The war in Vietnam was the second longest war in United States’ history and cer-
tainly one of the most contentious. The fighting between the United States and the
government of South Vietnam on one side and North Vietnam and the Viet Cong
(VC) on the other lasted from the mid-1950s ­ until the mid-1970s and spread into
Laos and Cambodia.
The genesis of U.S. involvement in Vietnam can be found in the confrontation
that developed between East and West following the end of World War II. The
United States first became involved in Vietnam in 1950 when it began supporting
France in the latter’s effort to defend its colonial presence in Vietnam. With the emer-
gence of the Cold War, the United States turned to a policy of containment to ­
counter what was perceived as the spread of Communism. Support for the French
was seen as a way to contain Communism in Southeast Asia. Despite more than
$2.6 billion in American military aid, the French ­ were eventually defeated by the
Communist-­dominated Viet Minh. The subsequent Geneva Conference in 1954
resulted in the temporary partition of Vietnam along the 17th Parallel, essentially
establishing two Vietnams, with Ho Chi Minh’s Demo­cratic Republic of Vietnam
(DRV) holding sway in the north and the non-­Communist State of Vietnam in the
south ­under Emperor Bao Dai.
This resulted in the next phase of the war in which, for the better part of the
next 10 years, the United States would support the government of Ngo Din Diem,
Bao Dai’s prime minister, who succeeded him in 1955 ­ after a questionable national
election. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his successor, John F. Kennedy, threw
their support ­ behind Diem in the hopes that he and a non-­Communist Republic of
Vietnam would act as a counterweight to the Communist-­controlled North. Diem’s
corrupt and unpop­u­lar regime was unable to deal with the insurgency that grew in
the south ­after Diem refused to conduct the elections in 1956 that had been called
for by the Geneva Accords. The United States supported Diem in this decision and
mounted a significant effort to build South Viet­nam­ese forces capable of defending
against the insurgency.
Diem launched a military campaign against the former Viet Minh cadres left in
the south. The Communist Party in Hanoi, focused on rebuilding the war-­torn
North, initially favored maintaining a po­liti­cal emphasis over military action in the
South and hoped to cause the collapse of the Diem regime by increasing internal
po­liti­cal pressure. Nevertheless, fighting broke out in 1957 when Diem sent his
troops into the Communist strongholds. Throughout the rest of 1957 and into 1958,
Diem’s forces ­ were successful in ­ these operations, killing or capturing a large num-
ber of suspected Communists.
Previous Page Next Page