• The Vietnam War

    In the late 1800s, the area that is now Vietnam was colonized by France and called French Indochina. It remained under French control for many years, but in 1945, Communist leader Ho Chi Minh defeated the French. The country was divided into two parts: North and South Vietnam.

    After World War II, Communism spread through much of Eastern Europe and Asia. American leaders viewed Communism as a threat to freedom and democracy and wanted to contain its growth. They did not want Communist North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam, further enlarging Communist territory. In the 1950s, the U.S. began sending money and providing military training to South Vietnam.

    In 1964, President Johnson asked Congress to approve a resolution that would allow him to take more aggressive action against Vietnam. This resolution led to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

    Fun Facts:

    • President Johnson’s request for a resolution came after reports that North Vietnamese gunboats had fired on two U.S. destroyers.
    • Fighting in Vietnam was nothing like fighting in Europe during World War II. Dense jungles, mosquitoes, heat, and malaria made progress difficult. Enemy Viet Cong soldiers could hide in villages, attack, and disappear. Fields were full of booby traps and mines and hundreds of miles of tunnels ran under villages, allowing enemy soldiers to escape quickly.
    • Americans were deeply divided over the war. Some thought it was necessary, believing that if the Viet Cong won, Communism would spread to Cambodia and Laos. Others believed the war was too difficult to win and the sacrifices were too great. Thousands of American soldiers died and many innocent civilians were killed in Vietnam by American bombs.
    • In January, 1968, the Viet Cong launched an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, several American bases, and 36 cities in South Vietnam. Soon after, President Johnson announced an end to American bombing in Vietnam.
    • Before the end of his presidency, President Johnson had started peace talks with the Viet Cong. President Nixon continued these talks in Paris, but at the same time, he launched secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia. His goal was to stop the North Vietnamese from delivering weapons and men through Cambodia to South Vietnam.
    • Nixon had ordered the withdrawal of 25,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam in June of 1969. When Communist troops threatened to take over Cambodia, Nixon ordered troops to invade that country. At home, anti-war sentiments increased. In 1971, more than 200,000 protesters marched in Washington, D.C.
    • By 1972, troops, politicians, and the American public were disheartened. Victory against the Viet Cong seemed impossible. In January, 1973, American leaders and the Viet Cong signed the Paris Peace Accords. All U.S. forces left Vietnam and more than 500 American prisoners of war were released.
    • In March, 1975, the Communists broke their peace truce, attacking cities throughout South Vietnam. Millions of refugees fled and the few remaining American troops and government workers were evacuated by helicopter. America had lost the war and the Communists had complete control of Vietnam.

    Vocabulary:

    1. Mine: an explosive device buried in the soil that goes off when disturbed
    2. Truce: an agreement of peace

    Questions and Answers:

    Question: What happened after the Vietnam War?

    Answer: After World War II, troops received a hero’s welcome home. After Vietnam, troops were often blamed or humiliated for not winning the war. Many soldiers had been tortured or endured horrible experiences. They suffered from “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Some used drugs and alcohol to forget. Others had difficulty finding jobs. Some committed suicide.

    At the same time, the American people felt confused, betrayed, and angry. They began to distrust their leaders, a problem that continues today. They were horrified to learn of American soldiers killing innocent women and children in Vietnam. One example is the My Lai massacre. Troops opened fire on a Vietnamese village believed to be held by Communists. At least 400 villagers were killed.

    Learn More

    Visit KidsConnect for lesson plans about the Vietnam War.

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