The Revolutionary War was a global event that had lasting impacts on countries across the world. Learn more about America’s controversial war in this concise history of its events and outcomes.
The “when did the vietnam war start and end” is a question that has been asked for many years. The Vietnam War began in 1945 and ended in 1975.
Articles, facts, and information on the Vietnam War.
When did the Vietnam War take place?
Vietnam (South) and Cambodia (North) Laos
Who came out on top in the Vietnam War?
Victory for the North Vietnamese
850,000 people live in South Vietnam. 540,000 people in the United States 50,000 South Koreans Others: 80,000 or more
200,000–400,000 people in South Vietnam Military personnel number between 170,000 and 220,000. Over a million people have been injured.
58,220 people were killed and 300,000 were injured in the United States.
Over 50,000 civilians have been killed in North Vietnam. Military deaths range from 400,000 to 1 million. Over 500,000 people have been injured.
Articles about the Vietnam War
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The Vietnam War in a Nutshell: The Second Indochina War, which lasted from 1954 to 1975, is generally referred to as the Vietnam War. It usually refers to the period when the United States and other SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) members joined forces with the Republic of South Vietnam to combat communist forces, which included guerrillas and regular-force units from South Vietnam, collectively known as the Viet Cong (VC), and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). From 1965 through 1968, the United States, as the biggest foreign military presence, largely controlled the conflict. As a result, it is now known as the American War in Vietnam. It was the direct consequence of the First Indochina War (1946–1954), which pitted France, which claimed Vietnam as a colony, against the communist Viet Minh troops. In 1973, a “third” Vietnam war began—actually, a continuation—between North and South Vietnam, but with little or no participation by the United States. In April 1975, the communists were victorious.
Until the Afghanistan War, the Vietnam War was the longest in US history (2001-2021). In the United States, Europe, Australia, and other countries, the conflict was highly contentious. The Vietnam War became regarded as “the only war America ever lost” because the US failed to win a military victory and the Republic of South Vietnam was eventually taken over by North Vietnam. It is still a contentious issue that influences political and military choices today.
In the Vietnam War, there were a lot of casualties.
Over 47,000 Americans were killed in battle, with a further 11,000 non-combat fatalities; over 150,000 were wounded, and 10,000 went missing.
The Republic of South Vietnam’s casualties will never be fully addressed. Low estimates put the number of battle deaths at 110,000 and the number of injured at half a million. Civilian casualties were also high, with the lowest estimates putting the figure at approximately 415,000.
Similarly, the precise number of VC and NVA casualties, as well as the number of dead and injured civilians in North Vietnam, cannot be established. Between 1954 and 1975, 1.1 million fighters perished in Vietnam, with another 600,000 injured, according to the communist government. Civilians were believed to have died in the millions during that time period, while the United States put the number of civilians killed in the north at 30,000.
Australia had over 400 dead and 2,400 injured among South Vietnam’s foreign allies; New Zealand had over 80 killed and 2,400 wounded; Republic of Korea had 4,400 killed and wounded; and Thailand had 350 killed and wounded.
Vietnam, North and South
Because Vietnam has a lengthy history of being controlled by foreign powers, many Vietnamese see US engagement in their nation as neocolonialism. In 111 BC, China invaded the northern portion of modern-day Vietnam and held it until 938 AD; it also exerted some influence over the Vietnamese until 1885. Initially, Vietnam’s territory stopped at the 17th parallel, but it progressively expanded southward along the South China Sea’s coastline and westward to Cambodia. The south’s population was concentrated in a few places near the shore, whereas the north always had a greater population. Prior to the Civil War, the two parts were similar to the North and South in the United States in that their people did not completely trust one other.
France’s military presence in Vietnam started in 1847, when it sent warships to defend Christians from the reigning emperor Gia Long. The French ruled Vietnam until the 1880s. Vietnamese nationalism arose in the early twentieth century, fighting with the French colonial authorities. A lot of organizations wanted Vietnamese independence by the conclusion of World War II, but as Vo Nguyen Giap—who would later create Vietnam’s post–WWII army—expressed it, the communists were the best organized and most action-oriented of them.
During WWII, Vichy France was unable to do anything to defend its colony from Japanese occupation. The Viet Minh (short for Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or League for the Independence of Vietnam), headed by Ho Chi Minh and Giap, attempted to re-establish power after the war, but were met with organized resistance. The French suffered a catastrophic loss at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, prompting talks that culminated on July 21, 1954, with the Geneva Agreements. Cambodia and Laos, which had been part of the French colony, gained independence as a result of these accords. Vietnam, on the other hand, was split at the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh headed a communist government in the north (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) with Hanoi as its capital, while President Ngo Dinh Diem created a new Republic of South Vietnam with Saigon as its capital.
The split was intended to be temporary, with elections in both parts scheduled for 1956 to decide the country’s destiny. Diem, on the other hand, opposed the elections when the time came; the more populated north would undoubtedly win. In order to destabilize President Diem’s administration, Hanoi reactivated the Viet Minh to undertake guerrilla operations in the south. North Vietnamese authorities issued an ordinance in July 1959 calling for a continuation of the socialist revolution in the north and a parallel revolution in South Vietnam.
Following the signing of the Geneva Agreements, an estimated 80,000 Vietnamese from the south relocated to the north. (More than ten times as many Vietnamese had left the north, where the Communist Party was assassinating opponents, stealing property, and persecuting the country’s substantial Catholic minority.) Those who traveled north formed a cadre, which was trained, armed, and sent back to the south to help organize and guide the rebellion. (Some in the North Vietnamese administration felt the southern war was foolish, but they were overridden.) Despite the fact that the conflict in the south was referred to be a civil war inside South Vietnam, it was directed, armed, and backed up by Hanoi’s communist leadership. The rebellion was named the National Liberation Front (PLF), but its troops and agents were known as the Viet Cong (VC), short for Vietnamese Communists, by their opponents. Units of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), often known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) by those fighting against it, were frequently used to reinforce the VC. Because the VC was destroyed during the Tet Offensive of 1968, the NVA was forced to take up the main fighting role.
Military Advisors from the United States in Vietnam
Diem was supported by the United States in order to restrict the region under communist rule, which had been steadily gaining influence since the departure of the French administration. Throughout 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist Party won the Chinese Civil War, and western countries, especially the United States, were concerned about communist growth in Southeast Asia. This concern became known as the “Domino Theory,” which said that if one nation fell under communist rule, its neighbors would follow suit in a line of dominoes. That was not the case, according to the CIA, since America had a significant military presence in the Pacific that would act as a deterrent. Earlier, “Wild Bill” Donovan, the director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II predecessor of the CIA, had said that becoming engaged in what was then French Indochina would give the US little to gain and a lot to lose.
Many others in the US administration had a different perspective. The communist takeover of China and the following war in Korea (1950-53) against North Korean and Chinese forces drew a lot of attention to Southeast Asia as a location to take a strong stance against communism’s expansion. Financial assistance was provided to pay South Vietnam’s armed troops during President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration (1953–1961), and American advisers were deployed to help train them. Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr. was the first American casualty, killed on June 8, 1956. (On September 7, 1965, his son, Marine Corps lance corporal Richard Fitzgibbon III, was killed in action in Vietnam.) They were the only father-son duo to perish in the Vietnam War.) Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnand were murdered during an assault at Bien Hoa in July 1959 while off duty.
Ho Chi Minh received his education in Paris. It’s debatable whether he was mainly a nationalist or a communist, although he wasn’t particularly anti-Western. (During WWII, an American doctor saved his life by treating him.) Ho tried to contact Eisenhower about Vietnam but got no response. Although “Ike” may not have received the message, he was keen on creating NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as a bulwark against further communist advances in Europe and on obtaining France’s membership in NATO. Any negotiations with Ho would have been politically fraught as a result. What would have occurred if Eisenhower and Ho had scheduled a meeting? Perhaps an agreement would have been reached, or perhaps Ho was just trying to restrict American participation in order to overthrow the Diem administration more quickly.
The US Military’s Involvement Increases
President John F. Kennedy’s presidency (January 1961–November 1963) saw an increase in American participation. In order to resupply and reinforce its troops in South Vietnam, North Vietnam had established a foothold in Laos and constructed the Ho Chi Minh Trail via that nation. Kennedy viewed the United States’ activities in Southeast Asia as a crusade, and he thought that expanding the military adviser program, along with political change in South Vietnam, would strengthen the south and bring peace. In 1961, two American helicopter squadrons landed in Saigon. The “strategic hamlet” program, which forcefully moved South Vietnamese peasants to fortified strategic hamlets, started the following February. It didn’t work in Vietnam because it was based on a model that the British had used effectively against rebels in Malaya. The peasants were resentful of being ejected from their ancestral estates, and consolidating them provided the VC with more targets. Following the coup that ousted Diem, the initiative, which had been badly handled, was abandoned after approximately two years.
Marines arrive on the beach in the Da Nang area. (Marine Corps of the United States of America)
Diem lost popularity with his American backers, partially as a result of differences over how to manage the VC conflict, and partly as a result of his controversial repression of religious groups and anybody he saw as a danger to his rule. Diem, a Catholic, was accused by Buddhists, who made up the majority of South Vietnam’s population, of favoring people of his faith in assistance distribution. The Buddhists, in turn, were labeled as VC supporters by him. Thich Quang Duc, an old Buddhist monk from Saigon, sat down on the street in front of a temple on June 11, 1963, to oppose Diem’s policies. Two younger monks doused him in a mixture of gasoline and jet fuel and set fire to him, just as the three had planned. As the flames devoured him, Associated Press reporter Malcolm “Mal” Browne captured him sitting calmly in the lotus posture. The picture was widely distributed under the title “The Ultimate Protest,” generating (or, in some instances, confirming) concerns about the administration that the democratic United States backed. That year, there were seven more similar immolations. Diem escalated the situation by sending soldiers to attack pagodas.
Diem was ousted in November, with the approval of Kennedy’s administration, which had discreetly informed South Vietnam’s military commanders that a change in government was not a problem and that military assistance would continue. However, the government was caught off guard when Diem was assassinated during the coup headed by General Duong Van Minh. This was the start of a series of destabilizing leadership changes in the administration.
In the same month, President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon Baines Johnson, his successor, inherited the Vietnam scenario. Johnson intended to concentrate on domestic “Great Society” initiatives, but Vietnam was a serpent he couldn’t let go of. His political party, the Democrats, had been blamed for China’s communist takeover; pulling out of Vietnam might harm them in the 1964 elections. However, since Congress had never declared war, the president’s options in Southeast Asia were restricted.
Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin
In August of 1964, this changed. Two North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox, which was collecting communications information in the Gulf of Tonkin, in broad daylight on August 2. Maddox and the destroyer USS Turner Joy were on patrol in the Gulf two nights later when they reported being attacked. An F-8E Crusader pilot observed no ships in the region where the enemy was reported, and crew members subsequently claimed they had never seen any assault vessels. The ships’ radar was hampered by an electrical storm, which may have created the appearance of incoming assault boats.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was quickly approved by Congress, removing most of the president’s limitations on Vietnam. By the end of the year, 23,000 American troops would be stationed in South Vietnam. Despite the fact that a congressional investigation committee had warned the previous year that America might find itself in a quagmire in Vietnam that would need further military involvement, Johnson started a gradual expansion of the war in the hopes of bringing it to a fast end. Ironically, North Vietnam’s leadership came to a similar conclusion: they needed to kill enough Americans to destroy support for the war on the home front and compel a retreat before the US could build up enough troops and equipment to defeat them.
The first large-scale antiwar protest in America took place on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley on September 30, 1964. The war became the focal point of a growing young counterculture, and many more similar protests would follow in the years ahead, separating generations and families.
A VC put detonated an explosive in the American officers’ billet in the old Brink Hotel in Saigon on Christmas Eve, killing two Americans and 51 South Vietnamese. This would be a war without a front or a back, with full-scale military formations and people carrying out terrorist acts like the explosion at the Brink Hotel. To extract information or suppress resistance, both the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) and the Vietnamese Communist Party (VC) employed torture.
General William C. Westmoreland was a British general who fought in the American Civil War.
Progress and setbacks could be tracked on maps in past wars, and huge enemy troops might be attacked and destroyed. Asymmetrical warfare (guerrilla warfare) does not provide for such precise statistics. This faced General William C. Westmoreland, the new leader of the MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam), with a difficult task: how to convince the American people that progress was being made.
Westmoreland devised a search-and-destroy strategy to locate and engage the adversary, then eliminate him with overwhelming firepower. The “body count” was used to gauge success. It was to be a battle of attrition and numbers, which suited Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who distrusted the military and often issued orders without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Every major battle between US troops and the VC or NVA resulted in an American triumph, and the casualty (body count) ratio always indicated that the communist forces suffered considerably more losses than the Americans. The corpse count strategy went out of favor and was never used in any subsequent American conflicts; in Vietnam, it led to commanders inflating enemy losses. The VC and NVA hauled as many of their dead and injured as they could, often persuading locals to do so after fights, thus estimating their losses was dependent on factors like the amount of blood trails.
On the other hand, the same thing was happening on the opposite side, with much more exaggerated numbers—significantly more. Due to the fact that both sides were waging a war of attrition, communist leaders provided Hanoi combat reports that were often fictitious. A account of the first major fight between the VC and American Forces—US Marines—near Van Truong, from the VC point of view, is referenced in Warren Wilkins’ Grab Their Belts to Fight Them: The Viet Cong’s Big-Unit War Against the US, 1965–1966. “In one day of intense combat, we removed 919 American soldiers from the battlefield, knocked down 22 enemy vehicles and 13 helicopters, and seized one M-14 rifle,” it said. In reality, 45 Marines were killed, 203 were injured, and a few vehicles were destroyed.
The United States Air Force started attacking targets in North Vietnam on February 7, 1965. This evolved into the Rolling Thunder operation, which started on March 2, 1965, and ended on November 2, 1968. Its main objective was to demoralize the North Vietnamese and weaken their industrial and transportation capabilities. Because the deployment of ground forces had been ruled out, the best that could be done north of the 17th parallel was an air battle. Both the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Red China were proud of North Vietnam. China had declared on July 9, 1964, that if the United States invaded North Vietnam, it would intervene, as it had done during the Korean War. After the conflict, North Vietnamese commanders claimed the only thing they dreaded was an American-led invasion of the north, but the US would not risk beginning World War III, which appeared to be a real possibility at the time.
Tet, or “Turning Point,” is a term that refers to a
There were 540,000 American soldiers in Vietnam at the end of 1967, and the military draft was scheduled to call up 302,000 young men the next year, an increase of 72,000 over 1967. The annual financial expenses had grown to $30 billion. The war news, on the other hand, was upbeat. The South Vietnamese Army was improving, having won 37 of its previous 45 important battles. General Nguyen Van Thieu had risen to power in South Vietnam in September, and he would stay in office until 1975, providing a new degree of stability to the administration, but he would not be able to eliminate the country’s chronic corruption. Antiwar demonstrations persisted throughout the United States and in many other nations, but on April 28, 1967, Gen. Westmoreland became the first combat commander to address a joint session of Congress in a time of war, earning him the title of Man of the Year from Time magazine. When asked whether there was light at the end of the tunnel in an interview, he replied that the US and its allies had reached a turning point in Vietnam.
After a fierce battle in the ancient Imperial Capital of Hu, Marines from Company “A” engage in a search and clear operation on the south bank of the Perfume River. (Marine Corps of the United States of America)
VC and NVA troops launched a major assault in every province of South Vietnam on January 30, 1968, during Vietnam’s Tet, or lunar new year, festival. At least 30 province capitals, as well as the main cities of Saigon and Hue, were hit. Though the Army had dismissed a New York Times story of significant communist troop movements going south, American intelligence believed an assault was imminent. The timing and magnitude of the assault, on the other hand, took ARVN, US, and other SEATO forces off guard. They reclaimed lost territory swiftly and decimated an opponent who had “finally come out to battle in the open.” The Communists suffered massive losses. The VC was essentially finished; for the rest of the war, it would not deploy more than 25,000–40,000 soldiers at any one time. The NVA had no choice but to take control. It was one of the most abysmal losses in military history—until it turned into a triumph.
The combat in Saigon and Hue was captured on film. The Tet Offensive astounded Americans back home, who believed the war was almost over. Initially, though, homefront support for the war effort increased, but by March, Americans had become more disillusioned, believing that there would be no change in policy that would put the war to an end. Walter Cronkite, the CBS nightly news anchor, returned to Vietnam to witness for himself what was going there. He was a war reporter during WWII and covered the early years of America’s participation in Vietnam. In 1972, he was voted “America’s Most Trusted Man” in a survey.
He summarized what he had seen on his return journey to the combat zone in a program on February 27, 1968. He ended by stating, “
To claim that we are closer to triumph now is to trust the optimists who have been proven incorrect in the past, despite the facts. To imply that we are on the verge of failure is to succumb to irrational pessimism. The only reasonable, though unsatisfying, conclusion appears to be that we are stuck in a stalemate. Whether military and political experts are correct, we must test the enemy’s intentions over the next several months to see if this is really his last great gasp before talks. However, it is becoming more apparent to this writer that the only logical way out will be to negotiate, not as winners, but as honest individuals who tried their best to preserve democracy.
“If we lose Walter Cronkite, we’ve lost the country,” President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked as he watched the program. Johnson stated in May that he will not seek re-election. He also pledged that the air strikes on North Vietnam would be paused as “the first step toward de-escalation,” and that America would significantly decrease “the current level of hostilities.”
The racial problem just added to Americans’ dissatisfaction. For years, tensions between blacks and whites had been rising as African Americans attempted to overturn centuries-old racial laws. Despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movement had achieved major wins, many blacks saw Vietnam as “a white man’s war, a black man’s struggle.” Between 1961 and 1966, black men made up approximately 13% of the US population and fewer than 10% of military members, yet they were responsible for almost 20% of all combat-related fatalities. Although the gap would narrow before the war’s conclusion, racial tensions in the United States started to infiltrate the military in Vietnam, causing unit morale to suffer.
Even white soldiers began to raise their voices in protest. During a patrol in October 1969, fifteen soldiers of the Americal Division wore black armbands, the emblem of antiwar protesters in the United States. In March 1968, the Americal Division was engaged in the My Lai Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 men, women, and children. VC and NVA units carried out similar, even larger, atrocities, such as an NVA attack on a Buddhist orphanage in An Hoa in September 1970 or the execution of 5,000 people in Hue during the Tet Offensive, but the idea of American soldiers killing civilians in cold blood was too much for many Americans to bear. Support for the conflict dwindled much further. When antiwar protesters returned home, they taunted and spat on the men and women who had served in Vietnam. Military personnel, including nurses, have been advised not to wear their uniforms while in the United States. Polls, on the other hand, constantly indicated that the majority of Americans backed the war.
The War of Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon, a Republican, was elected president in the autumn elections. The focus shifted to “Vietnamization,” which included training South Vietnam’s military to take over responsibility for the war’s continuation. General Westmoreland had been appointed to Army Chief of Staff, and Gen. Creighton Abrams had taken his position in Vietnam. For the first time, MACV collaborated with the government of South Vietnam to develop yearly plans. Even as American troops were about to leave, security was improving.
The North Vietnamese then launched an assault across the 17th parallel on March 30, 1972, with 14 divisions and extra individual units. They were better equipped than ever before, owing to increasing Soviet Union assistance, and they used tanks for the first time.
The ARVN sagged but did not snap. With the assistance of American airpower, they were able to halt the assault by June. A total of 120,000 people were killed or injured by the NVA. The American withdrawal proceeded, with only 43,000 troops remaining in the nation by mid-August.
In response for the invasion, Nixon ordered the mineing of Haiphong port in North Vietnam and increased bombing of North Vietnam in the aim of compelling Hanoi to talk in good faith. Hanoi promised to resume peace negotiations, but its demands remained unyielding. Frustrated, Nixon ordered the B-52 bombers to attack Hanoi on December 16th (Operation LINEBACKER). These strategic bombers had destroyed the north’s fortifications in less than two weeks. North Vietnam and the United States signed peace treaties on January 27, 1973.
The ceasefire enabled Nixon to proclaim “peace with honor,” but there were no mechanisms in place to enforce the terms of the agreement. North Vietnam spent two years strengthening its military; South Vietnam’s reactions were hampered by a concern that if it took military action against communist buildup, the US Congress would cut off all assistance. Its army was depleted of reserves, while the NVA grew in strength.
The NVA attacked again on March 5, 1975. In the north, ARVN units were encircled and routed. Despite Nixon’s previous promises to Thieu, no American air attacks were launched to assist the overburdened South Vietnamese. The Ho Chi Minh Offensive was renamed when Hanoi discovered its troops moving fast into Saigon, realizing victory was close at reach. Their tanks arrived in Saigon on April 30. Although American helicopters rescued personnel of the embassy and transported several South Vietnamese to safety, the majority of the South Vietnamese were left behind. In 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The domino fell, but none of the others surrounding it were knocked down. Although the United States’ war in Vietnam failed to save the Republic of South Vietnam, it did provide time for surrounding nations to strengthen their economies and defense capacities, and it may have deterred further communist activity in places like the Philippines.
Vietnam and the Media
One of the Vietnam War’s lasting legacies is the prevalent perception in the United States that “the media cost us the war in Vietnam.” Images like the burning monk, South Vietnamese Police Chief Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan about to pull the trigger on a pistol pointed at the head of a bound VC prisoner, and a naked young girl running down a road crying after an American napalm strike that left her badly burned became seared in the minds of Americans on the homefront, as well as civilians in allied countries.
Never before or since has a conflict been covered by journalists with such full access. Unlike past wars, when pictures could only be conveyed via still photos or short movie newsreels, this was America’s first televised war. Night after night, images of combat, dead and injured troops, and POWs imprisoned in North Vietnam, as well as video of hundreds, if not thousands, of antiwar protesters marching through the streets, were broadcast into America’s living rooms. Such pictures have a powerful emotional impact, yet they are often devoid of context. Even Eddie Adams, the photographer who took the picture, thought it unjustly tarnished Lt. Col. Loan. The photo of the South Vietnamese police commander, for example, cannot explain why he had just seen the dead corpse of a close friend minutes earlier.
The news media, without a doubt, played a significant part in Americans declaring, “Enough is enough.” Indeed, Vo Nyugen Giap had envisioned utilizing the media as one of his spear points for success from the start. He said that he was prepared for a 25-year battle and that he understood he didn’t have to win militarily; all he had to do was avoid losing.
To argue, however, that the media lost America the war in Vietnam is oversimplifying a very complicated issue. As previously said, a number of sources cautioned US officials against becoming involved in Southeast Asia. South Vietnam’s government’s corruption and instability did not inspire trust in its people or the Americans who worked with it. The fact that an invasion of North Vietnam was ruled out ensured that a purely military triumph would be impossible, contrary to many Americans’ hopes for the war.
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The “what happened in the vietnam war” is a controversial topic that has been debated for years. The article will discuss the history of America’s Vietnam War.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was the most controversial war in American history?
A: The Civil War was the most controversial war in American history.
Did America win the Vietnam War?
A: The United States of America did win the Vietnam War.
How many Vietnamese were killed after the US left?
A: After the US left, over 3 million Vietnamese were killed by the U.S. and its allies in a war that devastated Vietnams economy and infrastructure until it was forced to rebuild from scratch after reunification in 1975.
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