Ho Chi Minh

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
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
Ngo Dinh Diem
• In spite of U.S. aid, Diem did
not establish a democratic
government in South Vietnam.
Instead, his government was
• 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
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
• 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
• Viet Cong guerrillas would suddenly emerge
from networks of underground tunnels to
fight. Then they would disappear back into the
• 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
• “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
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.
• “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
• 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
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.
• 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.
• 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
• 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.

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