Video:Overview of the Vietnam Warwith David Wilson
A hot-spot in the Cold War, the Vietnam War lasted for ten years despite many obstacles and a lack of public support. Learn all about this controversial war in this history video from About.com.See Transcript
Transcript:Overview of the Vietnam War
Hello, my name's David Wilson. I'm an historian and a teacher of U.S. and World History, here today for About.com. In today's discussion we're going to be taking a look at the Vietnam War.
The End of WWII, the Iron Curtain, and Containment
At the end of WWII, the Soviets refused to relinquish countries they had occupied during WWII. This led Winston Churchill to make the comment that “an iron curtain had fallen across the continent.” This Soviet expansion ultimately led to what's referred to as the Cold War, and, specifically, to a U.S. strategy called Containment. At its heart, this was a thought verbalized by President Harry Truman in 1947 when he said: “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by outside pressures.”
This policy would ultimately land the United States in a protracted, decade-long war defending the Democratic South Vietnamese in their civil war against the North Vietnamese, referred to as Viet Cong by the Southerners, in their attempts to unify the country under Communist rule.
How the Vietnam War Started
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam began as the French were leaving their former colony. In 1955 President Eisenhower pledged U.S. support in the form of military training and equipment to the South Vietnamese regime of President Diem. By 1962, the U.S. had built a military presence in Vietnam of about 9,000 troops, but were not undertaking any official military actions.
In August of 1964, the North Vietnamese allegedly fired on two U.S. ships stationed in International waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress then issued the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Lyndon Johnson the authority to escalate the United States' military involvement in Vietnam. By the end of 1965, the U.S. had over 180,000 troops in Vietnam.
Hardships of the Vietnam War
President Johnson's plan was for the ground fighting to be limited to the South, strengthening South Vietnam's defenses and eventually allowing a trained South Vietnamese army to take over. While this was going on, the United States was engaged in a bombing campaign in the North. For U.S. troops on the ground, Vietnam was mostly a jungle war, where extremely difficulty conditions, ambushes, and booby traps were all commonplace. It was also a war that seemed to have a step backward for every step forward, giving the impression that real progress against the North Vietnamese wasn't being made.
The Tet Offensive
A major turning point in the Vietnam war came on January 31, 1968 on the Tet holiday, which was a celebration of the lunar new year. With nearly 500,000 U.S. troops in the country, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces surprised American military with a coordinated series of attacks across the country. While the U.S. was ultimately successful in defending their positions during the Tet Offensive, the attacks deeply damaged the public support for the war, as they were being filmed for the first time and broadcast on public TV in the United States of America.
The End of the Vietnam War
In January of 1969, under President Richard Nixon, peace talks began in Paris. It would be another four years, however, before the last U.S. troops would leave Vietnam on March 29, 1973. At the end of the conflict, the Vietnam War cost the lives of 58,000 Americans, with another 303,000 wounded. By April 1975, South Vietnam officially surrendered to the North, thereby creating a unified Vietnam.
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