While our Vietnam War section concentrates on the time period from 1960 to 1975, you will find material on the French involvement as well as the events after the fall of Saigon.
From an American viewpoint, the Vietnam War is not well understood. Even though it was part of the American daily life for some fifteen years, there is no consensus as to its purpose and result. Some Americans believe that Vietnam was a national policy blunder costing some 58,000 American lives and billions of tax dollars. That it divided the country at a time when it most needed to be unified leaving scars that are yet to be healed. Others believe the war was a noble cause similar to the United Nations effort that kept South Korea free.
A brief look at the war itself reveals that it started out rather benignly with the sending of American advisors to assist the South Vietnamese train its growing army. The stated objective was to allow the South Vietnamese Army to resist aggression from the North and to preserve their sovereignty as a democratic nation.
As time passed and American administrations changed, the roles changed until it became an American led and financed conflict. The number of American combat troops increased dramatically and a massive air war was executed in an attempt to interdict the escalating resupply of the North Vietnamese divisions in the South. The South Vietnamese received financial aid from a number of nations; and Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and others contributed manpower. However, the war was predominately an American show.
As the 1960s wore on, the war divided the United States. Protests and riots erupted. Politicians straddled both sides.
By the late 1960s, the American government realizing that the conflict would be endless, entered into negotiations with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in Paris. As a show of good faith, the American combat strategy evolved into a mostly defensive operation. The resultant deleterious effect on troop morale made the situation on the ground worse.
When, in the early 1970s, a peace agreement was reached, the American Congress, anxious to be rid of the divisive issue of Vietnam, slowly pulled logistical aid from the South Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese, disregarding many parts of the agreement, overran the remaining areas controlled by South Vietnam.
In April 1975, Saigon (the South Vietnamese capital) fell and the triumph of North over South was complete. A flood of refugees arrived overland in Thailand. Many others fled in small boats. Those who weren't lost at sea sought asylum in a number of countries. The United States took many refugees.
The war had ended but the pain and confusion from this misunderstood war remains to this day.
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Introduction by Jay Schroeder