The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was fought between Communist North Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union and China, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States. The bloody conflict had its roots in French colonial rule and an independence movement led by communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
Vietnam was a battleground during the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union fought for world domination. At the end of the war, northern and southern Vietnam would be reunited, but at a high price. Here are six events that led to the Vietnam War.
1. The collapse of French Indochina and the rise of Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam became a French colony in 1877 with the founding of French Indochina, which included Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina, and Cambodia. (Laos was added in 1893.) The French lost control of their colony briefly during World War II, when Japanese troops occupied Vietnam.
As Japan and France fought over Vietnam, an independence movement was forming under Ho Chi Minh, a revolutionary leader inspired by Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution. He created the League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Minh, in May 1941.
Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France on September 2, 1945, just hours after Japan surrendered in World War II. When the French rejected his plan, the Viet Minh resorted to guerrilla warfare to fight for an independent Vietnam.
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2. Battle of Dien Bien Phu
The conflict between the French and the Viet Minh culminated in the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu, when, after a four-month siege, the French lost to the Viet Minh under Commander Vo Nguyen Giap, marking the end of the French domination. In Vietnam. The question of who would rule Vietnam and how has aroused the interest of world superpowers, who have watched the situation in Vietnam with growing unease.
3. The Geneva Agreements of 1954 divide Vietnam
The Geneva accords were signed in July 1954 and divided Vietnam on the 17th parallel. North Vietnam would be ruled by the Communist government of Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam would be ruled by Emperor Bao Dai. An election was due in two years to unify Vietnam, but the United States, fearing that a national election would lead to a communist regime, ensured it never took place.
“The ‘temporary’ division of the country at the seventeenth parallel into two ideologically opposed states meant that the civil conflict in Vietnam would collide on a large scale with East-West rivalry,” says Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Dorothy Borg Associate Professor History of the United States and East Asia at Columbia University.
4. The Cold War
Vietnam was divided during the Cold War, when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were at an all time high. Mao Zedong had proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and in January 1950, China joined the Soviet Union in formally recognizing the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
During the Cold War, the United States practiced a policy of containment. President Harry S. Truman’s Truman Doctrine promised political, military, and economic assistance to democratic nations facing threats from communist forces. His successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, advanced the domino theory that a Communist victory in Vietnam would create a domino effect in Southeast Asia… and therefore should be avoided at all costs.
“The Vietnam War was both a war to reconcile the issues of European imperialism in a new postcolonial space, a war between Marxism-Leninism and democratic capitalism, and a war between the Vietnamese parties,” says Nguyen.
5. The overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem
Emperor Bao Dai has been replaced by Catholic nationalist Ngo Dinh Diem. His strong anti-Communist stance was popular with Americans who helped him come to power. But Diem’s preferential treatment of the Catholic minority has led to protests across South Vietnam. In May 1963, eight Buddhist protesters were killed by government officials in Hue.
In response, Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc set himself on fire in the middle of a busy crossroads in Saigon. Other monks began to immolate themselves in what has come to be known as the “Buddhist crisis”. The United States has lost confidence in Diem’s ability to lead.
In November, the United States supported a military coup in which Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were assassinated. (US President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated less than three weeks later.) The coup was followed by a chaotic succession of 12 different governments in South Vietnam between 1963 and 1965.
6. Gulf of Tonkin incident
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, also known as the USS Maddox incident, marked the official entry of the United States into the Vietnam War.
“In the summer of 1964, the Johnson administration was making secret plans for an expansion of US military involvement in Vietnam. Any such action should have the support of Congress, officials determine, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident provided an opportunity to obtain this authorization, ”said Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. University.
On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox encountered three Soviet-built North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox fired what it described as warning shots and was greeted by torpedo and machine gun fire. On August 4, the U.S. destroyer Turner Joy and the USS Maddox reported that they had been ambushed, although Turner Joy’s account has since been called into question by historians.
On August 7, the House and Senate passed the resolution on the Gulf of Tonkin with near unanimity granting President Lyndon B. Johnson the power “to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the States. United and to prevent any further aggression. ”
The American war in Vietnam had officially started.
READ MORE: Timeline of the Vietnam War