For years after the war, people still keep the question of what was the war about, how was it started, and who was who? The nature of the Vietnam War is then remaining complicated to many, and depending on different sides and perspectives. But to me, it can be seen like this:
To the US and South Vietnam government, this is a war between two ideologies: Communism and capitalism. The US came and fought the war in order to stop the communist expansion in South East Asia. The American public ideas remain divided; one side believed in government and supports the war against the communist in Vietnam, the other saw it an invasion and protested what the US is doing in Vietnam. To most of American, their government came to Vietnam for the interests of American corporate capitalism.
To Democratic Republic of Vietnam and National liberation front of South Vietnam, it was the war for national independence, national unification, and building socialism. Vietnamese, in both North and South, do not care about political ideology; they just want peace to be doing.
Most people even the American thought they know at least a lit of bit about Vietnam War, from things they have seen in movies, TV programs, information received from the government, from newspapers, from high school textbooks, and so on…but the problem is that, most of the stuffs are just incorrect, there are misinformation and wrong assumption up there.
Vietnam and its people have been existed for 4000 years; they are ancient people with their own culture and identity. One of the most salient traditions is fighting for national independent. Even from the ancient time, they got to struggle against foreign domination. China occupied Vietnam for about 1000 years, and finally after years of Vietnamese’s revolts, Chinese was expelled in 938, then again in the mid 1800s, Vietnam fell under foreign domination, and this time they were colonized by French.
The French ruled Vietnam through the use of puppet government for 100 years. Until 1940 when Japanese following its own imperialist occupied Vietnam. The Japanese kept both the French and the figurehead government’s place while exercising control from behind the since. It was known as a double puppet government.
From 1941, Viet Minh formed, they are a group of Vietnam nationalist, they dream of an independent Vietnam, free from foreign domination, their first political and military objective is to out the occupied Japanese and French from their homeland. Their leader, communist, revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was supported by the US in China because they were fighting the neutral enemy, the Japanese from within Vietnam.
In 1945, when the World War II was over, Japanese surrendered to Viet Minh, Viet Minh declared Vietnam independence, there were a lot of parties on the streets. And when Japan was no longer threat, the US revoked Viet Minh and Vietnam independence and instead transfer to support to the French, who immediately try to establish Vietnam as colony. It is obvious to Viet Minh that they have been betrayed and so of cause they resist. So the new war between Vietnamese and French or the French Indochina war happened in 1946.
Although the war refers to the French Indochina war, behind the scene the US is the French’s finance partner, financing up to 80% of France’s war costs. Even with all the money and guns on their side, the French was defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu battle field after 9 years of very bloody fighting. For the second time of 10 years, the Vietnamese look like having total independence, now you may think that the French just pick up their stuff and leave.
But in the real war the situation was never that simple. The French has been in Vietnam for about 100 years, and the war, not mention to the effect of colonization itself, has left the country in mess, also the former prisoners of the France’s surrenders had to be discussed. So the French, Vietminh, along with China, Soviet Union, Britain and US all meet in Geneva 1954 to solve everything out.
At the Geneva accord, the first thing needed to be discussed was how to actually end all the fighting and separate the combatants. It decided that Vietnam will be temporally divided half into two regroup areas, the Vietminh forces the North of 17th parallel and the French forces the South of 17th parallel. After getting all the stuffs together, the French would then leave, and after a period of 2 years, a unified national election would be held in both the North and the South, at which time Vietnamese people would be formerly and finally has independent under a single government of their choice. It was the plan.
The 2 sides agreed to this term for different reasons:
HCM knew that Vietminh got a strong support among the Vietnamese people; he could sure that they would easily win in the national election.
The French and the American on the other hand also wanted an end to all the fighting, but the US didn’t want a communist government in Vietnam, a government that would certainly be more politically and economically allied with China or Soviet Union rather than the US. So the US saw the 2 years as a window of Opportunity, during which they have chances to pour the money into the Southern half of Vietnam in order to create a good example of good economy, so that when the peasants elect their government it will be more open to the US influence. That’s exactly what the US did.
When the French left Vietnam, the US immediately started an enormous project of nation building. The result was a new nation: South Vietnam. This is the most commonly misunderstood aspects of Vietnam War. One of the fundamental facts that people know about the Vietnam War is that North Vietnam was communist – it’s true. And South Vietnam government was democratic – it is false. And that the US was helping the Vietnamese people in the South repel the communist aggression – mostly false. What most people don’t realize is that South Vietnam was invented by the US as a base for building and maintaining its own interest in Asia.
Actually, there was nothing in the Geneva accords stated that Vietnam will become 2 separate countries. Most people just say South Vietnam, North Vietnam like it was always like that. This particular situation was exploited by the US to create a foot hole so that they can get in Vietnam and reserve their interest in the region. The Vietnamese people by a lot did not want their country put in half.
The US installed a puppet government in the newly created South Vietnam; they chose an anticommunist, catholic Ngo Dinh Diem to head the new government in Saigon. Then 2 years go by quickly, it became clear that Diem and the American backer still not popular enough to win an election over the more popular HCM, so the US encourages Diem to block the 1956 election, and he does. The election never takes place.
By 1960, grass root opposition In the South with the support from Vietminh leadership in the North, formed a front named National Liberation Front of South Vietnam or NLF, they are a basically social and revolutionary movement, dedicating their life to out the US and the puppet government by forces. Diem and the US called them Vietcong or VC and considered them the enemy, which is why all the fighting during Vietnam War took place within the border of South Vietnam. Which is also the second most misunderstanding about the Vietnam War, a lot of people know American forced against an enemy called Vietcong and just assume that Vietcong is from North Vietnam.
Frankly, from early stage of the war, most of the Vietcong was from the South. They received gun, supply and other kind of support from Vietminh in the North. Vietcong rooted in the South, though people usually imagine American and South Vietnamese in the South, Vietcong in the North, everybody fighting each other in the middle.
By 1963, Vietcong has gain a strong support through out South Vietnam, so the US was getting really annoyed with Diem in his roles of controlling the situation. Finally, Diem was assassinated in November that year.
Immediately, the US exercised much more direct control over South Vietnam. Far away in America, President John F. Kennedy is himself assassinated, and then Vice President Lyndon D. Johnson became president. The following years, Johnson administration decided that allow war is the only way to defeat the Vietnamese. But the American public ideas remain divided. The administration created a solution names Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which, North Vietnam was firing US boat, well it never actually happened, but the story is good enough to kick off the American people and congress.
Then congress over welling approved the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August 1964. The resolution gives Johnson all the power to use military force to retaliate upon North Vietnam without declaring war. US airplanes began booming North Vietnam almost immediately and continue for a decade, by 1969, there are more than half of million US troop in Vietnam. All fighting in a country that people can barely find on the map, fighting an enemy that no one seem to understand.