In the early 1960s, North Vietnam wished to unify North and South Vietnam
through military force. Since the United States feared the spread of communism in Asia,
John F. Kennedy provided economic and military aid to South Vietnam to prevent the
takeover by North Vietnam. At this time, this was still a civil war. The United States
were not yet officially involved.
The North Vietnamese resented this intervention by the United Sates and so, three
Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on the U.S. destroyer, Maddox on August 2nd, 1964.
The Maddox had been in the Gulf of Tonkin ( international waters ), thirty miles off
the coast of Vietnam. On August 3rd, 1964, President Johnson gave the right to attack
with the objective of destroying attacking forces . Retaliation air attacks began on
August 3rd. Their aim was to destroy North Vietnam’s gunboat capability. As two more
United States destroyers were supposedly sunk, more air and sea forces were sent. Up
until now, the U.S. had refrained from direct combat. This is when the United States
formally entered the Vietnam War. The U.S. did this for two reasons. We wished to
maintain the independence of South Vietnam and we had to prove to allied nations that
we would help them resist Communist takeover. As Congress was about to vote whether
or not to allow the combat to move into North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese attacked a
major U.S. airbase at Bein Hoa. On February 7th, 1965, Johnson ordered retaliation
bombing on North Vietnam. Rolling Thunder was the name of this operation. It’s purpose
was to put pressure on Hanoi and convince them that Communism could not and would
At the end of 1965, one hundred and eighty thousand Americans were in South
Vietnam under General William S. Westmoreland. The U.S. mainly depended on
superior firepower and helicopters. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese depended on
surprise attack and concealment.
The United States soldiers realized that the war would last for many more years
and wondered if the U.S. war effort could succeed. At the end of 1968, The number of
American troops in South Vietnam reached it’s peak of 542,000 men. The Viet Cong and
North Vietnamese launched a major invasion against the United States called the Tet
offensive from January 30th to February 25th, 1968. At the Khe Sanh U.S. firebase, there
was a major ground battle. There was a siege from January 21st to April 14th. It was
thought to be the American Dien Bien Phu . The United States turned it around
however, with their victory at Hue. By 1969, combat decreased rapidly and American
troops began to return home.
The role of Communism was extremely important in this conflict. Communism
was one of the main reasons of why the United States entered the war in the first place.
The U.S. had to enter the war to stop the spread of Communism in Asia since North
Vietnam was Communist. Had North Vietnam succeeded in converting Vietnam into a
Communist country, it could become very powerful and go on to persuade other
countries to become Communist. The U.S. believed that Vietnam could become
powerful. They were amazed that France, an Allied power, had been beaten by the
North Vietnam was a Communist country. The man who had proclaimed
Vietnam independent, Ho Chi Minh, was a Communist. During the war with the French,
Ho Chi Minh took refuge in northern Vietnam and settled there with his followers. He
founded the Indochina Communist Party and the Viet Minh. He became the president of
North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. North Vietnam was a poor area and was cut off from
the agricultural benefit of South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was forced to ask assistance
from major Communist allies – the Soviet Union and China. Both aided North Vietnam
before and during the war.
The North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam. They wanted to use military
tactics to force unification. The United States did not allow their unification. The U.S.
knew that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese wished to establish one ruling
government, the Communist Party. This led to the Vietnam War and U.S. intervention.
On January 27th, 1973, South Vietnam Communist forces ( Viet Cong ), North
Vietnam, South Vietnam and the United States agreed on many things during the Paris
peace talks. The talks lasted over two years before any agreements were made that suited
all of them. The forces involved agreed that U.S. troops would gradually withdraw from
Vietnam and all prisoners of war would be released. They also agreed that South
Vietnam had the right to choose their own future, whether or not to unite with North
Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops were given the right to remain in South Vietnam but
they could not be reinforced. President Nixon finalized the accepted treaty and began to
remove United States troops.
After the peace talks, fighting continued between the North and South
Vietnamese. North Vietnam went against all that was outlined at the peace talks after the
majority of American soldiers left.