Vietnam War facts
Vietnam War facts

43 Essential Facts about the Vietnam War

By Nathan James, Associate Writer
Published May 29, 2018
  • The Vietnam War was a military conflict between North Vietnam and U.S.-aided South Vietnam from 1955–1975. The conflict has deep historical roots, most recently the First Indochina War between the communist North and the French-backed South, and the subsequent splitting of Vietnam into North and South.[9]
  • The United States grew interested in the political situation in Vietnam because of the perceived growing threat of global communism. American leaders viewed North Vietnam, led by communist Ho Chi Minh, as an ideological threat to the surrounding region.[9]
  • Vietnam has been subject to many foreign powers. The country was a part of Imperial China until it gained independence in 939 AD. It was colonized by the French in the late 1800s and invaded by Japan and the United States in the 20th century.[9]
  • Historians of the Vietnam War point to many misconceptions on the part of the United States that contributed to U.S. failure in the war, the most serious of which was a severe lack of understanding of Vietnamese history and society.[9]
  • In total, 8,744,000 U.S. combat troops fought in the Vietnam War.[10]
  • The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war in United States history. Its unpopularity helped to shape the turbulent social movements of the 1960s and led to deep divisions within the nation.[9]
  • Ho Chi Minh
    Ho Chi Minh had many names and nearly as many political identities
  • The leader of North Vietnam, Nguyễn Sinh Cung, better known by the pseudonym Ho Chi Minh, was the president of communist North Vietnam from 1954 to 1965. Educated in France and the Soviet Union, Ho Chi Minh was a devoted communist and savvy political operator who often presented himself as a nationalist in order to gain popular support.[9]
  • Leaders of the free world feared a "domino effect" regarding the spread of communism. This theory held that if communism took root in one country, it would soon spread to others, in this case, neighboring nations like Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.[9]
  • An estimated 1.3 million military combatants died in the Vietnam War, from all countries involved, as well as 1 million civilians.[10]
  • The United States won virtually every major battle it fought against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, but it still lost the war through a combination of factors such as political restrictions on military activity, a lack of sufficient understanding of the Vietnamese people, and social backlash against the war in the States.[9]
  • Many U.S. leaders labored under the delusion that Vietnam was a small country and could be easily controlled. In fact, Vietnam is nearly the size of Germany and has a huge population.[9]
  • Television broadcasts of battles and general conditions in Vietnam played a large role in souring U.S. public opinion on the conflict.[9]
  • Vietnam War Soldier
    Some never made it home
  • The number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War is 58,220. The number of MIA/POW at the war's end was 2,646, and as of January 2018, 1,601 soldiers remain unaccounted for.[10]
  • The Tet Offensive, which began January 30, 1968, was the largest offensive of the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces began a coordinated series of attacks against key South Vietnamese targets on the Vietnamese new year.[9]
  • Though the United States and South Vietnamese forces pushed back the Tet Offensive, the swiftness and ferocity of the attack led to a turn in popular opinion of the war in the United States. American citizens felt they had been misinformed of the true progress of the war, and that victory was not, in fact, within easy reach.[9]
  • The guerrilla warfare that characterized the Vietnam War often resulted in civilian massacres, as it was difficult to distinguish friendly South Vietnamese from the Communist Viet Cong spread throughout the South.[9]
  • Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea also sent troops to aid South Vietnam in their struggle against the North.[6]
  • A 1980 Veterans Administration survey revealed that 82% of U.S. combatants in Vietnam felt that the war had been lost because the U.S. government had hamstrung their efforts, not allowing them to win.[9]
  • One of the worst recorded incidents in the Vietnam War is the My Lai Massacre. The United States military command ordered U.S. soldiers to attack a village believed to be filled with Viet Cong. The village was actually occupied mainly by women, children, and elderly men. American troops massacred over 500 civilians in the ensuing attack.[5]
  • My Lai Massacre
    Scenes such as this flashed across American television screens, prompting social backlash

  • The Vietnam War left deeps marks on the American psyche, especially the soldiers, leading to the creation of a number of books and films exploring the war's social and emotional ramifications. Notable books include The Things They Carried and We Were Soldiers Once...And Young. Films include First Blood, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and Apocalypse Now.[6]
  • The Pentagon Papers were a series of documents containing classified information on the progress and status of the war in Vietnam. They were released to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, an employee at the Department of Defense, when he became convinced that the war was unwinnable.[7]
  • The release of the Pentagon Papers to the public caused massive outrage, particularly over the news that the Kennedy administration had helped coordinate the military coup of 1963 and the assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm, as well as the reports that U.S. bombing of the North had done little to negatively impact North Korea's resolve.[7]
  • HoChi Minh Trail
    The trail ran from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam
  • One of North Vietnam's most important assets during the war was the "Ho Chi Minh Trail," a network of roads leading from North Vietnam into central South Vietnam, along which they transported soldiers, arms, and supplies to the Viet Cong in the South.[9]
  • American and South Vietnamese forces relied heavily on air power during the war. The B-52 heavy bomber, F4 Phantom, and Bell UH-1 guaranteed American superiority in the air.[11]
  • The majority of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armaments were manufactured by China and the Soviet Union.[11]
  • A controversial tool used during the Vietnam War was "Agent Orange," a defoliant designed to strip away forest cover used by enemy guerrilla troops. After the war, the chemical mixture was found to cause tumors, birth defects, and other maladies, which both returning U.S. soldiers and many Vietnamese suffered from.[11]
  • Vietnam protesters often falsely claimed that the draft unfairly targeted minorities. In fact, over 80% of draftees were white, and 10-15% were African American, which was reflective of the relative population levels at the time.[8]
  • The splitting of Vietnam along the 17th parallel by the 1954 Geneva Conference was intended as a temporary measure, with elections planned in 1955 to reunify the country. The United States feared that Ho Chi Minh would win the national election, and thus helped the authoritarian Ngô Đình Diệm to take power in the South.[2]
  • Vietnam Agent Orange
    The Vietnamese are still feeling the horrific effects of Agent Orange
  • To this day, children in Vietnam are being born with horrific birth defects from the lingering effects of “Agent Orange,” an herbicide used by the U.S. military to destroy forest cover used by Viet Cong forces.[1]
  • A 2015 federal study of Vietnam War veterans found that nearly 300,000 veterans suffer from daily health problems, whether physical or emotional, as a result of their experiences in the war.[12]
  • The Vietnam War was instrumental in raising consciousness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was only recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a legitimate malady in 1980.[9]
  • The bitter controversy surrounding the Vietnam War led many soldiers to feel unwelcome upon their return home. There are many stories of anti-war protesters spitting on soldiers upon their return. It is difficult, however, to separate fact from hyperbole in the midst of such social and emotional tumult.[4]
  • The standard rifle used by U.S. ground troops was the M-16 rifle, while the communist forces used Russian-made AK-47s. The M-16 was less durable and generally inferior to the AK-47, which U.S. soldiers would take from fallen foes.[8][9][11]
  • Vietnam AK-47
    The Soviet-made AK-47 had a reputation for being nearly indestructible

  • Many soldiers returning from the war felt they had been betrayed at home by liberals, hippies, and feminists who had undermined U.S. morale and the will to keep fighting, and the government, which had caved to social pressure.[4]
  • American actress Jane Fonda was an outspoken anti-war activist, going so far as to travel to North Vietnam. She was photographed by an anti-aircraft gun, which outraged many people, some calling her actions treasonous. This trip earned her the nickname "Hanoi Jane."[3]
  • The Gulf of Tonkin incident was the purported justification for increased U.S. involvement in the war. In August of 1964, the U.S. Destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy engaged in a firefight with North Vietnamese submarines. Most historians believe that the true nature of the engagement misrepresented to the American public and utilized, perhaps unjustly, by President Johnson as a causus belli.[2]
  • Vietnam punji trap
    In addition to punji stakes, trip wires and crude explosive traps were constant dangers
  • Pits filled with spiked bamboo and covered over with leaves, called "punji pits," were common hazards faced by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.[11]
  • South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệm was assassinated on November 2, 1963, a mere twenty days before President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.[6]
  • The United States and South Vietnamese troops faced a two-pronged adversary: the North Vietnamese army and the National Liberation Front, better known as the Việt Cộng, South Vietnamese communists who used guerrilla tactics against U.S. forces.[9]
  • More than 3/4 of U.S. soldiers volunteered for the war. Only 1.8 million out of the total 8.7 million who served were drafted.[8]
  • In Vietnam, the common name for the war is Kháng chiến chống Mỹ, or the "Resistance War Against America."[6]
  • Completed in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, commemorates the soldiers who died or went missing in action during the war. Inscribed on two long black walls made of gabbro stone are 58,313 names.[6]
  • The Vietnam War dragged on for a variety of reasons, including the difficult, heavily forested terrain, the guerrilla tactics of the communist forces, and hesitant U.S. leadership restricting the army's options for decisive action.[9]
  • Key Dates in the Vietnam War
    YearEvents
    1885-1940France colonises the Indochina peninsula and divides Vietnam into three provinces: Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina.
    1940Japan conquers French Indochina.
    1945WWII ends. The defeated Japanese declare an independent Vietnam ruled by Emperor Bao Dai. French troops return. Ho Chi Minh's communist Viet Minh establishes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North.
    1946-54First Indonchina War rages for eight years between French and Vietnamese loyalists in the South and the Viet Minh in the North.
    1954The Viet Nimh defeat the French in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Geneva Conference splits Vietnam along the 17th parallel, into the Northern communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the Southern State of Vietnam, under Bao Dai.
    1955Bao Dai is deposed and replaced by nationalist leader Ngô Đình Diệm, who is favored by the U.S. The South "State of Vietnam" is renamed the Republic of Vietnam. South Vietnam requests U.S. military instructors, which are provided.
    1961President Kennedy increases military aid to South Vietnam, but does not commit US combat troops.
    1963Battle of Ấp Bắc is fought on Jan. 2. U.S. military leaders predict American military involvment to end by 1965, and announce military personnel withdrawal. Buddhist monks commit suicide by setting themselves on fire in opposition to Diem's oppressive rule. A CIA-backed military coup ends in Diem's assassination. He is replaced by Duong Van Minh.
    1964Gulf of Tonkin Incident occurs August 2-4. In August, U.S. Congress passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the president wide powers to conduct the war in Vietnam. By the year's end, U.S. military strength in Vietnam is at 23,000.
    1965Bombing operation of North Vietnam "Rolling Thunder" begun. Total U.S strength by year's end is 181,000.
    1966Total U.S. military strength in Vietnam rises to 385,000.
    1967Operation "Junction City." U.S. strength is at 486,000 by year's end.
    1968The "Tet Offensive" begins on January 30th, a coordinated attack on key South Vietnamese positions by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The attack shocks the American public, and support for the war drops. President Johnson restricts U.S. bombing operations and announces he will not seek re-election. Richard Nixon is elected and promises gradual troop withdrawal. U.S. strength at year's end stands at 536,100.
    1969Ho Chi Minh dies. War protests sweep across the U.S.
    1970U.S. troops participate in a South Vietnamese offensive in Cambodia. Congress repeals the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. U.S. student protests continue on college campuses around the country.
    1971Over 500,000 anti-war protestors march in Washington D.C. The New York Times releases the "Pentagon Papers."
    1972North Vietnamese forces invade South Vietnam. The final American ground troops withdraw. 43,500 support personnel remain.
    1973President Nixon suspends military operations on January 15. The Paris Peace Accord is signed on January 27, and the war officially ends
    1975North Vietnam takes Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, and take control of the country. Saigon is renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
    Important Vietnam War Facts INFOGRAPHIC
    Vietnam War Thumbnail
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