The Vietnam War was a long conflict in Southeast Asia. It began in 1954, after the country of Vietnam was split into two parts, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam wanted to reunite the country under Communism, its political and economic system. South Vietnam fought to keep this from happening. The United States helped South Vietnam, but North Vietnam won the war in 1975. Soon Vietnam was a united, Communist country.
The Vietnam War had a huge cost in human lives. More than 1.3 million Vietnamese soldiers and about 58,000 U.S. troops were killed. More than 2 million civilians (people not fighting the war) also died.
Vietnam had many troubles before the Vietnam War. In the early 1900s the country was part of a French colony. Japan seized the colony in 1940 and held it until 1945. Then a Vietnamese group called the Viet Minh declared Vietnam’s independence. But the French still wanted to rule Vietnam as a colony. The two sides fought an eight-year war, called the French Indochina War. The Viet Minh defeated the French in 1954.
France and the Viet Minh then took part in a meeting to decide what would happen to Vietnam. People from the United States, the Soviet Union, and several other countries also participated. The meeting divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam. The Viet Minh got control of North Vietnam. A Communist named Ho Chi Minh was the president. The Vietnamese who had supported the French got control of South Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem, who opposed Communism, led the south. The French soon left the country.
By 1957 Communist rebels in South Vietnam had begun fighting Diem’s government. They were called the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong hid by day and attacked by night. The North Vietnamese army trained and supported the Viet Cong. Communist fighters from the north later joined the fighting themselves.
The United States supported Diem because U.S. leaders hated Communism. U.S. military advisers trained the South Vietnamese army. Nevertheless, the Viet Cong seized control of much of South Vietnam in the early 1960s.
Meanwhile Diem was losing support among the South Vietnamese people. One reason was his harsh treatment of followers of the Buddhist religion. Most Vietnamese were Buddhist, but Diem was a Roman Catholic. Diem imprisoned and killed hundreds of Buddhists. More and more people turned against him. In 1963 members of the South Vietnamese army murdered Diem. A group of army officers took over the government.
The United States continued to help South Vietnam. In August 1964 the North Vietnamese attacked a U.S. warship in a waterway called the Gulf of Tonkin. Afterward the U.S. Congress gave President Lyndon B. Johnson the power to expand the U.S. role in the war.
By 1968 the United States had more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam. Small units from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines also helped the South Vietnamese. The Communist governments of the Soviet Union and China supported North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on highways and bridges in North Vietnam. The United States also bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a Viet Cong supply road in Laos and Cambodia. Soon U.S. bombers were striking Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities.
In February 1968, during a Vietnamese holiday called Tet, the Communists attacked about 30 cities in South Vietnam. The Viet Cong suffered heavy losses in these battles. But many U.S. soldiers died, too. Some people in the United States started to think that the war could not be won. Other people protested the war.
In 1968 President Johnson gradually ended the bombing of North Vietnam. Peace talks began. In 1969 Richard M. Nixon became president. Nixon began to remove U.S. troops from Vietnam. But he also started bombing North Vietnam again, and he expanded the war to neighboring countries. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops attacked North Vietnamese and Viet Cong hiding places in Cambodia and Laos.
In January 1973 North and South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the United States signed an agreement to stop fighting. The United States then removed almost all its troops from Vietnam. But the war did not end. The United States continued to give money and equipment to South Vietnam.
In August 1974 the United States cut back its military aid to the south. The South Vietnamese army fell apart quickly after that. In 1975 the North Vietnamese launched a massive invasion of South Vietnam.
North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, on April 30, 1975. The war was over, and the Communists had won. In 1976 they combined North and South Vietnam into one country, called Vietnam. They made Hanoi the capital. They renamed Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City in honor of Ho, who had died in 1969.