Vietnamization - Vietnam War, Definition and Dates

Vietnamization - Vietnam War, Definition and Dates

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Vietnamization was a strategy that aimed to reduce American involvement in the Vietnam War by transferring all military responsibilities to South Vietnam. The increasingly unpopular war had created deep rifts in American society. President Nixon believed his Vietnamization strategy, which involved building up South Vietnam’s armed forces and withdrawing U.S. troops, would prepare the South Vietnamese to act in their own defense against a North Vietnamese takeover and allow the United States to leave Vietnam with its honor intact. But the Vietnamization process was deeply flawed from the beginning.

Nixon and the Vietnam War

When President Richard M. Nixon took office in January 1969, the U.S. had been sending combat troops to fight in Vietnam since 1965, and some 31,000 American lives had been lost.

However, the full-scale U.S. military commitment seemingly had made little progress in defeating communist North Vietnam and its Viet Cong guerrilla allies. The enemy forces had absorbed tremendous punishment but remained determined to overthrow the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam and reunite the country under Communist rule.

Facing intense pressure from a war-weary public and widespread Vietnam War protests, Nixon sought a way to disengage American combat forces without appearing to abandon South Vietnam to the communists. He rejected calls from the anti-war movement to order an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and publicly expressed a desire to achieve “peace with honor” in Vietnam.

Toward this end, Nixon and his advisors—including Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird—developed a new strategy they called Vietnamization. The Vietnamization plan provided for a gradual, phased withdrawal of American combat forces, combined with an expanded effort to train and equip South Vietnam to take over military responsibility for its own defense.

The president announced his Vietnamization strategy to the American people in a nationally televised speech on November 3, 1969. He emphasized how his approach contrasted with the “Americanization” of the war that had taken place under his predecessor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“The defense of freedom is everybody’s business, not just America’s business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened,” Nixon explained in his speech. “In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.”

Invasion of Cambodia

In addition to U.S. troop withdrawals and efforts to prepare and modernize the South Vietnamese army, Nixon’s Vietnamization strategy also featured programs designed to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and expand its political base in rural areas. He offered U.S. assistance to help South Vietnamese officials organize local elections and implement social reforms and economic development initiatives.

At the same time that the Vietnamization plan was put in place, however, the Nixon administration also escalated U.S. military activity in other parts of Southeast Asia. In April 1970, for example, the president secretly authorized bombing campaigns and a ground invasion of Cambodia, a neutral country.

When his expansion of the war came to public attention, Nixon asserted that the incursion into Cambodia was necessary to keep pressure on the enemy until the Vietnamization strategy took root. The president’s actions nonetheless came under harsh criticism and prompted massive anti-war demonstrations across America.

Nixon gradually reduced the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam in several stages, from a peak of 549,000 in 1969 to 69,000 in 1972. However, during this same period, North Vietnamese leaders launched several offensives that tested the president’s resolve and cast doubt on his Vietnamization strategy.

The March 1972 Easter Offensive, for instance, highlighted the poor performance of the South Vietnamese army and its heavy reliance on U.S. air power to repel the Communist attack.

Effectiveness of Vietnamization

In January 1973, the Nixon administration negotiated a peace agreement with North Vietnamese leaders. Under the terms of the settlement, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its remaining troops within 60 days in exchange for an immediate cease-fire, the return of American prisoners of war, and North Vietnam’s promise to recognize the legitimacy of South Vietnam’s government and submit future disputes to an international commission.

In his final report before leaving office that month, Laird declared the Vietnamization process completed: “As a consequence of the success of the military aspects of Vietnamization, the South Vietnamese people today, in my view, are fully capable of providing for their own in-country security against the North Vietnamese.”

However, later events proved that the Laird’s confidence was completely unfounded, as South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese communist forces in 1975.

Establishment of Indochinese Communist Party, Emperor Bao Dai Installed, Japanese Occupy Indochina, Ho Chi Minh, and Americans Fight Japanese, Famine in Hanoi, Foundation of Viet Minh, Japanese Surrender, France Reclaims Southeast Asia

“Draft dodgers”

Even though there was some opposition to the draft even before the U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam, the conflict saw new levels of opposition to the call-up. As American troop strength in Vietnam shot up, more young men of call-up age sought to avoid or delay their military service and there were some legal ways to do that. Men who had physical or mental problems, were married, with children, attending college or needed at home to support their families might be granted deferments. It is worth noticing that many men received deferments were from wealthy and educated families. Prominent political figures accused of avoiding the draft includes Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney.

While President Johnson ended marriage deferment on August 26, 1965, some men claimed to be homosexuals while many others chose to flee to a neutral country such as Canada and Mexico to avoid the draft. These people were derogatorily referred as “draft dodgers” – a term made popular during the Vietnam War.

In the beginning, many people looked at “draft-dodgers with contempt as being “cowards”. As American casualties rocketed up while the U.S. could not see the light at the end of the tunnel as claimed by its government, the conflict in Vietnam became more and more unpopular. As a result, more people got involved in the anti-war and draft resistance movement and backed these draft-dodgers. The draft process was also scrutinized carefully owing to the increasingly unpopularity of the Vietnam War.


Soon after taking office. President Richard Nixon introduced his policy of "vietnamization". The plan was to encourage the South Vietnamese to take more responsibility for fighting the war. It was hoped that this policy would eventually enable the United States to withdraw gradually all their soldiers from Vietnam.

To increase the size of the ARVN, a mobilisation lav was passed that called up into the army all men in South Vietnam aged between seventeen and forty-three.

In June, 1969, Nixon announced the first of the US troop withdrawals. The 540,000 US troops were to be reduced by 25,000. Another 60,000 were to leave the following December.

Nixon's advisers told him that they feared that the gradual removal of all US troops would eventually result in a National Liberation Front victory. It was therefore agreed that the only way that America could avoid a humiliating defeat was to negotiate a peace agreement in the talks that were taking place in Paris. In an effort to put pressure on North

Vietnam in these talks, Nixon developed what has become known as the Madman Theory. Bob Haldeman, one of the US chief negotiators, was told to give the impression that President Nixon was mentally unstable and that his hatred of communism was so fanatical that if the war continued for much longer he was liable to resort to nuclear weapons against North Vietnam.

Another Nixon innovation was the secret Phoenix Program. Vietnamese were trained by the CIA to infiltrate peasant communities and discover the names of NLF sympathisers. When they had been identified, Death Squads were sent in to execute them. Between 1968 and 1971, an estimated 40,974 members of of the NLF were killed in this way. It was hoped that the Phoenix Program would result in the destruction of the NLF organisation, but, as on previous occasions, the NLF was able to replace its losses by recruiting from the local population and by arranging for volunteers to be sent from North Vietnam.


Vietnamisation was the term used by Richard Nixon to describe US policy towards South Vietnam in the later stages of the Vietnam War. Vietnamisation was Nixon’s desired policy to enable South Vietnam to take a greater responsibility for the war while America started a planned withdrawal, while at the same time supporting the government in Saigon in its fight against the NLF. In June 1969, Nixon announced the first reduction in troop numbers – 25,000 US troops were to be withdrawn. However, this still left 515,000 US troops in South Vietnam. In December 1969, Nixon announced a further 60,000 men were to leave South Vietnam.

Parallel to this reduction in troop levels, America met the North Vietnamese government in Paris to discuss a peace settlement. Here the Americans used the Madman Theory in an attempt to scare to Hanoi government into accepting peace terms with due speed. The Madman Theory was simple – it was an attempt to convince the government in Hanoi that Nixon so hated communism and was so taken in by the Domino Theory, that he was planning to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam if the war continued. Clearly such a ploy did not upset the North Vietnamese representatives as the Paris talks went on for some time.

Nixon also authorised the Phoenix Programme. This was an attempt by US sympathisers to infiltrate villages thought to be sympathetic to the NLF, find out who the local NLF leaders were and kill them. Nearly 41,000 members of the NLF were killed as a result of Phoenix. However, the NLF quickly replaced their losses and the impact of Phoenix was only short term and had no lasting impact on the ability of the NLF to fight its war. As a result of this, Nixon knew that he needed to order, as commander-in-chief, a new way of fighting the Vietnam War.

Therefore in 1969, President Nixon announced a new policy – Vietnamisation. Vietnamisation had two parts to it. The first part was the withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam and the second was the further funding of the South Vietnamese Army (SVA) so that it could assume even greater responsibility for fighting the war against the North. There is little doubt that Nixon made his policy statement in response to the political situation in America. Few could have believed that the SVA by itself was capable of withstanding an all-out assault by the forces that fought for the North. The SVA had always been seen as a secondary fighting force after US Marines landed in South Vietnam in 1965. Even senior US military commanders in South Vietnam believed that the SVA would, at best, only be able to contain the forces of the North once US military support had been withdrawn. Few, if any senior US commander, believed that the SVA had offensive capabilities. It was generally assumed that the US would have to provide the SVA with very large quantities of equipment but even this could not guarantee against the increasing problem faced by the SVA – desertion. The Americans suggested that men in the SVA should be stationed as near to their homes as was possible so that they might feel a sense of pride in defending their territory against an invader.

In March 1969, Melvin Laird, US Secretary of Defence, ordered an acceleration in the processes whereby the US military handed over to the South Vietnamese the handling of the war. Laird ensured that his demand was carried out with due speed. The policy was given the term Vietnamisation”. On April 10 th , 1969, Dr Henry Kissenger, Nixon’s special assistant on national security, told Laird to prepare a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US forces in South Vietnam. Those US troops that remained during the withdrawal were to have an advisory and support capacity to the South Vietnamese government and military.

US troop withdrawal started on July 1 st 1969. Laird had provided three completion dates – December 1970, June 1971 and December 1972. The decision to remove US troops from South Vietnam may have been odd from a military point of view. All US senior military commanders near enough agreed that the SVA would be incapable of defending South Vietnam against a combined NLF-Viet Cong attack and that the end result would be an expansion of communism in south-east Asia – exactly what the US had all along fought against since the mid-1950’s. However, from a political point of view, Vietnamisation was very understandable. The war was becoming increasingly unpopular in America and Nixon’s standing, as President, would have been greatly elevated as the man who pulled America out of the Vietnam War. Vietnamisation also ensured, from Nixon’s point of view that the SVA would be left with more than sufficient support for its survival. Though he needed to pull out US troops for good political reasons, Nixon did not want to be known as the president who left the SVA high and dry against a foe like the NLF.

By the end of 1971, 66% of US combat troops had left South Vietnam. The reduction in advisors though was only 22%. The main priority for the Americans in 1972 was to provide the South Vietnamese military with enough modern equipment to fight the North Vietnamese. Between October and December 1972, 105,000 pieces of military hardware were landed in South Vietnam. The SVA received new M48 tanks, 175mm self-propelled artillery guns and anti-tank weapons. The South Vietnamese Air Force received aeroplanes for five squadrons of F5 fighter jets, three squadrons of A37 fighter-bombers and two squadrons of CH-47 heavy transport planes.

The ceasefire between North and South Vietnam on January 23rd 1973 marked the end of Vietnamisation. The ceasefire stipulated that all US military forces of whatever description had to leave South Vietnam and that America had to stop giving military aid to the South. In return the North would uphold the ceasefire, return US POW’s and end its infiltration into the South. On March 29th, the US military headquarters in South Vietnam was shutdown.

V. Lessons and legacies of the war

Hanoi War Remnants Museum

Another American visitor that year, Corey Adwar, reported on the museum for Business Insider magazine. “Museum curators make concerted efforts to educate foreigners, especially Americans, about the war,” he wrote, “but based on a certain government-sanctioned Vietnamese interpretation of events.” Although skeptical of this point-of-view, Adwar noted the value of the education. “Americans have told me that they do not have a lot of information about Vietnam in the United States. They didn’t even know that Vietnam was fighting for independence and that the involvement of their country was not necessary! When they come here and see for themselves the war crimes committed by U.S. troops, they feel ashamed.” [421]

According to the historian Kendrick Oliver, “the museum continues to confront its visitors with evidence of the suffering inflicted upon the Vietnamese people by the armed forces of the United States and its ‘puppet’ ally in Saigon. The objective of the museum, its own leaflet declares, is not to incite hatred, but to allow lessons to be learnt from history: “Human beings will not tolerate such a disaster happening again, neither in Vietnam nor anywhere on our planet.” [422] The museum curators no doubt hope that Americans in particular will take note of this lesson of “never again.” As Tran Van Tra, former North Vietnamese commander, explains:

Vietnamese Memorial to 504 victims at My Lai

The Vietnamese people had to suffer from callous injustice and ruthless terror during the war, just because they wanted to have an independent free and unified country. Young men from the United States and other allied countries did not shed their blood in the interest of their own people indeed, they died fighting against a people that held no enmity whatsoever for their country.

For humanity, war is immoral. The war waged against the Vietnamese people was even more immoral because it did not serve the interest of either of the two belligerents its only aim was to impose the domination of one nation over another, impose the ideology (way of thinking and way of life) of one group on another. Many opportunities arose for putting a reasonable end to the war, in the interest of peace and honor for all sides, but they were not taken advantage of.” [423]

Veterans for Peace march in Washington, 2017

The idea that the aim of the United States was to impose its will on the Vietnamese people has never been accepted by U.S. officials – before, during, or after the war. At a news conference on March 24, 1977, President Jimmy Carter was asked if he felt “any moral obligation to help rebuild that country.” Carter replied, “Well, the destruction was mutual. You know, we went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don’t feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability.” [424] To say that the “suffering was mutual” here disregards the fact that the war was entirely fought in Southeast Asia, not in the United States, and that the casualties and suffering were nowhere near comparable.

Ronald Reagan, as a presidential candidate speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Chicago on August 18, 1980, was more adamant in asserting American righteousness, twisting history into conformity:

For too long, we have lived with the “Vietnam Syndrome.” Much of that syndrome has been created by the North Vietnamese aggressors who now threaten the peaceful people of Thailand. Over and over they told us for nearly 10 years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquests…. It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause. A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self-defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful, and we have been shabby in our treatment of those who returned…. There is a lesson for all of us in Vietnam. If we are forced to fight, we must have the means and the determination to prevail or we will not have what it takes to secure the peace. And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win. [425]

Antiwar rally in Washington, April 24, 1971

Official U.S. denial of responsibility for the death and destruction wrought in Vietnam was reinforced by various cultural expressions. Accounts of the war in films such as The Deer Hunter (1978), First Blood (1982), Uncommon Valor (1983), Missing in Action (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Hamburger Hill (1987), and Rambo III (1988) present American soldiers as righteous warriors who were prevented from winning by inept Washington politicians, the “liberal” media, and the peace movement. [426]

These films were part of a larger reactionary movement designed to restore America’s noble self-image, assuage guilt, and drown out the outrage felt by other Americans convinced that the administration had lied its way into an unnecessary war. Stories were spread that antiwar activists had spit on returning vets and that American POWs were being held in Vietnam, making America appear the victim rather than the aggressor in the war. The “lesson” for the hawkish crowd was that the U.S. should have, and could have, won the war.

POW/MIA flags fly over public buildings

The POW allegation gained official backing in 1991, when Congress passed a law ordering that a black POW/MIA (prisoners-of-war/missing-in-action) flag be flown over every federal building in the country. At the bottom of the flag is written “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.” The law declared the flag “a symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing, and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.” There were, in fact, no American POWs being held captive by the former enemy, only 2,500 Americans still missing from the war. The latter number may be compared to some 75,000 MIAs from World War II and 8,000 from the Korean War. The POW allegation should have been laid to rest following a Senate investigative report, dated January 13, 1993, which concluded that there was “no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.” [428] Yet the allegation continued and the POW/MIA flags continued to fly. According to Christian Appy, “The myth of abandoned POWs reinforced the powerful 1980s idea that the Vietnam War was an American tragedy that victimized our troops, our pride, and our national identity. The destruction of Vietnam was supplanted by American suffering.” [429]

Strangers in a strange land: “These Three Soldiers” memorial in Washington

For much of the American public, the main lesson of the Vietnam War was to avoid risky military interventions and lengthy occupations. It was understood that getting into wars is easier than getting out of them. Many also recognized the Pentagon’s mistaken “threat perception,” wherein Ho Chi Minh’s leadership in Vietnam was depicted as a threat to U.S. national security.

A sharper strain of the “Vietnam Syndrome” took aim at the contradictions and abuses of U.S. foreign policy more broadly applied: the hypocrisy of U.S. support for authoritarian regimes around the world, the propensity to intervene in other countries through proxy forces, the quest for Pax Americana, and the lavishing of taxpayer funds on the military to the detriment of human needs.

Yet a deeper level of criticism focused on underlying systems and beliefs that arguably propelled the U.S. into Vietnam. The Vietnam War was a “mistake,” to be sure, but not an exception to the rule of imperious American conduct abroad. From this vantage point, the lesson of Vietnam was that the institutional and ideological underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy must be named, challenged, and transformed. Critics have identified militant nationalism and lack of international law, global capitalism, the military-industrial complex, the “imperial presidency,” macho-male military culture, and American exceptionalism as systematic contributors to militarism and interventionism.

Martin Luther King, in his April 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, identified “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism,” and declared that the “war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing ‘clergy and laymen concerned’ committees for the next generation.” [430] The historian Christian Appy has argued that the first step is to reconsider American exceptionalism:

If the legacy of the Vietnam War is to offer any guidance, we need to complete the moral and political reckoning it awakened. And if our nation’s future is to be less militarized, our empire of foreign military bases scaled back, and our pattern of endless military interventions ended, a necessary first step is to reject – fully and finally – the stubborn insistence that our nation has been a unique and unrivaled force for good in the world. Only an honest accounting of our history will allow us to chart a new path in the world. The past is always speaking to us, if we only listen. [431]

In terms of policymaking, U.S. war planners and hawkish right have never stopped working to undo the “Vietnam Syndrome” and restore the cherished myth of American righteousness. The Reagan administration punched a hole in the “Vietnam Syndrome” in October 1983 with a surprise invasion of the tiny island of Grenada – a sure victory. The administration was nevertheless inhibited from sending combat troops to El Salvador and Nicaragua, utilizing proxy forces instead. The first Bush administration conducted another, more lethal surprise invasion, this time of Panama in December 1989. Although the United Nations General Assembly declared it a “flagrant violation of international law,” there were no negative political repercussions at home.

Critics of the war might offer a different set of goals: (1) beyond thanking veterans, to discuss whether the war itself was necessary or honorable (2) in regard to the Armed Forces, to examine the debilitating effects of U.S. aerial assaults, ground operations, chemical warfare, and counterinsurgency doctrine, especially on civilians (3) on the home front, to recognize the contributions of those who opposed the war as patriotic and honorable (4) with respect to science and technology, to examine the environmental and human devastation wrought by high-tech weaponry and poisons such as Agent Orange, and to reassess the slavish dependence on statistical benchmarks that obscured the inhumanity of the war and (5) to recognize that America’s most important allies did not support the war and that the United Nations and other nations strongly advised against it. Such goals would likely produce sobering lessons that would strengthen efforts to prevent future wars.

Doug Rawlings placed letters at The Wall, 2016 (Ellen Davidson photo)

The inauguration of the Pentagon’s 50 th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War inspired Veterans for Peace to launch a counter campaign called “Full Disclosure.” In “An Open Letter to the American People,” the veterans declared their intention to “truly examine what happened during those tragic and tumultuous Viet Nam years.” Army vets Doug Rawlings and Tarak Kauff characterized official justifications for the Vietnam War as a tissue of lies. “The little lies that gather together to form the Big Lie are put together by design. The intent is to justify not only this war but also future wars. We can’t let that happen.” The war they fought in, they write, was “one of unbridled aggression, one of soul-sinking depravity, one so deeply ingrained into our psyches that 50 years later we wake in cold sweat. It was not a battle fought for freedom and democracy and not one that we are proud of.” [435]

In 2015, Rawlings began the “Letters to The Wall” project, encouraging anyone directly impacted by the war – as a soldier, conscientious objector, antiwar activist, or as a loved one of any of these – to write their personal story. On Memorial Day 2015, the first batch of 132 letters and 32 postcards were laid at the foot of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, all copied beforehand for publication on the Vets for Peace website. The National Park Service collects these letters left at The Wall and may feature some in its forthcoming educational center. [436]


A war in Southeast Asia, in which the United States fought in the 1960s and 1970s. The war was waged from 1954 to 1975 between communist North Vietnam and noncommunist South Vietnam, two parts of what was once the French colony of Indochina. Vietnamese communists attempted to take over the South, both by invasion from the North and by guerrilla warfare conducted within the South by the Viet Cong. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy sent increasing numbers of American military advisers to South Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kennedy's successor, President Lyndon Johnson, increased American military support greatly, until half a million United States soldiers were in Vietnam.

American goals in Vietnam proved difficult to achieve, and the communists' Tet offensive was a severe setback. Reports of atrocities committed by both sides in the war disturbed many Americans ( see My Lai massacre). Eventually, President Richard Nixon decreased American troop strength and sent his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, to negotiate a cease-fire with North Vietnam. American troops were withdrawn in 1973, and South Vietnam was completely taken over by communist forces in 1975.

The Bigger Picture

When the first US combat troops arrived in South Vietnam in 1965, Westmoreland had to face not only the spread of Viet Cong insurgency but also the NVA main forces moving southward from Hanoi. Westmoreland obviously understood the importance of pacification as he informed his subordinates that the ultimate goal of the war is “to regain the loyalty and cooperation of the people” 4 . However, he did not ignore the more immediate problem of over 225,000 communist soldiers and guerrillas in South Vietnam either 5 .

To deal with the combined threat, Westmoreland proposed a three-phase strategy in 1965. In phase one which was implemented throughout 1965, U.S forces at first halted the losing trend in South Vietnam. In phase two begun in mid-1966, US forces concentrated on search and destroy operations while South Vietnamese forces focused on pacification. In phase three, U.S. units would push the communist forces back across the borders of the country, destroy them or force them to disperse into small groups while continuing to strengthen South Vietnam government and military 6 .

In that big picture, Search and Destroy did make sense. To prepare an area for pacification, it at first had to be provided permanent security by destroying or driving communist’s forces away. Therefore, Search and Destroy, as it was intended to be in the second phase, would provide a shield behind which South Vietnamese forces could concentrate on securing and pacifying operations 7 .

The second purpose of Search and Destroy, as many commentators pointed out, was to kill a large number of communist troops 8 . However, the existence of this purpose did not mean Westmoreland neglected pacification. In fact, when the US commanders believed that they had reached the third phase of the strategy in late 1967, Westmoreland stressed the importance of pacification again by establishing the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS), an organization which supported previous pacification efforts run by Saigon government.

Vietnam War essay questions

This collection of Vietnam War essay questions has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short-answer questions, homework activities and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact us.

Vietnam to World War II

1. Describe the politics, economics, social structures and culture of medieval Vietnam. How did ordinary Vietnamese people live prior to the arrival of Europeans?

2. Discuss Vietnam’s contact and relationship with the West, up to 1850. How did this contact shape or affect Vietnamese society?

3. Explain how the French assumed control of Vietnam in a relatively short space of time. What methods and justifications did they use to increase their power?

4. How did the Nguyen emperors attempt to rid their country of foreign influence, particularly religion, in the 19th century?

5. “French colonialism in Indochina was motivated by a desire to civilise and develop the local population.” To what extent is this statement true?

6. Explain how the French colonial regime maintained its political, economic and social control over Vietnam. What role was played by Francophile Vietnamese?

7. What was life like for Vietnamese peasants and workers during the French colonial period? What problems and conditions did they face?

8. Referring to at least three movements or leaders, explain how some Vietnamese resisted the French colonial regime. How successful was this resistance?

9. Why did Vietnamese nationalists like Ho Chi Minh turn to communism after World War I?

10. Why did the Japanese invade Vietnam in 1940? What methods did they use to assert and expand their control?

The struggle for control: 1945 to 1954

1. Investigate the growth of the Viet Minh in the mid-1940s. How was this group formed? Who provided its leadership and its membership?

2. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, what arrangements were made for the transition of power in Vietnam?

3. Explain why Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence in September 1945. In doing so, why did he refer to the United States Declaration of Independence?

4. During World War II the United States provided material support to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh. Why did the American position change after 1945?

5. Discuss how the communist victory in China in October 1949 affected Western policies and attitudes to south-east Asia.

6. Explain the metaphor of “the elephant and the tiger” and how it shaped the outcomes of the First Indochina War.

7. How did Vo Nguyen Giap and the Viet Minh engineer a victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu?

8. What were the terms of the Geneva Accords pertaining to Vietnam? What were they intended to achieve?

9. Many historians trace the origins of the Vietnam War to the failure of the Geneva Accords. Did the Accords have any chance or success or were they destined to fail?

10. Discussing similarities and differences, compare the development of Korea and Vietnam in the decade following World War II.

The two Vietnams: 1954 to 1963

1. Describe the political evolution of North Vietnam during the mid-1950s. Who ruled the North and what were their objectives?

2. Evaluate North Vietnam’s policy of land reform during the mid to late 1950s. Did these reforms make life better for the majority of people?

3. Investigate the background and political views of Ngo Dinh Diem. How did he become the leader of South Vietnam in 1954?

4. Western nations described Ngo Dinh Diem as the “Asian Churchill” and “our man in Saigon”. Was Diem a Western puppet, an Asian nationalist or a loose cannon?

5. Discuss the ‘Agroville’ and ‘Strategic Hamlets’ programs, initiated by Ngo Dinh Diem with Western backing. What were these programs intended to achieve and why did they fail?

6. Explain why the government of Ngo Dinh Diem failed to gain popular support in South Vietnam.

7. Investigate the role of Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife Tran Le Xuan in the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.

8. Evaluate the Kennedy administration’s policy with regard to Vietnam, between January 1961 and November 1963.

9. Why did Ngo Dinh Diem and his followers target South Vietnam’s Buddhists? What effects did this persecution have on Diem’s own regime?

10. Evaluate the origins, structure and ideology of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Why was this group formed and what methods did it employ?

The Vietnam War: 1964-75

1. Why did Lyndon Johnson decide to commit American forces to the conflict in Vietnam? What people, advice and factors influenced Johnson’s decision?

2. Explain why Thailand, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand contributed military forces to the war in Vietnam.

3. The Gulf of Tonkin incident provided a pretext for American military involvement in Vietnam. To what extent was this justified?

4. Evaluate the leadership of General William Westmoreland between 1964 and 1968. What was Westmoreland’s strategy for protecting South Vietnam? How successful was this?

5. Describe the challenges faced by American combat soldiers in Vietnam. What conditions and factors blunted the effectiveness of the American military?

6. Consider the causes and effects of the My Lai massacre of March 1968. What did this incident reveal about America’s military involvement in Vietnam?

7. Explain why the Tet Offensive was a victory and a defeat for both the Americans and the NVA-Viet Cong.

8. Discuss the objectives of Richard Nixon’s policy of Vietnamisation. How successful was this policy in achieving its goals?

9. Investigate American media coverage of the war in Vietnam. How was the war reported between 1964 and 1975 and how did this shape public attitudes and opinions?

10. Referring to data like opinion polls, evaluate American attitudes to the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1975. Which policies, developments or events caused significant shifts in public opinion?

11. What ideas, tactics and methods were used by individuals and groups opposed to Western involvement in Vietnam?

12. Evaluate the role of art, music and literature in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Effects and aftermath

1. Compare and contrast the policies of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon with regard to Vietnam. Which of these leaders was most responsible for entangling the United States in the Vietnam War?

2. Evaluate the development of Vietnam in the two years after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. How did the communist victory affect the lives of ordinary Vietnamese?

3. Describe the difficulties faced by Vietnam veterans as they returned to civilian life in the United States or Australia.

4. Evaluate the claim made by some leaders, including General William Westmoreland, that the United States did not lose the Vietnam War.

5. Was the Domino Theory validated or refuted by the progress and outcomes of the Vietnam War?

6. Position the Vietnam conflict in the broader Cold War. How did the Vietnam War shape or affect the relationship between the United States, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China?

7. What effects did the Vietnam War have on American government and society between 1965 and 1975? Consider changes to political, social and cultural attitudes.

8. What effect did American military intervention have on nearby Cambodia between 1969 and 1975?

9. Discuss how events in Vietnam shaped the development of neighbouring Laos from 1957 onwards.

10. Who were the Khmer Rouge and what was their vision for Cambodia? How did they go about implementing this vision?

The War in Vietnam: A Story in Photographs

The war in Vietnam has been described as the first "living room war"—meaning combat was seen on TV screens and newspapers on a daily basis. Newspaper and television crews documented this war much more intensely than they did earlier conflicts. This willingness to allow documentation of the war extended to the military's own photographers—who captured thousands of images that covered every aspect of the conflict between 1962 and 1975.

Additional Background Information

The war in Vietnam has been described as the war America watched from their living rooms. Images of combat and American GIs were projected through our TV screens and across our newspapers daily.

During the war in Vietnam, the American military gave the press unprecedented freedom of access to combat zones. This allowed newspaper reporters and photographers and television crews to document a war involving American sons and daughters on the other side of the world. This willingness to allow documentation of the war was also extended to the military's own photographers. Between 1962 and 1975, military photographers for the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force took thousands of photographs of the American conflict in Vietnam, which are now located at the National Archives. These photographs serve publishers, historians, and students who want to learn more about Vietnam. They include images of almost every aspect of the war.

The jobs of the military photographers were not only to document the war, but also to capture images for the historical record. One photographer, Chuck Cook, describes it as follows: "What the photographers did was worth doing--maybe not for the reasons the military said. They just felt that what the soldiers were going through was worth saving." In his book Vietnam: Images from Combat Photographers, author C. Douglas Elliott describes the images that came in from the combat operation as ones "that did not show winners and losers. They showed soldiers--often teenagers--coping as best they could with unrelenting heat and humidity, heavy packs, heavy guns, and an invisible enemy whose mines, booby traps, and snipers could cut life short without a moment's warning." In order to capture these images, photographers took many risks and suffered many of the same hardships as the soldiers and personnel they were covering.

The operations and direction of the military photography was organized by the Army Pictorial Center (APC), which dispatched a series of teams for brief visits. These teams were organized into DASPO (Department of the Army Special Photo Office). DASPO rotated photographers into Vietnam for three-month tours of duty from a base in Hawaii. It wasn't long before the Marines sent their own photographers into the field, quickly followed by the Army and its 221st Signal Company. The DASPO and the 221st were considered the Army's elite photographic units. Smaller numbers of photographers worked for the Public Information Office (PIO), the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force photographers assisted in aerial reconnaissance and documentation of bombing missions. The Navy photographers worked from the Combat Camera Group-Pacific (CCGPAC) photographing river patrols, counterguerrilla missions, and SEAL teams. The mission of DASPO was to provide a historical record of the war for the Pentagon archives.

These photographers were not there as journalists, but rather to create a visual record of operations, equipment, and personnel. After the photographs were processed by the Pentagon, they were made available to military publications, the press, and the public at a photographic library at the Pentagon.

As these photographers worked to document the war, they covered a variety of people and circumstances including combat missions, GIs, support personnel, medical units, and visits by dignitaries, politicians, and entertainers. While they may have been there to provide visual record of operations, equipment, and personnel, their photographs also tell a story. It is a story about the young men and women who fulfilled served their duty to their country by serving in the war in Vietnam.

This article was written by Linda Darus Clark, a teacher at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio.

Watch the video: Objective - Nixon and Vietnamization


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