Vietnam - America’s Longest War
 

American involvement in the Vietnam War began on Nov. 1, 1955, when the administration of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower deployed military advisers to train the South Vietnamese Army.
Official U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended with the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973.

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I was sent this message by a friend, that Jane Fonda is to be honored as one of the "100 Women of the Century?"  I want everyone to know that every Viet Nam veteran remembers Jane Fonda’s finest hour.
 
Most young people today were not yet born when Jane Fonda became the American traitor she is.

But this act of treason must never be forgotten.  Hanoi Jane in all her Glory, sits at an Anti Aircraft Gun in Hanoi and pretends she's shooting down America aircraft.  This action was in all the news, and she was venerated by the people who marched in lock step with the communist professors in our colleges.  These actions prolonged the war and gave political victory to the enemy.  How many American kids grew up without a father because of this "Wonderful??" woman.

This is for all the kids born in the 70's that do not remember this, and didn't have to bear the burden, that our fathers, mothers, and older brothers and sisters had to bear. Jane Fonda is being honored as one of the "100 Women of the Century."  Unfortunately, many have forgotten and still countless others have never known how Jane Fonda betrayed not only the idea of our country but all the men and women who served and sacrificed during Vietnam.

The first part of this is from an F-4E pilot. The pilot's name is Jerry Driscoll, a River Rat.  In 1978, the former Commandant of the USAF Survival School was a POW in Ho Lo Prison-the "Hanoi Hilton." Dragged from a stinking cesspit of a cell, cleaned, fed, and dressed in clean PJs, he was ordered to describe for a visiting American "Peace Activist" the "lenient and humane treatment" he'd received.  He spat at Ms. Fonda, was clubbed, and dragged away. During the subsequent beating, he fell forward upon the camp Commandant's feet, which sent that officer berserk. In '78, the AF Col. still suffered from double vision (which permanently ended his flying days) from the Vietnamese Col.'s frenzied application of a wooden baton.

From 1963-65, Col.  Larry Carrigan was in the 47FW/DO (F-4Es).  He spent 6 -years in the "Hilton"- the first three of which he was "missing in action".  His wife lived on faith that he was still alive.  His group, too, got the cleaned, fed, clothed routine in preparation for a "peace delegation" visit.  They, however, had time and devised a plan to get word to the world that they still survived.  Each man secreted a tiny piece of paper, with his SSN on it, in the palm of his hand. When paraded before Ms. Fonda and a cameraman, she walked the line, shaking each man's hand and asking little encouraging snippets like: "Aren't you sorry you bombed babies?" and "Are you grateful for the humane treatment from your benevolent captors?"

Believing this HAD to be an act, they each palmed her their sliver of paper.  She took them all without missing a beat.  At the end of the line and once  the camera stopped rolling, to the shocked disbelief of the POWs, she turned to the officer in charge and handed him the little pile of papers. Three men died from the subsequent beatings.  Col. Carrigan was almost number four but he survived, which is the only reason we know about her actions that day.

I was a civilian economic development advisor in Vietnam, and was captured by the North Vietnamese communists in South Vietnam in 1968, and held for over 5 years.  I spent 27 months in solitary confinement, one year in a cage in Cambodia, and one year in a "black box" in Hanoi.  My North Vietnamese captors deliberately poisoned and murdered a female missionary, a nurse in a leprosarium in Ban me Thuot, South Vietnam, whom I buried in the jungle near the Cambodian border. At one time, I was weighing approximately 90 lbs.  (My normal weight is 170 lbs.) We were Jane Fonda's "war criminals." When Jane Fonda was in Hanoi, I was asked by the camp communist political officer if I would be willing to meet with Jane Fonda.  I said yes, for I would like to tell her about the real treatment we POWs received different from the treatment purported by the North Vietnamese, and parroted by Jane Fonda, as "humane and lenient." Because of this, I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a large amount of steel placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane till my arms dipped.

I had the opportunity to meet with Jane Fonda for a couple of hours after I was released.  I asked her if she would be willing to debate me on TV. She did not answer me. This does not exemplify someone who should be honored as part of "100 Years of Great Women." Lest we forget..."100 years of great women" should never include a traitor whose hands are covered with the blood of so many patriots.  There are few things I have strong visceral reactions to, but Hanoi Jane's participation in blatant treason, is one of them.

Please take the time to forward to as many people as you possibly can. It will eventually end up on her computer and she needs to know that we will never forget.

First Indochina War
 
United States Vice President Richard M. Nixon visiting Vietnam in 1953

Courtesy Indochina Archives
Treating wounded French solider at Dien Bien Phu, April 1954

Courtesy New York Times, Paris Collection, National Archives
DeGaulle and Ho Chi Minh are hanged in effigy during National Shame Day in Saigon, July 1964, observing the tenth anniversary of the July 1954 Geneva Agreements.

Courtesy United States Army
Northern Roman Catholic peasant refugee, 1954

Courtesy Indochina Archives

Ho's efforts during this period were directed primarily at conciliating both the French themselves and the militantly antiFrench members of the ICP leadership. The growing frequency of clashes between French and Vietnamese forces in Haiphong led to a French naval bombardment of that port city in November 1946. Estimates of Vietnamese casualties from the action range from 6,000 to 20,000. This incident and the arrival of 1,000 troops of the French Foreign Legion in central and northern Vietnam in early December convinced the communists, including Ho, that they should prepare for war. On December 19, the French demanded that the Vietnamese forces in the Hanoi area disarm and transfer responsibility for law and order to French authority. That evening, the Viet Minh responded by attacking the city's electric plant and other French installations around the area. Forewarned, the French seized Gia Lam airfield and took control of the central part of Hanoi, as full-scale war broke out. By late January, the French had retaken most of the provincial capitals in northern and central Vietnam. Hue fell in early February, after a six-week siege. The Viet Minh, which avoided using its main force units against the French at that time, continued to control most of the countryside, where it concentrated on building up its military strength and setting up guerrilla training programs in liberated areas. Seizing the initiative, however, the French marched north to the Chinese border in the autumn of 1947, inflicting heavy casualties on the Viet Minh and retaking much of the Viet Bac region.

Meanwhile, in April 1947 the Viet Minh in Cochinchina had destroyed all chance for alliance with the religious sects by executing Huynh Phu So, leader of the Hoa Hao. Both the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai formed alliances soon afterward with the French. The Committee for the South, which had seriously damaged the Communist image in Cochinchina by its hard-line approach, was replaced in 1951 by the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN, Trung Uong Cuc Mien Nam), headed by Le Duan. In the north, however, the political and military situation had begun to improve for the Communists by late 1948. The Viet Minh had increased the number of its troops to more than 250,000 and, through guerrilla activities, the Communists had managed to retake part of the Viet Bac as well as a number of small liberated base areas in the south. ICP political power was also growing, although lack of a land reform program and the continued moderate policy toward the patriotic landed gentry discouraged peasant support for the communists. In 1948, the French responded to the growing strength of the Viet Minh by granting nominal independence to all of Vietnam in the guise of "associated statehood" within the French Union. The terms of the agreement made it clear, however, that Vietnam's independence was, in reality, devoid of any practical significance. The new government, established with Bao Dai as chief of state, was viewed critically by nationalists as well as communists. Most prominent nationalists, including Ngo Dinh Diem (president, Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam, 1955-63), refused positions in the government, and many left the country.

The United States recognized the Associated State of Vietnam in early 1950, but this action was counterbalanced a few days later with the recognition of the DRV by the new People's Republic of China. In March, Ho Chi Minh signed an agreement with Beijing that called for limited assistance to Hanoi. Shortly thereafter, Moscow also formally recognized the DRV, and the Viet Minh became more openly affiliated with the communist camp. Mao Zedong's model of revolution was openly praised in the Vietnamese press; and the ICP, which, on paper, had been temporarily dissolved in 1945 to obsecure the Viet Minh's communist roots, surfaced under a new name in 1951 that removed all doubt of its communist nature. More than 200 delegates, representing some 500,000 party members, gathered at the Second National Party Congress of the ICP, held in February 195l in Tuyen Quang Province. Renaming the ICP the Vietnam Workers' Party (VWP, Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam), the delegates elected Ho as party chairman and Truong Chinh as general secretary.

Dien Bien Phu

With Beijing's promise of limited assistance to Hanoi, the communist military strategy concentrated on the liberation of Tonkin and consigned Cochinchina to a lower priority. The top military priority, as set by Giap, was to free the northern border areas in order to protect the movement of supplies and personnel from China. By autumn of 1950, the Viet Minh had again liberated the Viet Bac in decisive battles that forced the French to evacuate the entire border region, leaving behind a large quantity of ammunition. From their liberated zone in the northern border area, the Viet Minh were free to make raids into the Red River Delta. The French military in Vietnam found it increasingly difficult to convince Paris and the French electorate to give them the manpower and materiel needed to defeat the Viet Minh. For the next two years, the Viet Minh, well aware of the growing disillusionment of the French people with Indochina, concentrated its efforts on wearing down the French military by attacking its weakest outposts and by maximizing the physical distance between engagements to disperse French forces. Being able to choose the time and place for such engagements gave the guerrillas a decided advantage. Meanwhile, political activity was increased until, by late 1952, more than half the villages of the Red River Delta were under Viet Minh control.

The newly appointed commander of French forces in Vietnam, General Henri Navarre, decided soon after his arrival in Vietnam that it was essential to halt a Viet Minh offensive underway in neighboring Laos. To do so, Navarre believed it was necessary for the French to capture and hold the town of Dien Bien Phu, sixteen kilometers from the Laotian border. For the Viet Minh, control of Dien Bien Phu was an important link in the supply route from China. In November 1953, the French occupied the town with paratroop battalions and began reinforcing it with units from the French military post at nearby Lai Chau.

During that same month, Ho indicated that the DRV was willing to examine French proposals for a diplomatic settlement announced the month before. In February 1954, a peace conference to settle the Korean and Indochinese conflicts was set for April in Geneva, and negotiations in Indochina were scheduled to begin on May 8. Viet Minh strategists, led by Giap, concluded that a successful attack on a French fortified camp, timed to coincide with the peace talks, would give Hanoi the necessary leverage for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.

Accordingly, the siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, by which time the Viet Minh had concentrated nearly 50,000 regular troops, 55,000 support troops, and almost 100,000 transport workers in the area. Chinese aid, consisting mainly of ammunition, petroleum, and some large artillery pieces carried a distance of 350 kilometers from the Chinese border, reached 1,500 tons per month by early 1954. The French garrison of 15,000, which depended on supply by air, was cut off by March 27, when the Viet Minh artillery succeeded in making the airfield unusable. An elaborate system of tunnels dug in the mountainsides enabled the Viet Minh to protect its artillery pieces by continually moving them to prevent discovery. Several hundred kilometers of trenches permitted the attackers to move progressively closer to the French encampment. In the final battle, human wave assaults were used to take the perimeter defenses, which yielded defensive guns that were then turned on the main encampment. The French garrison surrendered on May 7, ending the siege that had cost the lives of about 25,000 Vietnamese and more than 1,500 French troops.

The following day, peace talks on Indochina began in Geneva, attended by the DRV, the Associated State of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, France, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In July a compromise agreement was reached consisting of two documents: a cease-fire and a final declaration. The ceasefire agreement, which was signed only by France and the DRV, established a provisional military demarcation line at about the 17°N parallel and required the regroupment of all French military forces south of that line and of all Viet Minh military forces north of the line. A demilitarized zone (DMZ), no more than five kilometers wide, was established on either side of the demarcation line. The cease-fire agreement also provided for a 300-day period, during which all civilians were free to move from one zone to the other, and an International Control Commission, consisting of Canada, India, and Poland, to supervise the ceasefire . The final declaration was endorsed through recorded oral assent by the DRV, France, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. It provided for the holding of national elections in July 1956, under the supervision of the International Control Commission, and stated that the military demarcation line was provisional and "should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political territorial boundary." Both the United States and the Associated State of Vietnam, which France had recognized on June 4 as a "fully independent and sovereign state," refused to approve the final declaration and submitted separate declarations stating their reservations.

The Aftermath of Geneva

The Geneva Agreements were viewed with doubt and dissatisfaction on all sides. Concern over possible United States intervention, should the Geneva talks fail, was probably a major factor in Hanoi's decision to accept the compromise agreement. The United States had dissociated itself from the final declaration, although it had stated that it would refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb the agreements. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to the new Prime Minister of the Bao Dai government, Ngo Dinh Diem, in September 1954 promising United States support for a noncommunist Vietnam. Direct United States aid to South Vietnam began in January 1955, and American advisors began arriving the following month to train South Vietnamese army troops. By early 1955, Diem had consolidated his control by moving against lawless elements in the Saigon area and by suppressing the religious sects in the Mekong Delta. He also launched a "denounce the communists" campaign, in which, according to communist accounts, 25,000 communist sympathizers were arrested and more than 1,000 killed. In August 1955, Diem issued a statement formally refusing to participate in consultations with the DRV, which had been called for by the Geneva Agreement to prepare for national elections. In October, he easily defeated Bao Dai in a seriously tainted referendum and became president of the new Republic of Vietnam.

Despite the growing likelihood that national elections would not be held, the communist leadership in Hanoi decided for the time being to continue to concentrate its efforts on the political struggle. Several factors led to this decision, including the weakness of the party apparatus in the South, the need to concentrate on strengthening the war-weakened North, and pressure from the communist leadership of the Soviet Union, which, under General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, had inaugurated its policy of peaceful coexistence with the West. By 1957, however, a shift to a more militant approach to the reunification of the country was apparent. Partly in response to Diem's anticommunist campaign, the Party stepped up terrorist activities in the South, assassinating several hundred officials of the Diem government. This led to the arrest of another 65,000 suspected Communists and the killing of more than 2,000 by the Saigon government in 1957. Repression by the Diem regime led to the rise of armed rebel self-defense units in various parts of the South, with the units often operating on their own without any party direction. Observing that a potential revolutionary situation had been created by popular resentment of the Diem government and fearing that the government's anticommunist policy would destroy or weaken party organization in the South, the VWP leadership determined that the time had come to resort to violent struggle.

Second Indochina War


Peasants suspected of being communists, 1966

Courtesy United States Army
Kham Thien Street Memorial in Hanoi depicting a mother and child standing on a United States Air Force bomb fragment

Courtesy Bill Herod
Newly arrived United States troops board buses at the Bien Hoa Air Terminal, February 1970.
Courtesy United States Army
Citizens of Tay Ninh welcome the United States Army's 25th Infantry Division, August 1966.
Courtesy United States Army
Interment for 300 unidentified victims of communist occupation of Hue in 1968

Courtesy United States Army
Bicycles used to transport rice on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, captured during United States operations in Cambodia, spring 1970

Courtesy United States Army

By 1959 some of the 90,000 Viet Minh troops that had returned to the North following the Geneva Agreements had begun filtering back into the South to take up leadership positions in the insurgency apparat. Mass demonstrations, punctuated by an occasional raid on an isolated post, were the major activities in the initial stage of this insurgency. Communist-led uprisings launched in 1959 in the lower Mekong Delta and Central Highlands resulted in the establishment of liberated zones, including an area of nearly fifty villages in Quang Ngai Province. In areas under Communist control in 1959, the guerrillas established their own government, levied taxes, trained troops, built defense works, and provided education and medical care. In order to direct and coordinate the new policies in the South, it was necessary to revamp the party leadership apparatus and form a new united front group. Accordingly, COSVN, which had been abolished in 1954, was reestablished with General Nguyen Chi Thanh, a northerner, as chairman and Pham Hung, a southerner, as deputy chairman. On December 20, 1960, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, informally called the National Liberation Front (NLF, Mat Tran Dan Toc Giai Phong Mien Nam), was founded, with representatives on its Central Committee from all social classes, political parties, women's organizations, and religious groups, including Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, the Buddhists, and the Catholics. In order to keep the NLF from being obviously linked with the VWP and the DRV, its executive leadership consisted of individuals not publicly identified with the Communists, and the number of party members in leadership positions at all levels was strictly limited. Furthermore, in order not to alienate patriotic noncommunist elements, the new front was oriented more toward the defeat of the United Statesbacked Saigon government than toward social revolution.

The Fall of Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1961 the rapid increase of insurgency in the South Vietnamese countryside led President John F. Kennedy's administration to decide to increase United States support for the Diem regime. Some $US65 million in military equipment and $US136 million in economic aid were delivered that year, and by December 3,200 United States military personnel were in Vietnam. The United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) was formed under the command of General Paul D. Harkins in February 1962. The cornerstone of the counterinsurgency effort was the strategic hamlet program, which called for the consolidation of 14,000 villages of South Vietnam into 11,000 secure hamlets, each with its own houses, schools, wells, and watchtowers. The hamlets were intended to isolate guerrillas from the villages, their source of supplies and information, or, in Maoist terminology, to separate the fish from the sea in which they swim. The program had its problems, however, aside from the frequent attacks on the hamlets by guerrilla units. The self-defense units for the hamlets were often poorly trained, and support from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam ( ARVN--see Glossary) was inadequate. Corruption, favoritism, and the resentment of a growing number of peasants who were forcibly being forced to resettled plagued the program. It was estimated that of the 8,000 hamlets established, only 1,500 were viable.

In response to increased United States involvement, all communist armed units in the South were unified into a single People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF) in 1961. These troops expanded in number from fewer than 3,000 in 1959 to more than 15,000 by 1961, most of whom were assigned to guerrilla units. Southerners trained in the North who infiltrated back into the South composed an important element of this force. Although they accounted numerically for only about 20 percent of the PLAF, they provided a well-trained nucleus for the movement and often served as officers or political cadres. By late 1962, the PLAF had achieved the capability to attack fixed positions with battalionsized forces. The NLF was also expanded to include 300,000 members and perhaps 1 million sympathizers by 1962. Land reform programs were begun in liberated areas, and by 1964 approximately 1.52 million hectares had been distributed to needy peasants, according to Communist records. In the early stages, only communal lands, uncultivated lands, or lands of absentee landlords were distributed. Despite local pressure for more aggressive land reform, the peasantry generally approved of the program, and it was an important factor in gaining support for the liberation movement in the countryside. In the cities, the Workers' Liberation Association of Vietnam (Hoi Lao Dong Giai Phong Mien Nam), a labor organization affiliated with the NLF, was established in 1961.

Diem grew steadily more unpopular as his regime became more repressive. His brother and chief adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was identified by regime opponents as the source of many of the government's repressive measures. Harassment of Buddhist groups by ARVN forces in early 1963 led to a crisis situation in Saigon. On May 8, 1963, ARVN troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the Diem government's discriminatory policies toward Buddhists, killing nine persons. Hundreds of Buddhist bonzes responded by staging peaceful protest demonstrations and by fasting. In June a bonze set himself on fire in Saigon as a protest, and, by the end of the year, six more bonzes had committed self-immolation. On August 21, special forces under the command of Ngo Dinh Nhu raided the pagodas of the major cities, killing many bonzes and arresting thousands of others. Following demonstrations at Saigon University on August 24, an estimated 4,000 students were rounded up and jailed, and the universities of Saigon and Hue were closed. Outraged by the Diem regime's repressive policies, the Kennedy administration indicated to South Vietnamese military leaders that Washington would be willing to support a new military government. Diem and Nhu were assassinated in a military coup in early November, and General Duong Van Minh took over the government.

Escalation of the War

Hanoi's response to the fall of the Diem regime was a subject of intense debate at the Ninth Plenum of the VWP Central Committee held in December 1963. It appeared that the new administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson (who assumed office following the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22) was not planning to withdraw from Vietnam but, rather, to increase its support for the new Saigon government. The VWP leadership concluded that only armed struggle would lead to success and called for an escalation of the war. The critical issues then became the reactions of the United States and the Soviet Union. Hanoi clearly hoped that the United States would opt for a compromise solution, as it had in Korea and Laos, and the party leaders believed that a quick and forceful escalation of the war would induce it to do so. Hanoi's decision to escalate the struggle was made in spite of the risk of damage to its relations with Moscow, which opposed the decision. The new policy also became an issue in the developing rift between Beijing and Moscow because China expressed its full support for the Vietnamese war of national liberation. As a result, Moscow's aid began to decrease as Beijing's grew.

Escalation of the war resulted in some immediate success for the struggle in the South. By 1964 a liberated zone had been established from the Central Highlands to the edge of the Mekong Delta, giving the communists control over more than half the total land area and about half the population of the South. PLAF forces totaled between 30 and 40 battalions, including 35,000 guerrillas and 80,000 irregulars. Moreover, with the completion of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail (see Glossary) through Laos, the number of PAVN troops infiltrated into the South began to increase. ARVN control was limited mainly to the cities and surrounding areas, and in 1964 and 1965 Saigon governments fell repeatedly in a series of military and civilian coups.

The Johnson administration remained hesitant to raise the American commitment to Vietnam. However, in August 1964, following the reputed shelling of United States warships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Vietnamese coast, Johnson approved air strikes against North Vietnamese naval bases. At President Johnson's urgent request, the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president the power "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." This tougher United States stance was matched in Moscow in October when Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin took over control of the government following the fall from power of Nikita Khrushchev. The new Soviet government pledged increased military support for Hanoi, and the NLF set up a permanent mission in Moscow.

United States support for South Vietnam, which had begun as an effort to defend Southeast Asia from the communist threat, developed into a matter of preserving United States prestige. The Johnson administration, nevertheless, was reluctant to commit combat troops to Vietnam, although the number of United States military advisers including their support and defense units had reached 16,000 by July 1964. Instead, in February 1965 the United States began a program of air strikes known as Operation Rolling Thunder against military targets in North Vietnam. Despite the bombing of the North, ARVN losses grew steadily, and the political situation in Saigon became precarious as one unstable government succeeded another. General William C. Westmoreland, commander of MACV from June 1964 to March 1968 urged the use of United States combat troops to stop the Communist advance, which he predicted, could take over the country within a year. The first two battalions of U.S. Marines (3,500 men) arrived in Vietnam in March 1965 to protect the U.S. airbase at Da Nang. The following month, Westmoreland convinced the administration to commit sufficient combat troops to secure base areas and mount a series of search and destroy missions (see Glossary). By late 1965, the United States expeditionary force in South Vietnam numbered 180,000, and the military situation had stabilized somewhat. Infiltration from the north, however, had also increased, although still chiefly by southerners who had gone north in 1954 and received military training. PLAF strength was estimated to be about 220,000, divided almost equally between guerrillas and main force troops, the latter including units of PAVN regulars totalling about 13,000 troops.

The United States decision to escalate the war was a surprise and a blow to party strategists in Hanoi. At the Twelfth Plenum of the Central Committee in December 1965, the decision was made to continue the struggle for liberation of the South despite the escalated American commitment. The party leadership concluded that a period of protracted struggle lay ahead in which it would be necessary to exert constant military pressure on the Saigon government and its ally in order to make the war sufficiently unpopular in Washington. Efforts were to be concentrated on the ARVN troops, which had suffered 113,000 desertions in 1965 and were thought to be on the verge of disintegration. In early 1965, Hanoi had been encouraged by Moscow's decision to increase its economic and military assistance substantially. The resulting several hundred million dollars in Soviet aid, including surface- to-air missiles, had probably been tied to a promise by Hanoi to attend an international conference on Indochina that had been proposed by Soviet premier Kosygin in February. As preconditions for these negotiations Hanoi and Washington, however, had each presented demands that were unacceptable to the other side. The DRV had called for an immediate and unconditional halt to the bombing of the north, and the United States had demanded the removal of PAVN troops from the South. Although both Hanoi and Washington had been interested in a negotiated settlement, each had preferred to postpone negotiations until it had achieved a position of strength on the battlefield.

By mid-1966 United States forces, now numbering 350,000, had gained the initiative in several key areas, pushing the communists out of the heavily populated zones of the south into the more remote mountainous regions and into areas along the Cambodian border. Revolutionary forces in the South, under the command of General Nguyen Chi Thanh, responded by launching an aggressive campaign of harassment operations and full-scale attacks by regiment-sized units. This approach proved costly, however, in terms of manpower and resources, and by late 1966 about 5,000 troops, including main force PAVN units, were being infiltrated from the North each month to help implement this strategy. At the same time, North Vietnam placed its economy on a war footing, temporarily shelving non-war-related construction efforts. As a consequence of the heavy United States bombing of the North, industries were dismantled and moved to remote areas. Young men were conscripted into the army and their places in fields and factories were filled by women, who also served in home defense and antiaircraft units. Such measures were very effective in countering the impact od the bombing on the North's war effort. The Johnson administration, however, showed no sign of willingness to change its bombing strategy or to lessen its war effort.

During this difficult period, the communists returned to protracted guerrilla warfare and political struggle. The party leadership called for increased efforts to infiltrate moderate political parties and religious organizations. The underground communist leadership in Saigon was instructed to prepare for a general uprising by recruiting youths into guerrilla units and training women to agitate against the city's poor living conditions and the injustices of the Saigon government. Total victory, according to the party leadership, would probably occur when military victories in rural areas were combined with general uprisings in the cities.

In mid-1967, with United States troop levels close to the half million mark, Westmoreland requested 80,000 additional troops for immediate needs and indicated that further requests were being contemplated. United States forces in Tay Ninh, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, and Dinh Tuong provinces had initiated major offensives in late 1966 and in early 1967, and more troops were needed to support these and other planned operations. As a result of these deployments, United States forces were scattered from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta by mid-1967. Opposition to the war, meanwhile, was mounting in the United States; and among the Vietnamese facing one another in the South, the rising cost of men and resources was beginning to take its toll on both sides. The level of PLAF volunteers declined to less than 50 percent in 1967 and desertions rose, resulting in an even greater increase in northern troop participation. Morale declined among communist sympathizers and Saigon government supporters alike. In elections held in South Vietnam in September 1967, former generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky were elected president and vice president, respectively. A number of popular candidates, including Buddhists and peace candidates, were barred from running, and newspapers were largely suppressed during the campaign. Even so, the military candidates received less than 35 percent of the vote, although the election took place only in areas under the Saigon government's control. When proof of widespread election fraud was produced by the defeated candidates, students and Buddhists demonstrated and demanded that the elections be annulled.

The Tet Offensive

In mid-1967 the costs of the war mounted daily with no military victory in sight for either side. Against this background, the party leadership in Hanoi decided that the time was ripe for a general offensive in the rural areas combined with a popular uprising in the cities. The primary goals of this combined major offensive and uprising were to destabilize the Saigon regime and to force the United States to opt for a negotiated settlement. In October 1967, the first stage of the offensive began with a series of small attacks in remote and border areas designed to draw the ARVN and United States forces away from the cities. The rate of infiltration of troops from the North rose to 20,000 per month by late 1967, and the United States command in Saigon predicted a major Communist offensive early the following year. The DMZ area was expected to bear the brunt of the attack. Accordingly, United States troops were sent to strengthen northern border posts, and the security of the Saigon area was transferred to ARVN forces. Despite warnings of the impending offensive, in late January more than one-half of the ARVN forces were on leave because of the approaching Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.

On January 31, 1968, the full-scale offensive began, with simultaneous attacks by the communists on five major cities, thirty-six provincial capitals, sixty-four district capitals, and numerous villages. In Saigon, suicide squads attacked the Independence Palace (the residence of the president), the radio station, the ARVN's joint General Staff Compound, Tan Son Nhut airfield, and the United States embassy, causing considerable damage and throwing the city into turmoil. Most of the attack forces throughout the country collapsed within a few days, often under the pressure of United States bombing and artillery attacks, which extensively damaged the urban areas. Hue, which had been seized by an estimated 12,000 Communist troops who had previously infiltrated the city, remained in communist hands until late February. A reported 2,000 to 3,000 officials, police, and others were executed in Hue during that time as counterrevolutionaries.

The Tet offensive is widely viewed as a turning point in the war despite the high cost to the communists (approximately 32,000 killed and about 5,800 captured) for what appeared at the time to be small gains. Although they managed to retain control of some of the rural areas, the communists were forced out of all of the towns and cities, except Hue, within a few weaks. Nevertheless, the offensive emphasized to the Johnson administration that victory in Vietnam would require a greater commitment of men and resources than the American people were willing to invest. On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek his party's nomination for another term of office, declared a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam (except for a narrow strip above the DMZ), and urged Hanoi to agree to peace talks. In the meantime, with U.S. troop strength at 525,000, a request by Westmoreland for an additional 200,000 troops was refused by a presidential commission headed by the new United States secretary of defense, Clark Clifford.

Following the Tet Offensive, the communists attempted to maintain their momentum through a series of attacks directed mainly at cities in the delta. Near the DMZ, some 15,000 PAVN and PLAF troops were also thrown into a three-month attack on the United States base at Khe Sanh. A second assault on Saigon, complete with rocket attacks, was launched in May. Through these and other attacks in the spring and summer of 1968, the Communists kept up pressure on the battlefield in order to strengthen their position in a projected a series of four-party peace talks scheduled to begin in January 1969 (that called for representatives of the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front to meet in Paris. In June 1969, the NLF and its allied organizations formed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), recognized by Hanoi as the legal government of South Vietnam. At that time, communist losses dating from the Tet Offensive numbered 75,000, and morale was faltering, even among the party leadership.

Peace Negotiations

With negotiations making little progress, the United States military commander in Saigon, General Creighton W. Abrams, who had held that post since mid-1968, requested and was given permission by President Richard M. Nixon to launch secret bombing attacks, beginning March 18, 1970, on what were described as Vietnamese communist sanctuaries and supply routes inside Cambodia. In late March, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was ousted as chief of state in a military coup led by Premier and Defense Minister, General Lon Nol. Shortly thereafter, the Lon Nol government cancelled an agreement that had allowed North Vietnam to use the port at Sihanoukville. Hanoi reacted by increasing support to the Khmer (Kampuchean) Communist Party, by then under the leadership of the radical Pol Pot. In April, Nixon authorized the invasion of Cambodia by a joint United States-ARVN force of 30,000 troops for the purpose of destroying Communist bases across the border. Little more than short-term gains were accomplished by the invasion, which resulted in massive protests in the United States, leading to the passage of legislation by Congress requiring the removal of United States troops from Cambodia by the end of June.

In 1971 and 1972, the communists faced some serious problems unrelated to United States offensive operations. The Saigon government began to gain some support in the Mekong Delta because of the implementation of a "land-to-the-tiller" reform program pressed on the Thieu government by Washington in 1970. Almost 400,000 farmers received a total of 600,000 hectares, and by 1972 tenancy reportedly had declined from about 60 percent to 34 percent in some rural areas. In addition, a People's Self-Defense Force Program begun about this time had some success in freeing ARVN troops for combat duty, as United States forces were gradually withdrawn. Although it wasn't clear at the time whether the withdrawal of United States troops would cause the ARVN to crumble instantly, as predicted by the communists, the decisive defeat of an ARVN operation mounted against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in March 1971 was an early indication. At the time of the ARVN defeat, however, the communists were coping with deteriorating morale and with dwindling numbers of troops; a rising desertion rate and falling recruitment levels had reduced PLAF strength from 250,000 in 1968 to less than 200,000 in 1971.

Both on the battlefield and at the conference table, a stalemate of sorts was reached by mid-1971. In negotiations there was some flexibility, as Washington offered a unilateral withdrawal of United States forces provided Hanoi stopped its infiltration of the South; and Hanoi countered by agreeing to a coalition government in Saigon along with a United States troop withdrawal and to a cease-fire following the formation of a new government. The main point of debate was the retention of President Thieu as head of the South Vietnamese government, which Washington demanded and Hanoi rejected. To break the deadlock, the party leadership in Hanoi turned again to the strategy of a general offensive and uprising. Accordingly, the so-called Easter offensive was launched beginning on March 30, 1972, with a threepronged attack across the DMZ through the A Shau Valley. The following day the communists attacked the city of Kontum and the provinces of Binh Dinh and Phuoc Tuy, threatening to cut South Vietnam in two. A few days later, three PAVN divisions attacked Binh Long Province along the Cambodian border, placing the capital, An Loc, under siege. In May the communists captured Quang Tri Province, including the capital, which was not recaptured by the ARVN until September. By that time, Quang Tri city had been virtually leveled by United States airstrikes. Although the Easter offensive did not result in the fall of the Saigon government, as the communists had hoped, it did further destabilize the government and reveal the ARVN's weaknesses. The costs were great on both sides, however, and by October both Hanoi and Washington were more inclined to negotiate. By then Hanoi had agreed to accept Thieu as president of a future Saigon government in exchange for the removal of United States forces without a corresponding removal of PAVN troops. Thieu's objections to the failure to require the removal of North Vietnamese forces was in the end ignored, and the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973.

The Final Campaign

Although the terms of the peace agreement were less than the communists had hoped for, the accords did permit them to participate in the new government legally and recognized their right to control certain areas. Most important, the removal of United States forces gave the communists a welcome breathing space, allowing them to concentrate on political efforts. In the initial period after the signing of the agreement, the party leadership viewed armed struggle as a last resort only because it was feared that the United States might reintroduce its forces. PLAF troops were instructed to limit their use of force to selfdefense . Meanwhile, the Thieu government embarked on pacification efforts along the central coast and in the Mekong Delta, which resulted in a reduction of the area under official communist control to about 20 percent of the South. The Saigon government, however, faced serious difficulties, including the negative effect on the economy of the withdrawal of United States forces and a critical refugee problem. During the course of the war, several million Vietnamese had been evacuated or had fled from their villages to find safety and jobs in urban areas. Most of these remained unemployed and, together with militant Buddhist groups, the Cao Dai, and the Hoa Hao, represented a sizable wellspring of discontent with the Thieu government.

In early 1974, the communists launched a campaign to regain the territory they had lost since the cease-fire. Raids were conducted on roads, airfields, and economic installations; the flow of supplies and equipment from the North was stepped up; and a 19,000-kilometer network of roads leading from the DMZ in Quang Tri Province to Loc Ninh, northwest of Saigon, was completed. By summer the communists were moving cautiously forward, seizing vulnerable areas in the Central Highlands and in the provinces around Saigon. There was no direct response from the United States, and the resignation of Nixon in August convinced the party leadership that further United States intervention was unlikely. ARVN forces continued to deteriorate, suffering high casualties and facing a lack of ammunition and spare parts. The party leadership met in October to plan a 1975 military offensive concentrating on the Cambodian border area and the Central Highlands. The taking of the Phuoc Lang province capital, Phuoc Binh (now Ba Ra in Song Be Province), in early January was followed by a surprise attack in March on Ban Me Thuot, the largest city in the Central Highlands. President Thieu ordered ARVN units at Pleiku and Kontum to leave the highlands and withdraw to the coast to regroup for a counter attack on Ban Me Thuot. The ARVN strategic withdrawal became a rout, however, because PAVN units had already cut the main roads to the coast and fleeing civilians clogged the secondary roads as panic ensued. By the end of March, eight northern provinces had fallen to the communist forces, including the cities of Hue and Da Nang. Buoyed by this stunning victory, the party leadership directed the commander of revolutionary forces in the South, General Van Tien Dung to prepare for an offensive against Saigon. In early April, PAVN and PLAF troops moved south and began an encirclement of the capital. On April 20, after ten days of stiff resistance, the ARVN Eighteenth Division, stationed thirty kilometers north of Saigon, finally crumbled under the attack of three PAVN divisions. With Saigon in a state of panic, President Thieu resigned the following day and was replaced by Vice President Tran Van Huong. Duong Van Minh, thought to be more acceptable to the communists, took over the presidency on April 28. The communists refused to negotiate, however, and fifteen PAVN battalions began to move toward Saigon. On April 30, communist forces entered the capital, and Duong Van Minh ordered ARVN troops to lay down their arms.

Nearly thirty years had passed since Ho Chi Minh first declared Vietnam's independence as a unified nation in September 1945. In the interim, an entire generation of Vietnamese had endured a divided Vietnam, knowing only continuous warfare. The events of April 1975 not only abruptly concluded the war but also prepared the way for the official reunification of the country the following year, when the Vietnamese people were brought together under one communist government for the first time in more than a century.

Bibliography

The body of literature in English on the history of Vietnam has increased dramatically since the mid-1960s. Most of the writing, however, has focused on the three decades of war in that country following World War II. The increased interest in Vietnam, nevertheless, has prompted a number of historians to take the longer view--the Vietnamese view--of history and to examine earlier time periods.

Based on Vietnamese and Chinese sources, and particularly useful for Vietnamese history from the earliest traditions up to the end of the Chinese millennium, is Keith Weller Taylor's Birth of Vietnam. Also treating this period, as well as the period up through World War II, is Thomas Hodgkin's, Vietnam. The Revolutionary Path. Hodgkin gives detailed coverage of the 900-year period of Vietnamese independence, while D.G.E. Hall's classic History of South-East Asia provides a description and analysis of that period within the larger Southeast Asian context. Another useful single-volume history of Vietnam up to 1968 is Joseph Buttinger's Vietnam: A Political History. Finally, Alexander Woodside in Vietnam and the Chinese Model presents an interesting analysis, based on Vietnamese and Chinese sources, of Chinese influence on Vietnamese education, administration, education, literature, and law during the nineteenth century.

J. F. Cady treats in detail the French conquest and early colonial period in The Roots of French Imperialism in Eastern Asia. David Marr uses Vietnamese source materials to examine the roots of Vietnamese nationalism in Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925, and William Duiker in The Rise of Nationalism in Vietnam, 1900-1941 carries the examination of the nationalist movement up to the early period of Japanese occupation. Duiker also traces the communist movement from its origins to the reunification of the country in The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam.

Although their focus is somewhat peripheral to an overview history of Vietnam, there are a number of accounts of the United States involvement in Vietnam that bear mentioning, including: William Turley's The Second Indochina War; Ronald Spector's Advice and Support: The Early Years, 1941-1960; R.B. Smith's An International History of the Vietnam War; Stanley Karnow's Vietnam. A History; and George Mc T. Kahin's, Intervention. How America Became Involved in Vietnam. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
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