Vietnam War

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Vietnam War
date 1955 to April 30, 1975
place Vietnam
Exit Conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam
Parties to the conflict

FNL Flag.svg National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) North Vietnam
Vietnam North 1955North Vietnam 

Supported by: PR China Soviet Union
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China 
Soviet Union 1955Soviet Union 

Vietnam SudSouth Vietnam South Vietnam United States
United StatesUnited States 

Supported by: South Korea Thailand Australia Philippines New Zealand Taiwan
Korea SouthSouth Korea 
Philippines 1919Philippines 
New ZealandNew Zealand 
TaiwanRepublic of China (Taiwan) 

Troop strength
North Vietnam (NVA) and NLF 300,000
PR China 170,000 (1969); no combat troops
Soviet Union 3,000; no combat troops
South Vietnam 1,048,000
USA 543,400 (1/1969)
South Korea 50,003
Thailand 11,568
Australia 7,672
Philippines 2,061
New Zealand 552 (maximum numbers )

North Vietnam (NVA) and NLF 1.1 million

South Vietnam (ARVN) 225,000,
USA 58,220,
South Korea 4407,
Australia 500,
Thailand 351,
New Zealand 83

Total losses : 2–5.1 million Vietnamese, including 1.3 million soldiers; 63,500 soldiers from other countries.

The Vietnam War ( English Vietnam War , Vietnamese Chiến tranh Việt Nam ; more rarely Kháng chiến chống Mỹ "Vietnam War against the USA") was waged from around 1955 to 1975 in and around Vietnam . The main warring parties were North Vietnam and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, also known as the "Viet Cong" ( National Liberation Front , abbreviated NLF) as opposed to the USA and South Vietnam . Since the conflict immediately followed the Indochina War (1946–1954) between the colonial power France and the Vietnamese independence movement of the Việt Minh and extended to all of Indochina , it is also called the Second Indochina War . Because of the superpowers involved, both directly and indirectly, it is regarded as a proxy conflict in the Cold War . It ended with the victory of North Vietnam and the first US military defeat in its history.

After the partition of Vietnam in 1954 , political reprisals and defrauded free elections by the South Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm , a civil war broke out from 1955 to 1964 : the Việt Minh, from which the NLF emerged in 1960, wanted to overthrow the country's anti-communist government and it reunite with the north. The NLF was supported by the communist- ruled North Vietnam under Hồ Chí Minh and Lê Du Südn , while South Vietnam was increasingly supported by the USA. The successive US governments under Presidents Eisenhower , Kennedy , Johnson and Nixon feared, because of the so-called domino theory , that with Vietnam all of Southeast Asia could come under the control of communist governments.

After the so-called Tonkin Incident of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson had North Vietnam bombed directly for the first time in February 1965 . From March he sent more and more ground troops to fight the NLF in South Vietnam. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China then supported North Vietnam. Six states participated in the conflict with their own troop contingents on the side of the USA and South Vietnam . From 1964 the fighting also spread to Laos and from 1970 to Cambodia . After the Tet offensive by the NLF, Johnson stopped the bombing until November 1968. His successor Richard Nixon gradually withdrew US troops from South Vietnam from 1969 onwards, but at the same time extended the war to Cambodia. After a renewed, militarily inconclusive bombing campaign, his government concluded an armistice with North Vietnam in January 1973 . By March 29 of that year, all US troops had withdrawn, and North Vietnam had released all American prisoners of war. On May 1, 1975 the war ended with the capture of the South Vietnamese capital Saigon by North Vietnamese troops.

The number of Vietnamese war victims is estimated at at least two to over five million, including over 1.3 million soldiers. In addition, 58,220 US soldiers and 5,264 soldiers of their allies were killed. Several million Vietnamese were mutilated and exposed to the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange .


Indochina War

The Vietnamese nationalist Hồ Chí Minh had proposed an independent, united and democratic Vietnam in accordance with the principles of the 14-point program of US President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 . Wilson had refused. In 1920 Ho became a supporter of Lenin's theory of imperialism , according to which capitalism had entered a final global stage and its rule could most easily be broken through popular uprisings in industrially underdeveloped countries and overcome in the long term. Ho wanted to realize this theory in Vietnam independently of Soviet or Chinese dominance.

Hồ Chí Minh, 1946
Course of the Indochina War

Since 1858 Vietnam has been under French colonial rule . In June 1940, the Nazi-ruled Germany defeated France in a campaign in the west . From July 1940, during the Second World War, Vietnam was subject to the French Vichy regime, which was tolerated by the Nazi regime . This allowed the Japanese Empire, allied with Nazi Germany, to occupy Vietnam with Japanese troops from July 1940. Against this dual rule, Ho Chi Minh formed a coalition of anti-colonial, nationalist and communist groups, the Viet Minh, in 1941. They fought with around 5,000 men against the occupiers and for Vietnam's independence. Since March 1945 the US has been providing military and logistical support to the Viet Minh. They used the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945 for the August Revolution . Then they had competing nationalists, Trotskyists , followers or partners of the French and religious sects arrested as "traitors to the fatherland", often tortured and murdered by "killing committees". On September 2, 1945, Ho proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and became its president.

France, which under Charles de Gaulle wanted to regain its former colonies in Indochina, occupied South Vietnam by the end of 1945 and agreed with Ho in March 1946 on a five-year transitional arrangement. The French attack on Hải Phong (November 1946) triggered the Vietnamese Indochina War against France , which was waged as an anti-colonial guerrilla war . In order to receive further financial aid from the USA for its colonial troops, France promoted an anti-communist nationalism in Vietnam. To this end, it agreed in 1949 with the former Emperor Bảo Đại an independent, united "State of Vietnam" (SOV) within the framework of the overseas union française , appointed him head of state and committed himself to building a national army and state administration. When Bao Dai realized that he was supposed to be the uninfluential representative of a puppet state controlled by France, he left Saigon and went to France.

During the Indochina War, the Vietnamese Communist Party initiated agricultural reform based on the Chinese model, in which up to 50,000 peasants and Vietnamese of the older generation, who were viewed as corrupted by the French colonial rulers, were murdered.

After the defeat of the French troops in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ , opponents of the war and the major powers involved agreed at the Indochina Conference in Geneva (May 8 - July 21, 1954) an immediate ceasefire, a mutual withdrawal of troops, a demilitarized buffer zone along the 17th parallel and Nationwide, internationally supervised democratic elections for the future government for 1956. Cambodia, Laos and both parts of Vietnam should become independent and not belong to any military alliance. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China followed the demands of the USA to prevent their further involvement in Indochina. The Viet Minh signed the agreement with them, as well as with France and Great Britain, as they expected Ho to win the election. The USA and Bao Dai refused this despite the concession in order not to favor the unification of all of Vietnam under communist rule. However, the USA undertook not to change the resolutions with threats and violence. The French colonial troops withdrew to South Vietnam by October 1954 and left Hanoi to the Viet Minh. Of 100,000 South Vietnamese Vietminh, around 90,000 moved to North Vietnam, the rest remained as Ho's cadre for the 1956 elections in South Vietnam. The decisions of the Indochina Conference, the armistice, the withdrawal of troops, the relocation and the elections should be monitored by the International Control Commission of an observation mission consisting of Polish , Canadian and Indian troops.

Indochina policy of the great powers

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin was interested in good relations with its war ally France and therefore did not officially support Ho's striving for independence, but contributed to the victory of the Viet Minh in the Indochina War with arms deliveries. At the Indochina Conference, however, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov forced the Viet Minh to agree to withdraw from South Vietnam. The Soviet Union did not recognize the DRV until 1950.

The People's Republic of China, founded in 1949, supported the Viet Minh's struggle for independence with weapons and training camps along the border with North Vietnam, captured in their own civil war, and recognized the DRV in 1950. At the Indochina Conference, however, she advocated the temporary division of the country and a two-year period until national elections.

The United States had treated Ho as an ally until Japan's surrender (September 2, 1945). The Office of Strategic Services continued to help the Viet Minh afterwards. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the peoples' right to self-determination and wanted to free Indochina from European colonial rule and Japanese occupation by placing it under international trusteeship and involving China in it. De Gaulle headed the Provisional Government of the French Republic in October 1944 . But after Japan ousted the French colonial troops in Indochina, which were still under the Vichy regime, on March 9, 1945, the European allies urged Roosevelt to join France in the fight against Japan. Whether he dropped his trustee plan before his death on April 12, 1945 and allowed France to recolonize Indochina is controversial.

His successor Harry S. Truman hardly knew Roosevelt's post-war plans and dropped Indochina's decolonization. In May 1945 he recognized France's sovereignty over Indochina. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, he agreed with the other allies to partition Vietnam and expand the South East Asia Command (SEAC: the allied troop command in Southeast Asia) to the 16th parallel. National China under Chiang Kai-shek occupied the northern part, Great Britain and France occupied the southern part of Vietnam with Saigon until September 1945. The US Navy helped them transport new troops from Europe to South Vietnam.

Since 1947 Truman pursued the containment policy , which was intended to curb communist expansion worldwide with all available means. After Mao Zedong's victory over the national Chinese in 1949, Joseph McCarthy accused Truman of having caused China's “loss” to the communists. Because of this domestic political pressure, Truman wanted to stop the advance of the Viet Minh. That is why he supported Bao Dai's puppet regime militarily from February 1950 (Security Memorandum 142) and thus France's colonial rule. The USA also pursued economic interests: The Indochina market and Vietnam's export products tin, rubber and rice were to remain available to anti-communist states in Southeast Asia, including the defeated Japan.

At the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950, Truman sent US military to South Korea and Indochina at the same time to weaken the People's Republic of China and to win France over to the establishment of the European Defense Community in Western Europe against the Eastern Bloc . In the USA, Ho was now seen as a tool used by the Soviet and Chinese communists to conquer all of Southeast Asia. When the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China recognized the DRV in 1950, the United States recognized the SOV as the only legitimate state in Vietnam and undertook to financially secure the French Indochina War and Bao Dai's regime. To this end, they signed a military assistance treaty with South Vietnam on December 23, 1950, and a treaty on economic and technological aid on September 7, 1951. A US agency was also set up in Saigon.

From 1952 Truman advocated the domino theory , according to which communism ideologically inevitably strives for world domination, so that a communist regime would cause a chain reaction in its neighboring states that ultimately threatened the USA. The metaphor of the falling dominoes was intended to link complex processes in remote regions with US national security. All five US governments that were involved in the Vietnam War advocated domino theory and containment policies despite internal nuances. Truman declared Indochina a key region. If a country were to come under communist control there, all of Southeast Asia and the Middle East would follow. That would endanger the security of Western Europe and US interests in the Far East. A victory for the Viet Minh in Indochina must therefore be prevented in any case. The prospects for success and follow-up costs of the US involvement were not questioned.

From 1952 to 1954, the United States increased its financial and military aid to France to $ 2.76 billion, or from 40 to 80 percent of the total cost of the Indochina War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower , US President from January 1953 to January 1961, advocated a rollback policy and, on the advice of his Foreign Minister John Foster Dulles, gave very great weight to the defense against communist expansion in Indochina . At the beginning of 1954 he sent ten B-26 bombers and 200 US soldiers for the first time without the consent of the US Congress, and in March also aircraft to drop napalm to South Vietnam to support France's fight against the Viet Minh. At the same time he called for a US high command for all future anti-colonial military actions by France in Indochina, in order to create room for maneuver after France's looming defeat. He resisted calls by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council to use nuclear weapons against the Viet Minh in order to decide the battle of Dien Bien Phu .

After France's defeat, the US government established SEATO in September 1954 - with Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand - which, in the event of an "armed aggression" against a signatory state, consults each other and, if necessary, joint military intervention provided. Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam were not members of the Alliance, but were defined in an Additional Protocol as an area where armed aggression would be considered a hostile act against the interests of the signatories. However, the forms and circumstances of aggression relevant to the treaty and the reactions of the members to it were not precisely defined. The unclear treaty served the United States to provide later military actions in Indochina with international authority.

From 1960 the People's Republic of China supported North Vietnam and the then newly founded NLF with weapons, military advisers and construction crews. From 1965 onwards, the Soviet Union did the same with the same means.


Diems dictatorship in South Vietnam

Ngô Đình Diệm on May 8, 1957
Indochina, 1954 and 1956

Head of State Bao Dai appointed the Catholic Ngô Đình Diệm as Prime Minister of South Vietnam on July 7, 1954 . About a million North Vietnamese , mostly Roman Catholic , relocated to South Vietnam the following year, supported by ships of the US Navy . The CIA promoted the mass exodus with anti-communist propaganda to provide support for Diem. 90% of South Vietnamese were Buddhists who were traditionally tolerant of non- Buddhists . However, Diem preferred Northern Catholics when awarding posts for state offices and treated Buddhism not as a religion, but as an association. In doing so, he generated lasting antipathies against his followers in the rural population.

Diem faced insubordinate sections of the military and strong private armies of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects as well as the mafia-like Bình Xuyên in Saigon. Only with the help of the CIA, the US officer Edward Lansdale and the US special envoy J. Lawton Collins was he able to thwart attempted coups. Collins, whom US President Eisenhower had given full powers, ensured in 1955 that South Vietnamese officers were allowed to lead Diem's ​​newly established “ Army of the Republic of Vietnam ” (ARVN) instead of French officers . However, Diem refused any cooperation with other anti-communist forces in South Vietnam and began to act against the sect representatives from February 1955. When he thereby provoked civil war in Saigon, Collins strongly recommended that the US government drop him. Diem anticipated this by using the ARVN victoriously, albeit with great sacrifices, against the Binh Xuyen in the "Battle of Saigon" from April 27 to May 2, 1955. In agreement with US Secretary of State Dulles and a Senate majority led by Senator Mike Mansfield , Eisenhower then decided to unconditionally support Diem's ​​regime.

From then on, Diem received generous US funding, largely to build the ARVN along the lines of the US Army. He invested minimal amounts of US aid in social and economic policy. South Vietnam's economy became increasingly dependent on US imports. The urban upper and middle classes benefited from cheaper consumer goods from the USA. The establishment of an own industry was neglected. Diem militarized public order and structured its armed forces in such a way that no independent centers of power were to emerge. This significantly reduced their clout. Diem and his family clan were seen by the vast majority of the South Vietnamese as unscrupulous, corrupt puppets of the West because of their dictatorial domestic politics. This increased the chances of Ho's victory in the all-Vietnamese elections planned for 1956. Therefore, Diem canceled this and thus broke the Geneva Agreement of 1954, but justified this with the fact that South Vietnam had not signed it. US President Eisenhower supported him. Instead, he deposed Bao Dai in October 1955 and had himself confirmed as the new president in a referendum , the result of which (98.2%) was falsified, and proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam. In March 1956, a parliament occupied by his supporters approved the constitution he had drafted for the Republic of Vietnam, which did not provide for a real separation of powers . Vietnam was thus divided into two states, both of which regarded themselves as the legal representatives for the whole of Vietnam.

Civil war

From 1955 Diem had villagers of the mountain peoples (Montagnards) living in the central highlands resettled, their land confiscated and given to around 210,000 mostly Catholic supporters in order to create a social bulwark against infiltration by the Viet Minh. He also favored relatives and supporters in leadership positions. In doing so, he destroyed the millennia-old village self-government. The Montagnards then founded their own organization, which expanded into the Bajaraka in 1958 and demanded autonomy for their settlement areas. Montagnards were recruited from both sides of the civil war that was now beginning.

South Vietnam's armed forces have so far focused on repelling expected conventional attacks from North Vietnam, but not on fighting insurgents ( counterinsurgency ). The USA now took over their training and equipment. To this end, they first sent 350 officers as "military advisers" (trainers, action planners and leaders) to South Vietnam and stationed the 77th Special Forces Group, founded in 1953, there. This was the first time that the USA appeared as an independent conflict partner in Vietnam, thus initiating its later entry into the war.

From the summer of 1955 to 1959, Diem's ​​regime carried out the To-Cong ("Denounce the Communists!") Campaign. In 1955 he closed the border to North Vietnam and cut off the postal service there. With newly enacted repressive laws, thousands of South Vietnamese were arrested or placed under house arrest, tortured, and many times sentenced to death and shot, and since 1959 by mobile special courts, on the mere suspicion of opposition to the regime. With this, Diem reduced the cadre of the Viet Minh by two thirds by 1959. He abolished local elections and appointed thousands of his supporters as administrative officials of the provinces, districts and villages of South Vietnam. In response, the Viet Minh carried out up to 4,000 assassinations on Diem's ​​administrative officials from 1957 to 1961.

Since 1959 there was fighting between them and the ARVN. Despite increasing popular support for rejecting Diem's ​​repressive measures, more and more Viet Minh were killed or imprisoned in South Vietnam. In order not to lose their influence on the South Vietnamese prepared to resist, they urged the North Vietnamese government to send combat troops. So far, this has given priority to its own social and economic transformation. From September 1959, she let the former Vietminh, born in South Vietnam, return to the south. These transported weapons, food, and other relief supplies along a jungle route southwards that later became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail . In the Battle of Tua Hai in February 1960, the first major battle of the Vietnam War, around 300 Viet Minh captured the headquarters of the 32nd ARVN Regiment in Tay Ninh (55 km from Saigon) and captured large quantities of supplies there.

North Vietnam's unity party, the Lao Dong , developed into a mass party of around 500,000 members in 1960. Their five-year plan of September 1960 called for the development of heavy industry and infrastructure as well as the collectivization of agriculture. The leadership lay with Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng and Party Secretary Lê Duẩn . In response to his appeal, on December 20, 1960, the Viet Minh united with other opposition groups to form the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (NLF). It was formed at a congress of the banned Communist Party of South Vietnam, which had set Diem's ​​overthrow and expulsion of the US Army as its main objectives. Following the example of Mao Zedong's revolutionary army, the NLF formed a counter-government made up of trained cadres who motivated the rural population to revolt and organized armed resistance. North Vietnam did not appear as an actor because of the Geneva Agreement of 1954, but the NLF actually followed Hanoi's guidelines. They equated their opponents with their military branch and called them the Viet Cong (VC). The aim of the NLF was to force the withdrawal of the US military advisors and to form a coalition government of all groups in South Vietnam.

Since North Vietnam wanted to avoid US intervention in the civil war in the south, it only supported the NLF politically, not militarily, until 1961. Until 1965 it remained largely dependent on old French weapons or weapons captured by the ARVN. The NLF saw itself as the engine of a social revolution , mobilized the farmers and introduced processes in the villages that encouraged their personal responsibility. Through their redistribution measures, they quickly gained access to the rural population. By the end of 1961 she controlled 75% of the rural areas of South Vietnam.


The US President John F. Kennedy , who has been in office since January 1961, set the course for the escalation of the Vietnam War with his anti-communist rollback policy. A report by his advisors Walt Rostow and Maxwell Taylor about their visit to Vietnam at the beginning of 1961 became decisive : The USA would have to irreversibly commit to preserving South Vietnam and to do this by strengthening the counterinsurgency strategy. As a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the new strategy of flexible response was intended to expand the USA's room for maneuver vis-à-vis communist states and insurgency movements without risking nuclear war . Kennedy therefore ordered some covert military operations against North Vietnam and increased the number of US military advisors in South Vietnam from 400 to 16,575 by 1962. In 1962, the US Air Force had already carried out 50,000 air strikes against Vietnamese villages, which were considered Viet Cong villages, using napalm in the process.

A “Zippo Monitor” from the Mobile Riverine Force is bombarding the bank with napalm

In May 1961, Kennedy allowed small, heavily armed secret squads of South Vietnamese agents trained by US military advisors to be dismissed in North Vietnam. The necessary flights were organized by ARVN, disguised as a private airline. Later pilots from Taiwan were also trained to do this . The US population was not to find out about these actions even after they were discovered by North Vietnam. This happened for the first time in July 1961; almost all other smuggled agents were discovered and imprisoned shortly after landing in North Vietnam. Nevertheless, the agent teams were increased to several hundred people by mid-1964. The cooperation between South Vietnam and Taiwan continued even after Diem's ​​fall.

US Secretary of State Dean Rusk and US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara justified the increased US deployment in November 1961 with the SEATO contract. A appeasement would lead to the Communist victory in Indochina, to the loss of US credibility among Asian allies and destroy the SEATO. However , Kennedy declined to send regular troops and targeted bombing raids on Hanoi, as demanded by the chiefs of staff, the Ministry of Defense and Diem. Instead, he had the funds for the ARVN heavily increased, sent the elite Green Berets unit and set up the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) near Saigon as a high command. He authorized the CIA to carry out acts of sabotage in the north . The operation 34a ( "OPLAN34") was started. The Saigon office of the CIA thus became an asset the activities of which the US Congress did not adequately monitor.

Between 1959 and 1961, US military advisers trained the Royal Laotian Army in the secret Operation White Star in Laos and recruited the Hmong tribe . Mainly because of the enormous US arms deliveries, including helicopters, armored personnel carriers and modern artillery, the ARVN was militarily successful against the resistance fighters in 1962 and took over the strategic and tactical initiative in the civil war.

However, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu , the security chief, used the guerrilla defense strategy primarily to intensify the oppression of the peasants. To this end, the elaborate Taylor-Staley plan provided for the rural population to be concentrated in "fortified villages" from March 1962. Most of the villagers resisted this because it violated their religious customs and worsened their already difficult social situation. Except in a few highland areas where the CIA carried out the plan, the Wehrdorf program was a fatal setback for Diem's ​​regime. At the beginning of 1963 in the Battle of Ap Bac , a single, relatively poorly armed but determined NLF battalion repulsed the attacks by numerically superior groups of the ARVN. This showed the ineptitude of the South Vietnamese officers.

Map of South Vietnam prepared by the CIA

In May 1963, Diem unleashed months of serious unrest in Hue by banning the Buddhist flag, which gripped the whole of South Vietnam ( Buddhist crisis ). The police shot women and children at protest demonstrations. There were hunger strikes and self-immolation . In August Diem's ​​brother Nhu placed the country under martial law. At the same time, he made first contacts with Hanoi through French President de Gaulle, without informing the US ambassador.

Kennedy was now faced with the choice of continuing to support a corrupt regime that had been rejected in South Vietnam, which increased the NLF's chances of victory through his behavior, or of overthrowing Diem and thus interfering in South Vietnam's sovereignty. Only Paul Kattenburg advised in this situation to withdraw the US military from South Vietnam and leave the country to its own devices, but was rejected in the National Security Council. Key Kennedy's advisors like Averell Harriman and George Wildman Ball wanted to drop Diem. Kennedy appointed Henry Cabot Lodge junior as the new US ambassador to Saigon. Lodge should ask Diem to remove Nhus and otherwise encourage dissatisfied ARVN generals to a coup . To increase the pressure on Diem, McNamara and Maxwell recommended Taylor Kennedy after their visit to Saigon in September that US military advisers be withdrawn and that military aid for the ARVN be reduced. As a result, Kennedy withdrew 1,000 military advisors on October 11, 1963. He wanted to withdraw the rest from Vietnam by 1965. On November 2, 1963 dissatisfied ARVN officers toppled Diem and Nhu; both were murdered after their arrest. Lodge, who knew about the coup plan and had not informed Diem about it, denied any US involvement after his return to the United States in June 1964. Several of Kennedy's advisers, including Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, later saw the coup as a serious mistake that tied the US even more closely to South Vietnam.

USA enters the war

After the fatal assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Johnson moved up to the presidency. He had always supported the containment policy of his predecessors. On November 26, he upheld a memorandum drawn up for Kennedy promising South Vietnam continued aid against all communist aggression. He will not allow “Vietnam to take the same route as China”, but will ensure that South Vietnam’s generals “teach the communists to fear”. In order to secure his domestic policy ( Great Society ) in the US Congress aimed at social equilibrium, Johnson wanted to protect US interests in Indochina in foreign policy and guarantee the survival of South Vietnam.

Its new ruler, General Dương Văn Minh , a Buddhist, sought a compromise with the NLF against Johnson's will and demanded more restraint from the US military. In January 1964, with Johnson's approval, he was overthrown by a group of officers led by General Nguyễn Khanh . More military coups followed; until the end of 1967 there was no stable government in South Vietnam. North Vietnam took advantage of this situation and sent more fighters and material there. The NLF was supposed to first bring the central highlands and the Mekong Delta under their control, in order to then attack the major cities of South Vietnam.

During his visit to Vietnam in March 1964, McNamara found that the NLF controlled 40% of the areas of southern Vietnam and up to 90% of the areas around Saigon. The ARVN had lost 3,000 soldiers in the Mekong Delta, a large number of their soldiers deserted, and many did not accept Khánh as commander-in-chief. McNamara publicly claimed progress in defending against the NLF. Internally, he recommended increasing military aid and not sending US ground troops before the presidential election (November 1964). These would only weaken the morale of the ARVN and then make more and more US troops necessary (snowball effect). Thereupon Johnson strengthened the undercover OPLAN34 initiated by Kennedy. The CIA, the US Army and the ARVN carried out joint acts of sabotage in North Vietnam to relieve and stabilize the regime in Saigon. In addition, he had the Ministry of Defense now plan the bombing of North Vietnam in detail. He appointed Maxwell Taylor as US ambassador to Saigon, appointed General William Westmoreland as commander in chief of the MACV and increased the number of US military advisors in South Vietnam from 16,000 to 23,300 by the end of 1964. At the same time he offered Hanoi economic aid if it stopped supporting the NLF and recognized the regime in Saigon; otherwise it would have to expect US air strikes (Seaborn mission). In return, Hanoi offered to recognize a neutral South Vietnam if the US would withdraw its military there completely. When UN Secretary General U Thant tried to mediate in September 1964, both sides insisted on these irreconcilable demands.

From May 1964, Johnson wanted to have his planned war effort authorized by the US Congress in order to involve it and thus also the US population more closely. The resolution on this should not be presented until after the presidential election in November because there was no war reason. During the election campaign, Johnson portrayed his opponent Barry Goldwater as a dangerous warmonger who would expand the Vietnam War and plunge the US into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and promised not to send any ground troops to Vietnam.

US President Johnson announcing the bombing of North Vietnam on August 4, 1964

On July 31, 1964, a South Vietnamese sabotage squad attacked two North Vietnamese islands as part of "OPLAN34". On August 1, the US warship USS Maddox entered the Gulf of Tonkin to conduct electronic research on the North Vietnamese People's Army (NVA) . For reasons unknown, the North Vietnamese Coast Guard dispatched three speedboats to the Maddox on August 2nd. This feared a torpedo attack , opened fire, sank one of the boats, damaged the others and reported this " Tonkin incident " to the US government. On August 4, the USS Turner Joy (DD-951) erroneously reported further torpedo attacks during a thunderstorm, but withdrew the report. The NSA only submitted 10% of the radio traffic relevant to the incident to Johnson that suggested an attack. Johnson ordered the first air strikes on Hanoi that same evening and justified them on US television in retaliation for "repeated unprovoked acts of violence". The involvement of US warships in acts of sabotage has been hidden from Congress. Secretary of State George Ball later admitted that they had been sent to the Gulf of Tonkin to provoke a cause for war. The immediate retaliatory strikes had been in preparation for months.

On August 7th, after a brief debate, the US Congress passed the Tonkin resolution with only two votes against ( Ernest Gruening , Wayne Morse ) . This allowed the US government "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack on US forces and to prevent further aggression." It was intended to replace a formal declaration of war and served the US until its withdrawal in 1970 as a legalization of all subsequent combat operations of its armed forces in Indochina. Johnson won a congressional majority for this with the help of Senator William Fulbright and a promise that he did not plan to deploy any ground troops before the election. He silenced Goldwater's criticism of being "soft on communism" and won a landslide victory in the November 3, 1964 presidential election .

With the targeted and threatened further US air strikes, the US government tried, as it turned out in 1970, a concept of "coercion diplomacy" developed around 1960, which combined coordinated violence and offers of negotiation. The opposite was achieved: the government in Hanoi no longer expected the US to withdraw after the collapse of the regime in South Vietnam; rather, they expected an invasion of the United States in all of Vietnam and prepared themselves to fight US troops directly in the south as well. From September 1964, she sent armed combat troops over the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam and had it expanded for this purpose.

On November 1, 1964, the NLF attacked a US military base in Biên Hòa for the first time. This reinforced Johnson's intention to bomb North Vietnam in order to weaken the NLF in the south. First, the US paid an increase in the ARVN by 100,000 to 660,000 men to support the regime of General Nguyễn Khanh. In December 1964, the NLF bombed a hotel in Saigon where US military advisers were staying and defeated two numerically and technically superior ARVN battalions near Binh Gia . Now Johnson's advisors wanted to bomb North Vietnam earlier to save the South Vietnamese regime from collapse.

Allied states

The People's Republic of China was the first state to recognize the NLF in 1960. In doing so, she saw her role as a supporter of liberation movements against both superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA, in third world countries . After the Tonkin incident, it announced that it would intervene in the event of a US invasion of North Vietnam. Mao had troops of 300,000 to 500,000 men deployed near the southern border of China, built two airfields there and trained North Vietnamese pilots. In December 1964, the two states signed a military aid agreement. In June 1965, the first Chinese auxiliary troops arrived in North Vietnam. Until 1969, the People's Republic of China helped North Vietnam primarily with personnel for the repair and maintenance of roads, railways and airfields, provided air defense forces and supplied military material.

Since the Sino-Soviet rift , the Soviet Union competed with the People's Republic of China, which became a nuclear power in October 1964 , for political influence in Indochina. On October 14, 1964, Nikita Sergejewitsch Khrushchev was overthrown in the Soviet Union. He had pursued the peaceful coexistence with the USA and therefore supported North Vietnam with around 500 million dollars in economic aid and light weapons, but always refused the delivery of anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank weapons. After his fall, Hanoi expelled the few Soviet military advisers from the country. His successor Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev then agreed a military aid agreement with Hanoi in February 1965. After the US dropped the first bombs on North Vietnam, the Soviet Union went on a confrontational course with the US from November 1964 and condemned all further US bombings. It provided North Vietnam ground-to-air missiles of the type S-75 and aircraft, including Mig-21 , and suitable for attacks on US bases artillery. North Vietnam thus received considerable war resources from both states and successfully played them off against each other in their allocation and diplomatic support until the end of the war. Ho was more interested in the alliance with the Soviet Union, Le Duan more interested in China. By 1968, the Soviet Union dispatched 2,000 military advisers and outstripped China as North Vietnam's most important arms supplier. Until 1975 it also granted loans worth around five billion dollars. The People's Republic of China, on the other hand, withdrew its advisors from North Vietnam in 1967 and largely stopped its economic aid during the Cultural Revolution . After the incident on the Ussuri (March – September 1969) it took it up again and in the following years delivered goods worth 500 million dollars to North Vietnam.

North Korea actively supported North Vietnam from 1967 with a contingent of fighter pilots who were mainly used in the defense of Hanoi. As early as 1965, Kim Il-sung had stated several times that North Korea was ready at any time to provide military support to North Vietnam. 14 North Korean military personnel died in the fighting, and they are commemorated by a memorial in the Vietnamese community of Tân Dĩnh. It was not until 2001 that the participation of North Korean pilots in the aerial battles over North Vietnam was officially confirmed by the Vietnamese government.

GDR hammer from the series Invincible Vietnam from 1969

The GDR called her citizens from 1965 to "international solidarity" on with North Vietnam. Donations intended for humanitarian aid were also used for military means. However, its extent is not known. From 1973 the GDR trained 20 to 30 North Vietnamese officers each year.

Starting in April 1964, the US government tried to win over as many states as possible to support its Vietnam mission (“More Flags” program) in order not to make it look unilateral. By December, 15 states had sent mostly symbolic aid contributions. Only SEATO members Australia , New Zealand , the Philippines , Thailand , South Korea and Taiwan provided significant non-military goods. Johnson then asked the SEATO states for combat troops. Great Britain refused because it had protected the post-colonial federation around Malaysia against attacks by Indonesia with 30,000 soldiers since 1963 , including the US military base in Singapore , which the US needed for its containment policy against the People's Republic of China. The remaining states only sent military in return for the US promise to bear all associated costs.

SEATO never officially approved the US operation. South Korea, not a SEATO member, provided most of the armed forces until 1966 , in return received extensive economic, modernization and military aid and contractual commitments from the USA not to reduce its troops in South Korea. The Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos received an additional $ 80 million in economic aid for a non-military aid force, but withdrew it in 1969 in the face of violent civil protests. Thailand has allowed the US to use its airfields for bombing raids on Laos and North Vietnam since 1964, and then to build eight US military bases with 37,000 US soldiers. It received $ 75 million in military aid annually for a division deployed in 1967. Together with the USA, Australia supported the bloody Suharto military coup in Indonesia in 1965 and increased its auxiliary troops for South Vietnam until 1967. Together these states dispatched a total of 68,850 soldiers at their peak by 1969, which they withdrew at different speeds by 1973:

year Australia New Zealand Philippines South Korea Thailand
1964 200 30th 17th 150 -
1966 4,525 155 2,061 44,566 244
1968 7,661 516 1,576 50.003 6.005
1969 7,672 552 189 48,869 11,568
1972 130 50 50 36,790 40

The NATO had affirmed the US commitment in Indochina until 1963 without reservation as to its objectives identical. However, the US troop deployment in South Vietnam in 1964 raised concerns that it might weaken the alliance. After the Tonkin incident, the NATO states rejected US demands to send their own troops to Vietnam. Since July 1965, the Scandinavian states have been concerned about the escalation and civilian casualties and have called on the USA to negotiate with their war opponents. Doubts about the US's alleged reasons for war and its failure to consult NATO intensified the criticism. As in 1954, France supported a neutral South Vietnam and condemned the bombing of North Vietnam. The then Federal Foreign Minister Gerhard Schröder, on the other hand, feared that a defeat in or a withdrawal of the USA from South Vietnam could encourage the Soviet Union to make extortionate attacks in Europe and thus endanger the security of the Federal Republic of Germany .

Chancellor Ludwig Erhard also supported the US war effort against skeptical NATO partners, but in April 1965 gave the US 30 million dollars, less than half of the required amount. In December 1965 he tried to extend the payment terms for German armaments purchases in the USA, which the former Federal Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss had promised the USA in 1961 to compensate for the US currency for the US troops stationed in the Federal Republic. Johnson rejected this move in September 1966. The dissent with the US over the division of military costs contributed significantly to the fall of Erhard. His successor Kurt Georg Kiesinger then agreed with the USA and Great Britain in January 1967 that the central banks of the EEC and the West German banks would not use their reserves of US dollars to buy gold. In this way, the Federal Republic of Germany supported the dollar exchange rate and its function as a reserve currency , which had put the US budget deficit caused by the Vietnam War at great risk.

Willy Brandt criticized the United States' war effort neither as Federal Foreign Minister nor as Federal Chancellor, so as not to endanger the security guarantees of the United States for Berlin after the Berlin crisis in 1961, the German-American friendship, the reputation of the SPD as an Atlantic party and its policy of détente . In 1965 he criticized the domino theory, in early 1968 he called the US withdrawal from Vietnam desirable and rejected German military contributions. In February, under pressure from the party base , the SPD demanded an immediate stop to bombing. Brandt, on the other hand, emphasized the US will for peace and also expressed understanding for Nixon's bombings in 1972.

When the US had relocated two thirds of its reconnaissance aircraft by July 1966 and 66,000 soldiers from Western Europe to South Vietnam by 1967, it was no longer able to fulfill its security guarantee for the NATO countries. After the Soviet Union militarily put down the Prague Spring in 1968, the NATO countries moved closer to the United States again. Non-aligned states like India, on the other hand, viewed the behavior of the USA in Vietnam and that of the Soviet Union in the Eastern Bloc as comparable violent interference.

Canada remained neutral during the war, but many Canadians served as volunteers in the US armed forces, even though this was actually forbidden under Canadian law. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Canadians were deployed to the war, of whom more than 125 died. According to other estimates, 400 Canadians fell and 4,000 were wounded. Despite the prohibition of military service in foreign armed forces, none of the volunteers was legally prosecuted. Canada took part in the International Control Commission - which were supposed to monitor compliance with the Geneva Accords - with 240 soldiers and 50 advisers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Boeing B-52 bombing
Situation in Indochina 1964 to 1967 with area of ​​bombing

The USA did not want to conquer North Vietnam or endanger its existence in order not to risk a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and / or China. They wanted to hold South Vietnam until North Vietnam recognized it and stopped attempting to infiltrate it. Therefore they bombed limited targets initially and gradually increased their ground forces without using the full capacity of the US Army. The high command of the MACV relied on its technically and materially superior weapons, the air superiority of the US Air Force and the mobility of its helicopters , which could quickly transport US troops anywhere. Because North Vietnam could not match this “techno war”, it was expected that it would soon exhaust its strength and stop fighting. The bombing of military bases in North Vietnam, areas of South Vietnam controlled by the NLF and supply lines in neighboring countries as well should make the war priceless for North Vietnam, dissuade it from supporting the NLF, cut off supplies and facilitate border controls in the south. Politically, it was supposed to stabilize the South Vietnamese regime and satisfy the conservative opposition in the US, which was demanding unrestricted bombing of North Vietnam.

After the attack by the NLF on the US base Camp Holloway near Plei Cu , Johnson ordered the three-week operation Flaming Dart (February 7-28, 1965) as a punitive action. North Vietnamese troop locations that were seen as supporters of the NLF attacks in the south were bombed. After the NLF attacked other US bases in the south, the US chiefs of staff decided to launch Operation Rolling Thunder . 94 targets in North Vietnam were initially bombed for eight weeks, mainly supply depots and transport hubs. From May 13th to 18th there was a pause in bombing for negotiations. North Vietnam maintained its unacceptable goal for the United States of an independent and reunified Vietnam, quickly repaired damage to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and deployed Soviet anti-aircraft missiles around Hanoi and other industrial centers.

Johnson resisted demands from the US military to bomb densely populated urban areas as well. He selected the targets himself on a weekly basis, excluded large cities, dykes and border areas near the border with China from the bombings and pointed out that only those installations considered important militarily should be destroyed. The bombing initially affected regions around the 17th parallel, later areas further north, including many militarily insignificant locations. According to McNamara, they killed "1,000 civilians a week," including using napalm and cluster bombs .

date Bombings Drop quantities (tons)
1965 25,000 63,000
1966 79,000 136,000
1967 108,000 226,000

Although the bombs largely destroyed North Vietnam's infrastructure, military facilities and energy production by 1968, they failed to achieve the strategic goal of stopping the infiltration of South Vietnam and forcing negotiations. Instead, they succeeded in bringing North Vietnam's population closer together, repairing as much destruction as possible with huge crowds at night, moving many industrial plants underground and increasing the transport of war material and fighters to South Vietnam. With the help of Soviet weapons, its air defense became much more effective, so that North Vietnam shot down 950 US planes by 1968.

From April 3, 1965, the US Air Force also bombed those areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that led through Laos ( Operation Steel Tiger ). From December 6, 1965, US ground troops also tried to interrupt the path, especially at the mountain passes between North Vietnam and Laos ( Operation Tiger Hound ). After the bombing of North Vietnam, which was stopped on November 1, 1968, Johnson ordered Operation Commando Hunt to interrupt the now expanded network of roads in Laos. This delayed NLF attacks planned for 1969 in South Vietnam, but never succeeded in completely destroying the path.

Chemical warfare

A UC-123B sprayed Agent Orange (1962)

Since the 1950s, US military laboratories at Fort Detrick had experimented with herbicides developed as chemical weapons during World War II and then used commercially, and tested their effects in nature for military purposes. These agents had been tested in South Vietnam since 1959. Based on the success reports about it, US President Kennedy made these substances a central component of a flexible, innovative counterinsurgency strategy in 1961 and personally ordered their use in Vietnam. The US government took advantage of a loophole in the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which forbade war with chemical weapons only against humans, but not against plants. In order to be able to meet the large orders from the US Army, the manufacturers Dow Chemical and Monsanto allowed the synthesis of the starting materials to take place at a higher temperature, which increased the dioxin content.

Sprayed Areas in South Vietnam; Green: defoliation, red: crop destruction

In July 1961, the first shipments arrived in South Vietnam under code names such as Agent Orange , Agent Blue , Agent Purple and Agent White . Operation Ranch Hand (“farm hand”) began in January 1962 : The US Air Force and the ARVN systematically sprayed such dioxin-containing herbicides in Vietnam and the border areas of Laos and Cambodia. These defoliated the jungle in order to expose roads, waterways and border areas, destroy crops and thus deprive the NLF fighters of protection, ambushes, food and social support. From 1965 onwards, under Johnson, it became the largest chemical warfare program in history. In the process, the United States sprayed about 20 million gallons (80 million liters) of the herbicides contaminated with dioxin by 1971. In 1971 the use of these funds was stopped.

Ground war

While Johnson and the National Security Council determined the selection, timing and intensity of the bombing, the MACV decided on the deployment and deployment of US ground forces. General Westmoreland viewed the Vietnam War as a conventional war in which the incapacity to fight, ie killing, capturing or injuring as many opponents as possible with as few own losses as possible ("attrition strategy") was important. The Search and Destroy method was used for this purpose in the large-scale Operation Masher in the spring of 1966. Its measure of success was the body count , i.e. the number of enemies killed.

On March 8, 1965, the first US combat troops landed in Da Nang to protect the base there. Further US troops surrounded the respective US military bases (“enclave strategy”). Then the First Cavalry Division received the order to stop the advance of the NLF in the central highlands of South Vietnam. Further combat troops concentrated on the areas near the demilitarized zone (17th parallel). They should protect their own military bases, search allocated areas, destroy NLF combat units found, control border regions and prevent NLF forces from infiltrating. The MACV did not distribute the US combat troops in order to conquer as many areas as possible, but in order to inflict the greatest possible losses on the enemy in order to make military attacks permanently impossible for him. To do this, helicopters dropped small airborne infantry units in an area that they combed. As few men as possible should establish contact with the enemy as a kind of "bait". As soon as they spotted enemy fighters or were attacked by them, they fixed their location and called for air support. This destroyed the enemy with massive fire, as much as was available.

The vast majority of the areas for these searches were in the coastal plains, some in the central highlands, in the Khe Sanh region near the border with Laos and in the Mekong Delta. Everywhere there were areas exempt from combing because the nearest US base had too few soldiers or the NLF had too many fighters there. These zones were shot at uncontrollably with artillery during return or overflights or the remaining bombs were thrown at them. For this, the US Army used almost 50% of its combat ammunition in 1966 and 1967, in some allocated areas up to 85%. In doing so, she killed an unknown number of civilians and drove survivors from their neighborhoods. This made the later “pacification” much more difficult.

Helicopter operation in Vietnam, 1966

Many inexperienced US soldiers emptied their entire magazines in continuous fire, so that later versions of the M16 rifle received a 3-shot mode. In addition, most US commanders, who had a relatively large room for maneuver, rely on the firepower of their commands when they come into contact with the enemy. However, 70% of the artillery shells fired were used in situations in which there was no or only light combat. Statistically, 50,000 rounds were used for each NLF fighter killed.

Although, contrary to expectations, they did not achieve a measurable decisive decimation of the NLF, the US chiefs of staff demanded more and more soldiers and firepower. By the end of 1965 the US government sent 184,000, by the end of 1966 400,000, by the end of 1967 485,000, and by January 1968 548,000 US soldiers to the Vietnam War. All US measures lacked objective measures of what they actually achieved. It remained unclear whether more US ground troops killed more opponents in percentage terms:

date US troops Operations killed opponents
02/1966 208,000 57 4,727
12/1966 385,000 89 3,864
12/1967 486,000 129 7,938
12/1969 479,000 90 9,936
12/1970 335,000 90 6,185

The total numbers of the body count came about through systematically forged battle reports, because the NLF fighters usually took their dead with them, the US soldiers did not want to search for strange corpses in the jungle and these were hardly distinguishable from civilians. The unobserved killing of civilians and exaggeration of the numbers became common because promotions depended on the highest possible body counts . In addition, the MACV ordered in February 1966 that the enemy’s losses must necessarily exceed the infiltration of new fighters announced by Hanoi by the end of the year. Speeches by members of the government increased the pressure to succeed. Dean Rusk claimed in March 1967 that there was evidence that the enemy could not maintain his strength. In the fall, Westmoreland spoke of "light at the end of the tunnel"; the victory is now foreseeable. Internally, the CIA denied this since the spring of 1967 and estimated the number of NLF fighters to be twice as high as the MACV, since it assumed that the losses would be compensated by rapid recruitment in South Vietnam. The MACV, on the other hand, denied the failure of its attrition strategy. The US government accepted his lower estimate and thus blessed the systematic misstatements in the body count . This way of measuring success remained in place even after the Tet offensive.

Various measures were intended to isolate the "battlefield" of South Vietnam (there was no clear front against guerrillas) from infiltration. For this purpose, the US Army integrated a "Ranger Force" into the ARVN, enlarged its special units and set up boat patrols against supplies by sea. The CIA's Wehrdorf Program, the Studies and Observation Group , minefields and garrisons and the later invasion of Laos also served this purpose. However, all of these measures failed because the South Vietnamese border was too long and too much of a wilderness and the Ho Chi Minh Trail was constantly being rebuilt and expanded.

NLF fighters in an earth bunker in 1968

After heavy defeats in the first year of the war, the NVA called in all North Vietnamese capable of military service in July 1966 and grew from 250,000 to 400,000 men. Up to 5,000 of them reached the south via the Ho Chi Minh Trail every month, until around 200,000 NVA soldiers fought there alongside around 120,000 guerrilla fighters in 1966. Their commander in chief, General Nguyen Chi Tanh , initially relied on raid-like attacks on ARVN and US bases, which resulted in high losses among the attackers. After the lost battle in the Ia-Drang Valley (November 1965), he changed his strategy, avoided major battles and, above all, involved security patrols of the ARVN in many scattered individual battles. 95% of these combat missions were carried out by units of 300 to 600 men. In order to make the air sovereignty of the US Air Force ineffective, they only moved at night and during the rainy season, preferred close combat and used extensive tunnel systems as weapon depots and retreats. In doing so, they forced the US ground forces to spread out, take on more and more security tasks from the ARVN and always return to their bases. US soldiers, who were foreign to the language and culture of the country, could hardly distinguish between guerrillas and peasants, but had to control more and more Vietnamese villages themselves and their behavior reinforced the impression that a foreign aggressor was threatening the people and must be fought jointly by all Vietnamese become. Despite multiple technical and numerical inferiority in terms of weapons technology and numerical inferiority, Tanh's troops thus retained the strategic initiative and destroyed the USA's prospect of limiting its war effort and its own losses in terms of location and time. The NLF was able to absorb losses until 1968 and continue its targeted needle sticks. Although the US Army and ARVN recently deployed almost five times as many soldiers, their opponents kept up a steady stream of material and fighters who were well trained and mostly far more motivated. The ARVN was rarely able to hold occupied territories long. In addition, the US Army had to deploy many soldiers to protect their military bases and the weapons stored there, as they were constantly being attacked. Even higher killing rates in later US operations did not limit the NLF's radius of action: It continued to decide where, when and for how long the fighting took place. In 1969, 75% of all fights continued from her.

In order to cope with the escalating fighting with the American troops, North Vietnam carried out a mobilization of society along the lines of the People's War , in which every member of society had to be involved in the war effort. Because most of the men were drafted into the military, women had to take on their role in the economy, and their share of the workforce in North Vietnam rose to around 75%. The proportion of women working in political positions at the local level doubled during the war to almost half the posts there.

The Thieu regime

In February 1965, the ARVN generals Nguyễn Cao Kỳ , Nguyễn Chánh Thi and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu ousted the Khanh regime and promised the United States close cooperation against the NLF. In March 1965, Thieu warned the US that the NLF already dominated 75% of South Vietnam. He called for increased US ground operations so that the ARVN could take on more defensive tasks. This gave the US troops more and more control of the country. In the ARVN and the cities of South Vietnam, their own military regime remained controversial.

In March 1966, Ky dismissed the Buddhist Thi, who commanded the ARVN units of five northern provinces. The Buddhists in the region protested against this, who wanted to negotiate an end to the war with the NLF. Its leader, Tri Quang, received enormous support from parts of the ARVN. Although Thieu promised an early election for a constituent assembly, protests increased until Ky Đà Nẵng was occupied with the help of US troops and Buddhist pagodas surrounded. Protesters in Huế then set the US consulate on fire. In Saigon, too, more and more Buddhists, Catholics and other civilians protested against the US war effort. While the defectors of the ARVN negotiated with Ky and Thieu, US troops and loyal ARVN troops occupied Huế in early June and bloodily put down the uprising (180 dead, over 700 injured). The attempt by urban South Vietnamese to end the war had thus failed. In September 1967, Ky and Thieu held democratic elections, but hardly any Buddhists took part. Despite strong electoral manipulation, Thieu received only 34.8% of the vote. The constituent assembly challenged the election result. Only after an intervention by US Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker did she elect Thieu as President of South Vietnam and arrest two of his opponents. Most of the South Vietnamese therefore did not recognize Thieu, but regarded him as a US puppet.

South Vietnam, October 26, 1966 (from left): Lyndon B. Johnson, William Westmoreland, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, Nguyễn Cao Kỳ (far right)

Thieu created a consensus based on corruption by involving the ARVN generals in US subsidies. He was also supported by the Chinese-born trading elite. The military also shared illegal markets such as selling heroin to US soldiers, among others. Even under Thieu, the ARVN mainly served to allocate and control power and therefore remained ineffective militarily.

Negotiation and mediation offers

Since the continued bombing of North Vietnam could only be justified domestically and externally by the willingness to negotiate at the same time, Johnson offered Hanoi for the first time negotiations on the recognition of South Vietnam during the first bombing break in July 1965. The main purpose of this was to reassure the US population. In December 1965, the US government again offered in a 14-point plan to stop bombing if Hanoi ended support for the NLF in South Vietnam. This should still not be allowed to co-rule in South Vietnam. Conversely, North Vietnam made the cessation of air strikes a prerequisite for negotiations. Attempts to mediate by Polish (November 1966), British and Soviet diplomats (February 1967) failed because of simultaneously increased US air strikes. By 1967 there had been around 2,000 such attempts by individuals from third countries.

At the Glassboro Conference in June 1967, Johnson agreed with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin to begin limiting strategic nuclear weapons. Kosygin, however, turned down Johnson's offer to negotiate the disarmament of anti-ballistic missile systems ; Because of the US's Vietnam War, which shows its warlike intent, the Soviet Union could not do without the purchase of such defense systems.

In September 1967 Johnson offered with the "San Antonio Formula" for the first time to stop the air strikes as soon as North Vietnam agrees to serious negotiations and does not send any more fighters to South Vietnam. Then the NLF could play a political role in South Vietnam. Since he was sticking to the goal of an independent South Vietnam and a military victory over the NLF and at the same time had Hanoi's outskirts bombed, North Vietnam did not respond to the offer. Since the Geneva Resolutions of 1954 were broken, the leadership there considered negotiations to be sensible only after clear military successes and never gave up their goal of a complete withdrawal of the USA, a participation of the NLF and subsequent reunification of Vietnam. Above all, she used offers of negotiation to morally discredit the US air strikes in the Western public.

From 1965 to 1968 Johnson tried several times to defend Pope Paul VI. to win as a mediator between the warring parties. He asked the Pope to publicly criticize North Vietnam, its treatment of US prisoners of war, and to influence Catholic officials in South Vietnam to convince NLF supporters among the South Vietnamese of the US goals. Paul VI turned down this role and instead telegraphed Johnson in February 1965, saying he feared the upcoming US war effort could escalate into a general war. In late 1967 he told Johnson that he understood his good intentions but could never agree to war. He offered to explain to the Soviet Union the peaceful goals of the USA. His plan was to have a Christmas mass in Saigon and then visit North Vietnam. After the Tet offensive, Johnson dropped these mediation offers in favor of the Paris talks.

Tet offensive 1968

Saigon during the Tet Offensive in 1968
Development in Indochina after the Tet Offensive

Since 1961, the NLF had limited its strategy, analogous to Mao's people's war concept, to the conquest of rural regions in order to constrict South Vietnam's large cities in the coastal belt. Because of high NLF losses in the south, General Tanh called in Hanoi in June 1967 to bring forward the city conquest, which was planned as the second stage. As a result, his successor Vo Nguyen Giap prepared a coordinated surprise attack by local guerrilla fighters with forces of the NLF and NVA on most of the major and provincial capitals of South Vietnam. This was supposed to show the USA that their military could not permanently secure a center of South Vietnam and that a victory would therefore be illusory, move them to de-escalate, split the ARVN and ideally initiate a general uprising against the regime in South Vietnam. In order to increase the surprise effect, the Vietnamese New Year festival ( Tet ), on which there was traditionally a ceasefire, was chosen as the date of the attack.

Weapons were smuggled into southern Vietnam's cities. As a diversion, Giap gathered 20,000 NVA soldiers at a US base in the fall and began the battle for Khe Sanh on January 21, 1968 . In order to avoid a defeat like in Dien Bien Phu at all costs, Westmoreland defended this US base with 50,000 US and ARVN soldiers. Johnson had the area bombarded with the historically densest amount of explosives (100,000 tons) until April. Giap had managed the diversion.

Burning camp of the NLF in Mỹ Tho , April 5, 1968

After a few premature attacks, the Tet offensive began on January 31, 1968 . Around 84,000 fighters attacked numerous provincial and district capitals at the same time and tried to conquer them. Despite warnings from its secret services, the US Army did not expect such a violent large-scale attack. In Saigon, NLF commands penetrated into the US embassy . But they were quickly pushed back in street fighting by ARVN forces and eliminated in most cities within a few days. US attack helicopters destroyed entire neighborhoods. The US commander commented on the result in Bến Tre with the familiar sentence: “We had to destroy Ben Tre to save it.” Only in the Battle of Huế did 7,500 NVA soldiers survive until February 24th. They murdered between 2,000 and 6,000 unarmed civilians. 216 US soldiers died during the reconquest in house and street fighting. Huế was almost completely destroyed. 100,000 residents had to flee.

NLF fighters killed, Saigon, February 1968

By March 1968, over 14,000 civilians died in the Tet Offensive, 6,000 of them in Saigon, 25,000 were wounded and 670,000 were homeless. The hoped-for uprising by the South Vietnamese did not materialize. The NLF lost up to 40,000 fighters (50%), many former strongholds and retreats and thus considerable economic resources, reputation and recruitment opportunities among the rural population. This now almost only hoped for an end to the fighting. The NLF troops never recovered from their losses. The regular NVA had to compensate for this and from then on bore the brunt of the war.

On April 3, 1968, the North Vietnamese leadership decided to start negotiations with the United States. Ho, who since 1965 only appeared as the moral mediator of internal wars of direction, called for the last time on July 20, 1968, to continue the war until the final victory. He died on September 2, 1969 without a successor. Ton Duc Thang became head of state . There was a dispute between the party functionaries Le Duan, who had urged a swift military victory, and Trường Chinh , who wanted to give priority to long-term development and persuasion work, about the consequences of the defeat for the further conduct of the war.


The US General Staff wanted to use the NLF's defeat to push through expanded war plans. In February 1968 Westmoreland proposed a landing operation against NVA positions on the coast of North Vietnam near the demilitarized zone, demanded attacks by ground troops on NVA retreats in Laos and Cambodia and intensified air strikes in order to effectively disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. General Earle Wheeler supported the plan and demanded a further 206,000 US soldiers at the end of February, i.e. the drafting of reservists: Otherwise North Vietnam would win in the long term. He did not name success criteria or a time frame for these new ground missions.

Secretary of Defense McNamara resigned in late February 1968 as a result of the Tet Offensive and conflicts with Johnson over military strategy. His successor, Clark M. Clifford , who has been in office since March 1, advocated a return to the enclave strategy of 1965. The US Army should with immediate effect limit itself to protecting the big cities, leaving the ARVN to fight their opponents and thus giving the Vietnamese an internal negotiated peace enable. Before Johnson could announce his decision in favor of Clifford's plan, the New York Times published the generals' request on March 10. As a result, resistance formed in the US Congress: 139 of 400 members of the House of Representatives demanded in a resolution a comprehensive reassessment of the entire US war effort. Johnson's foreign policy advisors McGeorge Bundy, George Ball and Dean Acheson advised against the expansion and unaltered continuation of the war on March 25, unlike the previous year. The Tet Offensive caused a change of opinion; the surprising offensive power of the enemy, who had been believed on the verge of collapse, destroyed US citizens' hopes that the war would soon end and Johnson's credibility. The voters felt misled by the government, which for years had promised an early victory after the next escalation. Added to this was the enormous burden on the national budget and the US economy as a result of the war.

On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced in a speech to the nation that he would limit the bombing, offer negotiations to North Vietnam and not run for re-election. He appointed Averell Harriman as US representative for the planned Paris peace talks and called on South Vietnam to take more responsibility for the war. How realistic the last point was was controversial in the United States. North Vietnam accepted Johnson's offer and began negotiations with the USA in Paris in May 1968. Both sides, however, stuck to their war aims. Johnson promised an end to the bombing north of the 20th parallel, but tripled the bombing in South Vietnam. He had insurgent areas such as the densely populated Mekong Delta bombed three times as hard as the north. The military effect of this approach was minimal, as the enemy had moved large parts of its infrastructure and logistics below the surface. In half of the bombed areas in the south, the NLF was not active, so only the civilian population was hit there.

In late March, Johnson replaced Westmoreland with General Creighton Abrams . This reduced the US units to mobile and hand-to-hand combat-tested task forces, which also combed swampland and jungle areas that had previously been avoided. He increased the "search and destroy" missions, in which around 100,000 US soldiers took part in March and April. The " Phoenix Program " launched by the CIA in June 1968 was intended to finally deprive the NLF of its base of operations. ARVN special forces trained by US officers took action against local fighters. By mid-1971 they had arrested 28,000 guerrilla fighters, shot 20,000 and persuaded 17,000 to switch sides, including torture. The Thieu regime used the opposition elimination program, so the special forces also murdered many non-communist civilians. In total, they killed up to 50,000 people.

At the same time, the US military intensified the “pacification” that began in 1966 and was intended to bring the rural regions under the control of the Thieu regime. With a "Revolutionary Development Program", the ARVN imitated the methods of the NLF. Teams of 60 Vietnamese each moved into a village, offered social services and promised security, in order to draw the residents to Thieu's side. The program had previously failed due to a lack of coordination between US and ARVN troops, decisions that were not passed on or delayed in the corrupt Saigon authorities, insufficient training of the recruits and many attacks by the NLF on them. Only after the Tet offensive and as a result of the Phoenix killing program did the attempts at manipulation show a wider effect.

From the fall of 1968, the US military gave the ARVN more responsibility in the course of the "de-Americanization" promised by Johnson. This was increased from 685,000 to 800,000 men, their training improved and their armament modernized. Abrams let ARVN and US units fight together for the first time, gradually leaving them to take the offensives against the NLF entirely. South Vietnam's generals, however, were not interested in expanding combat operations. The desertions in the ARVN skyrocketed. The urban population of South Vietnam saw itself betrayed by the USA. On November 1, 1968, Johnson stopped bombing North Vietnam. This measure and the breakthrough in the direction of peace negotiations with Vietnam announced by Johnson also took place against the background of the presidential election for tactical reasons and went down in history as a so-called October Surprise .


Soldier of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam

The Republican Richard Nixon was known as a strict anti-communist. He had called for a US air strike on Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and unreservedly supported Diem's ​​dictatorship and the escalation of the bombing. Like his predecessors, he believed in domino theory, so he was determined to keep South Vietnam and not give up US support. However, he saw the Vietnam War as an obstacle to maintaining the global hegemony of the USA in a multipolar world dominated by several great powers. He therefore tried to use secret diplomacy to relax relations with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, which should also end their arms aid to North Vietnam. To this end, he centralized the political decision-making processes of his government in the National Security Council around security advisor Henry Kissinger . Nixon's Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense remained unremarkable recipients of orders.

Nixon won the 1968 US presidential election with a promise to negotiate "peace with honor". The fact that Thieu canceled his participation in the Paris talks three days before the US election date contributed to his election victory. Nixon had previously contacted Thieu through Anna Chennault and urged him to let the negotiations fail before the election. Just like his predecessors, he did not want to be seen as the loser of the Vietnam War in front of US citizens and allies, but wanted to convince them of his will for peace and at the same time force North Vietnam to accept the Saigon regime in order to be able to end the US war effort without loss of credibility. That is why he and Kissinger rejected a unilateral withdrawal of US troops. In order to gain the necessary domestic political time for a successful negotiation with North Vietnam and to show his intention to de-escalate, Nixon proposed on US television on May 14, 1969 that the NVA and US troops should withdraw simultaneously and guaranteed the preservation of the Thieu regime. At their first meeting on June 8th, he promised Thieu to equip the ARVN appropriately for self-defense and to keep him informed of all secret talks with Hanoi. On July 9, the first US soldiers withdrew from South Vietnam. Hanoi immediately rejected Nixon's proposals, however, as the US-dependent ARVN should only continue their war. In July, the NLF formed a Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), which immediately recognized Hanoi as the sole legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese people. The PRG was organized in all areas dominated by the NLF and represented by Nguyễn Thị Bình in Paris. On July 30th, during his visit to Saigon, Nixon Thieu promised, in the strictest confidence, further bombings of North Vietnam, so that Thieu would agree to the US troop withdrawal.

According to the Nixon Doctrine , which was declared on July 25, 1969, the US wanted to continue to provide military and economic support to allied Asian states, but leave them to do military self-defense. With this, Nixon passed the de-escalation initiated by Johnson the previous year as his policy change. In South Vietnam this "Vietnamization" was rejected as US domestic policy at the expense of the ARVN. Creighton W. Abrams slowed the pace of the withdrawal because of his experience with the ARVN. The USA increased their troops to over a million men, equipped them with modern weapon systems and trained them on them. The fighting of the ARVN with NLF and NVA then decreased and some ARVN units were militarily successful. However, desertions and corruption remained widespread in the ARVN. The Thieu regime remained unpopular and dependent on US financial aid.

In March 1970, under pressure from the USA, Thieu expanded the pacification program and decided on land reform. By 1972, 800,000 South Vietnamese families had received land. The proportion of landowners rose from 29 to 56% of the population. With the expansion of the infrastructure and production incentives, Thieu's regime managed to control large parts of southern Vietnam in two years. Due to the changed settlement structure due to the influx of refugees, the continued Phoenix program, the brutality of which drove the NLF to new supporters, the corruption in the authorities, another manipulated election and the general weariness of the war, Thieu continued to receive little sympathy from the population and thus missed his goal of permanently closing South Vietnam stabilize. A report by the US Senate summed up in February 1970: Under Thieu, South Vietnam remained dependent on US aid, and Vietnamization could only fail with him.

From June 1969 the USA withdrew 25,000, from September another 60,000, from March 1970 150,000, and 1971 177,000 US soldiers from South Vietnam. Another 50,000 men followed about every six months. At the end of 1970 there were 334,000 US soldiers, in 1971 157,000, in 1972 95,000 (of which only 6000 combat troops), and at the beginning of 1973 there were 27,000 US soldiers in South Vietnam.

Invasions in Cambodia and Laos

US President Richard Nixon announced the attack on Cambodia on April 30, 1970

Nixon wanted to use his reputation as an anti-communist and convince North Vietnam through unpredictable action that he would even risk a nuclear war to force a success of the Paris talks. He called this strategy internally Madman theory . In February 1969, he ordered the top secret Operation MENU , which not even the Air Force Chief of Staff learned of. The US Air Force, with the tacit tolerance of Prince Norodom Sihanouk , threw around 100,000 tons of bombs on retreat areas of the NLF and NVA in Cambodia and Laos in 14 months. US special forces then searched the affected areas to kill survivors. An unknown number of civilians died in the process. The supplies for the NLF decreased by only 10%. The NVA avoided inland Cambodia and intensified the ongoing Cambodian civil war . In June 1969, Nixon gave North Vietnam an ultimatum until November 1 to agree to negotiations on a reciprocal troop withdrawal from South Vietnam, and otherwise threatened serious consequences. When Hanoi refused, his security advisors struggled to dissuade Nixon from ordering air strikes on Hanoi and a naval blockade of northern Vietnam.

South Vietnam in 1970 and the incursion into Cambodia

On March 18, 1970, the US-friendly minister Lon Nol overthrew the regent of Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk, probably with the help of the CIA. Lon Nol wanted to drive out the Khmer Rouge and the NVA forces allied with them. The US Army used this situation for a ground offensive against the border areas of Cambodia near Saigon, in which they suspected the headquarters of the NLF. On May 1, 1970, 43,000 ARVN soldiers and 31,000 US soldiers moved there. In the "Battle of Cambodia" they killed around 2,000 NLF fighters, destroyed many weapons depots and bunkers, but without finding their headquarters. Most of the NLF forces moved further inland and there helped the Khmer Rouge gradually expand their rule to almost 50% of Cambodia. At the same time, the advance thinned the US and ARVN troops in South Vietnam and thus relieved the NLF forces there. In the US, the protests in the US Congress grew to a peak, so that Nixon had to end the invasion of Cambodia in June 1970.

In September 1969 the US Congress passed a legal ban on US ground forces in Thailand and Laos. On October 10, 1969, Nixon threatened to launch nuclear-armed bombers as part of Operation Giant Lance with his determination for a Third World War, with which he tried in vain to intimidate the Soviet Union. In December 1970, Congress Nixon banned US ground operations in Laos. From February 8 to March 24, 1971, the ARVN tried to interrupt the NLF's supply lines in Laos ( Operation Lam Son 719 ) to buy time for Vietnamization and negotiations with North Vietnam. But the NLF found out about the plans and routed the ARVN troops. Only massive US air strikes prevented them from being completely wiped out.

Further heavy air strikes by the USA on Cambodia and Laos took place in operations "Commando Hunt" from 1968 to 72 and "Freedom Deal" from 1970 to 73. However, the objectives of these operations were not achieved. The Cambodian government later estimated that a total of more than 20 percent of the country's goods were destroyed during the war.

Easter offensive 1972

Map of the development in Indochina 1971 to 1973

After the lost Tet Offensive, NLF General Giap had given priority to building conventional forces in South Vietnam over guerrilla fighting. For this construction, North Vietnam received new arms deliveries from the Soviet Union and China in 1970, cleverly exploiting their conflict. The NLF consolidated its influence in the Mekong Delta during the Cambodia invasion in 1970, tied ARVN forces there permanently and was thus able to gain a foothold again in other parts of South Vietnam by mid-1971. In July 1971, Kissinger offered the People's Republic of China better relations with the United States if Hanoi would force Hanoi to agree to compromises in the Paris talks. Nixon wanted to be the first US president to visit the People's Republic of China in February 1972. North Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng could not dissuade Mao from this visit plan. In order to forestall the feared rapprochement between the USA and China, Hanoi hastily prepared a large-scale attack by the NVA on South Vietnam.

Once again, US secret services misjudged observed troop movements in North Vietnam. In March 120,000 NVA soldiers crossed the borders with South Vietnam in three attack wedges and in a few days conquered the five northern provinces, large parts of the central highlands with Kon Tum and advanced up to 70 km from Saigon. Since Thieu had to pull together all ARVN forces to protect the big cities, the NLF conquered many ARVN bases in the Mekong Delta. This showed the Thieu regime that peace could only be achieved with the NLF, and the US that Vietnamization was as illusory as a military victory.

For Nixon, however, military defeat and the loss of South Vietnam in the 1972 election year were unacceptable. On May 8, 1972, he announced the most severe escalation of the war to date: the mining of the port of Hải Phòng , a sea blockade and renewed area bombing of North Vietnam. During this Operation Linebacker , the US Air Force dropped 112,000 tons of bombs in June, including, for the first time, precision-guided ammunition ( smart bombs ) that steered itself electronically to its target . This effectively interrupted the supplies for the NVA, so that the ARVN could fight back their forces by July. Around 100,000 NVA and 25,000 ARVN soldiers died. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled their villages again. Contrary to the warnings of Nixon's advisors, the Soviet Union and China protested only weakly against the escalation and continued their policy of détente with the USA. This showed Hanoi that compromises with the US were inevitable. Most US citizens agreed to the renewed bombing of North Vietnam, according to surveys. However, there was growing resistance in the US Congress to continue funding the war.

Paris Armistice

Kissinger had been in contact with representatives of North Vietnam since 1967. On Nixon's behalf, of which neither Thieu nor US Secretary of State William P. Rogers knew, he offered Hanoi secret talks in December 1968 and again in May 1969 in order to circumvent the Paris talks, which were complicated with four parties, and Thieu, who denied any reduction in US -Help refused to force compromise. He foresaw that the Saigon regime would not hold out after the US troops withdrew. The secret talks were supposed to allow the US to withdraw without losing credibility. On February 21, 1970, Kissinger first met the top communist politician Lê Đức Thọ , with whom he continued to negotiate regularly. Tho saw North Vietnam as the victor of the war and rejected any solution that would not allow the communists in South Vietnam a dominant role. It was only after the bombing in 1972 that he saw the USA's concern to get out of the war without losing face as in its own interest.

Kissinger, however, was unable to enforce a reciprocal troop withdrawal because the unilateral troop withdrawal by the United States was well advanced and the US Congress and US citizens rejected a further escalation. In autumn 1972 Tho recognized the continued existence of the Thieu regime for the time being and proposed a national council to prepare general elections, in which the NLF and neutral groups should also be represented on an equal footing. North Vietnam will immediately agree to a ceasefire and exchange all prisoners of war if the US stops its attacks and withdraws from South Vietnam in 60 days. Kissinger set up a joint control body for the ceasefire and international monitoring of the peace process.

Thieu, who had not negotiated in Paris, had in the meantime learned of Kissinger's secret talks with Tho through his secret service. Thereupon he strictly rejected the draft contract. Kissinger tried to save the compromise with diplomatic pressure and declared on October 25th: "We believe that peace is just around the corner." In doing so, he favored Nixon's high election victory in November 1972 . He wanted to negotiate a more favorable agreement for the USA and South Vietnam. He gave the ARVN large arsenals of the US Army ( Operation Enhance Plus ) and promised Thieu in secret letters that he would order further air strikes if Hanoi disregards the ceasefire after the US withdrawal. On December 13th, he ordered Operation Linebacker II to force Hanoi to give way. From December 18 to 29, 1972 (except on Christmas Eve), the US Air Force flew 3,500 attacks on North Vietnam, killing 2,000 civilians and destroying some districts of Hanoi. The reputation of the USA thus reached an all-time low.

Signing of the Paris Agreement

North Vietnam then took part in the Paris talks again. The draft contract from October was only changed in marginal details. On January 27, 1973, all parties involved signed the Paris Agreement . It obliged the USA to withdraw all troops in 60 days, North Vietnam to release all prisoners of war, prohibited all foreign powers from military interference in Laos and Cambodia, allowed North Vietnam to leave around 140,000 NVA soldiers in South Vietnam, and the NLF to leave the areas under its control up to to manage for general election. The demilitarized zone around the 20th parallel was converted into a provisional demarcation line and was therefore no longer a border recognized under international law. The treaty thus fulfilled all of the main demands of North Vietnam, but not South Vietnam, which had called for US troops to remain in the country and the withdrawal of the NVA. Its survival depended solely on whether the United States would keep Nixon's secret letter promises to Thieu. In addition, Nixon promised North Vietnam in a secret additional protocol billions in aid for the reconstruction. The last US soldiers stationed and prisoners of war officially left Vietnam by the end of March. For the first time in about 100 years there were no more foreign troops there. The US government presented the agreement as the "honorable peace" promised by Nixon five years earlier, although it was aware of the flaws in the treaty. Kissinger estimated the Thieu regime to survive at a year and a half.

North Vietnam conquers South Vietnam

Conquest of South Vietnam

From March to August 15, 1973, the US Air Force continued to bombard Cambodia's southern border areas with 250,000 tons of explosives. Two out of seven million Cambodians fled. Nixon had to stop the attacks because the US Congress cut all funding for them in June. In addition, Congress suspended economic aid to North Vietnam until all cases of missing US soldiers were resolved. In November he passed the War Powers Resolution . It limited any future US military intervention to an initial 60 days, which the US President could only extend with the permission of a majority of Congressmen or had to end in a further 30 days. Congress also initiated the impeachment proceedings against Nixon. That is why he could not keep his promise of assistance to Thieu.

Both regimes in Vietnam frequently broke the Paris Agreement. The ARVN generals did not participate in the National Council and in 1973 occupied about 1,000 villages in order to expand their sphere of influence. Although the ARVN had almost four times as many soldiers as the NVA, with 1.1 million soldiers, two thirds of them and only 10% of the NVA (around 30,000 soldiers) had stationary and defensive tasks. They left areas to the ARVN without a fight that would be difficult to defend in the event of a war. North Vietnam expanded the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a wide road with supply stores and laid a 2,000 km pipeline to southern Cambodia. Until the end of 1974, the NVA controlled a relatively closed area in South Vietnam. The NLF tied up 50% of the ARVN troops in the Mekong Delta.

With the withdrawal of the US Army, 300,000 South Vietnamese lost their jobs; unemployment rose to 40% in South Vietnam. The 1973 oil crisis made imports more expensive and increased inflation and recession. In addition, the Thieu regime caused increased prices and falling stocks for rice through market control. There were supply bottlenecks in the cities. In 1974 the US Congress granted the ARVN a further 700 million dollars in military aid, which after deducting transport costs fell to 300 million and thus barely made effective combat operations possible. In 1974, 240,000 ARVN soldiers deserted because of a drop in morale and low pay. Corruption in and between the units grew. Since many of their soldiers looted, more and more farmers rejected the ARVN entirely. South Vietnam's non-communist opposition was divided. The upper class gradually took their property out of the country. Thieu remained passive and, until Nixon's resignation in August 1974, relied on the pledges of the 9,000 US military advisors that the US would assist him if necessary.

Vietnamese flee from communist troops

At the beginning of December 1974 the NLF occupied the provincial capital Dong Xoai near Cambodia. On December 18, Hanoi then decided to launch a spring offensive by the NVA to conquer the central highlands of South Vietnam, in order to initiate an uprising in the major cities in 1976. In March 1975 the NVA crossed the demarcation line to South Vietnam with 16 divisions and initially captured Ban Me Thuot as planned . Thieu then gave up the central highlands and ordered the ARVN to retreat to the coastal region around Saigon to save his rule. However, the commanding ARVN general left the country with his family. The leaderless ARVN troops fled in disorder and thus enabled the NVA to advance unhindered. On March 25th they conquered Huế, days later Da Nẵng, in April Pleiku, Nha Trang and Bien Hoa without the expected costly battles. Now Hanoi decided to attack Saigon too; this final act of the war is known in the English-speaking world as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign .

On April 21, 1975 Thieu fled abroad; General Duong Van Minh took office for nine days. Gerald Ford , who had moved up to Nixon's office as Vice President and wanted to preserve his election chances for US President, refused, as Hanoi expected, renewed US air strikes and emergency aid for the ARVN against the advice of US Chief of Staff Frederick C. Weyand . While the US Congress was discussing this, the NVA was already advancing against Saigon.

On April 21st, it reached Saigon's outskirts. Only then did the CIA and US military advisors initiate an evacuation. In the following week, US pilots took around 7,500 people a day from Saigon in passenger planes. North and South Vietnamese bombs destroyed the airport on April 28 and 29. Large US helicopters carried 7,014 people from the city onto US aircraft carriers off the coast on April 29 and 30. In total, over 130,000 South Vietnamese left their country; about 30,000 of them reached the Philippines. When its president Marcos refused to accept refugees, Guam took in 50,000 South Vietnamese. During the last 18 hours of the evacuation by helicopter ( Operation Frequent Wind ) on the premises of the US embassy, ​​there was a fight between Vietnamese and US citizens who were willing to flee, as well as exchanges of fire between US guards and ARVN soldiers. On April 30, the NVA took the city center and at 11:30 am the presidential palace of Saigon without resistance. She was warmly welcomed by some South Vietnamese. In the afternoon, Duong Van Minh declared the surrender, which only the German journalist Börries Gallasch recorded. Walter Skrobanek , who was then working for the terre des hommes children's charity in Saigon, describes everyday life during the last days of the old regime and the first few weeks under the new rulers in a diary that was published in 2008.

Balance sheet

Dead and injured

The total number of Vietnamese killed by this war is estimated differently, because the war period and war zones are determined differently, official records are missing, kept secret or falsified, many victims were unidentifiable or undetectable and to this day people are still dying of war-related damage.

Based on hospital statistics in South Vietnam, Guenter Lewy estimated in 1978 that 1.2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed in acts of war between 1965 and 1974. A committee of the US Senate estimated these victims at 1.4 million. Rudolph J. Rummel estimates that 1,747,000 Vietnamese were killed in the war from 1960 to 1975. There are also Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian victims of the democide that took place before, during and after this war. Marc Frey estimated 2.3 million Vietnamese killed in the war between 1961 and 1975. Overall estimates range up to four million, about one eighth of the total population of Vietnam, including 2.6 million South Vietnamese and 1.1 million NVA and NLF fighters. In contrast, US citizens interviewed during the US war effort believed that there were only about 100,000 Vietnamese war victims.

The German hospital ship Helgoland mainly cared for civilian victims in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972.

North Vietnam published no or far too low casualty figures during the war in order to avoid demoralization or uprisings among its own people. On April 3, 1995, Vietnam announced that between 1954 and 1975 two million North and South Vietnamese civilians (12-13% of the total population) and 1.1 million NVA soldiers and NLF fighters had died in the war. 600,000 soldiers were wounded. In addition , according to Vietnam , explosives used in the war, such as land mines , killed over 42,000 and injured over 62,000 Vietnamese between 1975 and 2011. Another 400,000 Vietnamese died from damage caused by Agent Orange by 2009.

Accordingly, around four times as many civilians as soldiers died in the Vietnam War. The reasons for this are the high-tech warfare, massive area bombing and artillery fire in inhabited areas, the indiscriminate killing in free-fire zones, the equation of farmers and guerrilla fighters and the use of chemical weapons at a distance.

The US military has recorded exactly 58,220 US soldiers killed in Vietnam since June 8, 1956. 55,661 of them died in South Vietnam, 40,934 in fighting, especially many in 1967 (11,100), 1968 (16,600) and 1969 (11,600). 38,000 belonged to the army , about 14,000 to the marine infantry . 49,380 were white and 7,243 were African-American. 48,717 were ordinary soldiers, 7,881 officers. More than half were 21 years of age or younger, 18 of whom had not yet turned 18. The youngest to fall was a 15-year-old Marine who had given an incorrect date of birth when he was recruited. Friendly fire caused 18% of deaths . 153,303 US soldiers were wounded. The troops allied with the United States and South Vietnam lost a total of 5,264 soldiers, over 4,000 of them from South Korea.

Consequential damage

The war-related population structure, social upheaval, devastation, war injuries, traumatisation and secondary diseases burden millions of Vietnamese and shorten their life expectancy. At the end of the war in 1975, South Vietnam had a million war widows, 875,000 orphans, 200,000 disabled people and 200,000 prostitutes. Added to this are the consequences of internal displacement and waves of flight. Between 1960 and 1970, up to 700,000 people, 40% of whom were members of the Meos, fled the US Air Force bombing raids in Laos. At least 40,000 died from fighting and another 100,000 from starvation and disease during the war.

Landmine victims in Vietnam

Scientists estimate that from 1965 to 1971 the US Air Force dropped two to three times as much bomb ammunition (up to seven million tons) on Vietnam as it did during the entire Second World War . They left an estimated 21 million bomb craters; some regions of Vietnam are so densely littered that they resemble a lunar landscape . An estimated 3.5 million land mines and around 300,000 tons of unexploded war ammunition are in the soil of Vietnam.

US Fairchild UC-123B spray Agent Orange

Dioxin-containing herbicides, especially Agent Orange , caused long-term environmental damage. The sprayed amount corresponds to 400 kg of pure dioxin . It hit an estimated 3.3 million hectares of forest, contaminated 3,000 Vietnamese villages and permanently poisoned an estimated 24,000 square kilometers . This seventh of the total area of ​​South Vietnam comprises a far higher percentage of the once fertile lands and forests. In addition, 1,200 square miles (about 3,000 km²) of southern Vietnam were leveled with bulldozers . In 2007, one million adults and 150,000 children in Vietnam suffered from cancer, mental and genetic disorders. Since dioxins and genetic damage are persistent , they will affect future generations.

The US manufacturers had agreed in February 1965 to keep secret from the US government that their dioxin-contaminated herbicides cause serious damage to internal organs. In the fall of 1969, a study showed that Agent Orange caused genetic damage , malformations in fetuses and miscarriages . In 1970 it was initially banned in the USA. From 1978 onwards, Vietnam vets suffering from cancer began filing class action lawsuits against Monsanto, which were joined by company workers. Studies commissioned by Monsanto that denied a link between contamination with its products and cancers of the plaintiffs were found to be methodologically falsified in 1986. In 1991, the US Congress passed a law classifying US war veterans suffering from diseases traceable to Agent Orange as war wounded. This made it easier for them to receive compensation payments. Gradually, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognized 14 diseases that can be caused by defoliants , including Parkinson's , multiple myeloma , type 2 diabetes , heart failure, and prostate cancer . Trials by US Navy soldiers who were then deployed on the open sea to be treated on an equal footing with soldiers deployed domestically with regard to contact with herbicides are still ongoing.

Over 40,000 US soldiers became addicted to heroin in Vietnam by 1970 . 330,000 returnees were unemployed at the end of 1971. Over 300,000 of the previous two million veterans were convicted and imprisoned by the end of 1972. From 1969 onwards it gradually became known that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans had suffered undetected and untreated trauma. This caused a special post-traumatic stress disorder ( post traumatic stress disorder , PTSD). A scientific study carried out for years showed by 1982: 478,000 (15.2%) of 3.14 million veterans suffered from full PTSD and another 350,000 (11.1%) from partial PTSD. The percentages were even higher among African Americans (20.6%), Hispanics (27.9%), and those disabled by war injuries. Only a small fraction of them had received medical treatment as a result. As a result, there was a growing willingness in the US Congress to finance special therapy centers and programs for Vietnam veterans.


In 1966, the US government spent twice as much on the Vietnam War as it did on social reform programs. By 1968, the cost of war rose to $ 80.5 billion (today's value $ 590 billion), causing inflation to rise from 2.7% to 4%. In March 1968 there was a crisis in the gold market. As a result, business elites in the USA also called for the war to end soon.

The US Army recorded 8,612 aircraft destroyed and 4,868 helicopters destroyed, valued at approximately $ 12 billion. Ammunition used cost $ 37 to $ 42 billion. The Army's average oil and gas consumption of one million barrels per day contributed to the 1973 oil crisis. James Donovan estimated the US war costs, including the maintenance costs of Allied armies, at $ 108.5 billion. According to Anthony S. Campagna, the US war effort cost its defense budget about 173 billion dollars (today's value 820 billion dollars). He estimated indirect and subsequent costs, such as for the maintenance of the allied troops, economic aid for their states, compensation for war-wounded US veterans, interest on war credits as well as tax costs for military service and tax losses due to war deaths at an additional 332 billion (today's value 1,574 billion USD) . The burdens on the state budget due to war-related inflation and declines in exports are not yet taken into account.

To this day, the United States has refused to make reparations or other compensation to Vietnam . Instead, the Vietnamese government had to take over the debts of the former South Vietnam in 1993 in order to obtain loans and to have a US embargo lifted . In 2007, the US approved $ 400,000 for the first time to clean up dioxin residues in Danang. In May 2009, US President Barack Obama doubled this aid from three to six million dollars. However, US courts rejected claims for compensation from cancer-stricken Vietnamese.

War crimes

My Lai murder victim

As a result of the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland temporarily lifted the US Army's protection rules for civilians in February 1968 and allowed troop leaders to attack locations in contested regions without consultation and with weapons and units of their choice. The Task Force Barker had lost in their operations about 20% of men and a few Body Counts boast. On March 15, their officer Ernest Medina instructed his soldiers to treat women and children in their search area as enemies, thereby calling on them to kill. On March 16, 1968, at least 22 US soldiers murdered 504 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, in the My Lai massacre , adding these victims to the number of NLF fighters they killed. Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. prevented further murders and evacuated some villagers. It was not until a year later that the uninvolved witness Ron Ridenhour reached an internal investigation. None of the few survivors were heard as a witness. On December 5, 1969, a report by Seymour Hersh made the massacre known worldwide. Senior Lieutenant William Calley was sentenced to life in prison in 1971. After a revision, the prison sentence was reduced to three and a half years. In November 1974, Army State Secretary Howard H. Callaway released him from the remainder of the sentence.

The US government presented the crime as an isolated act in order not to have to withdraw its troops sooner. Up to 150 actively and passively involved Vietnam veterans, including John Kerry , then testified at two conferences ("Winter Soldier Investigation", December 1970, January / February 1971) that similar crimes had occurred every day. In My Lai, only a particularly large number of villagers were killed at once. Officers had subtly but effectively instructed new US soldiers in the systematic murder of civilians and prisoners. Today there is a memorial to these crimes.

Video from Operation Baker, 1967

Toledo Blade magazine publicized war crimes committed by the Tiger Force in 2003 . In 1967, during forced resettlements ( Strategic Hamlet Program ) in the provinces of Quảng Ngãi and Quảng Nam, the latter committed numerous mass murders for seven months while combing through destroyed villages. The US Army investigated 18 suspected perpetrators from 1971 to 1975, but did not bring them to justice. In 2003, three of the perpetrators publicly stated that they had only carried out orders. Such assassinations were common among all US ground forces, especially in free-fire zones , where civilians were considered fair game. US military records record such crimes by hundreds of combat units. The US Supreme Military Court prosecuted only 36 of these cases and sentenced 20 perpetrators. The causes of crime are believed to be frustration with guerrilla warfare and the body count on which promotions depended. According to Guenter Lewy, US officers rarely reported murders of their soldiers, but instead recorded them as the shooting of fugitive Viet Cong fighters in order to increase the death toll.

Deborah Nelson ("The War Behind Me", 2008) found hundreds of routine memos in the National Archives about war crimes similar to that of My Lai in Vietnam. This included every major unit of the US Army and all major counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam that were carried out in the midst of the civilian population. US military courts investigated the crimes internally after Nixon demanded in 1969 that the US army be removed from the front pages of the press. In anonymous letters from US soldiers to superiors, for example, there were statements such as “one My Lai every month for over a year”. For example, US soldiers let villagers run ahead through mined areas, tortured prisoners with waterboarding and electric shocks , and shot young people and children for no reason. The exact number of perpetrators and acts is unknown. 23 offenders were convicted, most of them acquitted. A soldier who raped a 13-year-old girl as an interrogator in a POW camp was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor but was released after 7½ months. The US Army pointed journalists to their internal procedures, whereupon they usually stopped further research. As a result, these crimes remained largely unknown. In the USA, My Lai is mistakenly considered an exceptional case to this day.

Vietnamese woman murdered by South Koreans with her breasts cut off, Phong Nhi massacre, February 12, 1968

The ARVN often violated the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Prisoners of War with beatings and torture .

In addition, at least 48 massacres by South Korean soldiers in villages in South Vietnam have been documented, five of them in the Binh Dinh province . Examples are the massacres in Phong-Nhi and Bình Hòa .

Torture of captured NLF fighters

North Vietnamese and NLF members also often murdered civilians in South Vietnam who were believed to be collaborators and prisoners of their opponents. The massacres of Vien Cau (1964), Dong Xoai (1965), Long Binh (400 dead), Son Tra (1968) and Phu Thuan (1970) became known. In the Dak Son massacre (December 5, 1967), NLF fighters killed 252 civilians and abducted around 1,700 of the 2,000 villagers. When massacre of Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968 killed up to 5,000 people, including children.

US reconnaissance photo from the
Sơn Tây
prison camp near Hanoi

Around 760 US soldiers were taken prisoners of war by North Vietnam or the NLF between 1954 and 1973. North Vietnam used the former French Hỏa-Lò prison in Hanoi (" Hanoi Hilton ") for shot down US pilots and tried to force them to testify against the US operation through torture and solitary confinement. In July 1965, the NLF publicly executed three prisoners in retaliation for executions of NLF prisoners by Diem's ​​regime. The US then urged Diem to stop it. In October 1965, the IRC condemned all violations of the Geneva Convention in Vietnam and warned the Diem regime to protect the lives of South Vietnamese prisoners of war as well as that of US soldiers. The NLF released two US soldiers after they publicly spoke out against the US operation. In June 1966, US prisoners of war had to march for hours through Hanoi streets in retaliation for US air strikes on Hanoi, they were mistreated by city dwellers. However, soldiers protected their lives. The US government asked the Soviet Union, Poland, India, Sweden and the Vatican for diplomatic protests against the treatment of these prisoners. At the same time, US senators threatened North Vietnam with massive retaliation. Ho then moved away from further show trials against captured US soldiers. After his death in 1969 or after the failed release of prisoners from the Sơn Tây prisoner of war camp by a US command on November 21, 1971 ( Operation Kingpin ), North Vietnam completely stopped torturing US prisoners of war. These were then concentrated in the “Hanoi Hilton”.

Political effects

War opposition in the USA

The US government kept the activities of the military advisers secret and scarcely informed citizens about the extent, aims and effects of their war effort in Vietnam. It was not until 1965 that this was widely discussed in the USA. Western reporters were able to observe war events relatively unmolested and report them with the usual military restrictions. In 1965, 400 US journalists were accredited in South Vietnam who were also allowed to take part in US combat missions. In 1968 their number rose to 650. However, according to the MACV, only 35% of them accompanied combat troops to the front, and only about 10% of 4,100 reports showed fighting. None of the leading US journalists thought the war was wrong, but at most criticized “tactical” problems with the ARVN from the point of view of their own military. This approved frequent censorship measures by the ARVN. Most of the television reports stayed in line with the US government. Atrocities were only shown during the Tet Offensive. The first "television war" in history took up about 20 to 25 percent of the evening news in the United States from 1968 to 1973. Many of the battle scenes of the mostly three to four minute long reports were created after the fact and focused on individual heroic deeds. War crimes, the desire to kill, the wearing of body parts of killed opponents as trophies, drug problems and a lack of discipline among US soldiers were not reported. During prime time, the US media reported four times more killed US soldiers than killed Vietnamese.

One of the earliest critics of the Vietnam War since 1954 was Isidor Feinstein Stone , who predicted after Diem's ​​fall in 1963: The United States would lose its war for South Vietnam. Since 1964 Walter Lippmann was also an opponent of the war. Reports of the Tet Offensive contributed to a change in opinion in the United States. The execution of the NLF prisoner Nguyễn Văn Lém by the police chief of Saigon Nguyễn Ngọc Loan in front of the camera and the photo of the nine-year-old girl Kim Phuc , who was naked after a napalm attack, with severe burns and screaming past US soldiers from his burning, became world-famous Village ran. Walter Cronkite interviewed US soldiers during the fighting in Hue in February and commented: The war has reached a dead end and cannot be won. Negotiations with North Vietnam are the only realistic alternative.

In regular, nationwide Gallup surveys as to whether the US war effort was a "mistake", 61% (1965), 50% (1966), 44% (1967), 34% (1968), 24% (1971) answered no ). Accordingly, most US citizens considered the war effort to be correct only in the first year. With its duration and the increase in the number of victims, this proportion steadily decreased. However, in 1967 only 6% agreed to the immediate exit, 80% against an escalation in order to accelerate the end of the war. It was not until the end of 1968 that a majority approved the withdrawal, and it was not until late 1970 that the US troops withdrew immediately.

Anti-war demonstration, Washington DC, 1967

The implausible reason for war, the ongoing bombing raids on North Vietnam without a declaration of war, the information policy of the US government, use of chemical weapons, the body counts , war crimes and other deprived the war of any moral justification for many. From the fall of 1964, a peace movement emerged from older groups of the movement against nuclear weapons and the civil rights movement of the 1950s as well as the counterculture of the hippies (“make love not war”), the student movement and the New Left of the 1960s , which is one of the largest protest movements in the USA . It tried out new forms of civil disobedience for far-reaching emancipatory and anti-authoritarian goals of a comprehensive change in society. It consisted of a multitude of different groups without an umbrella organization and, according to a CIA report requested by Johnson, was neither communist-directed nor influenced.

Demonstration in the USA against the war

Between November 1964 and March 1965, four pacifists in the USA self- immolated in protest against the use of napalm by the USA. From March 24, 1965, Vietnam days with teach-ins took place for months at over 100 universities . There were also protests against authoritarian structures in the education system. The first national anti-war demonstration on April 17th, organized by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) under Tom Hayden , was attended by around 20,000 people. The US government sent "truth teams" of diplomats to the universities from May 15 during the bombing break to promote their point of view. Around 100,000 people took part in “peace parades” in 80 cities in the USA on October 15 and 16, 1965. Further large-scale nationwide demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place on April 15, 1967 (New York City: 200,000; San Francisco: 50,000), on October 16, 1967 (Washington DC: 50,000), on October 15 (250,000) and November 15, 1969 ( 500,000). On October 21, 1967, about 5,000 out of 50,000 demonstrators broke the police line in front of the Pentagon and retrieved the US flag from the building. Resistance, mostly organized by the SDS, was increasingly directed against the "military-industrial complex" , military research and financial support for universities by the Ministry of Defense. In actions against Dow Chemical and US Army recruitment centers, there was more violence against people from 1969 onwards. Throughout the country, thousands of citizens' initiatives were organized against the drafting of conscripts and for neighborhood work, which they offered as an alternative social peace service. Leading figures of the New Left founded the umbrella organization National Citizens for a New Policy (NCNP). At a conference in the summer of 1967 they failed to find a common line for the election year 1968; it remained controversial whether one should refuse to vote, found an alternative anti-war party or put up prominent opponents of the war as independent opponents.

Jane Fonda with Phan Thi Minh, 1975

Some activists like Jane Fonda and Joan Baez traveled to North Vietnam to view war damage and to show "another America". Large parts of the US population saw these war opponents as traitors; there were counter-demonstrations and physical attacks. Among the war opponents, radical left, who saw the NLF as an anti-colonial liberation movement , fought with liberal Democrats who supported Johnson's social policy and wanted to bring the US soldiers home. A strong current of the anti-war movement was Christian pacifism , represented by Abraham Johannes Muste , Daniel and Philip Berrigan .

Martin Luther King, speech against the Vietnam War, St. Paul / Minnesota

Martin Luther King , leader of the civil rights movement, had been advocating negotiations with the NLF since March 1965. On April 4, 1967, with his harshest sermon to date, he took the side of the war opponents and became their spokesman. The Vietnam War and US poverty remained the main focus of his speeches until April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated. Jesus Christ's command to love one's enemy also applies to communists. Since 1945, the US has prevented Vietnam's national self-determination, supported corrupt dictators, crammed villagers into concentration camps, poisoned their soils and forests, and killed at least 20 civilians for every Viet Cong killed. The US government must stop the bombing immediately, give a withdrawal date for the US troops and involve the NLF in a future government of Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, resistance to conscription in the United States rose to an all-time high. About 600,000 violations of the 1948 law, which called for the drafting of all men between 18 and 26, were recorded from 1964 to 1973. 210,000 of them (up to 10% of all criminal cases in the US at the time) were prosecuted. Tens of thousands evaded conscription through conscientious objection , desertion and civil disobedience such as public burning or sending back military passes . From August 1965, the US government tightened the legal penalties for such actions to up to five years' imprisonment and heavy fines. 30,000 to 50,000 conscripts fled to Canada or Sweden . Because of the “baby boom” of the 1950s, this did not jeopardize the recruitment and manpower levels of the US Army. However, members of the lower social classes were drawn in disproportionately. Johnson lifted the postponement of full-time students in June 1966, causing a significant increase in the number of objectors. After Nixon replaced compulsory military service with a lottery system in 1969, it fell again. Poor African Americans initially often volunteered in the US Army, from which they hoped for professional and social advancement. In the course of the 1966 Black Power movement, which saw the same racism at work against the oppressed of color in the Vietnam War and civil rights struggle, this tendency decreased significantly.

In the US Army, the rejection of war gradually increased. Some US soldiers in Vietnam refused to give orders , produced and secretly distributed anti-war magazines, attacked superiors and shot some. The US government no longer dared to use the military in an anti-war demonstration because it feared its solidarity with the protesters. In November 1967 the group "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" was founded, which grew rapidly in 1970. On April 23, 1971, about 700 members threw their medals and ribbons on the stairs of the Capitol Building . 20 to 25% of the US soldiers involved considered the Vietnam War to be wrong.

Veterans March Against the War, April 1971

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had anti-war activities at universities monitored since April 1965, agents smuggled into action groups, lists of suspected persons (mostly SDS members) made and the FBI worked with university guards. The FBI has been sharing its surveillance reports with the secret services and the military since April 1966, and regularly with the White House since March 1968 . As a result of these reports, Attorney General Ramsey Clark indicted five activists in January 1968 of conspiracy against conscription laws. According to the indictment, all 28,000 petition signatures and reporters were considered accomplices. On May 9th, the FBI began the secret campaign COINTELPRO to obstruct, neutralize, or stop the activities of anti-war groups. The FBI linked the campaign to three CIA surveillance programs ( Operation CHAOS , Project MERRIMAC, and Project RESISTANCE) and an NSA telephone and telegram surveillance program (MINARET). By 1974, files of at least 23,500 people were created. In thousands of cases, telephones were tapped and letters opened. The US Army received requested information about people being monitored, and until 1971 deployed 1,500 civilian agents to monitor war opponents and created index cards of over 100,000 civilian protesters and 760,000 individual or group activities. These programs were exposed by a Senate hearing in 1971 and then officially discontinued.

The anti-war movement had a major impact on the 1968 and 1972 presidential elections. While the Republican Party unanimously supported the war, the Democratic Party split into "hawks" and "doves". From December 1967, the Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy stood as an opponent of the war against Johnson's re-election. After his success in the New Hampshire primaries on March 12, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy , who had been an opponent of the war since 1965, also ran for his party's nomination. This is another reason why Johnson decided not to run for a second time on March 31. On April 4, Kennedy announced the fatal assassination attempt on King during a campaign appearance and prevented local rioting with a conciliatory speech. He was therefore considered a promising candidate with a majority until he, too, was assassinated on June 5, 1968. The anti-war movement then tried in vain to prevent Vice President Hubert Humphrey from being nominated as a presidential candidate at the Democratic Party conference in August . A sit-in of around 10,000 opponents of the war was violently broken up by strong police and military forces while the television broadcast was ongoing. This deepened the rift in the Democrats and greatly increased Richard Nixon's chances of being elected. He promised "peace with honor" in Vietnam, "law and order at home" and claimed that he had a secret plan to pacify Vietnam. It was only when Johnson stopped bombing North Vietnam and Humphrey offered an early troop withdrawal for the Paris talks that he caught up in the polls. Nixon's narrow majority thus meant a voter mandate to end the war. George McGovern became a Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 from among 12 competitors due to his clear anti-war stance. But he too lost to Nixon, as only part of the Democrats supported his course.

For many US citizens, with the new US attacks on Cambodia, Nixon broke his election promise to Vietnamize and end the war. Nixon's attempt to send another 200,000 US soldiers to Indochina on the basis of the Tonkin Resolution aroused opposition in the US Congress. Senator William Fulbright regretted his earlier involvement in the war and set up a commission of inquiry into the Tonkin incident. This stated on April 11, 1970 that there was most likely no attack by North Vietnam in 1964. Thereupon the US Senate and House of Representatives withdrew the resolution one after the other.

The nationwide anti-war movement, which had already stopped its actions, called for new protests from April 1970. On May 4, 28 US National Guard soldiers shot dead four protesters or bystanders on the grounds of Kent State University . This Kent State massacre resulted in the largest wave of protests in the United States to date: 1.5 to two million students (about 25%) went on strike. Union federations that had supported the war unreservedly up to then also distanced themselves. On May 8, 1970, 100,000 opponents of the war demonstrated in front of the White House. Nixon sought direct contact, but only talked about sports. On June 30, the US Senate forbade Nixon to send military advisers to Cambodia, to support Cambodian troops with the US Air Force or financially, including through other states. This forced him to speed up the US troop withdrawal. Because of the expansion of the war and the demonstrators killed, an impeachment against Nixon was demanded for the first time . After nationwide anti-war demonstrations with millions of participants, Nixon warned the “silent majority” of the US on November 3rd: An immediate US withdrawal would result in “bloodbaths” in Vietnam; not North Vietnam, only US citizens could humiliate the US. In the polls, he received 70% approval for the familiar part of his policy, but not for a new military escalation.

In the summer of 1971, Daniel Ellsberg , a former McNamara advisor, released the Pentagon Papers to the press. After this secret report on the US's Indochina policy since 1945, US military experts criticized support for the regime in South Vietnam under Eisenhower, questioned the long-term prospects of success against the NLF and warned that the Vietnam War could hardly be won militarily. No US president had dared to publicly represent these doubts and the corresponding withdrawal plans. The papers also proved that the Pentagon had deliberately used the Tonkin incident as a reason for war. The Watergate scandal developed from the arrest of a few intruders at the headquarters of the Democratic Party . In the course of this, Nixon was finally exposed as a commissioner for the illegal surveillance of opposition politicians and opponents of the war like Daniel Ellsberg. The US Congress then decided to impeach him. This came before Nixon with his resignation in 1974.

War opposition in other states

Strong protest movements against the Vietnam War emerged in Australia and New Zealand in 1967, urging the withdrawal of aid troops sent by their conservative governments from South Vietnam. In Great Britain, the majority of the government and the population were initially in favor of the US war effort. Harold Wilson , however, evaded US demands for military aid and made independent attempts at mediation together with the Soviet Union. In 1967 British protests against the war rose sharply. Protesters attempted to storm the US embassy in London in December. From 1968 onwards, the British conservative media also moved away from the USA. The Paris talks softened the protests, but cemented the widespread opposition to the war.

Russell Tribunal, Stockholm 1967

France rejected the US war effort from the start. 70% of the French were against it in 1965. De Gaulle publicly advocated Vietnam's neutralization until France left NATO, most recently in Phnom Penh in 1966, and maintained correspondence with Ho. During Hubert Humphrey's visit to Paris in 1967 there were serious, sometimes violent protests. The action of the Paris police against student protests in Vietnam sparked the Paris May 1968, which almost led to the overthrow of de Gaulle.

In May and November 1967, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre conducted the first Russell Tribunal in Stockholm and Copenhagen , which applied international law to the Vietnam War without an institutional mandate and questioned Vietnamese victims of bombing attacks. Secretary of State Dean Rusk rejected several invitations from the tribunal to testify. This condemned the warfare of the USA in Vietnam as genocide .

For the West German student movement of the 1960s, the protest against the Vietnam War was central. It was directed against the uncritical support of the USA by the federal government, Bonn parties and most of the media, which was considered a characteristic of unresolved fascism in its own post-war society. In 1965, only 44% of West Germans saw the US Vietnam War as a defense of freedom against communism. A committee for peace and disarmament and the SPD- affiliated SHB organized the first nationwide protests in autumn 1965. Vietnam's self-determination in accordance with the Geneva resolutions of 1954 and the suspension of all West German aid for the US war effort, which was called "genocide", were called for. North Vietnam's revolutionary goals were not supported.

Anti-war demonstration in West Berlin , 1968

The West Berlin SDS has also dealt with Vietnam since 1965 . In the summer of 1965, the AStA of the FU called for "Peace in Vietnam" and was voted out of office because of this use of a political mandate. As a result, 70 writers and 130 professors supported the "Declaration on the War in Vietnam" of December 1, 1965, which called for an open debate. After Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had unreservedly supported the Vietnam War on a visit to the USA, a West Berlin group around Rudi Dutschke warned on February 4, 1966 with protest posters of an escalation into nuclear war and called for a "take up arms" against targeted, provocative violations of the rules . The following day, protesters threw five eggs at the America House in West Berlin and took the US flag from the building. This student anti-war campaign met with nationwide media coverage for the first time. It was accompanied by an unprecedented contingent of nearly 20,000 police officers. During counter-protests by CDU supporters on February 8, students were beaten on the S-Bahn to East Berlin without the police intervening. The peaceful Easter marches in April were followed on May 22nd in Frankfurt am Main by the SDS-organized congress “Vietnam - Analysis of an Example” with around 2000 participants. In the run-up it was controversial whether one should demand an immediate ceasefire or support a "victory of the Viet Cong". The philosopher Herbert Marcuse declared in his well-known speech that from the time of National Socialism there was a moral obligation to take action against the Vietnam War. The SDS thus took over the initiative in the anti-war campaign at the universities, on which it spent a large part of its funds. He understood the Vietnam War as the Vietnamese war of liberation against aggressive US imperialism and global capitalism. Student protests should help the NLF win. Anti-authoritarian protest methods were preferred and tested.

On 28 November 1966 complained protesters in Munich to the federal government, they help with poison gas experts and construction of concentration camps in South Vietnam a regime that six or seven Hitler need. This referred to General Ky's statement on July 4, 1965: His only hero was Hitler, who had held his country together in a terrible position. Four or five Hitlers would be needed in Vietnam. On December 6, 1967, SDS supporters prevented the ambassador of South Vietnam from speaking at an RCDS event . The following demonstrations on December 10th and 17th resulted in police violence. On Christmas Eve, Rudi Dutschke was beaten up by visitors to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when he wanted to discuss the Vietnam War in the service. During the Tet offensive there were demonstrations in many West German cities. On February 17, 1968, an International Vietnam Congress took place in West Berlin , at which a “second revolutionary front” was proclaimed in the metropolises. Among other things, they wanted to practice sabotage against military installations that were important to the war effort, call on US soldiers to desert and seek the Federal Republic's exit from NATO. The following day, up to 20,000 people demonstrated against the Vietnam War. Dutschke let himself be dissuaded at short notice from taking the route past a US barracks and storming it because the US soldiers had orders to shoot. An International News and Research Institute (INFI) was established to educate people about Vietnam. After the assassination attempt on Dutschke in April 1968, anti-war protests subsided and other issues came to the fore.

Anti-war demonstration in Vienna, 1968

A Gallup survey from August / October 1966 showed (percentages):

position United States GB F. FRG
Troop withdrawal begins 18th 42 68 51
Maintain current status 18th 17th 8th 19th
Reinforce attacks 55 16 5 15th
No opinion 9 25th 19th 15th

Post-war politics of Vietnam

On July 2, 1976, North and South Vietnam were reunited under the name Socialist Republic of Vietnam . Saigon, temporarily the capital of the state of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh).

The country was thus reunited and sovereign as a whole, as Ho had striven for throughout his life. The NLF was dissolved in 1977.

North Vietnamese have killed around 60,000 “unwanted” South Vietnamese since 1975, interned hundreds of thousands of Thieu regime supporters in forced labor camps and subjected them to an intensive political re-education program ; some were tortured. Most of the political prisoners were released by 1978, and all by 1995.

Boat refugees from Vietnam in a refugee camp in Malaysia in 1980

Since March 1978 the government nationalized important branches of the economy and converted private farms into cooperatives in order to distance itself from the opening of the People's Republic of China to capitalism and to curb the growing influence of successful entrepreneurs. As a result, around 1.5 million Vietnamese, mostly of Chinese origin, fled Vietnam by boat across the Pacific; many of these " boat people " drowned. Those who reached Hong Kong often spent many years in refugee camps or were deported back to Vietnam. Over 100,000 emigrated to the United States, where they form a relatively impoverished fringe group.

With the conquest of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge began its years of tyranny. They murdered over two million Cambodians by 1978 in what is now classified as genocide or democide . Due to frequent border crossings and refugee flows from the neighboring state, Vietnam let its armed forces invade Cambodia in December 1978, where they overthrew the Khmer Rouge. As a result, the People's Republic of China invaded border areas with Vietnam in February 1979 and temporarily occupied some of its islands on which large oil reserves were suspected. Until a ceasefire in 1991, the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla war against Vietnam’s troops, which placed additional economic strain on the country. From 1986 the government allowed a partial privatization of agriculture within the framework of the Đổi mới and increased its economic growth. However, the majority of the 80 million Vietnamese remained relatively poor for a long time.

Post-war US policy

In 1973 the US Congress denied funds for the reconstruction of Vietnam. Contrary to Nixon's aid pledges, US President Gerald Ford imposed an economic embargo on Vietnam, which remained in force until 1994. After the Khmer Rouge conquered the ruling power in Cambodia (April 1975) and the Pathet Lao in Laos (December 1975), communists ruled three states in Indochina. Most US citizens, however, refused to restart the war. Ford took this stance into account in May 1975 by stating that the United States could regain its former pride, but not through a new war which, as far as the United States was concerned, was over. In 1976 he prevented Vietnam from joining the UN. His successor, Jimmy Carter , held on to it in order to avoid feared opposition in the US Congress and to obtain its approval for full diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China.

US President Ronald Reagan put Vietnam under heavy pressure with the question of missing US soldiers from 1983 onwards and stayed with it even after Vietnam offered its authorities unlimited cooperation in the search in 1985. His successor George HW Bush blocked IMF loans that France wanted to convey to Vietnam. Only US President Bill Clinton allowed such IMF loans in 1993. In 1995 the veterans of both countries strengthened their contacts and promoted veteran tourism to Vietnam. In 1997, both states opened embassies in Washington and Hanoi and agreed a program with which Vietnamese officers trained US soldiers in jungle combat. Since then, economic relations between the two countries have also intensified.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

The Vietnam War created a persistent aversion among most US citizens to further US military intervention. As early as 1966, the US government avoided giving Thailand more aid in order not to be drawn into its internal conflicts. For the same reason, in December 1975, the US Congress ended a secret CIA operation in the Angola Civil War . Opponents of such actions coined the slogan “No more Vietnam!” Proponents have called this attitude the “Vietnam syndrome” since 1978, thus devaluing it as an abnormal, pathological condition that must be overcome in order to “win” the Cold War.

The Vietnam War had delayed the US rapprochement with the People's Republic of China and strengthened its ties to many right-wing dictatorships in Latin America. After that, the USA had to take into account its loss of international reputation in domestic and foreign policy. Only after the failure of the liberation of hostages in Iran in 1979 did US interventions receive majorities of the US population again. Ronald Reagan declared in his 1980 presidential election campaign: The Vietnam War was fought for “a noble cause”. US soldiers should never again be sent to war if the government is afraid of letting them win. He had military intervention in Grenada and supported anti-communist civil war parties in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but ended the US military presence in Lebanon in 1982 immediately after a bomb attack on US soldiers. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, built in 1982, came about through private donations without government contributions.

In 1985 Nixon wrote: Since the fall of Saigon, a key battle in the "Third World War" (meaning proxy wars of the superpowers in the Third World since 1945), the new isolationism in the USA has led to the fall of further "dominoes" (Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Nicaragua) contributed to Soviet communism. It was Reagan who stopped this series of defeats in the USA. But the "Spirit of Vietnam" is driving the Congress debates on an intervention in El Salvador and aid for the Contras in Nicaragua. "We have to cleanse ourselves of the debilitating disease of Vietnam Syndrome in order to avoid further defeats in World War III."

Prior to the 1991 Gulf War , the US government obtained US Congress approval and a UN mandate, formed a broad military war coalition, sent a vastly superior number of troops, gave it a clearly defined target, and censored reporting. The quick and "overwhelming" victory of the USA was seen as a successful overcoming of the national "Vietnam trauma". The then US President George HW Bush believed that the "Vietnam Syndrome" had been eliminated for good. However, after the Iraq war and the increasing casualties and costs of the occupation of Iraq since 2003, comparisons with Vietnam resurfaced in the United States.



The view of the US governments involved in the war has always been: An aggressive communism aiming at world conquest has forced the initially hesitant USA to ever stronger military engagement to defend the peoples of Southeast Asia and finally to direct war effort to protect the sovereign and free South Vietnam. The war, which had actually already been won militarily, could not be ended victoriously due to domestic political factors.

North Vietnamese historians counter this: The Vietnamese did not see their country as a divided two states, but as one nation. North Vietnam therefore understood its commitment to the NLF not as a civil war, but always as a just struggle by all Vietnamese for national self-determination against imperialist intervention by the USA in order to preserve the prospect of reunification of their people. They could not have viewed South Vietnam as sovereign, but only as a US-backed puppet state, whose regime broke the 1956 Geneva Accord with US help.

David Halberstam described the war in his 1967 award-winning review first as a "swamp" ( quagmire ), be advised in the United States. Supporting Diem and Thieu was a wrong political decision by earlier US governments that did not strive for the common good of the Vietnamese. Tyrannical nepotism , corruption and non-implemented social reforms would have increased South Vietnam's economic and military dependence. Therefore the war for Vietnam's future cannot be won. Neil Sheehan gave a similar description of the situation in South Vietnam in 1966. Frances FitzGerald described US politics in Vietnam in 1968 as a devastating clash with the culture of Confucianism . Ordinary Vietnamese do not perceive a social revolution as a violent breakdown of tradition, but as change that is necessary from time to time. Because of the rural order destroyed during the colonial period, the NLF was able to direct the farmers' hatred against Diem's ​​bureaucracy. The US financial aid would have made Diems regime the service provider for the US, the US military needed to protect against its own people. The traditional submissiveness of many South Vietnamese while at the same time being reserved against political advice has increased the racist resentment of US soldiers against ungrateful and inferior "gooks" (devaluation of East Asians) and war crimes. Vietnamization only prolongs the suffering of the South Vietnamese under Thieu's regime. In view of the refugee misery, corruption, anomie and alienation between people and regime caused by area bombing , a social revolution is inevitable. The book was published in 1972, quickly became a bestseller and strengthened the anti-war movement.

Following such critical war reports, most US historians from 1965 took a view that was later referred to as “orthodox”: the US governments had essentially caused the war through their military engagement and, despite their multiple superiority, could not have won it because of a malfunctioning South Vietnam. They would have misinterpreted an essentially nationalist struggle for self-determination by being included in the Cold War and understood neither the allied nor the opposing Vietnamese.

US authors have written by far the greatest number of works on the Vietnam War since 1975, but mostly described it in a limited way to the actions of the US and its consequences, asked questions related to the US and looked for the answers in US sources. George C. Herring criticized: Like the belligerents themselves, such authors are unable to bridge the gap of ignorance towards the allied and opposing Vietnamese. The need to know and understand the culture, history and local dynamics of regions in which one is considering interfering has so far been poorly understood in the USA.

From 1980, other US historians contrasted the still dominant “orthodox” view of history with a “revisionist” image, according to which the Vietnam War was a just war that tragically but militarily failed because of domestic political factors (“betrayal”). In his influential analysis, On Strategy (1982), the military historian Harry G. Summers named On Strategy (1982) as the main causes of the failure of the USA: The leadership did not include the US people as a strategic factor in their warfare from the outset and the war as a means of pressure for negotiations not led to military victory. Conventional warfare was neglected. This has given North Vietnam decisive advantages. Not the guerrilla tactics of the NLF, which had actually been defeated in 1968, but the conventional invasion army NVA had defeated South Vietnam in 1975. The US Army must learn again to wage limited conventional wars victoriously with the backing of US citizens. In the foreword to the 1995 edition, Summers stated: In the 1991 Gulf War, the United States would have triumphed. He contradicted Robert McNamara, who in his memoirs published at the time described and regretted the Vietnam War as a tragic mistake by the USA, and held McNamara's lack of will to win since 1965 partly responsible for the failure of the USA. The work became a strategy textbook for the training of US soldiers, the author's view of the standard position of the US military. It corresponds to the line of the neoconservative forces in the USA, who, in retrospect, advocated early and consistent bombing and invasion of North Vietnam as the correct strategy and who have oriented the wars of intervention in the USA since 1990 accordingly.

Paul M. Kattenburg described the causes of the "Vietnam trauma" in the USA in 1981 as the tragic consequence of the Cold War, which determined US foreign policy globally and caused a chain of wrong decisions by the US governments. C. Dale Walton opposed the assumption of an inevitable defeat for the United States, attributing it to a series of strategic "errors" by decision-makers who, despite sufficient information, preferred counterinsurgency with insufficient ground troops and gradual bombing without the goal of a victory over North Vietnam would have.

To this day, critics have warned against the foreseeable failure of new US foreign interventions by referring to Vietnam. In 2006 , Raymond M. Scurfield drew a number of parallels between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War and concluded that the lessons from Vietnam had been forgotten in the USA. The historical strategy works Lessons in Disaster and A Better War are said to have contributed decisively to the formulation of Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy.

Novels and films

Influential early English-language works about the beginnings of the Vietnam War were the novel The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955), The Viet-Minh Regime (1954) and The Two Vietnams (1963) by Bernard Fall . They described interest groups in Vietnam and the futility of the French colonial war. In North Vietnam, novels and poems served to strengthen the revolutionary war until 1975 and hardly described individuality. Since the 1990s, high-quality, internationally recognized Vietnamese war novels such as “Bitter Rice” by Dương Thu Hương (1993) and “Born in Vietnam” by Le Ly Hayslip (1994) have been published. Oliver Stone filmed Hayslip's novel as " Between Heaven and Hell (1993) ".

In the 1980s, around 300 films about the Vietnam War were made in the USA, only a few before and after. Some like " Apocalypse Now " were shot by US directors with a lot of footage in the Philippines and, like the real war, were accompanied by inflation, drug use and environmental degradation. Only "Green Berets" (" The Green Devils ", 1968) was created during the war. The film is considered an anti-communist propaganda film that contrasts “good” US soldiers with “bad” Viet Cong in the style of a Western . Many later films (representative, for example, “ Those Going Through Hell ” (Deer Hunter), 1978; “ Platoon ”, 1986) ask about the meaning of this cruel war by showing individual US heroes who are mentally and physically crippled in borderline situations. This is also the case with the documentaryDear America - Letters from Vietnam ” (1987), which compiles field post and real war footage .

From 1984 films such as “ Rambo II - The Mission ” or “ Missing in Action ” appeared, in which indomitable heroes return to Vietnam and catch up on the victory of the USA, which historically failed to materialize. They are being criticized as "committed to the neo-imperial rhetoric of the Reagan era" and as "cheap therapy" for the national Vietnam trauma. “ We were heroes ” (2002) shows a patriotic and religious hero who is initially against the war effort, but then takes on a leadership role there, saves comrades and then returns happily to his home and family. Hardly any of these films dealt with the political background of the Vietnam War. Most are characterized by a simple and blanket good-bad dichotomy and a reversal of the perpetrator-victim roles. Some like “ Hamburger Hill ” accused US governments and liberal media of having betrayed their own soldiers. “ Full Metal Jacket ”, on the other hand, shows a war of images in an alienated setting (an industrial desert instead of a jungle) to criticize the inability of the US media to realistically portray the war as a senseless crusade .

Peter Scholl-Latour , who had witnessed the first Indochina War , rejected the view of a “(green) hell Vietnam” conveyed by popular culture : Only about 100,000 of the two million US soldiers deployed in Vietnam were involved in heavy fighting. With helicopters they could be looked after even in the most remote positions and the wounded could be fled out at short notice.

Vietnam's small film industry produces only a few films a year. Here, too, most of the war films were made in the 1980s. They describe individual fates or the racism to which the children of African-American US soldiers and Vietnamese women are exposed. The film Cyclo (1995) was shot in Vietnam, but it was banned there. When the tenth month comes by Dang Nhat Minh is considered a classic of the Vietnamese war film . Some well-known Hollywood films are in circulation as video copies in Vietnam. Vietnamese war films often have a documentary character; they often show extensive family life and few cruel scenes. In 1988 the first Vietnamese-German feature film co-production on the topic ( Dschungelzeit , D: Jörg Foth ) was released.

1976 appeared Marcel Ophuls ' documentary The Memory of Justice , dt. Not guilty? , in which possible parallels between the Second World War and the Vietnam War are sought. Among the documentaries that have appeared in Europe, Lighter than Orange - The Legacy of Dioxin in Vietnam (directed by Matthias Leupold; 2015, DE, EN, FR, VN, ES) deserves special mention, as it was based on interviews with 12 Vietnamese veterans who are affected by Agent Orange, whose, rather than the American, point of view is central. In 2017, the extensive, 18-hour TV documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Vietnam was released with many new eyewitness interviews (also in German - shortened to 9 hours - broadcast (on arte ) - original: The Vietnam War ).


In 1969 the English rock band Deep Purple wrote the song Child in Time as a protest song against the Vietnam War. In the same year the Rolling Stones released the song Gimme Shelter . The text is about the search for protection ( shelter : "Schutz, Obdach") from an approaching storm, in the case of the Vietnam War and the fear of the Cold War turning into a "hot" war. This threat of a worldwide nuclear war was drawing closer as a result of several conflicts between the superpowers of the time, the USA and the Soviet Union . The soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now makes The End of the Doors particularly associated with the Vietnam War. The English punk band Television Personalities released a song in 1984 under the name Back to Vietnam , which deals with post-traumatic memories. The songwriter Paul Hardcastle wrote the song 19 in 1985 . The title refers to the low average age of US soldiers in the Vietnam War. The musical Hair deals with the tension between the American hippie movement and the Vietnam War.


Bibliographies and Encyclopedias

  • Spencer C. Tucker (Ed.): The encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: a political, social, and military history. 2nd Edition. ABC-Clio, Santa Barbara, California 2011, four volumes.
  • Louis A. Peake: The United States in the Vietnam War, 1954-1975: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography of English-language Sources. New edition. Routledge, 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-95770-0 .
  • Edwin E. Moise: The A to Z of the Vietnam War. Revised edition. Scarecrow Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8108-5333-7 .
  • John C. Schafer (Ed.): Vietnamese Perspectives on the War in Vietnam: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English. (= Lạc Việt, Yale Southeast Asia Studies. Volume 17.) 1997, ISBN 0-938692-66-6 .
  • David A. Willson, John Newman (Eds.): Vietnam War Literature: An Annotated Bibliography of Imaginative Works About Americans Fighting in Vietnam. 3rd, revised edition. Scarecrow Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8108-3184-8 .
  • Anton Legler (I – V), Kurt Hubinek (I), Frieda Bauer (II – V):
The War in Vietnam I. Report and bibliography to September 30, 1968. ISBN 3-7637-0208-3 .
The War in Vietnam II. Report and Bibliography (October 1968 – September 1969). 1971, ISBN 3-7637-0211-3 .
The war in Vietnam III. Report and bibliography from October 1969 to September 1971. 1973, ISBN 3-7637-0213-X .
The War in Vietnam IV. Report and Bibliography. October 1971 – January 1973. ISBN 3-7637-0216-4 .
The War in Vietnam V. Report and Bibliography January 1973 – May 1975. ISBN 3-7637-0217-2 .
Bernard & Graefe Publishing House for Defense.
Overall representations
German authors
American authors
  • William J. Rust: Eisenhower and Cambodia. Diplomacy, Covert Action, and the Origins of the Second Indochina War . University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA 2016.
  • David Halberstam, Vietnam or Will the jungle be defoliated? Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1965 (slightly abbreviated German translation from the American version of "The Making of the Quagmire"). [See also footnote 263 here]
  • Mitchell K. Hall: The Vietnam War (Seminar Studies in History). Longman, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4058-2470-5 .
  • Jonathan Neale: The American War. Vietnam 1960–1975. Atlantik-Verlag, Bremen 2004, ISBN 3-926529-17-2 .
  • Marilyn B. Young, Robert Buzzanco: A Companion to the Vietnam War. Blackwell, 2002, ISBN 0-631-21013-X .
  • George C. Herring: America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. 4th edition. Dushkin / Mcgraw-Hill, 2001, ISBN 0-07-253618-7 .
  • Robert D. Schulzinger: A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975. New edition. Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-512501-0 .
  • Paul Elliott: Vietnam - Conflict & Controversy. 1998, ISBN 1-85409-320-7 .
  • Stanley Karnow : Vietnam, a history. Penguin Books, New York 1997, ISBN 0-670-74604-5 .
  • Robert S. McNamara, Brian VanDeMark: Vietnam. The trauma of a world power. Spiegel-Buchverlag, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-455-11139-4 .
  • Guenter Lewy: America in Vietnam. Oxford University Press, 1978, ISBN 0-19-502732-9 .
Vietnamese authors
  • Lien-Hang T. Nguyen: Hanoi's War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2012, ISBN 978-0-8078-3551-7 .
  • Cheng Guan Ang: The Vietnam War from the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists' Perspective. Routledge Curzon, 2002, ISBN 0-7007-1615-7 .


  • Jan Berry, WD Ehrhart: Demilitarized Zones - Veterans after Vietnam , East River Anthology 1976, Perkasie, Pa. 18944, USA, ISBN 0-917238-01-X .
  • George J. Veith: Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75. Encounter Books, New York 2011, ISBN 978-1-59403-572-2 .
  • Shelby L. Stanton, William C. Westmoreland (Eds.): Vietnam Order of Battle: A Complete Illustrated Reference to US Army Combat and Support Forces in Vietnam, 1961–1973. Stackpole, 2003, ISBN 0-8117-0071-2 .
  • Tim Page: Another Vietnam. Images of the war from the other side. National Geographic, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-934385-65-6 .
  • Gabriel Kolko: Anatomy of a War. Vietnam, the United States and the Modern Historical Experience. 2001, ISBN 1-84212-286-X .
  • Walter L. Hixson (Ed.): The Vietnam War: The Diplomacy of War. Routledge Chapman & Hall, 2000, ISBN 0-8153-3534-2 ( online excerpt ).
  • Fredrik Logevall: Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam. University of California Press, Berkeley 1999, ISBN 0-520-21511-7 .
  • John Prados: The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. John Wiley & Sons, New York 1998, ISBN 0-471-25465-7 .
  • Gabriel Kolko: Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace. 1997, ISBN 0-415-15990-3 .
  • Ronald Spector: After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam. The Free Press, New York 1993, ISBN 0-02-930380-X .
  • Ken Wachsberger, Sanford Berman: Voices from the Underground: Insider histories of the Vietnam era underground press. Mica Press, 1993, ISBN 1-879461-03-X .
  • Neil Sheehan: The Big Lie. John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Europaverlag, Vienna / Zurich 1992, ISBN 3-203-51149-5 .
  • William Appleman Williams: America in Vietnam: A Documentary History. 1989, ISBN 0-385-19752-7 .
  • Terrence Maitland: Raising the Stakes. Boston Publishing Company, Boston 1982, ISBN 0-201-11262-0 .
  • Dan Oberdorfer: Tet! The Turning Point in the Vietnam War. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1971, ISBN 0-8018-6703-7 .

War Crimes - Consequences of War

  • Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Metropolitan Books, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-8050-8691-1 .
  • David Zierler: Inventing Ecocide: Agent Orange, Antiwar Protest, and Environmental Destruction in Vietnam. Proquest, 2011, ISBN 978-1-243-97298-9 .
  • Bernd Greiner : War without fronts. The USA in Vietnam. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-936096-80-4 .
  • Peter Jaeggi: When my child was born, I was very sad. Long-term consequences of the use of chemical weapons in the Vietnam War. Lenos-Verlag, Basel 2000, ISBN 3-85787-298-5 .
  • David Fulghum, Terrence Maitland: South Vietnam On Trial: Mid-1970 to 1972. Boston Publishing Company, Boston 1984, ISBN 0-939526-10-7 .
  • Warren Hinckle, Steven Chain, David Goldstein (Mithrsg.): Guerrilla war in the USA. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-421-01592-9 .


Historiographic reception

Artistic reception

  • Jan Berry, WD Ehrhart (Ed.): Demilitarized Zones , East River Anthology of poems, 1976, Perkasie, Pa. USA, ISBN 0-917238-01-X .
  • Mark Heberle (Ed.): Thirty years after: new essays on Vietnam war literature, film, and art. Cambridge Scholars, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4438-0123-2 .
  • Lee Andresen: Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War. Savage Press, 2003, ISBN 1-886028-60-5 .
  • Nora M. Age: Vietnam Protest Theater: The Television War on Stage. Indiana University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-253-33032-7 .
  • Linda Michaud, Gene Dittmar: From Hanoi to Hollywood. The Vietnam War in American Film. Rutgers University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8135-1587-4 .
  • Peter Weiss : Viet Nam Discourse. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 1968.
Hyeong Shik Kim: Peter Weiss' "Viet Nam Discourse": Possibilities and Forms of Engagement for the Third World. Peter Lang, 1992, ISBN 3-631-44879-1 .
  • Lucy R. Lippard (Ed.): A different war: Vietnam in art. Whatcom Museum of History and Art, 1990, ISBN 0-941104-43-5 .

Web links

Commons : Vietnam War  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files
Wiktionary: Vietnam War  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations



US military perspective

Vietnamese point of view

War crimes

Historical research

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Australian casualties in the Vietnam War, 1962–72 | Australian War Memorial . Retrieved June 29, 2013.
  2. ^ Donald E. Schmidt: The Folly of War - American Foreign Policy, 1898-2004. Algora Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0-87586-383-3 , p. 270.
  3. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 16.
  4. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 20.
  5. ^ Larry H. Addington: America's War in Vietnam: A Short Narrative History. Indiana University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-253-21360-6 , p. 37.
  6. Jean-Louis Margolin: Vietnam: The Dead End of War Communism. In: Stéphane Courtois (ed.): The black book of communism . Munich 1998, pp. 634-636.
  7. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, pp. 36-40.
  8. James S. Olson, Randy W. Roberts: Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam 1945-1995. 5th edition. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, ISBN 978-1-4443-5841-4 , p. 1950.
  9. Lawrence Freedmann: Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. Oxford University Press, p. 293.
  10. ^ Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, p. 1159.
  11. ^ A b Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, p. 199.
  12. ^ Andreas Daum: America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-00876-X , p. 28.
  13. Stein Toenesson: Franklin Roosevelt, Trusteeschip, and Indochina. In: Mark Atwood Lawrence, Fredrik Logevall: The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis. Harvard University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-674-02371-0 , pp. 56-73.
  14. ^ Mark Philip Bradley, John Lewis Gaddis: Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950. 2000, p. 104.
  15. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 18.
  16. ^ Joo-Hong Nam: America's Commitment to South Korea: The First Decade of the Nixon Doctrine. Cambridge Books, 2009, ISBN 978-0-521-12544-4 , p. 55.
  17. David L. Anderson (Ed.): The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. Columbia University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-231-13480-4 , p. 27.
  18. ^ Guenter Lewy: America in Vietnam. 1992, p. 4.
  19. ^ Larry H. Addington: America's War in Vietnam: A Short Narrative History. 2000, p. 37.
  20. ^ Nguyen Anh Tuan: America Coming to Terms. The Vietnam Legacy: Years of Trials and Lessons of Experience. 2008, p. 56.
  21. ^ Andreas Daum: America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives. 2003, p. 47.
  22. ^ Nguyen Anh Tuan: America Coming to Terms. The Vietnam Legacy: Years of Trials and Lessons of Experience. Xlibris, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4363-2943-9 , p. 53.
  23. ^ Guenter Lewy: America in Vietnam. 1992, p. 5.
  24. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, pp. 26–28.
  25. ^ Marvin Kalb: The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed. Brookings Institution Press, 2013, ISBN 978-0-8157-2493-3 , pp. 39-43.
  26. ^ Larry H. Addington: America's War in Vietnam: A Short Narrative History. 2000, p. 47.
  27. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 47.
  28. ^ Seth Jacobs: Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006, ISBN 0-7425-4448-6 , p. 56.
  29. ^ Seth Jacobs: Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. 2006, pp. 60-82.
  30. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, pp. 54–63.
  31. ^ A b c Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, introduction p. Xli
  32. ^ Seth Jacobs: Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. 2006, p. 85.
  33. ^ Seth Jacobs: Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. 2006, p. 90.
  34. ^ Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, p. 769.
  35. ^ Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, p. 234.
  36. ^ Spencer C. Tucker: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. A Political, Social, and Military History. 2011, p. 1170.
  37. ^ A b Arno Kohl: Domino theory and American policy on Vietnam 1954–1961 . A case study on the role of models in international politics. Freiburg im Breisgau July 2, 2001, p. 32 ( PDF 4MB, 358 pp. [Accessed on June 12, 2011] Inaugural dissertation to obtain a doctorate from the Philosophical Faculties of the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg ).
  38. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 66.
  39. ^ Seth Jacobs: Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. 2006 p. 90.
  40. ^ Robert S. McNamara, Robert K. Brigham, James G. Blight: Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy. PublicAffairs, 1999, ISBN 1-891620-22-3 p. 161.
  41. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. Munich 2006, p. 107. According to other information, North Vietnam sent around 80,000 fighters to the south by 1964: Gordon Rottman, Howard Gerrard: Viet Cong Fighter (Warrior). 2007 p. 6.
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  44. ^ David WP Elliott: The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975. ME Sharpe, 2006, ISBN 0-7656-0603-8 p. 135.
  45. ^ Gordon Rottman, Howard Gerrard: Viet Cong Fighter (Warrior). Osprey Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84603-126-7 p. 5 f.
  46. Howard Zinn: A History of the American People. Berlin 2007, p. 463.
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  50. ^ Edwin E. Moise: Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. University of North Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 3 f.
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  52. ^ Burchett: Partisans versus Generals. P. 128.
  53. David L. Anderson (Ed.): The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. 2010, p. 37.
  54. National Security Action Memorandum No. 263
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  56. Eugene L. Solomon: Lies and Deceits. iUniverse, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4401-9809-0 pp. 493. - 499
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  59. ^ Frank J. Coppa: Encyclopedia of Modern Dictators: From Napoleon to the Present. Peter Lang, 2006, ISBN 0-8204-5010-3 p. 82 f.
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  63. Eric Alterman: When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. Penguin, Reprint 2005, ISBN 0-14-303604-1 p. 195.
  64. Eugene L. Solomon: Lies and Deceits. 2010, p. 500.
  65. ^ Scott Shane (New York Times, December 2, 2005): Vietnam War Intelligence, 'Deliberately Skewed,' Secret Study Says
  66. John Hart Ely: War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath. Princeton University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-691-02552-5 , p. 20.
  67. ^ Edwin E. Moise: Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8078-2300-7 , Introduction pp. I-XI, pp. 28-30.
  68. ^ Eugene Secunda, Terence P. Moran: Selling War to America: From the Spanish American War to the Global War on Terror. Praeger Frederick, 2007, ISBN 978-0-275-99523-2 , p. 99.
  69. Jayne Werner, David Hunt (Ed.): The American War in Vietnam. Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1993, ISBN 0-87727-131-3 , pp. 9 f.
  70. Eric Alterman: When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. Reprint 2005, p. 214.
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  72. ^ Christine Bragg: Heinemann Advanced History: Vietnam, Korea and US Foreign Policy 1945-75. Pearson Education, 2006, ISBN 0-435-32708-9 p. 126.
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  75. Marc Frey: History of the Vietnam War. 2011, p. 112f. and 203 f.
  76. The Journal of Military History, Vol. 67, Number 1, January 2003, pp. 184 f.
  77. Kim Il Sung, Works , Volume 19, Pjongjang: Verlag für foreign language literature, 1984, p. 384; P. 411.
  78. Access: May 30, 2017
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  80. Winfried Heinemann: The GDR and its military. Oldenbourg, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-486-70443-3 , p. 194.
  81. Klaus Storkmann: Secret Solidarity: Military Relations and Military Aid of the GDR in the "Third World". Christian Links, 2012, ISBN 978-3-86153-676-5 p. 33, fn. 128 and p. 392.
  82. ^ Sylvia Ellis: Britain, America, and the Vietnam War. Praeger Frederick, 2004, ISBN 0-275-97381-6 , pp. 4-6.
  83. David L. Anderson, John Ernst: The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War. University Press of Kentucky, 2007, ISBN 978-0-8131-2473-5 pp. 63-70. ; on Australia, see The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975 .
  84. ^ Robert M. Blackburn: Mercenaries and Lyndon Johnson's "More Flags": The Hiring of Korean, Filipino and Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War. McFarland & Company, 1994, ISBN 0-89950-931-2 , p. 158; table
  85. Lawrence S. Kaplan: NATO Divided, NATO United: The Evolution of an Alliance. Praeger, 2004, ISBN 0-275-98377-3 , pp. 44-48.
  86. ^ Thomas Alan Schwartz: Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam. Harvard University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-674-01074-4 pp. 87 f.
  87. Nicola H. Kowski: No "Adventure" - The Limits of Federal German Solidarity in the Transatlantic Partnership. In: Thomas Stahl (Ed.): Historische Streiflichter; Festschrift for Ingeborg Koza on his 65th birthday. Lit Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3-8258-7895-3 pp. 58-61.
  88. Hubert Zimmermann: Who Paid for America's War? Vietnam and the International Monetary System, 1960-1975. In: Andreas W. Daum: America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-00876-X , pp. 151-174, here: p. 170.
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  93. International Commission of Control and Supervision
  94. International Commission for Supervision and Control - Vietnam (ICSC - Vietnam)
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