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Course: US history   >   Unit 8

  • John F. Kennedy as president
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Lyndon Johnson as president
  • Vietnam War

The Vietnam War

  • The student movement and the antiwar movement
  • Second-wave feminism
  • The election of 1968
  • 1960s America
  • The Vietnam War was a prolonged military conflict that started as an anticolonial war against the French and evolved into a Cold War confrontation between international communism and free-market democracy.
  • The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the north was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist countries, while the United States and its anticommunist allies backed the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) in the south.
  • President Lyndon Johnson dramatically escalated US involvement in the conflict, authorizing a series of intense bombing campaigns and committing hundreds of thousands of US ground troops to the fight.
  • After the United States withdrew from the conflict, North Vietnam invaded the South and united the country under a communist government.

Origins of the war in Vietnam

Lyndon johnson and the war in vietnam, richard nixon and vietnam, what do you think, want to join the conversation.

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Vietnam War: 6 personal essays describe the sting of a tragic conflict

The Vietnam War touched millions of lives. Within these personal essays from people who took part in the filming of The Vietnam War , are lessons about what happened, what it meant then and what we can learn from it now.

Long ago and far away, we fought a war in which more than 58,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands of others were wounded. The war meant death for an estimated 3 million Vietnamese, North and South. The fighting dragged on for almost a decade, polarizing the American people, dividing the country and creating distrust of our government that remains with us today.

In one way or another, Vietnam has overshadowed every national security decision since.

We were told that our mission was to prevent South Vietnam from falling to communism. Very lofty. But the men I led as a young infantry platoon leader and later as a company commander weren’t fighting for that mission. Mostly draftees, they were terrific soldiers. They were fighting, I realized, for each other — to simply survive their year in-country and go home.

I had grown up as an “Army brat.” To me, the Army was like a second family. In Vietnam, the radio code word for our division’s infantry companies was family . A “rucksack outfit,” my company would disappear into the jungle, moving quietly, staying in the field for weeks. We all ate the same rations and endured the same heat, humidity, mosquitoes, leeches, skin rashes, jungle itch. We were like pack animals, carrying upwards of 60 pounds of gear, water, ammunition — and even more for the radio operators and machine gunners. I was impressed by how the men endured it all, especially the draftees who had answered the call to service.

I learned much about leadership. I was once counseled by a senior officer “not to be too worried about your men.” Incredible. I was concerned about my men’s safety at all times. Even though my company lost very few, I remember each of those deaths vividly. They were all good men, in a war very few understood.

On both of my combat tours, in 1968 at Huê´ during the Tet Offensive and in 1969-70 in the triple-canopy rainforests along the Cambodian border, we fought soldiers of the North Vietnamese army. They were good light infantry; I had respect for their determination and abilities. But they were the enemy; our job was to kill or capture them.

Though we were conducting a war of attrition, we were actually fighting the enemy’s birth rate. He was prepared and determined to keep fighting as long as he had the manpower to send south.

In terms of strategy, it seemed a war out of “Alice in Wonderland.” The Ho Chi Minh Trail, the enemy’s major supply line and infiltration route, ran through Cambodia and Laos. Yet until May 1970, both of those countries were off limits to U.S. ground forces. We bombed the trail incessantly, but the enemy’s ability to move troops and equipment south never seemed to slack. We never invaded North Vietnam. As demonstrated during Tet in ’68, the enemy could control the tempo of the war when he wished. We, on the other hand, would use unilaterally declared “truce” periods and would halt bombing to signal something never clearly defined — a willingness to talk, I imagined, which the enemy ignored.

Looking back, if our strategy was intended to force the enemy to say “enough,” resulting in a stalemate situation like that at the end of the Korean War, would the South Vietnamese have been able to defend themselves, independently? Unlikely.

Would the U.S. have been willing to commit and maintain American forces in South Vietnam indefinitely? Also unlikely.

Did we learn anything from that experience, which left such an indelible mark on our national psyche? History is a harsh teacher; there are still no easy answers.

Phil Gioia entered the Army after graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 1967. He left the military in 1977 and later was mayor in Corte Madera, Calif., and worked in venture capital and the technology industry. He lives in Marin County, Calif.

Hal Kushner

When I deployed to Vietnam in August 1967, I was a young Army doctor, married five years, with a 3-year-old daughter, just potty trained, and another child due the following April. When I returned from Vietnam in late March 1973, I saw my 5-year-old son for the first time, and my daughter was in the fifth grade. In the interim, we had landed on the moon; there was women’s lib, Nixon had gone to China; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated.

I was the only doctor captured in the 10-year Vietnam War. I was back from the dead.

We prisoners endured unspeakable horror, brutality and deprivation, and we saw and experienced things no human should ever witness. Our mortality rate was almost 50% — higher even than at the brutal Civil War prisons at Andersonville or Elmira a century earlier. I cradled 10 dying men in my arms as they breathed their last and spoke of home and family; then we buried them in crude graves, marked with stones and bamboo, and eulogized them with words of sunshine and hope, country and family. The eulogies were for the survivors, of course; they always are.

On the Fourth of July in five successive years, we sang patriotic songs, but very softly, so our captors couldn’t hear the forbidden words, and we cried. One of us had a missal issued by the Marine Corps, our only book, but our captors had torn out the pages with the American flag and The Star-Spangled Banner .

At my release in Hanoi, I was shocked by the hair and dress of the reporters there. Once home, I saw television and movies with frank profanity and sex. When I left, Lucy and Desi slept in twin beds. I left Ozzie and Harriett and returned to Taxi Driver . What had happened to my country? Why did we suffer and sacrifice?

When my aircraft crashed on Nov. 30, 1967, I collided with one planet and returned to another. The Vietnam War, which had about one-fifth of the casualties of World War II but had lasted three times as long, had changed the country as much as the greatest cataclysm in world history. It had changed forever the way we think of our government and ourselves. The country had lost its innocence — and, for a time, its confidence.

This war, which had such a great impact on my life, is a dim memory today. There are 58,000 names on that wall, and it rates but a few pages in a high school history book.

I am dismayed by how little our young people know about Vietnam, and how misunderstood it is by others. The Vietnam War is as remote to them as the War of 1812 or the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Now, 40 years later, we must try to understand.

Hal  Kushner joined the Army and served as a flight surgeon in Vietnam. In 1967, he was captured by the Viet Cong after surviving a helicopter crash. He spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war. He lives in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Mai Elliott

Having lived through war and seen what it did to my family and to millions of Vietnamese, I feel grateful for the peace and stability I now enjoy in the United States.

In Vietnam, my family and I experienced what it was like to be caught in bombing and fighting, and what it was like to flee our home and survive as refugees.

During World War II, in my childhood, we huddled in shelters as Allied planes targeting Japanese positions bombed the town in the North where we lived.

In 1946, when French troops returned to try to take Vietnam back from Ho Chi Minh’s government, French soldiers attacking the village where we were taking refuge almost executed my father (who had earlier worked for the French colonial authorities).

In 1954, fearing reprisals from the communists about to enter Hanoi, we fled to Saigon with only the clothes on our backs.

In 1955, we fled again when we found ourselves caught in the fighting between the army of President Ngo Dinh Diem and the armed group he was trying to eliminate, leaving behind our home, which was about to burn to the ground in the onslaught.

In April 1975, American helicopters plucked my family out of Saigon at the last minute as communist rockets exploded nearby.

The fear we felt paled in comparison to the terror that Vietnamese in the countryside of South Vietnam experienced when bombs and artillery shells landed in their villages, or when American and South Vietnamese soldiers swept through their hamlets; or the terror my relatives in North Vietnam felt when American B-52s carpet bombed in December 1972. Yet, our brushes with war were terrifying enough.

As refugees, we could find shelter and support from middle-class friends and relatives, while destitute peasants had to move to squalid camps and depend on meager handouts and help from the government in Saigon. But we did find out, as they did, that losing everything was psychologically wrenching, and that surviving and rebuilding took fortitude of spirit.

Only those who have known war can truly appreciate peace. I am one of those people.

Mai Elliott was born in Vietnam and spent her childhood in Hanoi, where her father was a high-ranking official under the French colonial regime. Her family became divided when her older sister joined the Viet Minh resistance against French rule. In 1954, her family fled to Saigon, where Mai later did research on the Viet Cong insurgency for the RAND Corp. during the Vietnam War. She is married to American political scientist David Elliott. They live in Southern California.

Bill Zimmerman

I graduated from high school in 1958, thinking myself a patriot and aspiring to be a military pilot. Thirteen years later, I sat in a jail cell in Washington, D.C., after protesting what military pilots were doing in the skies over Vietnam.

My patriotism wilted in the South in 1963, after a short stint with the civil rights movement. Simultaneously, as the U.S. slid into war in Vietnam, skepticism nurtured in Mississippi led me to discover that we were stumbling into a quagmire.

The war escalated in 1965, and I became an ardent protester over the next six years. I was fired from two university teaching positions. But my sacrifices were trivial compared with those of young Americans forced into war, or Vietnamese civilians dying under bombs and napalm. With other antiwar activists, I anguished over them all, and seethed with rage at our inability to stop the killing. In our fury, we became more forceful, committing widespread civil disobedience.

That’s how I landed in jail in 1971, trying unsuccessfully to block traffic to shut down the federal government. But our failure that day became a turning point. Antiwar leaders realized that while we had finally convinced a majority of Americans to oppose the war, our militant tactics kept them from joining us.

We changed course. Large demonstrations ended. New organizations sprang up to educate the public and lobby Congress. The work was confrontational but did not ask participants to risk arrest. Millions took part. Richard Nixon escalated the war, but he also felt the heat from a much broader antiwar coalition. In January 1973, his administration signed the Paris Peace Accords, and over the next two years, our intense lobbying persuaded Congress to cut funding for the corrupt South Vietnamese government, leading to its collapse in 1975.

We learned that in matters of war and peace, presidents regularly lie to the American people. Every president from Truman to Ford lied about Vietnam. We learned that two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, cared more about their own political survival than the lives of the men under their command. Both sent thousands of Americans to die in a war they already knew could not be won.

We learned that our government committed crimes against humanity. Agent Orange and other chemicals were sprayed on millions of acres, leaving a legacy of cancer and birth defects.

Most important, Vietnam taught us to reject blind loyalty and to fight back. In doing so, we meet our obligation as citizens … and become patriots.

Bill Zimmerman is a Los Angeles political consultant and the author of Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties (Anchor Books, 2012).

Roger Harris

When I think about the Vietnam War, I am torn by personal emotions that range from anger and sadness to hope. The Vietnam War experience scarred me but also shaped and molded my perspective on life.

As a 19-year-old African American from the Roxbury section of Boston, I voluntarily joined the U.S. Marine Corps, willing to fight and die for my country. I had experienced the tough neighborhood turf battles too often prevalent in the inner city. I had a gladiator’s heart and no fear. My father, all of my uncles, including a grand-uncle who rode with Teddy Roosevelt, all served in the military. I believed that it was now my turn, and if I were to die, my mom would receive a $10,000 death benefit and be able to purchase a house. I saw the war in Vietnam as a win-win situation.

In Vietnam, I served with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division. We were called the “Hell in a Helmet” Marines. We operated in I Corps, Quang Tri Province, mainly north of Dong Ha at the Demilitarized Zone, in hot spots called Con Thien, Gio Linh, Camp Carroll and Cam Lo. I vividly remember trembling with fear from the incoming shells in the mud-filled holes at Con Thien, wishing the shelling would stop and we could fight hand-to-hand. I remember those feelings like it was yesterday.

I, along with others, witnessed deaths unimaginable. We picked up the pieces of Marine bodies obliterated by direct hits. We stacked green body bags. I often wondered why others died and I lived.

I become angry when I think about the very young lives that were lost in Vietnam and the Gold Star families who have suffered. I am saddened by the sacrifices of true heroes and the disrespect that was shown to those who were fortunate enough to come home.

When I returned from Vietnam it was March 1968 in the midst of the civil rights movement. I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport in my Marine Corps Alpha Green uniform, with the medals and ribbons I had earned proudly displayed. I approached the sidewalk to catch a taxi, hoping that I wasn’t dreaming and would not awaken back at Camp Carroll to another bombardment.

Six taxicabs passed me by and drove off. I didn’t realize what was happening until the state trooper stepped in and told the next driver, “You have got to take this soldier.” The driver, who was white, looked up at us through the passenger side window and said, “I don’t want to go to Roxbury.”

That was my initial welcome home.

I now have an appreciation for the gift of life. Since returning home and completing college, I have devoted 42 years working in Boston schools. I see it as a tribute to my fellow Marines who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

I am very proud to have served my country as a United States Marine.

I am also very proud of the young men and women who continue to volunteer to join the armed services of our country.

Roger  Harris enlisted in the Marines and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. Afterward, he worked in the Boston public school system for more than 40 years. He lives in New York and Boston.

Eva Jefferson Paterson

This summer, I attended the 50th reunion of my high school class in Mascoutah, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. My dad was a career Air Force man and was stationed at Scott Air Force Base nearby in 1960.

During dinner, before we rocked out to the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder, a group of us talked about the war in Vietnam. The men remembered the draft system that required all young men to register to serve in the military. While I was in college at Northwestern from 1967 to 1971, a draft lottery was established. Numbers were drawn out of a big bin — similar to the one used for weekly state lotteries — corresponding to the days of the year. If your birthday corresponded to the first number drawn, your draft number was 1, and you were virtually certain to be drafted and sent to war. Most men from that period remember their number.

Some at our reunion had felt that it was their patriotic duty to serve; others were just delighted that their lottery numbers were above 300 and they were unlikely to be drafted. Few of us were anti-war at that time; I fully supported the war. My dad was sent to Cam Rahn Bay and Tan Son Nhut air force bases in Vietnam in 1966, my senior year in high school.

I remember being a freshman in college and actually saying to classmates who opposed to the war, “We have to support the war because the president says the war is good, and we must support the president.” Yikes! I changed my views as I got the facts.

Much of the fervor of the anti-war movement was fueled by the slogan “Hell no, we won’t go!” There was righteous indignation about the war, but fear was a strong motivator.

Now the burden of serving in wars falls on a very small percentage of the population, one that likely mirrors the patterns in the Vietnam era, with predominantly poor white, black and Latino men and women along with those who come from military backgrounds. It would be great to have a national discussion about this, but I fear our country is quite comfortable letting poor men and women and people of color and their families bear the burden of war.

Eva  Jefferson  Paterson grew up on air force bases and enrolled in Northwestern University in 1967, where she became student body president and politically active against the war. A civil rights attorney, she now runs the Equal Justice Society in Northern California.

U.S. general on Vietnam War: ‘This was some enemy’

Vietnam War: A timeline of U.S. entanglement

  • Vietnam War Essays

The Vietnam War Essay

The dynamics of the Vietnam War make it one of the most complex wars ever fought by the United States.   Every element of the war was saturated with complexities beyond the previous conceptions of war.   From the critical perspective, for the first half of the twentieth century, Vietnam was of little strategic importance to the United States and, even “after World War II, Vietnam was a very small blip on a very large American radar screen” (Herring, 14).   The U.S. knew very little about Vietnam outside of its rice production until the French colonized the country.   Even after France’s colonization of Vietnam, a great deal of America’s perspective and the media’s perspective of Vietnam was “devoid of expertise and based on racial prejudices and stereotypes that reflected deep-seated convictions about the superiority of Western culture. In U.S. eyes, the Vietnamese were a passive and uninformed people, totally unready for self government” (Herring, 13).   A survey of New York Times articles published during the First Indochina War revealed that the U.S. foreign policy analysis, media and public overwhelmingly concentrated on the French perspective of the conflict.   Little attention was given to the Vietminh perspective or to the perspective of the French backed government of South Vietnam.   This viewpoint continued until 1949 when China’s civil war ended and the Communist took control of China.   Shortly after taking control Mao Zedong, the Communist leader acknowledged the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the Soviet Union quickly followed suit.   After that, the U.S. media placed a greater emphasis on Cold War rhetoric when dealing with Vietnam.   As noted, the Cold War mindset permeated much of American culture during this time period; “it was an age of ideological consensus, and this was true above all in foreign policy” (Hallin, 50).   At the conclusion of the First Indochina War, the U.S. foreign policy, public and media considered Vietnam as a nation that could spread Communism in Southeast Asia.   The focus of the United States foreign policy from 1954 to 1957 looked mainly at the internal affairs of South Vietnam and at Ngo Dinh Diem, and to a smaller degree at the Refugee Crisis after the Geneva Accords.   From 1957-1961 the U.S. attention shifted heavily on Vietnam’s fate in relation to the turmoil in Laos and Cambodi as well as to the Soviet threat.   This perception dominated the public opinion, media and U.S. foreign policy well into President John F. Kennedy’s Administration.

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THE VIETNAM WAR (1955-1975): ANALYSIS OF EVENTS

On August 5, 1964, Congress considered the Southeast Asia Resolution, commonly called the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” (Johnson, 118).   After two days of debate it passed the Senate by a vote of 88-2 and the House by a resounding 416-0 (Johnson, 118).   It was a resolution to deliberately allow the United States a broad hand in protecting peace and security in Southeast Asia.   A second section asserted that “peace and security in southeast Asia” was vital to American national security and therefore the president, acting in accord with the Charter of the United Nations and as a member of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), would “take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” to assist member states of SEATO “in defense of [their] freedom” (Young, 109).   Finally, the resolution would expire when the president determined “peace and security had returned to the area” (Young, 109).   It could also be terminated by a subsequent congressional resolution.

On March 8, 1965, 3,500 Marines landed at Da Nang.   In May the first United States Army units arrived (Westmoreland, 124).   With air attacks against both North and South Vietnam being launched from bases in the South, airfields were a logical target for forces from the National Liberation Front, the Communist guerrillas fighting against the South Vietnamese, and no one placed much confidence in the protection from the forces of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) (Westmoreland, 123).   The United States ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam, Maxwell Taylor, cabled the State Department on February 22, 1965, voicing his concerns about the deployment of Marines in Da Nang to protect the airfield there.   In addition Taylor indicated that

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As for the use of Marines in mobile operations rather than static defense, [The] [w]hite-faced soldier, armed, equipped, and trained as he is not suitable guerrilla fighter for Asian forests and jungles…there would be [the] ever present question of how foreign soldier[s] would distinguish between a [Viet Cong] and a friendly Vietnamese farmer. When I view this array of difficulties, I am convinced that we should adhere to our past policy of keeping ground forces out of direct counterinsurgency role (Young, 139).  

Between 1965 and 1967, the United States military strategy in Vietnam had two major facets. The first involved strategic bombing of North Vietnam, and the second involved killing more Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars fighting in South Vietnam than could be replaced by new communist troops (McNamara,, 237).   President Johnson used the bombings and bombing pauses to pressure the North Vietnamese to conduct peace talks and bring the war to an end as quickly as possible.

But the war failed to end, and in early 1969, a counterattack occurred.   In the opening hours of the Tet Offensive, Viet Cong troops attacked thirteen of the sixteen provincial capitals of the Mekong delta of Southern Vietnam and many of the district capitals (Oberdorfer, 113).   Part of the shock of Tet was the contrast between recent official American military optimism that the war was drawing to a close and the public’s perception of the disparity between that optimism and the reality illuminated by the Tet attacks. The Viet Cong led the brunt of the communist Vietnamese attacks. In the majority of battles of the Tet Offensive throughout South Vietnam, the Viet Cong suffered crippling casualties. South Vietnamese and American casualties were proportionately less.  

From tactical perspective, the Tet Offensive was a military failure for the communist Vietnamese.   The main goal of the Tet Offensive was to incite a general uprising of the South Vietnamese population by demonstrating a powerful show of communist force.   However, no general uprising occurred as a result of the Tet Offensive.   The casualties sustained by the Viet Cong took a tremendous toll on the Viet Cong’s ability to conduct guerrilla raids on South Vietnamese and American forces for the remainder of the Vietnam War.

From the strategic viewpoint, the Tet Offensive was one of the communist Vietnamese’s greatest victories, because it severely affected the United States government’s political will to wage war in Vietnam.   Prior to the offensive, the Commanding General of the United States Military Assist Command Vietnam (MACV), General William Westmoreland, had stated that the war was winding down and that the United States could “see light at the end of the tunnel” (Oberdorfer, 271).   Upon hearing news reports of massed communist attacks throughout Vietnam, the existing American public support for the war eroded further.   In March 1968, upon hearing of General Westmoreland’s request for 200,000 more American combat troops in Vietnam while 500,000 servicemen and women were already fighting in Vietnam, the American public not only felt deceived but believed that the situation in Vietnam was unwinable or that the cost in American lives was too high (Oberdorfer, 271).   The Tet Offensive marked one of the most significant turning points in the Vietnam War (Oberdorfer, 280).  

Between 1968 and 1972, strategic bombing and bombing halts continued to be used to induce the North Vietnamese to engage in significant peace talks. American combat patrols continued throughout the South Vietnamese countryside to find and eliminate the Viet Cong presence. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese continued to erode the South Vietnamese government’s power and make the casualty toll on American forces higher and less bearable to Americans at home. Significant changes occurred in key positions on both sides of the conflict. Richard Nixon won the 1968 election. Along with President Nixon, his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger began American troop withdrawals in 1969 (Herring, 226).   Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, and First Secretary Le Duan succeeded as the head of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Duiker, 561).

On January 23, 1973, the United States signed the nine-point proposal from the North Vietnamese delegates that called for a cease-fire to allow for the withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam.   In Vietnam itself, the North Vietnamese followed some elements of the cease-fire agreement, particularly those which included the health and well-being of the American armed forces prisoners.   The release of the remaining American prisoners of war occurred simultaneously with the departure of the last combat soldier, and both sides made arrangements for search teams to continue to look for soldiers missed on the battlefields.   On the sixtieth day after the truce, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) officially closed down, declaring its mission accomplished (Young, 219). When the last American soldiers had left Camp Alpha, the processing barracks at Tan Son Nhut air base in Saigon, it was systematically dismantled by Vietnamese soldiers and civilians (Young, 220). The last American troops in Vietnam left on March 29, 1973.   Nevertheless, from 1973 to 1975 the South Vietnamese continued to fight the war without United States combat troops, using only weapons and supplies.   On April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese government ordered a general cease-fire to all remaining loyal troops as North Vietnamese regulars occupied the southern capital city of Saigon. The Vietnam War was over.

THE VIETNAM WAR (1955-1975) AND THE U.S. MILITARY STRATEGY

The initial United States military strategy from 1959-1964 was to provide military advisors to train the South Vietnamese military in its war against the communist forces of the North Vietnamese and insurgents in the South, the Viet Cong.   A major lesson learned from the previous conflict the United States was involved in, the Korean War, was to fight a limited war that would not provoke larger and more powerful communist countries from getting directly involved.   The United States, throughout the Vietnam War up until its withdrawal in 1973, limited its actions against the Vietnamese communists in order to not provoke neighboring China or the Soviet Union from getting more involved.   From 1959 to 1964, American military advisors and United States Army regular and special forces were deployed to South Vietnam and attached to South Vietnamese military units. Their mission was to train the fledgling South Vietnamese in effective combat techniques.

The United States wanted a South Vietnamese victory over the communists with minimal United States involvement. Presidents Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to avoid another war and to focus American resources elsewhere (McNamara, 40).   The United States government and military knew that it was highly unlikely for China or the Soviet Union to get directly involved if the United States limited its role to advising and allowed the South Vietnamese to fight their own battles.   The United States understood that a military victory would be more likely were American troops deployed to Vietnam. It believed that such action would not be necessary.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident in June 1964 changed the United States’ military strategy in Vietnam.   The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress allowed President Johnson to commit military forces “to protect the interests of the United States.” Whereas prior to the Tonkin episode American soldiers could not directly engage in combat, after the Marines landed at Da Nang in March 1965, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorized American soldiers to directly engage with enemy forces.   This marked a significant shift in American military strategy in Vietnam.   Not long after the Marines landed to defend the air base at Da Nang from local Viet Cong attacks, the commanding general of Miliatry Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) General Westmoreland shifted American forces’ posture in Vietnam from defensive to offensive.

Throughout the Vietnam War, the United States imposed several strategic limitations on its military forces to minimize the risk of broadening the war.   The United States did not want to repeat having the Chinese directly enter the war militarily.   The most significant limitation was the refusal to send ground troops into North Vietnam or to send any American forces including air and ground forces into neighboring Laos or Cambodia (Westmoreland, 44).   The military value of sending ground troops into North Vietnam to destroy troop and supply staging areas, occupy and deny use of strategic areas, and force the communist Vietnamese to assume a defensive posture and fight on ground of the Americans choosing would have been enormous.

The United States military did not leave North Vietnam unmolested. While American ground troops were not authorized to cross the 17th parallel dividing North and South Vietnam, the United States placed relatively few restrictions on sending bombers over North Vietnam with the goal to demolish North Vietnamese military supplies and weaponry before it could be used in South Vietnam (Kissinger, 239).   The American strategy regarding the air war over North Vietnam was to inflict the maximum amount of damage and casualties on the North Vietnamese necessary to make them lose their will to fight (Kissinger, 239).   The objective was to kill enough soldiers, destroy enough rice, which was the main staple of all Vietnamese people’s diets, and demolish enough bridges, railways, factories that the North Vietnamese could no longer wage war effectively against the South Vietnamese and its American ally.   The United States’ fury that was held in check by withholding ground troops from North Vietnam spurted out in the air campaigns conducted from 1965-1973 (Kissinger, 239).

Moving supplies during any military conflict is vital. One of the biggest challenges American and South Vietnamese forces faced throughout the Vietnam War was the North Vietnamese ability to supply their communist South Vietnamese allies, the Viet Cong, through Laos and Cambodia, a supply line dubbed the Ho Chi Minh trail after the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh (Westmoreland, 389).   The United States’ military strategy towards the Ho Chi Minh Trail centered on two facets. First was to destroy or prevent the supplies from North Vietnam aerially while they were still located in North Vietnam. Second was to position American and South Vietnamese forces along the South Vietnamese western border and so keep supplies from reaching the South.

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The war between Southern and Northern Vietnam lasted from 1955 till 1975. The reason for it was the spread of communism among various countries, and since America was against it, it had to send forces in 1965 to Asia to prevent communism. This war is considered one of the longest conflicts with the USA’s participation. During ten years of military confrontation, the United States lost more than 50,000 soldiers.

Teachers assigning  Vietnam war papers or discussing any other war want students to dive into history and identify the military conflict’s reasons, events, and consequences. But, in addition, in any war, there are two “truths” for both sides. So, the question of war is always debatable and has many unanswered questions. The main one is, “Could the conflict be solved without weapons?”

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vietnam war essay examples

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Essay: The Vietnam War

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Introduction The topic we choose for this assignment is the Vietnam War, because this war has been one of the most influential ones in American history. The war, which lasted from 1955 until 1975, had and still has a great impact on American society. Hundreds of thousands of both soldiers and civilians were killed it a, what later turned out to be, a useless interference in a civil war by the United States. The media had reported on big parts of the war. For the first time, due to the introduction of the television, every American citizen could see the horrible effects of the war live from their living room. Vietnam War Summarized overview The Vietnam War was a proxy war during the Cold War-era that took place between 1955 and 1975. The war was fought between the communist North Vietnam, the South Vietnamese communist force Viet Cong on one end and the non-communist South Vietnam on the other. The Vietnam War followed up the First Indochina War, partially, due to the interference of the United States and the Soviet Union, among other forces. The United States and its allies supported South Vietnam, while the USSR its allies supported North Vietnam. This made the Vietnam War known as one of the few ‘hot’ conflicts of the Cold War. The war represented a successful attempt of the North Vietnamese government, led by Ho Chi Minh, to unite the country under communist flag, since it had been split up by the decolonization. Elections for unification of the country were held in 1956, but South Vietnam ignored them. From this year up until the end of the war the Viet Cong carried out attacks in South Vietnam. The amount of US armed forces in Vietnam had been growing since 1955 but the real interference did not take place until after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, august 2nd, 1964. This incident, in which two US navy vessels had been torpedoed, led to the Tonkin Resolution. This resolution made it possible for the president of the United States to assist any South East Asian country in a war against communism. Between 1964 and 1968 the US president, Lyndon B Johnson, send over 500.000 troops to Vietnam. The US Army general William Westmoreland was in command during that period, he believed large scale aerial attacks to be the best option for defeating the Viet Cong. On March 28th 1968 the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces began to launch a series of guerrilla-attacks on South Vietnamese cities, the Tet Offensive. Even though the US Army troops were better equipped and larger in number, they could not withstand these attacks. The Tet Offensive later became known as the turning point of the war, as the public opinion on the righteousness of the war shifted. This was due to broad media coverage of all the events and attacks in the Vietnam War. President Johnson was not re-elected and succeeded by Richard Nixon. The Nixon administration was responsible for something called the Vietnamization. This basically meant that, because public opinion about the war had shifted, American troops must be withdrawn and the war handed back to the Vietnamese again. Also, Nixon ‘expanded’ the war into neutral countries such as Cambodia and Laos. This led to big protests in the United States, especially amongst students. In 1973, after peace negotiations in Paris, the last US Army troops leave Vietnam. In the following two years North Vietnamese forces took over large cities in South Vietnam resulting in the surrendering of South Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975. Reception of the Vietnam War The Vietnam War was the first war that was broadly documented and reported on by the media. Almost every day, news about Vietnam was broadcasted on American television. At first the general opinion was positive, but as the war escalated and more American soldiers died, the opinion shifted. This was greatly fuelled by the negative and sometimes inaccurate news reports during the Tet Offensive. The gruesome images of warfare broadcasted by the media caused distrust towards to government felt by the American society. One of the most famous events is the death of a Buddhist monk, who burned himself to death protesting the suppression of Buddhists by Ng”nh Di’m’s administration. Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, burns himself to death on a Saigon street June 11, 1963 to protest alleged persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne) Between 1967 and 1971 the percentage of young men who refused to serve in the US army rose from 8% to 43%. The opposition pointed out that the civilians of both North and South Vietnam became the main victims and that the US were actually supporting a corrupt government in the South. Because the United States lost the Tet Offensive, contrarily to public expectations and the insurances of the White House that victory was near, a big Anti War movement and counterculture was founded. Woodstock Music and Art Festival is the most famous example of this counterculture. The combination of new morals such as free love, recreational drug use and rock music made Woodstock a symbol of the antiwar movement. The anti war movements organized huge demonstrations. Among the demonstrators were a lot of students, clergy’s and African American. Popular anti war slogans were: ‘Hey hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today’? – Chanted by the demonstrators in opposition of Lyndon B. Johnson “Hell, no, we won’t go!” Vietnam War and present day US Some of the things that happened during the Vietnam War have had a huge impact on how the Americans and the rest of the world live today. One of the things that had a huge impact on the Vietnam War is that the American media played a large role in this war. For the first time the citizens of America were able to see exactly what was happening overseas and witness the horrors of true war. This is something that was new then but now reports like that are on the news at least every week. Because the media is more involved then it ever was nowadays, the opinions of the people have changed and not everyone is ‘pro war’ anymore. This new source of information during wars and conflict also sparked distrust amongst the people of America towards their government and other authorities. This is something that can still be seen today. According to a survey carried out by Gallup.com(Gallup) 81% of the American people have a hard time trusting their own government. Another thing that changed is that since this war, the President is no longer able to declare war without consulting first. Congress also changed their army draft to an all-volunteer force and changed the voting age to 18. All of this to give more freedom to the people and give them more influence on the government. The Vietnam War resulted in a loss. America the number one country in the world, with the strongest army, had lost its first war. The citizens lost confidence in their country and its government. But what about the countless veterans who came home from this terrible war. Most of the veterans that came back suffered from physical as well as psychological problems. Because of these problems most of these veterans were unable to get back to their regular lives. This was also known as the Vietnam Syndrome. Up until the 1980’s nobody actually talked about the existence of this trauma and because of this there was almost no care for the veterans who had served their country. A lot of the veterans that returned to the USA could not get jobs and so became homeless. The veterans were also now seen as not only heroes or victims, but also as victimizers. This of course after the citizens of the USA had seen the terrible thing their own soldiers had done. The government, which promised health care and education for the veterans that got an honorable discharge, kept to their promise. The only problem for a lot of veterans was that their discharge had not been honorable and so had no right to any of these things. Because of the poor conditions the veterans had (and some still have) to live in took its toll on a lot of them. Statistics show that almost every 80 minutes a US veteran commits suicide, about 18 a day. They also had to cope with the physical harm caused by Agent Orange or the mental harm; PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). They still cope with these problems today as Agent Orange can cause birth defects and PTSD is very hard to overcome, especially since the American government does so little to help these people. Conclusion It depends on from what perspective you look at this war and to what it has brought the world and more important America. We think that the consequences of this war are negative for the most part. America took several hits and still has not recovered from them. One of the most obvious things is that the citizens distrust their own government. Another thing is that more and more people are starting to agree on the fact that the Vietnam War might not have been such a great idea. Over the years people have started to doubt whether it was the right thing to do and in the year 2000, approximately 70% of the American people think that it was a mistake (see graph(Gillespie, 2000) below All of this because of the Vietnam war, but why? Why had this not happened in earlier wars? The biggest reason for this is that the media played a major role in this war. For the first time the American people could follow the war right at home with their television. Not only could they watch broadcasts of the war but there were also a lot more reports coming in every day. This made people look at the war from a whole other perspective. No longer was this war about helping people, honor and glory. People got to see the actual battles that took place, horrific images that one would not forget quickly. For the first time people did not think of America as the savior but as the bad guy.

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The Vietnam War was the longest lasting war in the United States history before the Afghanistan War. This example of a critical essay explores the history of that violent and divisive event. The United States’ presence and involvement in the Vietnam War were something that many people felt very strongly about, whether they be American citizens, Vietnamese citizens, or global citizens.

Known as ‘the only war American ever lost’, the Vietnam War ended two years after the United States withdrew their forces in 1973 and the communist party seized Saigon two years later. This sample essay provides an example of the features and benefits that come from working with Ultius.

Causes of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War refers to the Second Indochina War, lasting from 1954 until 1973, in which the United States (and other members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) fought alongside the Republic of South Vietnam. South Vietnam was contesting the communist forces comprised of the Viet Cong, a group of South Vietnamese guerillas, and the North Vietnamese Army (Vietnam War).

The war was a byproduct of the First Indochina War (lasting between 1946 and 1948), in which France tried to claim Vietnam as a colony and was met with strong opposition from Vietnamese communist forces.

But the deep-rooted issues surrounding the cause of the Vietnam War dated back to World War II, during which Japan invaded and occupied Vietnam (Vietnam War History). The country had already been under French rule since the late 1800s, and the Japanese presence caused a man named Ho Chi Minh, inspired by communism of China and the Soviet Union, to form the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam.

World War II as a catalyst to the Vietnam War

The Viet Minh’s main purpose was to fight both the Japanese and French administration and to make Vietnam a Communist nation. They were successful in forcing Japan to withdraw its forces in 1945. With only the French to worry about, the Viet Minh quickly rose up, gained control of the northern city of Hanoi, and declared Ho as the president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam War Facts).

This meant France had to take the lead in Vietnam. France sought to regain control in 1949 when they set up the state of Vietnam, also known as South Vietnam, and declared Saigon to be its capital. The two groups, the French and the Viet Minh, struggled for power until 1954, when a battle at Dien Bien Phu ended in defeat for France. This led to the Geneva Agreements , made a few months later, which granted independence to Cambodia and Laos, who had also been under French rule.

However, Vietnam was still divided into North Vietnam, or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the Republic of South Vietnam (Vietnam War). There was to be an election to determine the country’s fate, but the south resisted, spurring a cascade of guerilla warfare from the north. In July of 1959, North Vietnam called for a socialist revolution in all of Vietnam as a whole.

United States belated involvement in Vietnam

As the battles became more ferocious, President Kennedy watched from the United States and sent a team to report on the conditions of South Vietnam. In 1961, it was suggested that the president sent American troops to produce economic and technical aid in the fight against the Viet Cong. Fearing the effects of the ‘domino theory’, which stated that if one Southeast Asian nation fell under communist rule, so would many others, President Kennedy increased the number of troops in South Vietnam to nine thousand, compared to less than eight hundred during the previous decade (Vietnam War History).

After the assassination of President Kennedy, it was decided by both his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, that more soldiers would be used in the war . On August 2, 1964, two North Vietnamese torpedoes attacked United States destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, making the president’s war-making powers much broader (Vietnam War History).

America's military policy during the war

By the year’s end, twenty-three thousand American troops occupied South Vietnam and the United States began regular bombing raids the following February. Both the American military and the North Vietnamese forces came to the same conclusion; a steady escalation of the war would ensure victory. The U.S. believed that quickly increasing force and gaining control was the way to end the war; meanwhile, North Vietnam believed that enough American casualties would decrease support for U.S. involvement, forcing the withdrawal of the military (Vietnam War).

By June of 1965, eighty-two thousand United States troops were stationed in Vietnam. One month later, one hundred thousand more were dispatched, followed by another one hundred thousand in 1966 (Vietnam War History). By the end of 1967, there were almost five hundred thousand American military members stationed in Vietnam, and the death toll had surpassed fifteen thousand.

Soon, the physical and psychological deterioration of American soldiers became apparent. Maintaining military discipline was difficult. Drug use, mutiny, and cases of soldiers attacking officers became regular occurrences for United States troops. Popularity and support of the America’s part in the war decreased dramatically all over the world.

Americans' lack of support for the Vietnam War

On the last day of January in 1968, North Vietnam launched a series of merciless attacks on more than one hundred South Vietnamese cities. Despite the surprise, the United States and South Vietnam forces were able to strike back, making the communist fighters unable to maintain their hold on any of their targets.

Upon hearing reports of the attacks, and that there had been a request for two hundred thousand more troops, the United States’ support for the war plummeted, causing President Johnson to call a stop to the bombing of North Vietnam and vow to dedicate the rest of his term to achieving peace (Vietnam War History).

This promise by Johnson was met with talks of peace between the United States and North Vietnam. When Nixon was elected to take Johnson’s place, he sought to serve the ‘silent majority’, whom he believed supported the war effort.

Attempting to limit American casualties, Nixon launched a program to withdraw troops, increase artillery and aerial attacks, and give control over ground operations to South Vietnam (Vietnam War History). Peace negotiations were not moving smoothly, as North Vietnam continued to demand the United States’ complete withdrawal as a condition of peace.

In the years that followed, carnage and bloodshed were abundant. Meanwhile, in America, the anti-war movement was growing stronger as countless of thousands of Americans gathered at hundreds of protests around the country to contest the United States’ continued involvement in the war, marching in person and writing essays to share their opinions. In 1972, Nixon finally decided to end draft calls, as the numbers of soldiers discharged for desertion or ‘draft-dodging’ rapidly increased.

By the end of that year, North Vietnam was finally ready to compromise; however, they rejected the original peace agreement, causing Nixon to authorize bombings of North Vietnamese cities (Vietnam War History). U.S. troops were finally withdrawn in 1973, though war continued to rage between North and South Vietnam forces until the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

By the end of the war, the number of Americans killed reached over fifty-eight thousand, while the number of slaughtered Vietnamese numbered over two and a half million (Vietnam War History). From this point forward, the Vietnam War would be known as America's bloodiest war since the Civil War more than a hundred years' earlier.

The Vietnam War's military tactics

Military leaders once thought Germany's military policies during WWII were the most deceitful until the Viet Cong started employing their tactics. One of the most prominent types of warfare during the Vietnam War was guerilla warfare. This tactic consists of stealthy, surprise attacks aimed to eliminate opponents (Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare).

Widely used by the Viet Cong, this enabled them to sneak up on unwary enemies, kill them, and escape before causing alarm. In addition, Viet Cong fighters often disguised themselves as farmers or civilians before attacking when least expected.

Viet Cong's deceitful disguises and innocent lives lost

This led to the accidental killing thousands of innocent Vietnamese citizens. By 1965, the Viet Cong had gained access to machine guns, which they mainly used to shoot American helicopters down from the sky. They would also utilize American land mines, which they sometimes found undetonated and would steal for their own use (Battlefield: Vietnam).

In a single year, enemy forces obtained almost twenty thousand tons of explosives from dud American bombs. Though United States troops originally aimed to use more traditional forms of warfare, meaning the ‘winner’ would be the one who had claimed more land, it was decided that the only way to truly win the war was to eliminate as many enemy troops as possible, called attrition warfare (Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare).

Domestic response to the Vietnam War

The official position of the United States government on their involvement in the Vietnam War was that they were there at the request of South Vietnam to repel communist forces that were growing during the Cold War (Reaction to the War In the United States).

Before long, however, Americans grew dissatisfied with America’s continued presence in Southeast Asia. While some citizens believed that maximum force was necessary to quickly squash the opposition, others believed that the conflict in Vietnam was a civil one, making our involvement inappropriate.

Upon the revelation that American troops had massacred an entire village of civilians, anti-war demonstrations sprang up all around the country (Reactions to the War in the United States). While most demonstrations were peaceful, that was not the case for all. Many protests escalated to violence, as draft boards were raided and destroyed, production facilities were targets for attack and sabotage, and brutal altercations between civilians and police grew in frequency (Barringer).

Americans were analyzing the war through the lens of justice and morality, in addition to growing a strong distrust for the country’s military (War in Vietnam). Civil rights leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union called for the withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam. By the time Nixon recalled American troops in 1973, the antiwar sentiment had become overwhelming as dissent for the government reigned (Barringer). Never before had the American public showed such disdain and dissatisfaction with the country’s involvement in warfare.

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While the Vietnam War had some support among American citizens, the overall feelings towards the war were negative. It was widely believed that veterans were the true victims of the Vietnam War, as thousands of Americans were drafted involuntarily to fight in a war they did not believe in and millions of Vietnamese became nothing more than cast-aside casualties of war.

The United States originally aimed to squash the growth of Communism in Asia but ended up participating in the longest, bloodiest war in American history. Regardless of the justification for their involvement, the United States continues to hold the Vietnam War as a lesson and an example for how we, as a country, should conduct ourselves during times of conflict. The memories and aftereffects of the Vietnam War will continue to serve as a reminder for generations to come. If you have strong feelings about this bit of history, for or against, order your own essay from Ultius.

Works Cited

Barringer, Mark. University of Illinois: The Anti-War Movement in the United States. Oxford UP, 1999. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/antiwar.html.

“Battlefield: Vietnam”. PBS.org. PBS. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare”. The Vietnam War. Weebly, 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://vietnamawbb.weebly.com/guerrilla-warfare-and-war-of-attrition.html.

“Vietnam War”. HistoryNet.com. Weider History Network, 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://www.historynet.com/vietnam-war.

“Vietnam War History”. History.com. A&E Television Network, 2009. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history.

“The Vietnam War”. U.S. History. Independence Hall Association. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://www.ushistory.org/us/55.asp.

“War in Vietnam”. History Learning Site. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk, 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/war_vietnam.htm.

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Home / Essay Samples / War / Vietnam War

Vietnam War Essay Examples

Impact of the vietnam war on american culture.

The Vietnam War was a tumultuous and divisive period in American history, and its effects on American culture were profound. This essay will explore how the Vietnam War shaped and influenced various aspects of American culture, from music and film to politics and social attitudes....

The Vietnam War: the Experiences of Soldiers and Veterans

The Vietnam War was the United States attempting to help stop communism from spreading. The war left a negative effect on soldiers making them incapable of putting the ravages of the war out of their minds. This war was said to have lasted twenty years....

The Media in Australia During the Vietnam War

Vietnam War was a time of fear and panic for Australia as the ideology of communism had spread. Australia had been influenced by the fear of communism by the US and media. The media had become a big part of the perspectives during the War,...

Ceramics of the Khmer Empire: Temples for the Gods, Ceramics for the People

Remembered for being a significant part of the Vietnam War and even more so for the mass genocide perpetrated by Paul Pot and the Khmer Rouge after the defeat of the Communist regime in 1975 the Kingdom of Cambodia was a mystery to most people...

Why Tim O'brien Should Have Fought in the Vietnam War

What would you do if you were to get drafted into war? Tim O’Brien was meat factory worker, a student body president with a full ride scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies. He struggles to figure out if he should flee to Canada or go...

Vietnam War institutional Affiliation

In current conditions, the international situation remains quite complicated, and the relationship between the various regions of the world is so close that any armed conflict can turn into a large-scale war. This threat is because armed conflicts are, as a rule, a coalition in...

Vietnam War in "Living Through the Vietnam War" by Cath Senker

In the book “Living Through The Vietnam War” by Cath Senker talks about all the significance of The Vietnam War. It talks about how it was such a global significance and how it affected both sides of the conflict. It also talks about how it...

The Role of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War

Vietnam transformed into a subject of colossal scale news incorporation in the United States essentially after liberal amounts of U.S. fight troops had been centered around the war in the spring of 1965. Going before that time, the number of American newsmen in Indochina had...

Publishing of the Gulf of Tonkin and Its Impact on Johnson's Presidency Career

The Gulf of Tonkin incident took place on August 2 and 4, 1964, it is also known as the USS Maddox incident, an international confrontation of two unprovoked attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on Maddox and Turner Joy which lead to the involvement of...

The Power of Story Truth and Happening Truth in the Life of Tim O’brien

The author Tim O’Brien finds the way to tell his Vietnam War experience in his book by giving the story-truth and not happening-truth. The story-truth that never happened to him shows how he felt inside during the fighting for his life. The happening-truth seems to...

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About Vietnam War

1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Tet Offensive, My Lai Massacre, Gulf of Tonkin incident.

In general, historians have identified several different causes of the Vietnam War, including: the spread of communism during the Cold War, American containment, and European imperialism in Vietnam.

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