of the USA in order to prevent its further involvement in Indochina. The Vietminh signed the agreement with them, as well as with France and Great Britain, as they expected Ho’s election victory.
The U.S. and Bao Dai rejected this despite the concessions, so as not to favor the unification of all of Vietnam under communist rule. However, the US pledged not to change the decisions with threats and violence. The French colonial troops withdrew to South Vietnam by October 1954, leaving Hanoi to the Vietminh. Of 100,000 South Vietnamese Vietminh, about 90,000 moved to North Vietnam, the rest remained as Ho’s cadres for the 1956 elections in South Vietnam. The decisions of the Indochina Conference, the ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops, the relocation and the elections should be monitored by the International Control Commission of an observation mission consisting of Polish, Canadian and Indian troops.
Indochina policy of the great powers
The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin was interested in good relations with its wartime ally France after the Second World War and therefore did not officially support Ho’s quest for independence, but contributed to the victory of the Vietminh in the Indochina War with arms supplies. At the Indochina Conference, however, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov forced the Vietminh to agree to withdraw from South Vietnam. Until 1950, the Soviet Union did not recognize the DRV.
The People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949, had supported the Vietminh’s struggle for independence with weapons and training camps captured in its own civil war along the border with North Vietnam and recognized the DRV in 1950. At the Indochina Conference, however, she advocated the temporary division of the country and a two-year period until national elections.
The U.S. had treated Ho as an ally until Japan’s surrender (September 2, 1945). The Office of Strategic Services continued to help the Vietminh. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the right of peoples to self-determination and wanted to liberate Indochina from European colonial rule and Japanese occupation, placing it under international trusteeship and involving China in it. De Gaulle headed the Provisional Government of the French Republic in October 1944. But after Japan had ousted the French colonial troops in Indochina, which were still under the Vichy regime, on March 9, 1945, the European allies urged Roosevelt to involve France in the fight against Japan. Whether he dropped his trustee plan before his death on April 12, 1945, and allowed France to recolonize Indochina is disputed.
His successor, Harry S. Truman, was little aware of Roosevelt’s postwar plans and dropped Indochina’s decolonization. In May 1945, he recognized France’s sovereignty over Indochina. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, he agreed with the other Allies on the division of Vietnam and the extension of the South East Asia Command (SEAC: the Allied Command in Southeast Asia) to the 16th parallel. National China under Chiang Kai-shek occupied the northern part, Great Britain and France occupied the southern part of Vietnam with Saigon until September 1945. The U.S. Navy helped them transport new troops from Europe to South Vietnam.
Since 1947, Truman pursued the containment policy, which was intended to curb communist expansion worldwide by all available means. After Mao Zedong’s victory over the National Chinese in 1949, Joseph McCarthy accused Truman of blaming China’s “loss” to the Communists. Also because of this domestic political pressure, Truman wanted to stop the advance of the Vietminh. Therefore, from February 1950 (Security Memorandum 142), he militarily supported Bao Dai’s puppet regime and thus France’s colonial rule. The US also pursued economic interests: the Indochina market and Vietnam’s export products tin, rubber and rice were to remain available to anti-communist states in Southeast Asia, including defeated Japan.
At the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950, Truman simultaneously sent the U.S. military to South Korea and Indochina to weaken the People’s Republic of China and win France over to build the European Defense Community in Western Europe against the Eastern Bloc. Ho was now regarded in the USA as a tool of the Soviet and Chinese communists to conquer all of Southeast Asia. When the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China recognized the DRV in 1950, the U.S. in return recognized the SOV as Vietnam’s only legitimate state and pledged to financially secure France’s Indochina War and Bao Dai’s regime. To this end, they concluded a military assistance treaty with South Vietnam on 23 December 1950 and a treaty on economic and technological aid on 7 September 1951. In addition, a US representation was established in Saigon.
Beginning in 1952, Truman advocated the domino theory that communism ideologically inevitably strived for world domination, so that a communist regime would cause a chain reaction in its neighboring states that ultimately threatened the United States. The metaphor of the falling dominoes was intended to link complex processes in distant regions to US national security. All five U.S. administrations involved in the Vietnam War, despite internal nuances, embraced domino theory and containment policies. Truman declared Indochina a key region. If a country there were to fall under communist control, all of Southeast Asia and the Middle East would follow. This would endanger the security of Western Europe and US interests in the Far East. Therefore, a victory of the Vietminh in Indochina must be prevented at all costs. The prospects of success and follow-up costs of the US commitment were not questioned.
From 1952 to 1954, the US increased its financial and military aid to France to $2.76 billion, or from 40% to 80% of the total cost of the Indochina War.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President from January 1953 to January 1961, advocated a rollback policy and attached great importance to the defense against communist expansion in Indochina, also on the advice of his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In early 1954, he sent ten B-26 bombers and 200 U.S. soldiers for the first time without the approval of the U.S. Congress, and in March also aircraft to drop napalm to South Vietnam to support France’s fight against the Vietminh. At the same time, he called for a US high command for all future French anti-colonial military actions in Indochina in order to gain room for maneuver after France’s looming defeat. He resisted the demand of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council to use nuclear weapons against the Vietminh to decide the battle for Điện Biên Phủ.
After France’s defeat, the US government succeeded in September 1954 in establishing SEATO – with Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand – which provided for mutual consultations and, if necessary, joint military intervention in the event of “armed aggression” against a signatory state.
Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam were not members of the Allies, but were defined in an Additional Protocol as an area where armed aggression would be considered an act of hostility against the interests of the signatories. However, the forms and circumstances of contractually relevant aggression and the reactions of the members to it were not precisely defined. The unclear treaty served the US to provide later military actions in Indochina with international authority.
From 1960, the People’s Republic of China supported North Vietnam and the then newly founded NLF with weapons, military advisers and construction crews. From 1965 onwards, the Soviet Union did the same, by similar means.
Course of the Vietnam War events
Diem’s dictatorship in South Vietnam
On July 7, 1954, Bao Dai appointed the Catholic Ngô Đình Diệm as Prime Minister of South Vietnam. About one million mostly Roman Catholic North Vietnamese moved to South Vietnam the following year, supported by U.S. Navy ships. The CIA encouraged the mass exodus with anti-communist propaganda to gain Diem support. 90% of South Vietnamese were Buddhists who were traditionally tolerant of non-Buddhists. Diem, however, favored Catholics from the north in the allocation of posts for state offices and treated Buddhism not as a religion, but as an association. In doing so, he generated lasting antipathies against his followers in the rural population.
Diem faced insubordinate parts of the military and strong private armies of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, as well as the mafia-like Bình Xuyên in Saigon. Only with the help of the CIA, the US officer Edward Lansdale and the US special envoy J. Lawton Collins could he thwart coup attempts. In 1955, Collins, whom US President Eisenhower had given full powers, ensured that South Vietnamese instead of French officers were allowed to lead Diem’s newly formed “Army of the Republic of Vietnam” (ARVN).
However, Diem refused any cooperation with other anti-communist forces in South Vietnam and began to crack down on the cult representatives in February 1955. When he provoked a civil war in Saigon, Collins strongly recommended that the U.S. government drop it. Diem anticipated this by using the ARVN victoriously, albeit with great sacrifice, against the Binh Xuyen in the “Battle of Saigon” from 27 April to 2 May 1955. In line with US Secretary of State Dulles and a Senate majority led by Senator Mike Mansfield, Eisenhower then decided to support Diem’s regime unconditionally.
Diem received generous U.S. funding, largely to build the ARVN modeled after the U.S. Army. He invested only minimal portions of U.S. aid for social and economic policy. South Vietnam’s economy became increasingly dependent on US imports. The urban upper and middle classes benefited from cheaper consumer goods from the USA. The development of its own industry was neglected. Diem militarized public order and structured his armed forces so that no independent centers of power were to emerge.
This decisively reduced their clout. Ho Chi Minh believed he would win the all-Vietnamese elections scheduled for 1956. Fearing that he would lose, Diem canceled the election, breaking the Geneva “Agreement” of 1954. He justified this by saying that South Vietnam had not signed it. U.S. President Eisenhower supported him. Instead, he deposed Bao Dai in October 1955 and confirmed himself as the new president in a referendum whose result (98.2%) was falsified and proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam. In March 1956, a parliament composed of his supporters approved the constitution he drafted for the Republic of Vietnam, which did not provide for a real separation of powers. Thus, Vietnam was divided into two states, both of which considered themselves the rightful representative for all of Vietnam.
From 1955 onwards, Diem had villagers of the hill tribes living in the central highlands (Montagnards) resettled, confiscated their land and handed it over to about 210,000 mostly Catholic followers in order to create a social bulwark against infiltration of the Vietminh. In addition, he favored relatives and followers in leadership offices. In doing so, he destroyed the millennia-old village self-government. As a result, the Montagnards founded their own organization, which expanded into the Bajaraka in 1958 and demanded autonomy for their settlement areas. Montagnards were recruited from both sides of the civil war that now began.
South Vietnam’s forces have so far been focused on repelling expected conventional attacks from North Vietnam, but not on counterinsurgency. The USA now took over their training and equipment. To this end, they initially sent 350 officers as “military advisers” (instructors, action planners and leaders) to South Vietnam and stationed the 77th Special Forces Group, founded in 1953, there. Thus, for the first time, the USA appeared as an independent conflict partner in Vietnam and thus initiated its later entry into the war.
From the summer of 1955 to 1959, Diem’s regime carried out the To-Cong campaign (“Denounce the Communists!”). In 1955, he closed the border with North Vietnam and cut off mail traffic there. With newly enacted repressive laws, thousands of South Vietnamese were arrested indefinitely or placed under house arrest on the mere suspicion of opposition to the regime, tortured, often sentenced to death and shot, since 1959 also by mobile special courts. By 1959, Diem had reduced the Vietminh squad by two-thirds. He abolished local elections and appointed thousands of his supporters as administrators of the provinces, districts and villages of South Vietnam. In response, the Vietminh carried out up to 4,000 assassination attempts on Diem’s administrative officials from 1957 to 1961.
As part of the CIDG program (Civil Irregular Defense Group), the USA trained South Vietnamese military and guerrillas from 1957.
Since 1959 there have been clashes between them and the ARVN. Despite growing popular support for Diem’s repressive measures, more and more Vietminh were killed or imprisoned in South Vietnam. In order not to lose their influence on the South Vietnamese who were ready to fight back, they urged North Vietnam’s government to send combat troops.
This had so far given priority to its own social and economic transformation. In September 1959, she allowed former Vietminh, who was born in South Vietnam, to return to the South. These transported weapons, food and other relief supplies south via a jungle route that later became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In the Battle of Tua Hai in February 1960, the first major battle of the Vietnam War, about 300 Vietminh captured the headquarters of the 32nd Regiment of the ARVN at Tay Ninh (55 km from Saigon) and captured large quantities of supplies there.
North Vietnam’s unity party, the Lao Dong, developed into a mass party of about 500,000 members in 1960. Their five-year plan of September 1960 called primarily for the development of heavy industry and infrastructure as well as the collectivization of agriculture. It was led by Premier Phạm Văn Đồng and party secretary Lê Duẩn. On December 20, 1960, the Vietminh united with other opposition groups to form the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF).
It was founded at a congress of the banned Communist Party of South Vietnam, which had set Diem’s overthrow and expulsion of the U.S. Army as its main goals. Following the example of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary army, the NLF formed a counter-government of trained cadres who motivated the rural population to revolt and organized armed resistance. North Vietnam did not appear as an actor because of the Geneva Agreement of 1954, but in fact, the NLF followed Hanoi’s instructions. Their opponents equated them with their military branch and called them Vietcong (VC). The aim of the NLF was to force the withdrawal of US military advisers and form a coalition government of all groups in South Vietnam.
Since North Vietnam wanted to avoid US intervention in the civil war in the South, it supported the NLF only politically, not militarily, until 1961. Until 1965, it remained largely dependent on old French weapons or weapons captured by the ARVN. The NLF saw itself as the motor of a social revolution, mobilized the peasants and introduced procedures in the villages that promoted their personal responsibility. Through its redistribution measures, it quickly gained popularity among the rural population. By the end of 1961, it controlled 75% of the rural areas of South Vietnam.
US President John F. Kennedy, who had been in office since January 1961, set the course for the escalation of the Vietnam War with his anti-communist rollback policy. A report by his advisors Walt Rostow and Maxwell Taylor on their visit to Vietnam in early 1961 was decisive: the USA would have to make an irreversible commitment to the preservation of South Vietnam and strengthen the counterinsurgency strategy. In the aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the new Flexible Response strategy was intended to expand U.S. room for maneuver vis-à-vis communist states and insurrectionary movements without risking nuclear war. Therefore, Kennedy ordered some covert military operations against North Vietnam and increased the number of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam from 400 to 16,575 by 1962.
In May 1961, Kennedy allowed small, heavily armed secret squads of South Vietnamese agents trained by U.S. military advisers to be dropped in North Vietnam. The necessary flights were organized by the ARVN, disguised as a private airline. Later, pilots from Taiwan were also trained. The U.S. people would not know about these actions even when they were discovered by North Vietnam. This happened for the first time in July 1961; almost all other infiltrated agents were discovered and arrested shortly after landing in North Vietnam. Nevertheless, the agent teams were increased to several hundred people by mid-1964. Cooperation between South Vietnam and Taiwan continued even after Diem’s fall.
US Secretary of State Dean Rusk and US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara justified the increased US deployment in November 1961 with the SEATO Treaty. Appeasement would lead to the victory of the communists throughout Indochina, the loss of US credibility with Asian allies, and the destruction of SEATO. Kennedy rejected the deployment of regular troops and targeted bombing raids on Hanoi demanded by the Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense and Diem. Instead, he greatly increased funding for the ARVN, sent the elite Green Berets unit, and established the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) near Saigon as the High Command. He authorized the CIA to carry out acts of sabotage in the north. Operation 34A (“OPLAN34”) has been launched. The Saigon office of the CIA thus became an asset whose activities were not sufficiently monitored by the US Congress.
Between 1959 and 1961, U.S. military advisers trained the Royal Laotian Army in the secret Operation White Star in Laos and recruited recruits from the Hmong tribe. Mainly because of the enormous US arms deliveries, including helicopters, armored personnel carriers and modern artillery, the ARVN was militarily successful against the resistance fighters in 1962 and took the strategic and tactical initiative in the civil war.
However, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, the security chief, used the guerrilla defense strategy mainly to intensify the oppression of the peasants. To this end, the elaborate Taylor-Staley plan envisaged concentrating the rural population in “fortified villages” from March 1962. Most of the villagers resisted this because it violated their religious customs and further worsened their already difficult social situation. Except in some highland areas where the CIA carried out the plan, the Wehrdorf program was a fatal setback for Diem’s regime. In early 1963, at the Battle of Ap Bac, a single, relatively poorly armed but determined NLF battalion repelled the attacks of numerically vastly superior units of the ARVN. This showed the incompetence of the South Vietnamese officers.
In May 1963, with a ban on the Buddhist flag in Hue, Diem triggered months of serious unrest that affected all of South Vietnam (Buddhist crisis). During protest demonstrations, the police shot women and children. There were hunger strikes and self-immolations. In August, Diem’s brother Nhu placed the country under martial law. At the same time, he made initial contacts with Hanoi through French President de Gaulle without informing the US ambassador.
Kennedy was now faced with the choice of continuing to prop up a corrupt regime rejected in South Vietnam, which increased the NLF’s chances of victory through his behavior, or overthrowing Diem and thus interfering with South Vietnam’s sovereignty. Only Paul Kattenburg advised in this situation to withdraw the US military from South Vietnam and leave the country to its own devices, but was rejected in the National Security Council. Key advisers to Kennedy, such as Averell Harriman and George Wildman Ball, wanted to drop Diem. Kennedy appointed Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as the new U.S. ambassador to Saigon. Lodge should demand that Diem depose Nhus and otherwise encourage dissatisfied ARVN generals to a coup.
To increase the pressure on Diem, McNamara and Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, after their visit to Saigon in September, recommended the withdrawal of U.S. military advisers and a reduction in military aid to the ARVN. As a result, Kennedy withdrew 1,000 military advisers on October 11, 1963. He wanted to withdraw the rest from Vietnam by 1965. On November 2, 1963, disaffected ARVN officers Diem and Nhu fell; both were murdered after their arrest. Lodge, who knew of the coup plan and had not informed Diem about it, denied any U.S. involvement upon his return to the U.S. in June 1964. Several of Kennedy’s advisers, including Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, later saw the coup as a serious mistake that tied the US even more closely to South Vietnam.
U.S. entry into the war
After the assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Johnson moved up to the presidency. He had always supported the containment policy of his predecessors. On November 26, he endorsed a memorandum written for Kennedy promising South Vietnam continued aid against any communist aggression. He would not allow “Vietnam to take the same path as China,” but would ensure that South Vietnam’s generals “teach the communists to fear.”In order to secure his domestic policy (Great Society) in the US Congress, Johnson wanted to protect US interests in Indochina and guarantee the survival of South Vietnam.
Its new ruler, General Dương Văn Minh, a Buddhist, sought a compromise with the NLF against Johnson’s will and demanded more restraint from the US military. In January 1964, with Johnson’s approval, he was overthrown by a group of officers led by General Nguyễn Khánh. Further military coups followed; by the end of 1967, there was no stable government in South Vietnam. North Vietnam took advantage of this situation and sent more fighters and materiel there. The NLF was first to bring the central highlands and the Mekong Delta under its control, and then to attack the major cities of South Vietnam.
During his visit to Vietnam in March 1964, McNamara found that the NLF controlled 40% of the territories of South Vietnam and up to 90% of the areas around Saigon. The ARVN had lost 3,000 soldiers in the Mekong Delta, a large number of its soldiers deserted, many did not accept Khánh as commander-in-chief. Publicly, McNamara nevertheless claimed progress in defending the NLF. Internally, he recommended increasing military aid and not sending U.S. ground troops before the November 1964 presidential election.
These would only further weaken the morale of the ARVN and then require more and more US troops (snowball effect). Johnson then reinforced the covert OPLAN34 initiated by Kennedy. The CIA, US Army and ARVN carried out joint acts of sabotage in North Vietnam in order to relieve and stabilize the regime in Saigon. In addition, he had the Ministry of Defense now plan the bombing of North Vietnam in detail.
He appointed Maxwell Taylor as U.S. ambassador to Saigon, appointed General William Westmoreland as commander-in-chief of MACV, and increased the number of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam from 16,000 to 23,300 by the end of 1964. At the same time, he offered economic aid to Hanoi if it stopped supporting the NLF and recognized the regime in Saigon; otherwise, it would have to reckon with US air strikes (Seaborn mission). In return, Hanoi offered to recognize a neutral South Vietnam if the US completely withdrew its military there. In a mediation attempt by UN Secretary-General U Thant in September 1964, both sides insisted on these irreconcilable demands.
From May 1964, Johnson wanted to have his planned war mission authorized by the US Congress in order to involve it and thus also the US population more closely. Due to the lack of a reason for war, the resolution should not be presented until after the presidential election in November. During the election campaign, Johnson portrayed his opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a dangerous warmonger who would expand the Vietnam War and plunge the US into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and promised not to send ground troops to Vietnam.
On July 31, 1964, a South Vietnamese sabotage squad attacked two North Vietnamese islands as part of “OPLAN34”. On August 1, the U.S. warship USS Maddox entered the Gulf of Tonkin to electronically investigate the North Vietnamese People’s Army (NVA). For unknown reasons, North Vietnam’s Coast Guard dispatched three speedboats to the Maddox on August 2.
It feared a torpedo attack, opened fire, sank one of the boats, damaged the others and reported this “Tonkin incident” to the US government. On August 4, USS Turner Joy (DD-951) erroneously reported further torpedo attacks during a thunderstorm, but withdrew the message. The NSA provided Johnson with only the 10% of the radio traffic relevant to the incident that suggested an attack. Johnson ordered the first air strikes on Hanoi that same evening, justifying them on US television in retaliation for “repeated unprovoked acts of violence.” The involvement of US warships in sabotage operations was concealed from Congress. Secretary of State George Ball later admitted that they had been sent to the Gulf of Tonkin to provoke a reason for war. The immediate retaliatory strikes had been prepared for months.
On August 7, after a short debate, the U.S. Congress passed the Tonkin Resolution with only two votes against (Ernest Gruening, Wayne Morse). This allowed the U.S. government “all necessary measures to repel any armed attack on U.S. forces and prevent further aggression.” It was intended to replace a formal declaration of war and served the US until its withdrawal in 1970 as legalization of all subsequent combat missions of its forces in Indochina. Johnson achieved the congressional majority with the help of Senator William Fulbright and the promise that he did not plan to send ground troops before the election. He silenced Goldwater’s criticism that he was “soft on communism” and won a landslide victory in the presidential election on November 3, 1964.
With the targeted and threatened further US air strikes, the US government tested, as it turned out in 1970, a concept of “coercion diplomacy” developed around 1960, which combined coordinated violence and offers to negotiate. The opposite was achieved: the government in Hanoi no longer expected the US to withdraw after the collapse of the regime in South Vietnam; rather, it anticipated a U.S. invasion of all of Vietnam and prepared to fight U.S. troops directly in the south as well. From September 1964, it, therefore, sent armed combat troops across the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam and had it further expanded.
On November 1, 1964, the NLF directly attacked a U.S. military base in Biên Hòa for the first time. This strengthened Johnson’s intention to bomb North Vietnam to weaken the NLF in the South. Initially, the US paid for an increase in the ARVN by 100,000 to 660,000 men to prop up the regime of General Nguyễn Khánh. In December 1964, the NLF bombed a Saigon hotel where U.S. military advisers were staying, defeating two numerically and weaponally far superior ARVN battalions at Binh Gia. Now Johnson’s advisers wanted to bomb North Vietnam earlier to save South Vietnam’s regime from collapse.
The People’s Republic of China was the first state to recognize the NLF in 1960. It saw its role as a supporter of “liberation movements” against both superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA, in Third World countries. After the Tonkin Incident, it declared that it would intervene in the event of a US invasion of North Vietnam. Mao had troops of 300,000 to 500,000 men set up near the southern border of China, built two airfields there and trained North Vietnamese pilots. In December 1964, the two countries concluded a military aid agreement. In June 1965, the first Chinese auxiliaries arrived in North Vietnam. Until 1969, the People’s Republic of China helped North Vietnam mainly with personnel for the repair and maintenance of roads, railways and airfields, provided air defense forces and supplied military material.
Since the Sino-Soviet rift, the Soviet Union competed with the People’s Republic of China, which became a nuclear power in October 1964, for political influence in Indochina. On October 14, 1964, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was overthrown in the Soviet Union. He had pursued peaceful coexistence with the USA and therefore supported North Vietnam with around 500 million dollars in economic aid and light weapons, but always refused to supply anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank weapons. After his fall, Hanoi expelled the few Soviet military advisers from the country.
His successor Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev then agreed a military aid agreement with Hanoi in February 1965. After the first bombings by the USA on North Vietnam, the Soviet Union went on a confrontation course with the USA from November 1964 and condemned all further US bombings. It supplied North Vietnam with S-75 surface-to-air missiles, as well as aircraft, including Mig-21, and artillery suitable for attacks on US bases. North Vietnam thus received considerable war funds from both states and successfully played them off against each other in their allocation and diplomatic support until the end of the war.
Ho was more interested in the alliance with the Soviet Union, Le Duan more interested in China. By 1968, the Soviet Union had sent 2,000 military advisers, surpassing China as North Vietnam’s main arms supplier. By 1975, it had also granted loans worth around five billion dollars. The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, withdrew its advisers from North Vietnam in 1967 and largely stopped its economic aid during the Cultural Revolution. After the Ussuri Incident (March–September 1969), she resumed them and delivered $500 million worth of goods to North Vietnam in the following years.
North Korea actively supported North Vietnam from 1967 with a contingent of fighter pilots, who were mainly used in the defense of Hanoi. As early as 1965, Kim Il-sung had repeatedly stated that North Korea was ready to support North Vietnam militarily at any time.14 North Korean military personnel died in the fighting, who are commemorated with a memorial in the Vietnamese community of Tân Dĩnh. It was not until 2001 that the participation of North Korean pilots in the air battles over North Vietnam was officially confirmed by the Vietnamese government.
From 1965 onwards, the GDR called on its citizens to show “international solidarity” with North Vietnam. Donations intended for humanitarian aid were also used for military means. However, their extent is not known. From 1973, the GDR trained 20 to 30 North Vietnamese as officers per year.
From April 1964, the US government tried to win over as many countries as possible as supporters of its Vietnam mission (“More Flags” program) in order not to make it look unilateral. By December, 15 states had sent mostly symbolic aid contributions. Only SEATO members Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan provided significant non-military goods. Johnson then asked the SEATO states for combat troops. Britain refused because since 1963 it had protected the post-colonial federation around Malaysia against attacks by Indonesia with 30,000 troops, including the US military base in Singapore, which the US needed for its containment policy towards the People’s Republic of China. The remaining states sent military only against the promise of the US to bear all the associated costs.
The SEATO never officially agreed to the US deployment. South Korea, not a member of SEATO, provided most of the armed forces until 1966, receiving extensive economic, modernization, and military aid, and contractual commitments from the U.S. not to reduce its troops in South Korea. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos received an additional $80 million in economic aid for a non-military auxiliary, but withdrew it in 1969 in the face of violent civil protests. Thailand allowed the U.S. since 1964 to use its airfields for bombing raids on Laos and North Vietnam, then also the construction of eight U.S. military bases with 37,000 U.S. troops, which had their own broadcasting network AFTN (American Forces Thailand Network). There were studios in the following locations: Udon Thani Airport (1970: crash of a damaged Phantom aircraft into the studios), Ubon Ratchathani Airport and the Nakhon Ratchasima and Takhli air bases.
For this purpose, the infrastructure in Thailand was improved, including a new highway, the Thanon Mittraphap through the USA. It received $75 million annually in military aid for a division sent in 1967. Australia supported with the US the bloody military coup of Suharto in Indonesia in 1965 and increased its auxiliary troops for South Vietnam until 1967. Together, these states sent a total of 68,850 soldiers at their peak until 1969, which they withdrew at different speeds until 1973:
|Year||Australia||New Zealand||Philippines||South Korea||Thailand|
Until 1963, NATO had unreservedly affirmed US involvement in Indochina as identical to its objectives. However, the deployment of US troops in South Vietnam in 1964 raised concerns that it might weaken the alliance. After the Tonkin incident, NATO countries rejected US demands to send their own troops to Vietnam.
Since July 1965, the Scandinavian states have expressed concern about the escalation and civilian casualties and called on the United States to negotiate with its war opponents. Doubts about the alleged reasons for war by the USA and its non-consultation with NATO intensified the criticism. As in 1954, France supported a neutral South Vietnam and condemned the bombing of North Vietnam. The then Federal Foreign Minister Gerhard Schröder, on the other hand, feared that a defeat in or withdrawal of the United States from South Vietnam could encourage the Soviet Union to extortionate advances in Europe and thus endanger the security of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Federal Chancellor Ludwig Erhard supported the US war effort even against skeptical NATO partners, but in April 1965 gave the USA 30 million dollars, less than half of the requested sum. In December 1965, he tried to extend the payment deadlines for German arms purchases in the USA, which the former Federal Minister of Defense Franz Josef Strauss had promised the USA in 1961 to compensate the US foreign currency for the US troops stationed in the Federal Republic.
Johnson rejected this initiative in September 1966. The disagreement with the USA over the distribution of military costs contributed significantly to the fall of Erhard. His successor Kurt Georg Kiesinger then agreed with the USA and Great Britain in January 1967 that the central banks of the EEC and the West German banks would not use their reserves of US dollars to buy gold. In doing so, the Federal Republic of Germany significantly supported the dollar exchange rate and its function as a reserve currency, which had considerably endangered the US budget deficit caused by the Vietnam War.
Willy Brandt did not criticize the US war effort either as Federal Foreign Minister or as Federal Chancellor, so as not to endanger the USA’s security guarantees for Berlin after the Berlin crisis in 1961, the german-American friendship, the reputation of the SPD as an Atlantic party and its policy of détente. In 1965 he criticized the domino theory, in early 1968 he called the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam desirable and rejected German military contributions. In February, under pressure from the party base, the SPD called for an immediate stop to the bombing. Brandt, on the other hand, emphasized the USA’s desire for peace and also expressed understanding for Nixon’s bombings in 1972.
When the US had moved two-thirds of its reconnaissance aircraft to South Vietnam by July 1966 and 66,000 soldiers from Western Europe by 1967, it could no longer meet its security guarantee for the NATO countries. After the Soviet Union had militarily suppressed the Prague Spring of 1968, the NATO countries moved closer to the side of the USA again. Non-aligned countries such as India, on the other hand, saw the behavior of the United States in Vietnam and that of the Soviet Union in the Eastern Bloc as comparable violent interference.
Canada remained neutral during the war, but many Canadians served as volunteers in the U.S. armed forces, although this was actually prohibited by Canadian law. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Canadians served in war, of whom more than 125 died. According to other estimates, 400 Canadians were killed and 4,000 wounded. Despite the ban on military service in foreign armed forces, none of the volunteers were prosecuted. However, Canada participated in the International Control Commission – which was supposed to monitor compliance with the Geneva Agreements – with 240 soldiers and 50 advisers from the State Department.
The U.S. did not want to conquer North Vietnam and endanger its existence so as not to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union and/or China. They wanted to hold South Vietnam until North Vietnam recognized it and stopped its infiltration attempts. Therefore, they initially bombed limited targets and gradually increased their ground forces without using the full capacity of the US Army. In doing so, MACV’s high command relied on its technically and materially superior weapons, the air superiority of the U.S. Air Force, and the mobility of its helicopters, which could quickly transport U.S. troops everywhere. Because North Vietnam could not counter this “technowar” on an equal footing, it was expected that it would soon exhaust its forces and cease fighting.
The bombing of military bases in North Vietnam, areas of South Vietnam controlled by the NLF, and supply lines in neighboring countries was intended to make the war unaffordable for North Vietnam, dissuade it from supporting the NLF, cut off supplies and facilitate border controls in the South. Politically, it was intended to stabilize South Vietnam’s regime and satisfy the conservative opposition in the US, which demanded an unlimited bombing of North Vietnam.
After the NLF attack on the US base Camp Holloway at Plei Cubefahl Johnson, the three-week Operation Flaming Dart (7–28 February 1965) as a punitive action. North Vietnamese troop bases were bombed, which were seen as supporters of the NLF attacks in the south. After the NLF attacked other US bases in the south, the US chiefs of staff decided to launch Operation Rolling Thunder. Initially, 94 targets in North Vietnam were bombed for eight weeks, mainly supply depots and transport hubs. From 13 to 18 May, there was a pause in bombing for negotiations. In doing so, North Vietnam maintained its unacceptable goal of an independent and reunified Vietnam, quickly repaired damage to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and deployed Soviet anti-aircraft missiles around Hanoi and other industrial centers.
Johnson resisted demands from the US military to bomb densely populated urban centers.He selected the targets himself on a weekly basis, exempting major cities, and border areas near the border with China from the bombings and pointing out that only facilities considered important militarily should be destroyed. The bombing initially affected regions around the 17th parallel, later and further north, including many militarily insignificant places. They killed “1,000 civilians a week,” including with napalm and cluster bombs, according to McNamara.
|Date||Bombings||Discharge quantities (tonnes)|
Although the bombs largely destroyed North Vietnam’s infrastructure, military facilities, and energy production by 1968, they failed to achieve the strategic goal of stopping South Vietnam’s infiltration and forcing negotiations. Instead, they succeeded in bringing North Vietnam’s population together, repairing as much destruction as possible at night with huge crowds, moving many industrial plants underground, and increasing the transport of war materiel and fighters to South Vietnam. With the help of Soviet weapons, its air defenses became much more effective, so North Vietnam shot down 950 US aircraft by 1968.
From 3 April 1965, the US Air Force also bombed those areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through Laos (Operation Steel Tiger). From 6 December 1965, US ground troops also tried to interrupt the path, especially at the mountain passes between North Vietnam and Laos (Operation Tiger Hound). After the bombing of North Vietnam stopped on November 1, 1968, Johnson ordered Operation Commando Hunt to interrupt the now-expanded road network in Laos. This delayed NLF attacks planned for 1969 in South Vietnam, but never succeeded in completely destroying the path.
Since the 1950s, U.S. military laboratories at Fort Detrick had experimented with herbicides that had been developed as chemical weapons during World War II and then commercially exploited, and tested their effects in nature for military purposes. Since 1959, these drugs had been tested in South Vietnam. Based on the success stories, US President Kennedy made these substances a central component of a flexible, innovative counterinsurgency strategy in 1961 and personally ordered their use in Vietnam. In doing so, the US government exploited a loophole in the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibited war with chemical weapons only against humans, but not against plants. In order to meet the large orders of the US Army, the manufacturers Dow Chemical and Monsanto allowed the synthesis of the starting materials to take place at a higher temperature, which increased the dioxin content.
In July 1961, the first shipments arrived in South Vietnam under code names such as Agent Orange, Agent Blue, Agent Purple and Agent White. In January 1962, Operation Ranch Hand began: the US Air Force and the ARVN systematically sprayed such dioxin-containing herbicides in Vietnam and the border areas of Laos and Cambodia. They defoliated the jungle to expose roads, waterways and border areas, destroy crops and thus deprive the NLF fighters of protection, ambushes, food and social support. Under Johnson, it became the largest chemical warfare program in history from 1965 onwards. By 1971, the U.S. sprayed about 20 million gallons (80 million liters) of dioxin-contaminated herbicides. In 1971, the use of these funds was stopped.
While Johnson and the National Security Council determined the selection, timing and intensity of the bombings, the MACV decided on the deployment and deployment of US ground troops. General Westmoreland regarded the Vietnam War as a conventional war in which it was a matter of incapacitation, i.e. killing, capturing or injuring as many opponents as possible with as few own losses as possible (“attrition strategy”). For this purpose, the method of search and destroy was used, for example, in the large-scale Operation Masher in the spring of 1966. Their measure of success was the body count, i.e. the number of killed opponents.
On March 8, 1965, the first U.S. combat troops landed in Da Nang to protect the base there. Other US troops surrounded the respective US military bases (“enclave strategy”). Then the First Cavalry Division received the order to stop the advance of the NLF in the central highlands of South Vietnam. Further combat troops concentrated in the areas near the demilitarized zone (17th parallel). They were to protect their own military bases, search assigned areas, destroy found NLF combat units, control border regions and prevent the infiltration of NLF forces. The MACV distributed the U.S. combat troops not to capture as many territories as possible, but to inflict as much casualty as possible on the enemy in order to make military attacks permanently impossible.
To do this, helicopters dropped small airmobile infantry units in an area they were combing through. As few men as possible should establish contact with the enemy as a kind of “bait”. As soon as they discovered or were attacked by enemy fighters, they fixed their location and requested air support. This destroyed the opponents by massive fire, as much as was available.
The vast majority of areas for these searches were in the coastal plains, some in the central highlands, in the Khe Sanh region near the border with Laos and in the Mekong Delta. Everywhere there were zones exempt from combing because the nearest US base had too few soldiers or the NLF had too many fighters there. These zones were uncontrollably bombarded with artillery during return or overflights or pelted with the remaining bombs. In 1966 and 1967, the US Army used almost 50% of its combat munitions, in some assigned areas up to 85%. In doing so, it killed an unknown number of civilians and drove survivors from their neighborhoods. This made the later “pacification” considerably more difficult.
Many inexperienced U.S. soldiers emptied their entire magazines in continuous fire, so that later versions of the M16 rifle received a 3-shot mode. In addition, most U.S. commanders, who had a relatively large margin of maneuver, relied on the firepower of their commands when in contact with the enemy. However, 70% of the artillery shells fired were used in situations where there was no or only light fighting. Statistically, 50,000 rounds were used for every NLF fighter killed.
Although, contrary to expectations, they did not achieve a measurable decisive decimation of the NLF, the US chiefs of staff demanded more and more soldiers and firepower. By the end of 1965, the U.S. government sent 184,000, by the end of 1966 400,000, by the end of 1967 485,000, by January 1968 548,000 U.S. troops in the Vietnam War. All US measures lacked objective standards of what they actually achieved. So it remained unclear whether more deployed U.S. ground troops killed more opponents in percentage terms:
|Date||U.S. troops||Operations||killed opponents|
The total numbers of the body count came about through systematically falsified battle reports, because the NLF fighters usually took their dead with them, the US soldiers did not want to look for foreign bodies in the jungle and these were hardly distinguishable from civilians. The unobserved killing of civilians and exaggeration of numbers became common, because promotions depended on the highest possible body counts. In addition, in February 1966, the MACV ordered that the enemy’s losses by the end of the year must exceed the infiltration of new fighters announced by Hanoi. Speeches by members of the government increased the pressure to succeed.
In March 1967, Dean Rusk claimed that there was evidence that the enemy could not sustain his forces. In the fall, Westmoreland spoke of “light at the end of the tunnel”; victory is now foreseeable. Internally, the CIA had denied this since the spring of 1967 and estimated the number of NLF fighters to be twice as high as the MACV, as it assumed that the losses would be offset by rapid recruitment in South Vietnam. The MACV, on the other hand, denied the failure of its attrition strategy. The U.S. government accepted his lower estimate, thus blessing the systematic misrepresentation of the body count. Thus, this type of success measurement remained even after the Tet offensive.
Various measures were intended to isolate the “battlefield” of South Vietnam (there was no clear front against guerrillas) against infiltration. To this end, the US Army integrated a “Ranger Force” into the ARVN, enlarged its special forces and set up boat patrols against supplies by sea. The CIA’s Wehrdorf program, the Studies and Observation Group, minefields and garrisons, and the subsequent invasion of Laos also served this purpose. However, all these measures missed their target because South Vietnam’s border was too long and too much in wilderness, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was constantly being rebuilt and expanded.
After heavy defeats in the first year of the war, the NVA drafted all North Vietnamese fit for military service from July 1966 and grew from 250,000 to 400,000 men. Up to 5,000 of them reached the south every month via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, until about 200,000 NVA soldiers fought there in 1966 alongside around 120,000 guerrilla fighters.
Its commander-in-chief, General Nguyễn Chí Thanh, initially relied on raid-like attacks on ARVN and US bases, which caused high casualties among the attackers. After losing the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley (November 1965), he changed his strategy, avoided large-scale battles and, above all, involved ARVN security patrols in many scattered individual battles. 95% of these combat missions were carried out by units of 300 to 600 men. In order to render the air supremacy of the US Air Force ineffective, they moved only at night and during the rainy season, preferring close combat and using extensive tunnel systems as weapons depots and retreats.
In doing so, they forced the US ground forces to disperse, take over more and more security tasks from the ARVN and always return to their bases. U.S. soldiers, who were foreign to the country’s language and culture, could hardly distinguish between guerrillas and peasants, but had to control more and more Vietnamese villages themselves, reinforcing the impression that a foreign aggressor threatened the people and had to be fought jointly by all Vietnamese. Despite multiple weapons and numerical inferiority, Tanh’s troops thus retained the strategic initiative and destroyed the prospect of the USA limiting its war effort and its own losses locally and temporally.
The NLF was always able to absorb losses until 1968 and continue its targeted pinpricks. Although the U.S. Army and ARVN had nearly five times as many soldiers, their opponents maintained a steady stream of materiel and fighters who were well-trained and usually far more motivated.
The ARVN was rarely able to hold territories once occupied. In addition, the US Army had to use many soldiers to protect its military bases and weapons stored there, as they were constantly attacked. Even higher killing rates of later US operations did not limit the NLF’s radius of action: it continued to decide where, when and for how long to fight. In 1969, 75% of all fighting continued to come from her.
In order to cope with the escalating fighting with American troops, North Vietnam carried out a mobilization of society on the model of People’s War, in which every member of society must participate in the war effort. Because most men were drafted into the military, women had to take over their role in the economy, their share of the labor force in North Vietnam rising to around 75%. The proportion of women working in political functions at the local level doubled during the war to almost half of the posts there.
The Thieu regime
In February 1965, ARVN generals Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, Nguyễn Chánh Thi and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu ousted the Khánh regime and promised the US close cooperation against the NLF. In March 1965, Thieu warned the US that the NLF already controlled 75% of South Vietnam. He called for increased US ground operations so that the ARVN could take on more defensive tasks. Thus, it left more and more control of the country to the US troops. In the ARVN and the cities of South Vietnam, its own military regime remained controversial.
In March 1966, Kỳ dismissed the Buddhist Thi, who commanded the ARVN units of five northern provinces. The Buddhists of the region, who wanted to negotiate an end to the war with the NLF, protested against this. Its leader, Tri Quang, received enormous support from parts of the ARVN. Although Thieu promised early elections for a constituent assembly, protests intensified until Kỳ Đà Nẵng occupied with the help of U.S. troops and surrounded Buddhist pagodas. As a result, protesters in Huế set fire to the US consulate. In Saigon, too, more and more Buddhists, Catholics and other civilians protested against the US war effort. While ARVN defectors were negotiating with Kỳ and Thieu, U.S. troops and loyal ARVN forces occupied Huế in early June and bloodily crushed the uprising (180 dead, over 700 wounded). Thus, the attempt of urban South Vietnamese to end the war had failed.
In September 1967, Kỳ and Thieu held democratic elections, but hardly any Buddhists participated. Despite strong election manipulation, Thieu received only 34.8% of the vote. The Constituent Assembly challenged the election result. Only after an intervention by U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker did she elect Thieu president of South Vietnam and have two of his opponents arrested. Most South Vietnamese therefore did not recognize Thieu, but regarded him as a US puppet.
Thieu created a consensus based on corruption by involving the ARVN generals in US subsidies. In addition, he was supported by the Chinese merchant elite. The military also shared illegal markets such as the sale of heroin to US soldiers, among others. Even under Thieu, the ARVN served above all to distribute and control power and therefore remained militarily ineffective.
Offers of negotiation and mediation
Since the continued bombing of North Vietnam could only be justified domestically and externally by a parallel willingness to negotiate, Johnson offered Hanoi negotiations on the recognition of South Vietnam for the first time during the first pause in the bombing in July 1965. This served above all to calm the US population. In December 1965, in a 14-point plan, the U.S. government again offered to stop bombing if Hanoi ended NLF support in South Vietnam. It should still not be allowed to govern in South Vietnam. North Vietnam, on the other hand, made the cessation of air strikes a precondition for negotiations. Mediation attempts by Polish (November 1966), British and Soviet diplomats (February 1967) failed due to simultaneously intensified US air raids. By 1967, there had been around 2000 such attempts by individuals from third countries.
At the Glassboro Conference in June 1967, Johnson agreed with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin to begin limiting strategic nuclear weapons. Kosygin, however, rejected Johnson’s offer to negotiate the disarmament of anti-ballistic missile systems; because of the Vietnam War of the USA, which showed its belligerent intention, the Soviet Union could not do without the acquisition of such defense systems.
In September 1967, Johnson offered the “San Antonio formula” for the first time to stop the air strikes as soon as North Vietnam agreed to serious negotiations and did not send any more fighters to South Vietnam. Then the NLF could play a political role in South Vietnam. Sticking to the goal of an independent South Vietnam and a military victory over the NLF, while bombing Hanoi’s outskirts, North Vietnam did not respond to the offer. Since the breach of the Geneva decisions of 1954, the leadership there considered negotiations to be meaningful only after clear military successes and never gave up their goal of a complete withdrawal of the USA, a participation in power by the NLF and later reunification of Vietnam. Above all, she used offers of negotiations to morally discredit the US air strikes in the Western public.
From 1965 to 1968, Johnson tried several times to win Pope Paul VI as a mediator between the warring parties. He asked the Pope for public criticism of North Vietnam, its treatment of U.S. prisoners of war, and influencing Catholic officials in South Vietnam to convince NLF supporters among the South Vietnamese of U.S. goals. Paul VI rejected this role and instead telegraphed Johnson in February 1965 that he feared that the impending US war effort could escalate into a general war. At the end of 1967, he told Johnson that he understood his good intentions but could never agree to war. He offered to explain to the Soviet Union the peaceful goals of the United States. He planned to celebrate Christmas Mass in Saigon and then visit northern Vietnam. After the Tet Offensive, however, Johnson dropped these mediation offers in favor of the Paris talks.
1968 Tet Offensive
Since 1961, the NLF had limited its strategy, analogous to Mao’s concept of people’s war, to conquering rural regions in order to constrict South Vietnam’s major cities in the coastal belt. Due to high NLF losses in the south, General Tanh demanded in June 1967 in Hanoi to bring forward the conquest of the city, which was planned as the second stage.
As a result, his successor Vo Nguyen Giap prepared a coordinated surprise attack by local guerrilla fighters with forces of the NLF and NVA on most major and provincial capitals of South Vietnam. This was intended to show the US that its military could not permanently secure a center of South Vietnam and that victory would therefore be illusory, move it to de-escalate, fragment the ARVN and, ideally, initiate a general uprising against the regime in South Vietnam. To increase the surprise effect, the Vietnamese New Year (Tet), on which there was traditionally a ceasefire, was chosen as the date of attack.
Weapons were smuggled into South Vietnam’s cities. As a distraction, Giap assembled 20,000 NVA soldiers at a US base in the fall and began the battle for Khe Sanh on January 21, 1968. To avoid defeat like Dien Bien Phu, Westmoreland defended this U.S. base with 50,000 U.S. and ARVN troops. Johnson bombarded the surrounding area with the densest amount of explosives in history (100,000 tons) until April. Giap had managed the distraction.
After a few premature attacks, the Tet Offensive began on January 31, 1968. Around 84,000 fighters simultaneously attacked numerous provincial and district capitals and tried to conquer them. The US Army had not expected such a violent large-scale attack, despite warnings from its intelligence services. In Saigon, NLF commandos advanced into the US embassy. However, they were quickly pushed back by ARVN forces in street fighting and eliminated in most cities in a few days. US attack helicopters destroyed entire neighborhoods.
The result in Bến Tre was commented on by the US commander with the well-known sentence: “We had to destroy Ben Tre to save it.” Only in the Battle of Huế did 7,500 NVA soldiers hold out until February 24. They murdered between 2,000 and 6,000 unarmed civilians. During the recapture in house and street fighting, 216 US soldiers died. Huế was almost completely destroyed. 100,000 inhabitants had to flee.
By March 1968, over 14,000 civilians had died in the Tet Offensive, including 6,000 in Saigon, 25,000 wounded, and 670,000 homeless. The hoped-for uprising of the South Vietnamese failed to materialize. The NLF lost up to 40,000 fighters (50%), many former strongholds and safe havens, and thus significant economic resources, prestige and recruitment opportunities among the rural population. This now hoped almost only an end to the fighting. The NLF troops never recovered from their losses. The regular NVA had to compensate for this and henceforth bore the brunt of the war.
On April 3, 1968, North Vietnam’s leadership decided to begin negotiations with the United States. Ho, who since 1965 acted only as a moral mediator of internal struggles, demanded on 20 July 1968 for the last time that the war be continued until final victory. He died on 2 September 1969 without a successor. The head of state was Ton Duc Thang. Between the party functionaries Le Duan, who had pushed for a quick military victory, and Trường Chinh, who wanted to give priority to long-term construction and persuasion, a dispute arose over the consequences of the defeat for further warfare.
The US Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to use the defeat of the NLF to implement expanded war plans. In February 1968, Westmoreland proposed a landing operation against NVA positions on the coast of North Vietnam near the demilitarized zone, demanded attacks by ground troops on NVA retreats in Laos and Cambodia, and intensified air strikes to effectively disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. General Earle Wheeler supported the plan and called for an additional 206,000 US troops at the end of February, i.e. the conscription of reservists: otherwise North Vietnam would win in the long term. He did not name success criteria and a timeframe for these new ground operations.
U.S. Secretary of Defense McNamara resigned at the end of February 1968 as a result of the Tet Offensive and conflicts with Johnson over military strategy.His successor, Clark M. Clifford, who had been in office since March 1, advocated a return to the 1965 enclave strategy. From now on, the US army should limit itself to the protection of the big cities, leave the ARVN to fight the opponents and thus enable the Vietnamese to achieve an internal negotiated peace. Before Johnson could announce his decision on Clifford’s plan, the New York Times published the generals’ troop call on March 10.
As a result, resistance formed in the US Congress: 139 out of 400 members of the House of Representatives demanded in a resolution a comprehensive reassessment of the entire US war effort. Johnson’s foreign policy advisers McGeorge Bundy, George Ball and Dean Acheson, unlike in the previous year, advised on March 25 against the expansion and unchanged continuation of the war. The Tet Offensive caused a change of opinion; the surprising offensive power of the enemy, who had been believed to be on the verge of collapse, destroyed the hopes of US citizens for an imminent end to the war and Johnson’s credibility. Voters felt misled by the government, which for years had promised an early victory after the next escalation. Added to this was the enormous burden of the war on the national budget and the US economy.
On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced in a speech to the nation that he would limit the bombing, offer North Vietnam negotiations, and not run for re-election. He appointed Averell Harriman as U.S. representative for the planned Paris peace talks and called on South Vietnam to take more responsibility for the war. How realistic the last point was controversially discussed in the USA. North Vietnam accepted Johnson’s offer and began negotiations with the United States in Paris in May 1968.
Both sides, however, stuck to their war aims. Johnson promised an end to the bombing north of the 20th parallel, but tripled the bombing in South Vietnam. He bombed insurgent areas such as the densely populated Mekong Delta three times as much as the north. The military effect of this action was minimal, as the enemy had moved large parts of its infrastructure and logistics below the surface. According to Gabriel Kolko, the NLF was not active in half of the bombed areas in the south, so only the civilian population was hit there.
In late March, Johnson replaced Westmoreland with General Creighton Abrams. This reduced the size of the US units to mobile and melee-tested task forces, which also combed previously avoided swamp and jungle areas. He increased the “search-and-destroy” operations, in which around 100,000 US soldiers participated in March and April. The CIA’s “Phoenix Program,” launched in June 1968, was intended to permanently deprive the NLF of its base of operations. Special units of the ARVN, trained by US officers, took action against local fighters. By mid-1971, they had arrested 28,000 guerrilla fighters, shot 20,000 and persuaded 17,000, including with torture, to switch sides. The Thieu regime used the program to eliminate opponents, so the special forces also murdered many non-communist civilians. The Phoenix program killed 26,000 to 41,000 suspected NLF members between 1968 and 1972.
At the same time, the US military intensified the “pacification” begun in 1966, which was intended to bring rural areas under the control of the Thieu regime. With a “Revolutionary Development Programme”, the ARVN imitated the methods of the NLF. Teams of 60 Vietnamese each moved into a village, offering social services and promising security to get the inhabitants on Thieu’s side. The program had so far failed due to frequent lack of coordination between US and ARVN troops, unforwarded or delayed decisions in the corrupt Saigon authorities, inadequate training of recruits and many attacks by the NLF on them. Only after the Tet Offensive and as a result of the Phoenix killing program did the attempts to influence have a broader effect.
From the fall of 1968, the US military handed over more responsibility to the ARVN in the course of Johnson’s promise of “de-Americanization”. To this end, it was increased from 685,000 to 800,000 men, its training improved and its armament modernized. Abrams had ARVN and US units fight together for the first time, gradually leaving the offensives against the NLF entirely to them. However, South Vietnam’s generals were not interested in expanding combat operations. Desertions in the ARVN skyrocketed. The urban population of South Vietnam saw themselves betrayed by the USA. On November 1, 1968, Johnson stopped bombing North Vietnam. This measure and Johnson’s announced breakthrough towards peace negotiations with Vietnam also took place for tactical reasons against the background of the presidential election and went down in history as a so-called October Surprise.
Republican Richard Nixon was known as a staunch anti-communist. He had called for a US air raid on Dien Bien Phu in 1954, unreservedly supporting Diem’s dictatorship and the escalation of the bombings. Like his predecessors, he believed in the domino theory, so he wanted to preserve South Vietnam and not give up US support. But he saw the Vietnam War as an obstacle to maintaining US global hegemony in a multipolar world dominated by several great powers.
Therefore, he sought with secret diplomacy a relaxation of relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, which should also end their arms aid to North Vietnam. To this end, he centralized the political decision-making processes of his government in the National Security Council around National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. Nixon’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense remained profileless recipients of orders.
Nixon won the 1968 U.S. presidential election on a promise to negotiate “peace with honor.” Contributing to his election victory was the fact that Thieu canceled his participation in the Paris Talks three days before the US election date. Nixon had previously contacted Thieu through Anna Chennault and urged him to let the negotiations fail before the election.
Like his predecessors, he did not want to appear before US citizens and allies as the losers of the Vietnam War, but to convince them of his desire for peace and at the same time force North Vietnam to accept the Saigon regime in order to be able to end the US war effort without loss of credibility. That is why he and Kissinger rejected a unilateral withdrawal of US troops. In order to gain the necessary time domestically for a successful negotiation with North Vietnam and to show his intention to de-escalate, Nixon proposed on 14 May 1969 on US television the simultaneous withdrawal of NVA and US troops and guaranteed the preservation of the Thieu regime. On June 8, at their first meeting, he promised Thieu to adequately arm the ARVN for self-defense and to keep him informed of all secret talks with Hanoi.
On July 9, the first U.S. soldiers withdrew from South Vietnam. Hanoi, however, immediately rejected Nixon’s proposals, arguing that the US-dependent ARVN was merely intended to continue its war. In July, the NLF formed a Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), which immediately recognized Hanoi as the sole legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese people. The PRG was organized in all areas controlled by the NLF and represented by Nguyễn Thị Bình in Paris. On July 30, during his visit to Saigon, Nixon promised Thieu in strict confidence further bombing of North Vietnam so that Thieu would agree to the U.S. troop withdrawal.
According to the Nixon Doctrine declared on July 25, 1969, the US wanted to continue to support allied Asian states militarily and economically, but leave military self-defense to them. Nixon thus passed off the de-escalation initiated by Johnson the previous year as his change of policy. In South Vietnam, this “Vietnamization” was rejected as US domestic policy at the expense of the ARVN. Creighton W. Abrams slowed down the pace of withdrawal because of his experience with the ARVN. The U.S. increased its troops to over a million men, equipped them with modern weapons systems and trained them. The battles of the ARVN with NLF and NVA decreased thereafter and some ARVN units were militarily successful. However, desertions and corruption remained widespread in the ARVN. The Thieu regime remained unpopular and dependent on US financial aid.
In March 1970, under pressure from the United States, Thieu expanded the pacification program and decided on land reform. By 1972, 800,000 South Vietnamese families had received land. The proportion of landowners rose from 29% to 56% of the population. With the expansion of infrastructure and production incentives, Thieu’s regime succeeded in controlling large parts of South Vietnam in two years. However, because of the settlement structure changed by refugee flows, the continued Phoenix program, whose brutality drove the NLF new supporters, corruption in the authorities, another rigged election and the general war weariness, Thieu continued to receive little sympathy from the population and thus missed his goal of permanently stabilizing South Vietnam. A report by the US Senate summed up in February 1970: Under Thieu, South Vietnam remained dependent on US aid, and Vietnamization could only fail with him.
From June 1969, the USA withdrew 25,000, from September another 60,000, from March 1970 150,000, in 1971 177,000 US soldiers from South Vietnam. About every six months, another 50,000 men followed. At the end of 1970, there were still 334,000, in 1971 still 157,000, in 1972 still 95,000 (of which only 6000 combat troops), at the beginning of 1973 still 27,000 US soldiers in South Vietnam.
Invasions of Cambodia and Laos
Nixon wanted to use his reputation as an anti-communist and convince North Vietnam by erratic action, he would even risk a nuclear war to force a success of the Paris talks. He internally called this strategy Madman theory. In February 1969, he ordered the top-secret Operation MENU, of which not even the Chief of Staff of the Air Force learned. The US Air Force, with the tacit acquiescence of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, dropped around 100,000 tons of bombs on NLF and NVA retreats in Cambodia and Laos in 14 months. Subsequently, US special forces searched the affected areas to kill survivors.
An unknown number of civilians died. The supply for the NLF decreased by only 10%. The NVA moved into the interior of Cambodia and intensified the ongoing Cambodian civil war. In June 1969, Nixon gave North Vietnam an ultimatum until November 1 to agree to negotiations on a reciprocal withdrawal of troops from South Vietnam, threatening severe consequences otherwise. When Hanoi refused, Nixon’s national security advisers struggled to persuade him to order air strikes on Hanoi and a naval blockade of North Vietnam.
On March 18, 1970, pro-U.S. Minister Lon Nol overthrew Cambodia’s regent, Prince Sihanouk. The CIA’s involvement in the coup remains unproven. Lon Nol wanted to expel the Khmer Rouge and their allied NVA forces. After his fall, Sihanouk decided to support the Khmer Rouge. Their ranks grew from 6,000 to 50,000 fighters. On March 29, 1970, North Vietnam launched an offensive against the Cambodian army at the request of the Khmer Rouge. They quickly overran large parts of eastern Cambodia and handed over the newly won territories to the Khmer Rouge.
The U.S. Army used this situation for a ground offensive against Cambodia’s border areas near Saigon, where it suspected the headquarters of the NLF. On May 1, 1970, 43,000 ARVN soldiers and 31,000 U.S. troops moved in. In the “Battle of Cambodia, ” they killed around 2000 NLF fighters, destroyed many weapons depots and bunkers, but without finding the headquarters. Most NLF forces moved further inland, helping the Khmer Rouge gradually extend their rule to almost 50% of Cambodia. At the same time, the advance thinned out the US and ARVN troops in South Vietnam, thus relieving the NLF forces there. In the US, protests in the US Congress also grew to a peak, so Nixon had to end the invasion of Cambodia in June 1970.
In September 1969, the U.S. Congress passed a legal ban on U.S. ground troops in Thailand and Laos. On October 10, 1969, Nixon threatened to launch nuclear-armed bombers as part of Operation Giant Lance with his determination to a Third World War, thereby trying in vain to intimidate the Soviet Union. In December 1970, Congress banned Nixon from U.S. ground operations in Laos. From 8 February to 24 March 1971, the ARVN alone attempted to cut off the NLF’s supply lines in Laos (Operation Lam Son 719) in order to make time for Vietnamization and negotiations with North Vietnam. But the NLF learned of the operational plans and put the ARVN troops to flight. Only massive US air strikes prevented them from being completely wiped out.
Other heavy U.S. air strikes on Cambodia and Laos took place in Operation Commando Hunt from 1968-72 and Freedom Deal from 1970-73. However, the objectives of these operations were not achieved. The Cambodian government later estimated that more than 20 percent of the country’s assets were destroyed during the civil war. Two million people out of seven million were displaced from rural areas to cities during the civil war, particularly to Phnom Penh, which grew from about 600,000 in 1970 to an estimated population of nearly two million in 1975.
Easter Offensive 1972
After losing the Tet Offensive, NLF General Giap had prioritized the development of conventional forces in South Vietnam over guerrilla skirmishes. For this construction, North Vietnam received new arms supplies from the Soviet Union and China in 1970 by cleverly exploiting their conflict. During the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, the NLF consolidated its influence in the Mekong Delta, permanently tying up ARVN forces there and was thus able to regain a foothold in other parts of South Vietnam by mid-1971.
In July 1971, Kissinger offered the People’s Republic of China better relations with the US if it would force Hanoi to agree to compromises at the Paris Talks. Nixon wanted to be the first U.S. president to visit the People’s Republic of China in February 1972. North Vietnam’s Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng could not dissuade Mao from this visit plan. In order to pre-empt the feared rapprochement between the USA and China, Hanoi hastily prepared a major attack by the NVA on South Vietnam.
Once again, U.S. intelligence agencies misjudged troop movements in North Vietnam. In March, 120,000 NVA soldiers crossed the borders to South Vietnam in three attack wedges and in a few days conquered the five northern provinces, large parts of the central highlands with Kon Tum and advanced to within 70 km of Saigon. Since Thieu had to assemble all ARVN forces to protect the big cities, the NLF captured many ARVN bases in the Mekong Delta. This showed the Thieu regime that peace could only be achieved with the NLF, and the US that Vietnamization was as illusory as military victory.
For Nixon, however, a military defeat and the loss of South Vietnam in the election year of 1972 were unacceptable. On May 8, 1972, he announced the mining of the port of Hải Phòng, a naval blockade and renewed carpet bombing of North Vietnam as the most serious escalation of the war to date. In this Operation Linebacker, the U.S. Air Force dropped 112,000 tons of bombs in June, including for the first time electronically directing precision-guided munitions (eng. Smart Bombs).
These effectively interrupted the supply for the NVA, so that the ARVN could beat back its forces until July. Around 100,000 NVA and 25,000 ARVN soldiers died. Once again, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled their villages. Contrary to the warnings of Nixon’s advisers, the Soviet Union and China protested only weakly against the escalation and continued their policy of détente with the US. This showed Hanoi that compromises with the US were inevitable. Most U.S. citizens agreed to the renewed bombing of North Vietnam, according to polls. However, resistance grew in the US Congress to continue financing the war.
Kissinger had contact with representatives of North Vietnam since 1967. On Nixon’s behalf, of which neither Thieu nor U.S. Secretary of State William P. Rogers knew, he offered Hanoi secret talks in December 1968 and again in May 1969 to bypass the four-party Paris talks and force Thieu, who opposed any reduction in U.S. aid, to compromise. He foresaw that the Saigon regime would not hold up after the US troop withdrawal.
The secret talks were intended to allow the US to withdraw without losing credibility. On February 21, 1970, Kissinger met the communist leader Lê Đức Thọ for the first time, with whom he negotiated regularly from then on. Tho saw North Vietnam as the victor of the war and rejected any solution that would not give the Communists a dominant role in South Vietnam. It was only after the bombing in 1972 that he saw the US’s concern to get out of the war without losing face as in his own interest.
Kissinger, however, could not push through a reciprocal troop withdrawal, as the unilateral U.S. troop withdrawal was well advanced and U.S. Congress and U.S. citizens opposed further escalation. In the autumn of 1972, Tho provisionally recognized the continued existence of the Thieu regime and proposed a national council to prepare for general elections, in which the NLF and neutral groups would also be represented on an equal footing. North Vietnam would immediately agree to a ceasefire and exchange all prisoners of war if the US ceased its attacks and withdrew from South Vietnam in 60 days. Kissinger pushed through a joint oversight body for the ceasefire and international monitoring of the peace process.
Thieu, who had not participated in the negotiations in Paris, had meanwhile learned of Kissinger’s secret talks with Tho through his secret service. As a result, he strictly rejected the draft treaty. Kissinger tried to save the compromise with diplomatic pressure, declaring on October 25: “We believe peace is just around the corner.” In doing so, he favored Nixon’s high election victory in November 1972. He wanted to negotiate an agreement more favorable for the USA and South Vietnam.
He gave the ARVN large stocks of weapons of the US army (Operation Enhance Plus) and promised Thieu in secret letters that he would order further air strikes if Hanoi violated the ceasefire after the US withdrawal. On December 13, he ordered Operation Linebacker II to force Hanoi to back down. From December 18 to 29, 1972 (except on Christmas Eve), the U.S. Air Force flew 3,500 non-stop attacks on North Vietnam, killing 2,000 civilians and destroying some neighborhoods of Hanoi. As a result, the reputation of the USA worldwide reached an all-time low.
After that, North Vietnam again participated in the Paris Talks. The draft treaty of October was changed only in marginal details. On 27 January 1973, all parties signed the Paris Agreement. It committed the U.S. to complete withdrawal of troops in 60 days, North Vietnam to the release of all prisoners of war, prohibited all foreign powers from military interference in Laos and Cambodia, allowed North Vietnam to leave some 140,000 NVA troops in South Vietnam, and the NLF to administer the areas under its control until the general election.
The demilitarized zone around the 20th parallel was transformed into a temporary demarcation line and was therefore no longer a border recognized under international law. Thus, the treaty fulfilled all the main demands of North Vietnam, but not South Vietnam, which had demanded the retention of US troops in the country and the withdrawal of the NVA. Its continued existence depended solely on whether the US would honor Nixon’s secret letter promises to Thieu.
In addition, Nixon promised North Vietnam billions in aid for reconstruction in a secret additional protocol. By the end of March, the last US soldiers stationed and prisoners of war had officially left Vietnam. For the first time in about 100 years, there were no foreign troops there. The US government portrayed the agreement as the “honorable peace” promised by Nixon five years earlier, although it was aware of the treaty’s shortcomings. Kissinger estimated the survival of the Thieu regime at a year and a half.
North Vietnam conquers South Vietnam
From March to August 15, 1973, the U.S. Air Force continued to bombard Khmer Rouge fighters throughout Cambodia with 250,000 tons of explosives. The U.S. Air Force argued that the bombing prevented the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, who had besieged the city. Nixon had to stop the attacks because the US Congress had cut all funding for them in June. In addition, Congress suspended economic aid to North Vietnam until all cases of missing US soldiers were resolved. In November, he passed the War Powers Resolution. It limited any future US military intervention to an initial 60 days, which the US president could only extend with the permission of a majority of congressmen or had to end in another 30 days. Congress also initiated impeachment proceedings against Nixon. Therefore, he could not keep his promise of assistance to Thieu.
Both regimes in Vietnam frequently broke the Paris Agreement. The ARVN generals did not participate in the National Council and occupied about 1,000 villages in 1973 to expand their sphere of influence. Although the ARVN had 1.1 million, almost four times as many soldiers as the NVA, two-thirds of them had stationary and defensive tasks, while only 10% (about 30,000 soldiers) had stationary and defensive tasks. They left the ARVN without a fight area that would be difficult to defend in the event of war. North Vietnam expanded the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a wide road with supply depots and built a 2,000 km pipeline to southern Cambodia. By the end of 1974, the NVA controlled a relatively closed area in South Vietnam. The NLF tied up 50% of the ARVN troops in the Mekong Delta.
With the withdrawal of the U.S. Army, 300,000 South Vietnamese lost their jobs; unemployment rose to 40% in South Vietnam. The 1973 oil crisis made imports more expensive and increased inflation and recession. In addition, the Thieu regime caused increased prices and declining stocks of rice through market control. There were supply bottlenecks in the cities. In 1974, the U.S. Congress granted the ARVN $700 million in military aid, which dropped to $300 million after deducting transportation costs, making it virtually impossible for effective combat operations. Due to declining morale and low pay, 240,000 ARVN soldiers deserted in 1974.
Corruption within and between the troops grew. As many of their soldiers plundered, more and more peasants rejected the ARVN altogether. South Vietnam’s non-communist opposition was divided. The upper class gradually took their possessions out of the country. Thieu remained passive and relied until Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 on the assurances of the remaining 9,000 US military advisers that the US would assist him if necessary.
In early December 1974, the NLF occupied the provincial capital of Đồng Xoài near Cambodia. On December 18, Hanoi decided to launch a spring offensive by the NVA to capture the central highlands of South Vietnam in order to initiate an uprising in the major cities in 1976. In March 1975, the NVA crossed the demarcation line into South Vietnam with 16 divisions and captured Ban Me Thuot as planned. Thieu then abandoned the central highlands and ordered the ARVN to retreat to the coastal region around Saigon to save his rule.
However, the commanding ARVN general left the country with his family. The leaderless ARVN troops fled disorderly and thus allowed the NVA to advance unhindered. On March 25 she conquered Huế, days later Đà Nẵng, in April Pleiku, Nha Trang and Bien Hoa without the expected costly battles. Now Hanoi decided to attack Saigon as well; This final act of the war is known in English-speaking countries as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign.
On 21 April 1975, Thieu fled abroad; General Duong Van Minh took office for nine days. Gerald Ford, who had succeeded Nixon as vice president and wanted to preserve his electoral chances as US president, rejected renewed US air strikes and emergency aid for the ARVN against the advice of US Chief of Staff Frederick C. Weyand, as Hanoi expected. While the US Congress was debating it, the NVA was already advancing against Saigon.
On April 21, she reached the outskirts of Saigon. Only then did the CIA and US military advisers initiate an evacuation. The following week, U.S. pilots brought about 7,500 people a day out of Saigon on passenger planes. On April 28 and 29, North and South Vietnamese bombs destroyed the airport. Large US helicopters brought another 7,014 people from the city onto US aircraft carriers off the coast on 29 and 30 April. In total, over 130,000 South Vietnamese left their country; about 30,000 of them reached the Philippines. When its president Marcos refused to accept further refugees, Guam took in 50,000 South Vietnamese.
In the last 18 hours of the evacuation by helicopter (Operation Frequent Wind), there was a fight between Vietnamese and US citizens on the grounds of the US embassy, as well as exchanges of fire between US guards and ARVN soldiers. On April 30, the NVA took the city center and at 11:30 the presidential palace of Saigon without resistance. She was greeted joyfully by some South Vietnamese. In the afternoon, Duong Van Minh declared the surrender, which only the German journalist Börries Gallasch recorded. Walter Skrobanek, who at the time worked for the children’s charity Terre Des Hommes in Saigon, describes everyday life during the last days of the old regime and the first weeks under the new rulers in a diary published in 2008.
Dead and injured
The total number of Vietnamese killed by this war is estimated differently because the war period and war zones are determined differently, official records are missing, kept secret or falsified, many victims were unidentifiable or untraceable and people are still dying from war-related damage.
In 1978, Guenter Lewy estimated a total of 1,353,000 people, including 627,000 civilians, 444,000 communist soldiers, and 282,000 American and South Vietnamese soldiers, killed in hostilities between 1965 and 1974. A 1975 U.S. Senate committee estimated about 1.4 million civilian casualties in South Vietnam as a result of the war, including 415,000 deaths between 1965 and 1974. Rudolph J. Rummel estimates that 1,747,000 Vietnamese were killed in the war from 1960 to 1975.
In addition, there are Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian victims of the democides that took place before, during and after this war. Marc Frey estimated 2.3 million Vietnamese killed in the war between 1961 and 1975. Total estimates range up to four million, about one-eighth of Vietnam’s total population, including 2.6 million South Vietnamese and 1.1 million NVA and NLF fighters. U.S. citizens interviewed during the U.S. war effort, however, believed that there had been only about 100,000 Vietnamese war casualties.
During the war, North Vietnam published no or far too low casualty figures to avoid demoralization or uprisings of its own population. On April 3, 1995, Vietnam announced that from 1954 to 1975, two million North and South Vietnamese civilians (12-13% of the total population) and 1.1 million NVA soldiers and NLF fighters had died in the war. 600,000 soldiers were wounded.In addition, explosive devices used in the war, such as landmines, killed over 42,000 and injured over 62,000 Vietnamese from 1975 to 2011, according to Vietnam.
According to the study, about four times as many civilians as soldiers died in the Vietnam War. The reasons for this are high-tech warfare, massive carpet bombing and artillery bombardment in populated areas, indiscriminate killing in free-fire zones, the equation of peasants and guerrilla fighters and the use of chemical warfare agents at a distance.
The U.S. military registered exactly 58,220 U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam since June 8, 1956. Of these, 55,661 died in South Vietnam, 40,934 in combat, especially in 1967 (11,100), 1968 (16,600) and 1969 (11,600). 38,000 belonged to the army, about 14,000 to the Marines. 49,380 were white, 7,243 African American. 48,717 were ordinary soldiers, 7,881 officers. More than half were 21 years or younger, 18 of whom had not yet reached the age of 18. The youngest killed was a 15-year-old Marine who had given a false date of birth when he was recruited.18% of deaths were caused by friendly fires.153,303 U.S. soldiers were wounded. Troops allied with the US and South Vietnam lost a total of 5,264 soldiers, over 4,000 of them from South Korea.
The war-related population structure, social upheavals, devastation, war injuries, traumatization and secondary diseases burden millions of Vietnamese and shorten their life expectancy. At the end of the war in 1975, South Vietnam had one million war widows, 875,000 orphans, 200,000 disabled and 200,000 prostitutes. In addition, there are the consequences of internal expulsions and waves of refugees. During the Laotian Civil War between 1960 and 1970, up to 700,000 people, 40% of them members of the Meos, fled the fighting and bombing of the US Air Force. 20,000 to 62,000 Laotians died during the war.
Scientists estimate that from 1965 to 1971, the US Air Force dropped two to three times the amount of bombing munitions (up to seven million tons) on Vietnam as in the entire Second World War. They left behind an estimated 21 million bomb craters; some regions of Vietnam are so densely dotted with it that they resemble a lunar landscape. An estimated 3.5 million landmines and about 300,000 tons of unexploded war munitions are located in the soil of Vietnam.
Dioxin-containing herbicides, especially Agent Orange, caused long-term environmental damage. The quantity sprayed corresponds to 400 kg of pure dioxin. It hit an estimated 3.3 million hectares of forest, contaminated 3,000 Vietnamese villages and permanently poisoned an estimated 24,000 square kilometers. This seventh of South Vietnam’s total area includes a far higher percentage of the once fertile lands and forests. In addition, 1,200 square miles (about 3,000 km²) of southern Vietnam were leveled with bulldozers. In 2007, one million adults and 150,000 children in Vietnam suffered from cancer, mental and genetic damage. Since dioxins and genetic damage are persistent, they will affect future generations. According to the Vietnamese government, damage caused by Agent Orange killed 400,000 Vietnamese by 2009.
The US manufacturers had agreed in February 1965 to keep secret from the US government that their herbicides contaminated with dioxins severely damaged internal organs. In the fall of 1969, a study proved that Agent Orange causes genetic damage, malformations of fetuses and miscarriages. In 1970, it was first banned in the United States. Starting in 1978, Vietnam veterans suffering from cancer filed their first class action lawsuits against Monsanto, which were joined by workers at the company. Studies commissioned by Monsanto, which denied a link between contamination with its products and the plaintiffs’ cancers, proved to be methodologically falsified in 1986.
In 1991, the U.S. Congress passed a bill classifying U.S. war veterans suffering from diseases attributable to Agent Orange as war wounded. This made it easier for them to receive compensation payments. Gradually, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognized 14 diseases that can be caused by defoliants, including Parkinson’s, multiple myeloma, type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and prostate cancer. Trials by U.S. Marines deployed on the open sea at that time to be equated with domestically deployed soldiers in terms of contact with herbicides are still ongoing.
Over 40,000 U.S. soldiers became addicted to heroin in Vietnam by 1970. 330,000 returnees were unemployed at the end of 1971. Over 300,000 of the two million veterans were delinquent and imprisoned by the end of 1972. From 1969 onwards, it gradually became known that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans had suffered unrecognized and untreated traumatization. These caused a particular post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A scientific study conducted over many years by 1982 showed that 478,000 (15.2%) of 3.14 million veterans suffered from full PTSD and another 350,000 (11.1%) from partial PTSD. Among African-Americans (20.6%), Hispanics (27.9%) and those disabled by war injuries, the percentages were even higher. Only a small fraction of them had sought medical treatment for this reason. As a result, there was a growing willingness in the U.S. Congress to fund special therapy centers and programs for Vietnam veterans.
Cost of the Vietnam War
In 1966, the U.S. government spent twice as much on the Vietnam War as it did on social reform programs. By 1968, the cost of the war had risen to $80.5 billion (today’s value $590 billion), causing inflation to rise from 2.7% to 4%. In March 1968 there was a crisis in the gold market. As a result, economic elites in the USA also demanded an early end to the war.
The US Army registered 8,612 aircraft destroyed and 4,868 helicopters destroyed, worth about $12 billion. The ammunition used cost $37 billion to $42 billion. The army’s average oil and gas consumption of one million barrels per day contributed to the 1973 oil crisis. James Donovan estimated the US war costs, including the maintenance costs of allied armies, at $108.5 billion.
According to Anthony S. Campagna, the U.S. war effort burdened its defense budget with about $173 billion (today’s value $820 billion). He estimated indirect and later costs, such as the maintenance of allied troops, economic aid for their states, compensation for war-wounded US veterans, interest on war credits as well as tax costs of conscription and tax losses due to war deaths at an additional 332 billion (today’s value 1,574 billion USD). This does not yet take into account the burdens on the state budget due to war-related inflation and declines in exports.
To this day, the US refuses to grant Vietnam reparations or other compensation. Instead, in 1993, Vietnam’s government had to assume the debts of former South Vietnam in order to obtain loans and obtain the lifting of a US embargo. In 2007, the US approved $400,000 for the first time to eliminate dioxin residues in Danang. In May 2009, US President Barack Obama doubled this aid from three to six million dollars. However, US courts rejected compensation claims by Vietnamese suffering from cancer.
As a result of the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland temporarily suspended the U.S. Army’s protection rules for civilians in February 1968 and allowed troop leaders to attack locations in contested regions without consultation and with weapons and units of their choosing. Task Force Barker had lost about 20% of its men in its operations and had few body counts. Its officer, Ernest Medina, instructed his soldiers on March 15 to treat women and children in their search area as enemies, thereby encouraging them to kill.
On March 16, 1968, at least 22 U.S. soldiers murdered 504 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, in the My Lai massacre, adding these victims to the NLF fighters they killed. Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. prevented further killings and evacuated some villagers. It was not until a year later that the uninvolved witness Ron Ridenhour reached an internal investigation. None of the few survivors were heard as witnesses. On December 5, 1969, a report by Seymour Hersh made the massacre known worldwide. Lieutenant William Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1971. After a revision, the prison sentence was reduced to three and a half years. In November 1974, Secretary of the Army Howard H. Callaway released him from the remainder of his sentence.
The U.S. government presented the crime as an isolated act so as not to have to withdraw its troops sooner. Up to 150 actively and passively involved Vietnam veterans, including John Kerry, testified at two conferences (“Winter Soldier Investigation”, December 1970, January/February 1971) that similar crimes had occurred daily. In My Lai, only a particularly large number of villagers were killed at once. Officers have subtly but effectively instructed new U.S. soldiers in the systematic murder of civilians and prisoners. Today, a memorial and memorial site points to these crimes.
Toledo Blade magazine published war crimes committed by the Tiger Force in 2003. In 1967, during forced resettlements (Strategic Hamlet Program) in the provinces of Quảng Ngãi and Quảng Nam, she committed numerous mass murders for seven months while combing through destroyed villages. The U.S. Army identified 18 alleged perpetrators from 1971 to 1975, but did not bring them to justice. In 2003, three of the perpetrators publicly stated that they had only carried out orders.
Such assassinations were common among all U.S. ground forces, especially in free-fire zones, where civilians were considered fair game. U.S. military records record such crimes committed by hundreds of combat units. The U.S. Supreme Court prosecuted only 36 of these cases and convicted 20 perpetrators. The causes of crime are the frustration over guerrilla warfare and the body count on which promotions depended. According to Guenter Lewy, U.S. officers rarely reported murders of their soldiers, but recorded them as the shooting of fugitive Vietcong fighters to increase the killing record.
Deborah Nelson (“The War behind me”, 2008) found hundreds of routine memos in the National Archives about war crimes in Vietnam similar to that of My Lai. Among them were every major unit of the U.S. Army and all major counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam, which were carried out among the civilian population. U.S. military courts had investigated the crimes internally after Nixon demanded in 1969 that the U.S. Army disappear from the front pages of the press. Anonymous letters from US soldiers to superiors included statements such as “one My Lai every month for over a year.
” US soldiers, for example, let villagers run through mined terrain, tortured prisoners with waterboarding and electric shocks, shot young people and children for no reason. The exact number of perpetrators and acts is unknown. 23 perpetrators were convicted, most were acquitted. A soldier who raped a 13-year-old girl as an interrogator in a POW camp was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor, but released after 71/2 months. In response to inquiries from journalists, the US Army referred to its internal procedures, whereupon further research was usually omitted. Therefore, these crimes remained largely unknown. In the USA, My Lai is therefore still mistakenly considered an exceptional case.
@The ARVN often violated the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Prisoners of War with beatings and torture.
In addition, at least 48 massacres by South Korean soldiers in villages of South Vietnam are documented, five of them in Binh Dinh province. Examples are the massacres in Phong-Nhi and Bình Hòa.
North Vietnamese and NLF members also often murdered civilians in South Vietnam, who were considered collaborators, and prisoners of their opponents. The massacres of Vien Cau (1964), Dong Xoai (1965), Long Binh (400 dead), Son Tra (1968) and Phu Thuan (1970) became known. In the Dak Son massacre (December 5, 1967), NLF fighters killed 252 civilians and abducted about 1,700 out of 2,000 villagers. In the massacre of Hué during the Tet Offensive in 1968, they killed up to 5,000 people, including children.
About 760 U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner of war by North Vietnam or the NLF between 1954 and 1973. North Vietnam used the former French Hỏa Lò prison in Hanoi (“Hanoi Hilton”) for downed US pilots and tried to force them to testify against the US mission with torture and solitary confinement. In July 1965, the NLF publicly executed three prisoners in retaliation for the executions of NLF prisoners by Diem’s regime. As a result, the U.S. urged Dem to stop it. In October 1965, the IRC condemned all violations of the Geneva Convention in Vietnam and urged the Diem regime to protect the lives of South Vietnamese prisoners of war as well as those of US soldiers.
The NLF released two U.S. soldiers after they publicly opposed the U.S. deployment. In June 1966, US prisoners of war had to march for hours through Hanoi’s streets in retaliation for US air strikes on Hanoi, being mistreated by city dwellers. However, soldiers protected their lives. The U.S. government asked the Soviet Union, Poland, India, Sweden and the Vatican for diplomatic protest against the treatment of these prisoners. At the same time, U.S. senators threatened North Vietnam with massive retaliation. Ho then moved away from further show trials against captured U.S. soldiers. After his death in 1969 or after the failed liberation of prisoners from the Sơn Tây POW camp by a US commando on 21 November 1971 (Operation Kingpin), North Vietnam completely ceased the torture of US prisoners of war. These were then concentrated in the “Hanoi Hilton”.
Political impact of the Vietnam War
War opposition in the USA
The U.S. government kept the activities of the military advisers secret and hardly informed citizens about the extent, goals and effects of their war effort in Vietnam. It was not until 1965 that this was widely discussed in the USA. Western reporters were able to observe war events relatively undisturbed and report on them with the usual military restrictions. In 1965, 400 U.S. journalists were accredited to South Vietnam, who were also allowed to participate in U.S. combat operations. In 1968, their number rose to 650. However, according to MACV, only 35% of them accompanied combat troops to the front, and only about 10% of 4100 reports showed fighting.
None of the leading US journalists considered the war to be wrong, but criticized at best “tactical” problems with the ARVN from the point of view of its own military. This approved frequent censorship measures of the ARVN. Most television reports remained in line with the US government. Atrocities were only shown during the Tet Offensive. The first “television war” in history took up about 20 to 25% of the evening news in the US from 1968 to 1973. Many battle scenes of the reports, which were usually three to four minutes long, were added retrospectively and focused on individual heroic deeds. War crimes, the desire to kill, the wearing of body parts of killed opponents as trophies, drug problems and discipline deterioration among US soldiers, however, were not reported. The U.S. media were four times more likely to report killed U.S. soldiers than killed Vietnamese during prime time.
Among the earliest critics of the Vietnam War since 1954 was Isidor Feinstein Stone, who predicted in 1963 after Diem’s fall that the US would lose its war for South Vietnam. Since 1964, Walter Lippmann was also an opponent of the war. Reports of the Tet Offensive contributed to the shift in opinion in the United States. The execution of NLF prisoner Nguyễn Văn Lém by Saigon police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan in front of the camera and the photo of the nine-year-old girl Kim Phuc, who ran naked, with severe burns and screaming past US soldiers after a napalm attack, became world famous. Walter Cronkite interviewed US soldiers during the fighting in Hue in February and commented that the war had reached a hopeless impasse and could not be won. Negotiations with North Vietnam are the only realistic alternative.
In regular national Gallup polls on whether the U.S. war effort was a “mistake,” 61% (1965), 50% (1966), 44% (1967), 34% (1968), 24% (1971) answered no. Accordingly, most U.S. citizens considered the war effort only in the first year to be correct. With its duration and the increase in the number of victims, this proportion decreased steadily. However, in 1967 only 6% were in favor of an immediate withdrawal, while 80% were in favor of an escalation in order to accelerate the end of the war. It was not until the end of 1968 that a majority affirmed the withdrawal, and only at the end of 1970 the immediate withdrawal of US troops.
The implausible reason for the war, the ongoing bombing of North Vietnam without a declaration of war, the information policy of the US government, the use of chemical weapons, the body counts, war crimes and others deprived the war of any moral justification for many. From older groups of the movement against nuclear weapons and the civil rights movement of the 1950s as well as the counterculture of the hippies (“make love not war”), the student movement and the New Left of the 1960s, a peace movement emerged from autumn 1964, which is one of the largest protest movements in the USA. She tested new forms of civil disobedience for far-reaching emancipatory and anti-authoritarian goals of comprehensive social change.It consisted of a variety of different groups without an umbrella organization and, according to a CIA report requested by Johnson, was neither communist-controlled nor influenced.
Between November 1964 and March 1965, four pacifists in the United States killed themselves by self-immolation in protest against the use of napalm by the United States. From March 24, 1965, Vietnam Days with teach-ins took place for months at over 100 universities. There were also protests against authoritarian structures in the education system. The first national anti-war demonstration on April 17, organized by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) under Tom Hayden, was attended by about 20,000 people.
The U.S. government sent “truth teams” of diplomats to academia during the bombing pause starting May 15 to promote its point of view. About 100,000 people took part in “peace parades” in 80 cities in the USA on October 15 and 16, 1965. Further nationwide demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place on April 15, 1967 (New York City: 200,000; San Francisco: 50,000), on October 16, 1967 (Washington DC: 50,000), October 15 (250,000) and November 15, 1969 (500,000). On October 21, 1967, about 5,000 out of 50,000 protesters broke through the police cordon in front of the Pentagon and removed the U.S. flag from the building.
Mostly organized by the SDS, resistance was increasingly directed against the “military-industrial complex”, military research and financial support for universities by the Ministry of Defense. In actions against Dow Chemical and recruitment centers of the US Army, violence against persons occurred more frequently from 1969 onwards. Throughout the country, thousands of citizens’ initiatives organized against conscripts and for neighborhood work, which they offered as an alternative social peace service. Leading figures of the New Left founded the umbrella organization National Citizens for a New Policy (NCNP). At a conference in the summer of 1967, they found no common line for the election year 1968; it remained controversial whether to refuse the election, to found an alternative anti-war party or to nominate prominent opponents of the war as independent opponents.
Some activists, such as Jane Fonda and Joan Baez, traveled to North Vietnam to view war damage and show a “different America.”Large sections of the US population saw these opponents of the war as traitors; there were counter-demonstrations and physical attacks. Among the opponents of the war, radical leftists who saw the NLF as an anti-colonial liberation movement quarreled with liberal Democrats who supported Johnson’s social policies and wanted to bring US soldiers home. A strong current of the anti-war movement was Christian pacifism, represented by Abraham Johannes Muste, Daniel and Philip Berrigan.
Martin Luther King, leader of the civil rights movement, had been advocating negotiations with the NLF since March 1965. On April 4, 1967, with his sharpest sermon to date, he sided entirely with the opponents of the war and became their spokesman. The Vietnam War and poverty in the United States remained the main themes of his speeches until April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated. Jesus Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies also applied to communists. Since 1945, the US has prevented Vietnam’s national self-determination, propped up corrupt dictators, herded villagers into concentration camps, poisoned their soil and forests, and killed at least 20 civilians for every Vietcong killed. The US government must immediately stop the bombings, set a withdrawal date for US troops and involve the NLF in the future government of Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, opposition to conscription in the United States grew to an all-time high. About 600,000 violations of the 1948 law, which provided for the conscription of all men between the ages of 18 and 26, were registered from 1964 to 1973. Of these, 210,000 (up to 10% of all criminal proceedings in the US at the time) were prosecuted. Tens of thousands evaded conscription through conscientious objection, desertion and civil disobedience such as the public burning or return of military passports. From August 1965, the U.S. government tightened the legal penalties for such actions to up to five years imprisonment and heavy fines.30,000 to 50,000 conscripts fled to Canada or Sweden.
Because of the “baby boom” of the 1950s, this did not endanger the recruitment and personnel of the US Army. However, members of the lower social classes were disproportionately drafted. Johnson lifted the deferral of full-time students in June 1966, causing a significant increase in the number of refuseniks. After Nixon replaced universal conscription with a lottery system in 1969, it declined again. Poor African-Americans often volunteered to join the U.S. Army, where they hoped for career and social advancement. In the course of the Black Power movement, which emerged in 1966 and saw the same racism against people of color at work in the Vietnam War and civil rights struggle, this tendency declined significantly.
In the U.S. Army, opposition to war gradually increased. Some U.S. soldiers in Vietnam refused orders, produced and secretly distributed anti-war magazines, attacked superiors, and killed some (self-firing, questioning). The US government no longer dared to use military personnel at an anti-war demonstration, fearing its solidarity with the protesters. In November 1967, the group “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” was founded, which grew strongly in 1970. On April 23, 1971, about 700 members threw their medals and ribbons onto the steps of the Capitol building. 20 to 25% of the US soldiers involved thought the Vietnam War was wrong.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has been monitoring college antiwar actions since April 1965, infiltrating agents into action groups, drawing up lists of suspects (mostly members of the Students for a Democratic Society), and the FBI cooperating with college guards. Since April 1966, the FBI has shared its surveillance reports with intelligence agencies and the military, and since March 1968 regularly with the White House. As a result of these reports, Attorney General Ramsey Clark indicted five activists in January 1968 for conspiracy against conscription laws. All 28,000 signatories of a petition against it and reporters about it were considered accomplices, according to the indictment.
On May 9, the FBI launched the secret COINTELPRO campaign to obstruct, neutralize, or stop the activities of antiwar groups. The FBI linked the campaign to three CIA surveillance programs (Operation CHAOS, Project Merrimac, and Project RESISTANCE) and an NSA telephone and telegram surveillance program (MINARET). By 1974, files of at least 23,500 people had been created. In thousands of cases, telephones were tapped and letters opened. The U.S. Army received requested information about persons under surveillance, used 1,500 civilian agents to monitor opponents of war by 1971, and created index cards of over 100,000 civilian protesters and 760,000 individual or group activities. These programs were exposed by a Senate hearing in 1971 and then officially discontinued.
The anti-war movement greatly influenced the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972. While the Republican Party united in supporting the war, the Democratic Party split into “hawks” and “doves.” In December 1967, Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy ran as an opponent of Johnson’s re-election. After his success in the New Hampshire primaries on March 12, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy, who had become an opponent of the war since 1965, also applied for the nomination of his party. This is one of the reasons why Johnson renounced a second candidacy on 31 March.
On April 4, Kennedy announced the deadly assassination of King at a campaign appearance and prevented riots with a conciliatory speech. He was therefore considered a promising candidate capable of winning a majority until he too was assassinated on 5 June 1968. The anti-war movement then tried in vain to prevent the nomination of Vice President Hubert Humphrey as a presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in August. A sit-in of about 10,000 opponents of the war was violently dispersed by strong police and military forces while the television broadcast continued.
This deepened the divisions among the Democrats and greatly increased Richard Nixon’s electoral chances. He promised “peace with honor” in Vietnam, “law and order at home” and claimed that he had a secret plan to pacify Vietnam. Only when Johnson had stopped bombing North Vietnam and Humphrey offered an early troop withdrawal for the Paris Talks, he caught up in the polls. Nixon’s narrow majority thus meant a mandate from the electorate to end the war. George McGovern became the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 among 12 competitors because of his clear anti-war stance. But he also lost to Nixon, because only a part of the Democrats supported his course.
For many U.S. citizens, Nixon broke his campaign promise to Vietnam and end the war with the new U.S. attacks on Cambodia. Nixon’s attempt to send another 200,000 US troops to Indochina under the Tonkin Resolution provoked opposition in the US Congress. Senator William Fulbright regretted his earlier involvement in the war and pushed through a commission of inquiry into the Tonkin Incident. On April 11, 1970, it determined that there had most likely been no attack by North Vietnam in 1964. As a result, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives withdrew the resolution one after the other.
The nationwide anti-war movement, which had already stopped its actions, called for new protests from April 1970. On May 4, 28 U.S. National Guard soldiers shot dead four protesters or spectators on the campus of Kent State University. This Kent State massacre caused the largest wave of protests in the US to date: 1.5 to two million students (about 25%) went on strike. Now trade union federations that had unconditionally supported the war until then distanced themselves. On May 8, 1970, 100,000 opponents of the war demonstrated in front of the White House. Nixon sought direct contact, but spoke only about sports. The U.S. Senate on June 30 banned Nixon from sending military advisers to Cambodia, supporting Cambodian troops with the U.S. Air Force, or financially, including through other states. This forced him to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops.
Because of the expansion of the war and the killed demonstrators, an impeachment against Nixon was demanded for the first time. After nationwide anti-war demonstrations with millions of participants, Nixon warned the “silent majority” of the US on November 3: an immediate US withdrawal would lead to “bloodbaths” in Vietnam; not North Vietnam, only U.S. citizens could humiliate the U.S. In the polls, he received 70% approval for the familiar part of his policy, but not for a new military escalation.
In the summer of 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a former adviser to McNamara, handed over the Pentagon Papers to the press. After this secret report on the Indochina policy of the USA since 1945, US military experts had already criticized the support of the regime in South Vietnam under Eisenhower, doubted the long-term prospects of success against the NLF and warned that the Vietnam War could hardly be won militarily. No US president had dared to publicly express these doubts and corresponding withdrawal plans.
The papers also proved that the Pentagon had deliberately used the Tonkin incident as a reason for war. From the arrest of some burglars in the headquarters of the Democratic Party, the Watergate scandal developed. In the course of this, Nixon was finally exposed as the client of the illegal surveillance of opposition politicians and war opponents such as Daniel Ellsberg. As a result, the US Congress decided to impeach him. This preceded Nixon in 1974 with his resignation.
War opposition in other states
In Australia and New Zealand, strong protest movements against the Vietnam War emerged in 1967, pushing for the withdrawal of auxiliary troops sent by their conservative governments from South Vietnam. In Great Britain, the majority of the government and population were initially in favor of the US war effort. Harold Wilson, however, evaded US demands for military aid and made independent attempts at mediation together with the Soviet Union. In 1967, British protests against the war increased sharply. In December, protesters tried to storm the US embassy in London. From 1968, conservative British media also moved away from the USA. The Paris Talks softened the protests, but strengthened widespread opposition to war.
France rejected the US war effort from the outset. 70% of the French were against it in 1965. De Gaulle publicly advocated Vietnam’s neutralization until France withdrew from NATO’s military alliance, most recently in Phnom Penh in 1966, and maintained correspondence with Ho. During Hubert Humphrey’s visit to Paris in 1967, there were heavy, sometimes violent protests. The actions of the Paris police against student Vietnam protests triggered the Paris May 1968, which almost led to the fall of de Gaulle.
In May and November 1967, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre conducted the first Russell Tribunal in Stockholm and Copenhagen, which applied international law to the Vietnam War without an institutional mandate and interviewed Vietnamese victims of bombing. Secretary of State Dean Rusk declined several invitations from the tribunal to testify. This condemned the US warfare in Vietnam as genocide.
For the West German student movement of the 1960s, protest against the Vietnam War was central. It was directed against the uncritical support of the USA by the federal government, Bonn parties and most of the media, which was regarded as a characteristic of unresolved fascism in its own post-war society. In 1965, only 44% of West Germans saw the U.S. Vietnam War as a defense of freedom against communism. A committee for peace and disarmament and the SPD-affiliated SHB organized the first nationwide protests in the autumn 1965. It demanded Vietnam’s self-determination in accordance with the Geneva Decisions of 1954 and the cessation of all West German aid for the US war effort, which was called “genocide”. North Vietnam’s revolutionary goals were not supported.
Since 1965, the West Berlin SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) has also dealt with Vietnam. In the summer of 1965, the AStA of the FU called for “peace in Vietnam” and was voted out of office because of this claim to a political mandate. As a result, 70 writers and 130 professors supported the “Declaration on the War in Vietnam” of December 1, 1965, which called for an open debate.
After Federal Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had unreservedly supported the Vietnam War during a visit to the USA, a West Berlin group led by Rudi Dutschke warned on 4 February 1966 with protest posters against an escalation into nuclear war and demanded a “grab to arms” of targeted, provocative violations of the rules against it. The following day, protesters threw five eggs at West Berlin’s America House and took the U.S. flag off the building. This student anti-war action found a nationwide media echo for the first time.
It was accompanied by an unprecedented contingent of nearly 20,000 police officers. During counter-protests by CDU supporters on February 8, students were beaten into the S-Bahn to East Berlin without police intervening. The peaceful Easter marches in April were followed on 22 May in Frankfurt am Main by the congress “Vietnam – Analysis of an Example” organized by the SDS with around 2000 participants. In the run-up, it was controversial whether one should demand an immediate ceasefire or support a “victory of the Vietcong”.
The philosopher Herbert Marcuse explained in his noted speech that from the time of National Socialism there was a moral duty to stand up against the Vietnam War. Thus, the SDS took the initiative in the anti-war campaign at the universities, for which it spent a large part of its funds. He understood the Vietnam War as a war of liberation by the Vietnamese against aggressive US imperialism and world capitalism. Student protests were supposed to help the NLF win. Anti-authoritarian protest methods were preferred and tested.
On November 28, 1966, demonstrators in Munich accused the German government of using poison gas experts and building concentration camps in South Vietnam to help a regime that needed six or seven Hitlers. This referred to General Kỳ’s statement of July 4, 1965: his only hero was Hitler, who had held his country together in a terrible situation. In Vietnam, four or five Hitlers would be needed. On December 6, 1967, SDS supporters prevented South Vietnam’s ambassadors from speaking at an RCDS event. In the following demonstrations on 10 and 17 December, police violence occurred.
On Christmas Eve, Rudi Dutschke was beaten up by visitors to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when he wanted to discuss the Vietnam War in a church service. During the Tet Offensive, demonstrations took place in many West German cities. On February 17, 1968, an International Vietnam Congress was held in West Berlin, at which a “second revolutionary front” was proclaimed in the metropolises. Among other things, they wanted to practice sabotage against military installations vital to the war effort, call on US soldiers to desert and strive for the withdrawal of the Federal Republic of Germany from NATO.
The following day, up to 20,000 people demonstrated against the Vietnam War. Dutschke was dissuaded at short notice from leading the route past a US barracks and storming it, since the US soldiers had orders to shoot. An International News and Research Institute (INFI) was established to raise awareness of Vietnam. After the assassination attempt on Dutschke in April 1968, anti-war protests subsided, other topics came to the fore.
A Gallup poll from August/October 1966 showed (% figures):
|Troop withdrawal begins||18||42||68||51|
|Maintaining the current state of affairs||18||17||8||19|
Post-war policy of Vietnam
On July 2, 1976, North and South Vietnam were reunited under the name of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, temporarily the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh).
Thus the country was reunited and sovereign as a whole, as Ho had strived for throughout his life. The NLF was dissolved in 1977.
Since 1975, North Vietnamese have killed some 60,000 “unwanted” South Vietnamese, interned hundreds of thousands of Thieu regime supporters in forced labor camps, and subjected them to an intensive political re-education program; Some were tortured. By 1978, most political prisoners had been released, and by 1995 all political prisoners.
Since March 1978, the government has nationalized key industries and transformed private farms into cooperatives in order to distance itself from the opening of the People’s Republic of China to capitalism and curb the growing influence of successful entrepreneurs. That’s why about 1.5 million Vietnamese, mostly of Chinese origin, fled Vietnam by boat across the Pacific; many of these “boat people” drowned. Those who reached Hong Kong often spent many years in refugee camps or were deported back to Vietnam. Over 100,000 emigrated to the US, where they form a relatively impoverished fringe group.
With the conquest of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge began their years of tyranny. They murdered over two million Cambodians by 1978, which is now classified as genocide or democide. Due to frequent border crossings and streams of refugees from the neighboring state, Vietnam had its forces invade Cambodia in December 1978, where they overthrew the Khmer Rouge.
As a result, in February 1979, the People’s Republic of China invaded border areas with Vietnam and temporarily occupied some of its islands, where large oil deposits were suspected. Until a ceasefire in 1991, the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla war against Vietnam’s troops, which placed an additional economic burden on the country. From 1986, the government allowed a partial privatization of agriculture within the framework of the Đổi mới and increased its economic growth. However, the majority of Vietnamese’s 80 million remained relatively poor for a long time.
Post-war US policy
The U.S. Congress denied funds for the reconstruction of Vietnam in 1973. U.S. President Gerald Ford, contrary to Nixon’s aid promises, imposed an economic embargo on Vietnam, which remained in force until 1994. After the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia (April 1975) and the Pathet Lao in Laos (December 1975), communists ruled in three states of Indochina. Most U.S. citizens, however, opposed a resumption of the war. Ford took this stance into account in May 1975 by saying that the US could regain its former pride, but not by a new war, which, as far as the US was concerned, was over. He prevented Vietnam’s admission to the UN in 1976. His successor, Jimmy Carter, stuck to it in order to avoid feared opposition in the US Congress and to obtain its approval for full diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan put Vietnam under strong pressure on the issue of missing U.S. soldiers from 1983 onwards and stuck to it even after Vietnam offered unlimited cooperation from its authorities in the search in 1985. His successor, George H. W. Bush, blocked IMF loans that France wanted to broker to Vietnam. Only US President Bill Clinton allowed such IMF loans in 1993. In 1995, the veterans of both countries strengthened their contacts and promoted veteran tourism in Vietnam. In 1997, the two countries opened embassies in Washington and Hanoi and agreed on a program for Vietnamese officers to train U.S. soldiers in jungle combat. Since then, economic relations between the two countries have also intensified.
The Vietnam War caused a sustained aversion of most U.S. citizens to further U.S. military intervention. As early as 1966, the US government avoided greater aid to Thailand in order not to be drawn into its internal conflicts. For the same reason, in December 1975, the US Congress ended a secret CIA operation in the civil war in Angola. Opponents of such actions coined the slogan “No more Vietnam!” Proponents have referred to this attitude as the “Vietnam syndrome” since 1978, denouncing it as an abnormal, pathological condition that must be overcome in order to “win” the Cold War.
The Vietnam War had delayed US rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China and strengthened its ties to many right-wing dictatorships in Latin America. After that, the US had to take into account its loss of international reputation both domestically and internationally. It was only after the failure of the hostage rescue in Iran in 1979 that US interventions again received majorities of the US population.
Ronald Reagan declared in his 1980 presidential campaign that the Vietnam War was fought for “noble reasons.” Never again should US soldiers be sent to war if the government fears letting them win. He intervened militarily in Grenada and supported anti-communist civil war parties in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but ended the US military presence in Lebanon immediately after a bombing of US soldiers in 1982. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, built in 1982, came about without a government contribution through private donations.
In 1985, Nixon wrote: Since the fall of Saigon, a key battle in “World War III” (meaning proxy wars of the superpowers in the Third World since 1945), the new isolationism in the USA has contributed to the fall of further “dominoes” (Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Nicaragua) to Soviet communism. Only Reagan stopped this series of defeats of the USA. But the “spirit of Vietnam” is driving congressional debates about intervention in El Salvador and aid for the Contras in Nicaragua. “We must cleanse ourselves of the debilitating disease of Vietnam syndrome to avoid further defeats in World War III.”
Before the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. government sought congressional approval and a UN mandate, formed a broad military war coalition, sent a vastly superior troop number, gave it a clearly defined target, and censored coverage. The quick and “overwhelming” victory of the US was seen as a successful overcoming of the national “Vietnam trauma”.The then US President George H. W. Bush believed that the “Vietnam syndrome” had been finally eliminated. However, after the Iraq war and the increasing casualties and costs of the occupation of Iraq since 2003, comparisons to Vietnam resurfaced in the US.
The view of the US administrations involved in the war has always been that an aggressive communism aimed at world conquest had forced the initially hesitant USA to become increasingly militarily involved in the defense of the peoples of Southeast Asia and finally to direct military action to protect sovereign and free South Vietnam. The war, which had actually already been won militarily, could not be ended victoriously by domestic political factors.
North Vietnamese historians counter that the Vietnamese did not see their country as a divided two states, but as one nation. North Vietnam had therefore understood its commitment to the NLF not as a civil war, but always as a just struggle of all Vietnamese for national self-determination against an imperialist intervention of the USA in order to preserve the prospect of reunification of their people. They could not have regarded South Vietnam as sovereign, but only as a US-backed puppet state whose regime had broken the Geneva Accords in 1956 with US help.
David Halberstam was the first to describe the war in 1967 in his award-winning field report as a “quagmire” into which the USA had fallen. To support Diem and Thieu was a political mistake of previous US administrations, which had not sought the common good of the Vietnamese. Tyrannical nepotism, corruption, unenforced social reforms have increased South Vietnam’s economic and military dependence. Therefore, the war for Vietnam’s future cannot be won. Neil Sheehan described the situation in South Vietnam similarly in 1966. Frances FitzGerald described US policy in Vietnam in 1968 as a destructive clash with the culture of Confucianism. Ordinary Vietnamese do not perceive a social revolution as a violent break with tradition, but as a change necessary from time to time. Because of the rural orders destroyed in the colonial period, the NLF was able to direct the hatred of the peasants against Diem’s bureaucracy.
The U.S. financial aid would have made Diem’s regime a service provider to the U.S., which needed the U.S. military to protect itself from its own people. The traditional subservience of many South Vietnamese while remaining reluctant to political advice has reinforced racist resentment by US soldiers against ungrateful and inferior “gooks” (devaluation of East Asians) and war crimes. Vietnamization only prolongs the suffering of the South Vietnamese under Thieu’s regime. In view of the misery of refugees, corruption, anomie and alienation between the people and the regime caused by carpet bombing, a social revolution is inevitable. The book was published in 1972, quickly became a bestseller and strengthened the anti-war movement.
Following such critical war reports, most U.S. historians from 1965 onwards held a view later described as “orthodox”: The U.S. government had caused the war through their military involvement and could not win it despite multiple superiorities because of a non-functioning South Vietnam. They would have misinterpreted an essentially nationalistic struggle for self-determination by placing it in the Cold War and understood neither the allied nor the opposing Vietnamese.
Since 1975, US authors have written by far the most works on the Vietnam War, but mostly described it limited to the actions of the USA and consequences for it, asked US-related questions and sought answers in US sources. George C. Herring criticized: Like the belligerents themselves, such authors are incapable of bridging the gap of ignorance towards the allied and opposing Vietnamese. The need to know and understand the culture, history, and local dynamics of regions in which one is considering interfering has so far been poorly understood in the United States.
From 1980 onwards, other US historians contrasted the still dominant “orthodox” view of history with what was described as “revisionist”, according to which the Vietnam War was a just war, which had failed tragically but militarily unnecessarily due to domestic political factors (“betrayal”). The military historian Harry G. Summers, in his influential analysis On Strategy (1982), cited the main causes of US failure as the leadership did not involve the US people as a strategic factor in its warfare from the outset and conducted war as a means of exerting pressure for negotiations, not for military victory.
In doing so, conventional warfare has been neglected. This has given North Vietnam decisive advantages. Not the guerrilla tactics of the NLF, which had actually already been defeated in 1968, but the conventional invading army NVA defeated South Vietnam in 1975. The U.S. Army must learn again to wage limited conventional wars victoriously with the support of U.S. citizens. In the preface to the new edition in 1995, Summers stated: In the Gulf War in 1991, the USA had won.
He contradicted Robert McNamara, who had described and regretted the Vietnam War as a tragic mistake of the USA in his memoirs published at the time, and blamed McNamara’s lack of will to win since 1965 for the failure of the USA. The work became a strategy textbook for the training of US soldiers, the author’s view the standard position of the US military. It corresponds to the line of the neoconservative forces in the USA, which in retrospect advocate an early and consistent bombing and invasion of North Vietnam as the correct strategy and have aligned the US wars of intervention since 1990 accordingly.
Paul M. Kattenburg described the causes of the “Vietnam trauma” of the USA in 1981 as a tragic consequence of the Cold War, which had determined US foreign policy globally and caused a chain of wrong decisions by US governments.C. Dale Walton objected to the assumption of an inevitable US defeat, attributing it to a series of strategic “errors” by decision-makers who, despite sufficient information, would have preferred counterinsurgency with too few ground troops and gradual bombing without the goal of defeating North Vietnam.
To this day, critics warn of the foreseeable failure of new US foreign interventions with reference to Vietnam. In 2006, Raymond M. Scurfield drew several parallels between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War and concluded that the lessons of Vietnam had been forgotten in the USA. The strategic historical works Lessons in Disaster and A Better War are said to have contributed decisively to the formulation of Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy.
Novels and films
Influential early English-language works on the beginnings of the Vietnam War were the novel The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955), The Viet Minh Regime (1954) and The Two Vietnams (1963) by Bernard Fall. They described interest groups in Vietnam and the futility of the French colonial war. In North Vietnam, novels and poems served until 1975 to strengthen the revolutionary war and hardly described individuality. Since the 1990s, Vietnamese war novels such as Bitter Rice (1993) by Dương Thu Hương and Born in Vietnam (1994) by Le Ly Hayslip have been published. Oliver Stone filmed Hayslip’s novel as Between Heaven and Hell (1993).
In the 1980s, around 300 films about the Vietnam War were made in the USA, before and after only a few. Some, like Apocalypse Now, were shot by US directors in the Philippines with great input of material and, like the real war, were accompanied by inflation, drug use and environmental destruction. Only Green Berets (1968) was created during the war. The film is considered an anti-communist propaganda film, which juxtaposes “good” US soldiers with “bad” Vietcong in the style of a Western. Many later films (representative such as Deer Hunter, 1978; Platoon, 1986) ask about the meaning of this war by showing individual US heroes who cripple mentally and physically in borderline situations. This is exactly what the documentary Dear America – Letters from Vietnam (1987) does, compiling field mail and real war footage.
From 1984, films such as Rambo II – The Mission or Missing in Action appeared, in which indomitable heroes return to Vietnam and make up for the victory of the USA, which historically failed to materialize. They are criticized as “committed to the neo-imperial rhetoric of the Reagan era” and as a “cheap therapy” for national Vietnam trauma. Wir waren Helden (2002) shows a patriotic and religious hero who is initially against the war effort, but then takes a leading role there, saves comrades and then happily returns to home and family.
Hardly any of these films dealt with the political background of the Vietnam War. Most are characterized by a simple and sweeping good-evil dichotomy and a reversal of perpetrator-victim roles. Some, such as Hamburger Hill (1987), accused US governments and liberal media of betraying their own soldiers. Full Metal Jacket (1987), on the other hand, depicts a war of images in an alienated setting (an industrial desert instead of a jungle) to criticize the inability of the US media to realistically portray the war as a pointless crusade.
Peter Scholl-Latour, who had experienced the first Indochina War, rejected the view of a “(green) hell Vietnam” conveyed by popular culture: Only about 100,000 of the two million US soldiers deployed in Vietnam were involved in heavy battles. Helicopters were used to supply them even in the most remote positions and to fly out the wounded at short notice.
Vietnam’s small film industry produces only a few films per year. Here, too, most war films were made in the 1980s. They describe individual fates or the racism to which children of African-American US soldiers and Vietnamese women are exposed. The film Cyclo (1995) was also filmed in Vietnam, but its screening was banned there. A classic of the Vietnamese war film is When the tenth month comes by Dang Nhat Minh. Some well-known Hollywood films are circulating as video copies in Vietnam. Vietnamese war films often have a documentary character; they often show extended family life and few gruesome scenes. In 1988, Dschungelzeit (1988), the first Vietnamese-German feature film co-production on the subject, was released.
In 1976, Marcel Ophüls’ documentary The Memory of Justice (Not Guilty? ) in which possible parallels between the Second World War and the Vietnam War are examined. Among the documentaries released in Europe, Lighter than Orange – The Legacy of Dioxin in Vietnam (2015) is particularly noteworthy, as it focuses on their and not the American point of view through interviews with 12 Vietnamese veterans affected by Agent Orange. In 2017, the extensive 18-hour TV documentary series Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick was released with many new eyewitness interviews.
In 1969, the English rock band Deep Purple wrote the song Child in Time as a protest song against the Vietnam War.In the same year, the Rolling Stones released the song Gimme Shelter. The lyrics are about the search for shelter (shelter) from an approaching storm, in the case of the Vietnam War and the fear of the Cold War tipping over into a “hot” war. This threat of a worldwide nuclear war came closer due to several conflicts between the then superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union.
Through the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, The End is particularly associated with the Vietnam War by the Doors. The English punk band Television Personalities released a song called Back to Vietnam in 1984, which deals with post-traumatic memories. Song 19 by Paul Hardcastle picks up on the fact that the average age of U.S. soldiers involved in the Vietnam War was 19.The musical Hair deals with the tension between the American hippie movement and the Vietnam War. The musical Miss Saigon describes the love story of a South Vietnamese woman with an American soldier at the end of the war.
Literature on The Vietnam War
Bibliographies and encyclopedias
- Spencer C. Tucker (ed.): The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: a political, social, and military history. 2nd edition. ABC-Clio, Santa Barbara, California 2011, four volumes.
- Louis A. Peake: The United States in the Vietnam War, 1954–1975: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography of English-language Sources. Reprint. Routledge, 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-95770-0.
- Edwin E. Moise: The A to Z of the Vietnam War. Revised edition. Scarecrow Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8108-5333-7.
- John C. Schafer (ed.): Vietnamese Perspectives on the War in Vietnam: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English. (= Lạc Việt, Yale Southeast Asia Studies. Volume 17.) 1997, ISBN 0-938692-66-6.
- David A. Willson, John Newman (eds.): Vietnam War Literature: An Annotated Bibliography of Imaginative Works About Americans Fighting in Vietnam. 3rd, revised edition. Scarecrow Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8108-3184-8.
- Anton Legler (I–V), Kurt Hubinek (I), Frieda Bauer (II–V):
- Der Krieg in Vietnam I. Bericht und Bibliographie bis 30. September 1968. ISBN 3-7637-0208-3.
- The War in Vietnam II. Report and Bibliography (October 1968–September 1969). 1971, ISBN 3-7637-0211-3.
- Der Krieg in Vietnam III. Bericht und Bibliographie von Oktober 1969 bis September 1971. 1973, ISBN 3-7637-0213-X.
- The War in Vietnam IV. Report and Bibliography. Oktober 1971–Januar 1973. ISBN 3-7637-0216-4.
- Der Krieg in Vietnam V. Bericht und Bibliographie Januar 1973–Mai 1975. ISBN 3-7637-0217-2.
- Bernard & Graefe Verlag für Wehrwesen.
- Günter Engmann: Die USA-Aggression gegen Vietnam. Militärverlag der Deutschen Demokratische Republik, Berlin 1983
- Marc Frey: Geschichte des Vietnamkrieg. The tragedy in Asia and the end of the American dream. 8th edition. Beck, München 2006, ISBN 3-406-45978-1.
- Jürgen Horlemann/Peter Gäng: Vietnam. Genesis eines Konflikts, Suhrkamp-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1966
- Rolf Steininger: Der Vietnamkrieg. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-596-16129-0.
- Hellmut Kapfenberger: … our people will surely win. 30 Jahre Überlebenskampf Vietnams im Rückblick, Verlag Wiljo Heinen, Berlin und Böklund 2015, ISBN 978-3-95514-021-2.
- William J. Rust: Eisenhower and Cambodia. Diplomacy, Covert Action, and the Origins of the Second Indochina War. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA 2016.
- David Halberstam, Vietnam or Is the Jungle Defoliated? Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1965 (slightly shortened German translation from the American of “The Making of the Quagmire”).
- Mitchell K. Hall: The Vietnam War (Seminar Studies in History). Longman, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4058-2470-5.
- Jonathan Neale: The American War. Vietnam 1960–1975. Atlantik-Verlag, Bremen 2004, ISBN 3-926529-17-2.
- Marilyn B. Young, Robert Buzzanco: A Companion to the Vietnam War. Blackwell, 2002, ISBN 0-631-21013-X.
- George C. Herring: America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975. 4th edition. Dushkin/ Mcgraw-Hill, 2001, ISBN 0-07-253618-7.
- Robert D. Schulzinger: A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941–1975. Reprint. Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-512501-0.
- Paul Elliott: Vietnam – Conflict & Controversy. 1998, ISBN 1-85409-320-7.
- Stanley Karnow: Vietnam, a history. Penguin Books, New York 1997, ISBN 0-670-74604-5.
- Robert S. McNamara, Brian VanDeMark: Vietnam. The trauma of a world power. Spiegel-Buchverlag, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-455-11139-4.
- Guenter Lewy: America in Vietnam. Oxford University Press, 1978, ISBN 0-19-502732-9.
- Lien-Hang T. Nguyen: Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2012, ISBN 978-0-8078-3551-7.
- Cheng Guan Ang: The Vietnam War from the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists’ Perspective. Routledge Curzon, 2002, ISBN 0-7007-1615-7.
- Gregory A. Daddis: Withdrawal: Reassessing America’s Final Years in Vietnam. Oxford University Press, New York 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-069108-0.
- George J. Veith: Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973–75. Encounter Books, New York 2011, ISBN 978-1-59403-572-2.
- Shelby L. Stanton, William C. Westmoreland (eds.): Vietnam Order of Battle: A Complete Illustrated Reference to US Army Combat and Support Forces in Vietnam, 1961–1973. Stackpole, 2003, ISBN 0-8117-0071-2.
- David E. Kaiser: American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War. Belknap, Cambridge 2002, ISBN 978-0-674-00672-0.
- Tim Page: Another Vietnam. Images of war from the other side. National Geographic, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-934385-65-6.
- Gabriel Kolko: Anatomy of a War. Vietnam, the United States and the Modern Historical Experience. 2001, ISBN 1-84212-286-X.
- Walter L. Hixson (ed.): The Vietnam War: The Diplomacy of War. Routledge Chapman & Hall, 2000, ISBN 0-8153-3534-2 (book excerpt online).
- Fredrik Logevall: Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam. University of California Press, Berkeley 1999, ISBN 0-520-21511-7.
- John Prados: The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. John Wiley & Sons, New York 1998, ISBN 0-471-25465-7.
- Gabriel Kolko: Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace. 1997, ISBN 0-415-15990-3.
- Andreas Margara:Geteiltes Land, geteiltes Leid. Geschichte der german-vietnamesischen Beziehungen von 1945 bis zur Gegenwart, Berlin 2022, ISBN 978-3-947729-62-3
- Ronald Spector: After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam. The Free Press, New York 1993, ISBN 0-02-930380-X.
- Ken Wachsberger, Sanford Berman: Voices from the Underground: Insider histories of the Vietnam era underground press. Mica Press, 1993, ISBN 1-879461-03-X.
- Neil Sheehan: The Big Lie. John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Europaverlag, Wien/ Zürich 1992, ISBN 3-203-51149-5.
- William Appleman Williams: America in Vietnam: A Documentary History. 1989, ISBN 0-385-19752-7.
- Terrence Maitland: Raising the Stakes. Boston Publishing Company, Boston 1982, ISBN 0-201-11262-0.
- Dan Oberdorfer: Tet! The turning point in the Vietnam War. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1971, ISBN 0-8018-6703-7.
- Jan Berry, W.D. Ehrhart: Demilitarized Zones – Veterans after Vietnam. East River Anthology, Perkasie 1976, ISBN 0-917238-01-X.
War crimes – consequences of war
- Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Metropolitan Books, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-8050-8691-1.
- David Zierler: Inventing Ecocide: Agent Orange, Antiwar Protest, and Environmental Destruction in Vietnam. Proquest, 2011, ISBN 978-1-243-97298-9.
- Bernd Greiner: Krieg ohne Fronten. The USA in Vietnam. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-936096-80-4.
- Peter Jaeggi: When my child was born, I was very sad. Late effects of the use of chemical weapons in the Vietnam War. Lenos-Verlag, Basel 2000, ISBN 3-85787-298-5.
- David Fulghum, Terrence Maitland: South Vietnam On Trial: Mid-1970 to 1972. Boston Publishing Company, Boston 1984, ISBN 0-939526-10-7.
- Warren Hinckle, Steven Chain, David Goldstein (co-eds.): Guerilla War in USA. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-421-01592-9.
- Bao Ninh: The Sorrows of War: Novel. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2014, ISBN 978-3-95462-339-6 (English original: The Sorrow of War. 2012).
- Christian G. Appy: Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History, Told from All Sides. Reprint. Ebury, 2008, ISBN 978-0-09-191012-9.
- Michael Zeitlin, Paul Budra: Soldier Talk: The Vietnam War in Oral Narrative. Indiana University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-253-34433-6.
- Harold G. Moore, Joseph L. Galloway: We Were Soldiers Once… And Young. 2002, ISBN 0-06-050698-9.
- Kevin Hillstrom, Laurie Collier Hillstrom: Vietnam War: Biographies. U.X.L. Vietnam War Reference Library, Cengage Gale, 2000, ISBN 0-7876-4884-1.
- Philip Caputo: Stosstrupp durch die grüne Hölle, Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1989, ISBN 3-404-11360-8.
- Oriana Fallaci: We, angels and beasts. Ein Bericht aus dem Vietnam Krieg. dtv, München 1988, ISBN 3-423-10259-4.
- Michael Herr: ›Dispatches‹ betrayed to hell. Rogner & Bernhard, München 1979, ISBN 3-8077-0101-X.
- David Parsons, Marci Reaven, Lily Wong (for the New-York Historical Society): The Vietnam War: 1945-1975. Giles, NYC, 2017. 96 p. ISBN 978-1-907804-77-9.
- Andreas Margara: Der Amerikanische Krieg. Culture of Remembrance in Vietnam. Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-940132-48-2.
- Michael Hunt: A Vietnam War Reader: American and Vietnamese Perspectives. Penguin, 2010, ISBN 978-0-14-104702-7.
- Gary R. Hess: Vietnam: Explaining America’s lost War. John Wiley and Sons, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4051-2527-7.
- Philip D. Beidler: Late thoughts on an old war: the legacy of Vietnam. University of Georgia Press, Athens 2004, ISBN 0-8203-2589-9.
- Mark Taylor: The Vietnam War in History, Literature and Film. Edinburgh University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-7486-1533-4.
- Jayne Werner, Luu-Doan Huynh (eds.): The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives. M. E. Sharpe, 1997, ISBN 1-56324-131-5.
- Jan Berry, W.D. Ehrhart (eds.): Demilitarized Zones, East River Anthology of poems, 1976, Perkasie, Pa. USA, ISBN 0-917238-01-X.
- Mark Heberle (ed.): Thirty years after: new essays on Vietnam War literature, film, and art. Cambridge Scholars, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4438-0123-2.
- Lee Andresen: Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War. Savage Press, 2003, ISBN 1-886028-60-5.
- Nora M. Alter: Vietnam Protest Theatre: The Television War on Stage. Indiana University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-253-33032-7.
- Linda Michaud, Gene Dittmar: From Hanoi to Hollywood. The Vietnam War in American Film. Rutgers University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8135-1587-4.
- Peter Weiss: Viet Nam Diskurs. Suhrkamp, Berlin 1968.
Hyeong Shik Kim: Peter Weiss’ “Viet Nam Diskurs”: Möglichkeiten und Formen eines Engagement für die Dritte Welt. Peter Lang, 1992, ISBN 3-631-44879-1.
- Lucy R. Lippard (Hrsg.): A different war: Vietnam in art. Whatcom Museum of History and Art, 1990, ISBN 0-941104-43-5.
- Vietnam. Die Geschichte des Vietnamkriegs 1955–1975. Dokumentarfilm. Director: Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Arte, France, USA 2017.