external image moz-screenshot.png

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indo-China War, began on November 1st,1955 and lasted until April 30th, 1975, almost twenty years later. Although the US did not enter the war until ten years after it officially began it was, and still is, both the longest-lasting and (at the time) decidedly the most unpopular war in American history.
The original conflict was between the French and the Communist forces of North Vietnam, mainly the National Liberation Front (NLF), which was later given the title of "Viet Cong" by Americans, a slang-term meaning "Vietnam Communists". The NLF's goal was to unify all of Vietnam under one rule and to free itself of France's colonial rule. Despite the name given to them by Washington, the NLF allowed anyone to join, Communist or not, "as long as they opposed Ngo Dinh Diem and wanted to unify Vietnam." [ 1]

NLF Flag- PBS.org
NLF Flag- PBS.org

The US's decision to side with Diem was finalized in 1956 under the Kennedy administration. Although the executives were split about Diem's motives, they settled for him being the "lesser of two evils", despite his dictator-like laws, and entered on the side of South Vietnam. Although the CIA had been making periodic reports back to the US about the state of South Vietnam, America did not begin to treat the situation in Vietnam as a full-scale war until later.
A report by a team sent to South Vietnam, now known as the "December 1961 White Paper Report" supported "an increase in military, technical, and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American "advisers" to help stabilize the Diem regime and crush the NLF", while some of his other advisers argued for the exact opposite, urging the president to withdraw completely from South Vietnam. Kennedy, attempting a compromise, settled for sending in more machinery and advisers but did not send in troops. This plan, however, did nothing to help South Vietnam. Eventually, continued military attempts by the US and South Vietnam served to do the exact opposite as hoped and turned more people into supporters or members of the NLF.
In 1963, following the JFK assassination, America's involvement in the Vietnam War increased greatly. The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, took the more aggressive view-point regarding the situation in Vietnam, though arguably only in response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. As a result, Congress voted for "limited air reprisal" against North Vietnam.

For the next year the US debated its strategy against North Vietnam. Finally, military executives settled on a number of bombings (lasting until 1968) known as "Operation Rolling Thunder", as well as over 20,000 troops. The campaign officially began on February 24, but the actual bombings did not take place until about a week later on March 2. The goal of this operation was vague, but ultimately its purpose was to reduce North Vietnam's morale and limit their number of resources. In the end, this operation was a failure on both accounts.

Back at home, tension was also building, though in a different way. In 1965 the first notable protest of the War took place as "25,000 people marched in Washington." [3] In less than a year opposition to the Vietnam War had grown so much that sit-ins, rallies, and demonstrations were now common-place. The largest demonstration was in November of 1969 when "250,000 people marched in Washington, D.C.". The economy was also feeling the impact of the war. Operation: Rolling Thunder alone had cost the US over $900 million in total. America, as a result, was feeling the effects of inflation, and then recession.
Despite the obvious resentment and consequences of America's involvement in the war, the decision was made to stay in Vietnam.

The next major war even took place in January of 1968 and was known as the Tet Offensive. Referred to as this name by the US because of its timing with the Lunar New Year and the Vietnamese celebration of 'Tet', this campaign was a collaborative attack between the Northern Vietnamese government and the NLF. Because of the celebrations, the Southern/American forces were caught off guard, resulting in the bloodiest battle of the war. The estimated results were that "the United States lost 1,100 killed in action and South Vietnam 2,300. An estimated 12,500 civilians were killed, and Tet created as many as one million new refugees". [2]
This attack accomplished two major things; one, it succeeded in cutting down American morale both with civilians and soldiers alike and two, it caused the American public to question LBJ's leadership, who on the 31st of March that year made a statement that he would not be seeking re-election.

Protesters against the War- howstuffworks.com
Protesters against the War- howstuffworks.com

Richard M. Nixon was the last US president to be involved in the Vietnam War, he was also responsible for the US's withdraw. In the aftermath the the Tet Offensive America was more eager than ever to pull out of Vietnam's affairs. In response, Nixon enacted what is known as the Nixon Doctrine, or Vietnamization, a plan to gradually pull American troops out of the on-going war while forcing Southern Vietnam to assume more responsibility for their problems, given monetary and air-force aid by the US. The troop withdraw began on July 1, 1969. At the same time, negotiations between the US and Southern and Northern Vietnam were occurring in Paris. The Paris Peace Accords, deadlocked for two years, finally came to a conclusion on January 7, 1973, though many violations on the part of either side followed. This treaty, though it did cease fire between the US and Northern Vietnam, did not end the war. The official end of the war occured two years later on April 30, 1975 with The Fall of Saigon. In this, Northern Vietnamese forces successfully captured the South's capital, Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City).

The consequences of the war were heavy for any party involved. For the US, the war seemed to shed a whole new light on many aspects, though in general the public took on state of denial, avoiding talk of the "only war [the nation] ever lost" [5]. Soldiers who had fought in the War came home to spite and misunderstandings instead of a warm welcome. It was not until almost ten years later that the US began to acknowledge the veterans as heroes. From a military point of view, it showed the US the results of a "lack of clear strategic vision" [2], and an unsure purpose. Political figures had lost the faith of the American public, who no longer viewed the United States as 'invincible', losing badly to a "fourth-rate power", as previously described as by Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

"9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975. " -USWings.com [6]

1. http://www.pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/history/index.html
2. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/vietnam.htm
3. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/modules/vietnam/index.cfm
4. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam_war.htm
5. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/postwar.htm