The Vietnam War was a conflict that raged for 20 years and goes under many names depending on which country is talking about it. While the U.S.’s involvement has become a major part of their modern history when they first started deploying forces in 1965 the country of Vietnam had already been at war for a decade with French soldiers who had colonized Indochina.
The fight, in the beginning, was an independence movement versus French colonizers however because of tensions rising up during the Cold War and the fierce standoff between communist nations and capitalist democracies. The United States worried as the strongest rebel forces were the Communists, and worried about influence from China and Russia resulting in them getting involved in 1965.
They propped up the South Vietnamese government while the communist north continued the fight, believing all of Vietnam should be under one Vietnamese government.
The U.S. involvement started with just a couple thousand advisers but with multiple presidents, the numbers were ramped up and it wasn’t long before the Vietnam conflict was a full-out war in everything but name. The heaviest of the fighting took place in the mid and late sixties.
The demand for large numbers of troops, as well as declining voluntary sign-ups and many veterans coming home and walking away from the military, meant there was a giant need for more soldiers and a lack of options. This led to the draft being implemented, the last time that this has occurred to date in the United States.
The struggle was working on the basis of fighting a defensive war and in support of regular South Vietnam forces, which often put U.S. forces at a severe disadvantage since they couldn’t attack due to the world political stage and fear of pulling China directly into the war, as happened during the Korean War.
Historians in the decades since have also pointed to frequently shifting strategies from presidents who managed the overall strategy too closely as another reason that really potentially hamstrung officers on the ground.
The Tet Offensive
The Tet Offensive took place in 1967 and is the most famous series of battles in the history of the Vietnam War. This was a mass surprise attack by North Vietnamese forces on the Tet holiday. This is often pointed to as a major turning point in the war.
The hope from the north was to create a mass uprising that would force a quick end to the war either in the initial push or the two coordinated around the nation attacks that would follow.
What is really interesting studying this historically is that strategically the Tet Offensive was a disaster for the North as they took insane losses, made few gains, did not cause an uprising, and couldn’t keep any of the gains. The two follow-ups were even far less effective.
However in terms of public relation and turning media opinion as well as killing morale, it was stunning victory and changed many opinions back in the U.S. about the war.
Within the year of the United States leaving in 1975 Vietnam would be a single united nation underneath a Communist government. The repercussions back home of injured veterans, future policy decisions, and confrontation strategy during the Cold War could be felt decades later.
Ironically over the next 40 years, although Vietnam remains technically a one-party Communist country to this day, they are very much a capitalist economy and society in practice.