The Vietnam War Creating America Chapter 30 Ho Chi Minh In 1930, a revolutionary leader named Ho Chi Minh (hoh chee mihn) united three Communist groups to form the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) and took control of South Vietnam. Domino Theory • U.S. Presidents used the domino theory to explain the need to support anti-Communists in Vietnam. • According to this theory, if a country fell to communism, nearby countries would also topple, like a row of dominoes standing on end. Ngo Dinh Diem • In spite of U.S. aid, Diem did not establish a democratic government in South Vietnam. Instead, his government was corrupt. • In the countryside, for example, he let landlords take back land given to peasants. In addition, he jailed, tortured, and killed opponents. Viet Cong • Diem’s opponents included South Vietnamese Communists. In 1960, they joined with other dissatisfied South Vietnamese to form the Viet Cong. Ho Chi Minh Trail • The Viet Cong fought to overthrow the Diem government and reunite the country under Communist rule. • North Vietnam supported the Viet Cong, sending soldiers and supplies along a network of paths called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. • This supply line wove through the jungles and mountains of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. Gulf of Tonkin Resolution • The U.S. destroyer Maddox had been patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin when North Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on it. • Congress passes the Gulf ofTonkin Resolution. • This gave the president the power to use military force in Vietnam. “Containment” of Communism • Three events led President Kennedy to step up efforts to stop the spread of communism. • 1. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba • 2. The Soviets erecting the Berlin Wall • 3. The Cuban Missile Crisis Escalation of the Conflict • Many Americans thought that, with their superior weapons, U.S. ground forces would quickly defeat the Viet Cong and drive them out of the villages. • Many conditions frustrated American soldiers, however. First of all, they could wage only a limited war, partly because the government feared drawing China into the conflict. • Also, most U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were young and inexperienced. The average soldier was 19 and served a one-year tour of duty. Identifying the enemy • The Vietnam War differed from World War II in that there was no frontline. The Viet Cong mixed with the general population and operated everywhere, attacking U.S. troops in the countryside and in the cities. • Even a shoeshine boy on a city street corner might toss a grenade into an army bus carrying American soldiers. • Marine captain E. J. Banks described his frustration: “You never knew who was the enemy and who was the friend. . . . The enemy was all around you.” Guerrilla Warfare • Because they could not match American firepower, the Viet Cong relied on guerrilla warfare, surprise attacks by small bands of fighters. • Viet Cong guerrillas would suddenly emerge from networks of underground tunnels to fight. Then they would disappear back into the tunnels. Nastiness • They riddled the countryside and jungles with land mines and booby traps, such as bamboo stakes hidden in covered pits. They hung grenades from trees and hid them in bushes. • Every day, U.S. Army and Navy nurses treated young soldiers with gruesome wounds. The Climate • Even the land and climate of Vietnam proved difficult. The heat was suffocating and the rain almost constant. • Soldiers sweated through tangled jungles. After wading through flooded rice paddies, they had to pick leeches off their feet and legs. • “It seemed like the whole country was an enemy. The animals, the reptiles, the insects, the plants. And the people.” The Enemy • Finally, the Viet Cong were a very dedicated enemy. They took heavy losses, built up their ranks again, and kept on fighting year after year because they believed in their cause. Chemical Warfare • One of the strengths of the Viet Cong was their ability to hide in the jungle and in underground tunnels. To reveal and destroy Viet Cong hideouts, American troops used chemicals that ruined the landscape. • Over wide areas, U.S. planes dropped bombs of napalm, jellied gasoline that burns violently. Planes also sprayed Agent Orange, a chemical that kills plants, over the jungles. • Such chemicals helped destroy the hideouts and food supplies of the Viet Cong. But in the process, they also harmed innocent Vietnamese villagers. This undermined the villagers’ support for the United States. • Later, people learned that Agent Orange harmed U.S. soldiers as well. Veterans exposed to it have suffered from skin diseases and cancers. Search and Destroy Missions • Search-and-destroy missions were another American war tactic that terrorized Vietnamese villagers. In such missions, soldiers hunted Viet Cong and burned or bombed villages thought to be sheltering them. Quote • “Their homes had been wrecked, their chickens killed, their rice confiscated [taken away]—and if they weren’t pro-Vietcong before we got there, they sure . . . were by the time we left.” William Ehrhart, quoted in Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow Tet Offensive • This was a surprise attack on U.S. military bases and more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam. It came during Tet, the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar New Year. • In preparation for the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong hid weapons in vegetable trucks, food trucks, peddlers’ carts, and even coffins. They smuggled these weapons into South Vietnamese cities. • Soldiers dressed in civilian clothes entered the cities on buses, on motorcycles, and on foot. No one could tell them apart from the war refugees who streamed into the cities from the countryside or from visitors coming for the holiday. • The Viet Cong fought to take over the cities during the offensive. They killed not only enemy soldiers but also government officials, schoolteachers, doctors, and priests. • The Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Communists. They gained no cities and lost 45,000 soldiers, while the South Vietnamese lost 2,300 soldiers and the United States 1,100. The Turning Point • The Tet offensive also made many Americans ask whether the U.S. mission in Vietnam was wise. To retake some cities, troops had to almost level them with bombing and shelling. Vietnamization • In July 1969, Nixon announced his strategy of Vietnamization. It called for gradually withdrawing U.S. forces and turning the ground fighting over to the South Vietnamese. • However, Nixon had secretly ordered bombing in Cambodia to stop troop and supply movement on the Ho Chi Minh trail • The public was angered by this expansion of the war. Withdrawal • In 1973, the United States and South Vietnam signed a peace agreement with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. • North Vietnam agreed not to invade South Vietnam. • In 1975, North Vietnam launched a massive invasion of South Vietnam, captured the capital of Saigon, renamed it Ho Chi Minh City and united the country under Communism. Effects of the Vietnam War • The Vietnam War took a heavy toll on American soldiers. About 58,000 died, and more than 300,000 were wounded. Many suffered permanent, disabling injuries. Returning soldiers often had recurring nightmares and other stress-related problems. To make things worse, they came home to a public that treated them coldly.