A war that started for independence soon turned into a brutal battle of ideologies amidst the residues of the Second World War and the Cold War agitation. The Vietnam War followed a common behavioural and consequential pattern of the 19th and 20th-century wars - a civil proxy war ignited and amplified by Western interests. It can be said that the flag bearers of democratic ideals, with the ideas of ‘choice’ and ‘liberty’ lying at the heart of their ideology, were profoundly selective with these ideals.
Starting with the French Colonial rule, sliding into Japanese invasion during the Second World War, and finally, in a war of ideologies magnified by the ongoing Cold War, the Vietnam war left more than 3 million people slain. The onset of the Vietnam War was shepherded by the quest for an independent Vietnam from the French Colonisers. Throughout these phases, one name and one goal were persistent- Ho Chi Minh and his idea of a ‘United Vietnam’.
The French colonized Vietnam in the mid 19th century under their Indo-china imperialist vision. Like all colonies, the Vietnamese dreamt of an independent Vietnam only to fall prey to more wars and destruction. During the Second World War, European colonies had to bear the consequences of the power struggle among their colonizers. While most colonies managed to gain independence after years of devastation, some of them had to give up their ideas of a ‘united decolonized country’.
Japan invaded Allied France’s colony Vietnam in 1940 as an undeclared military confrontation against France. In retaliation, Ho Chi Minh founded a revolutionary movement called Viet Minh (the Vietnam Independence League). It not only condemned French colonialism but also aimed to push back at the Japanese invaders. It was the Pearl Harbour attack that made the USA enter this war. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) aided the Viet Minh with weapons and artillery. Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Consequently, on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh took control of the North and declared Vietnam as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with Hanoi as its capital. The southern part of Vietnam was still under the influence of the French.
Ho was a communist, inspired by the writings of Lenin and his socialist goals.
The earlier impressed United States now feared another communist uprising at a time when communist influence was increasing in Eastern Europe. America’s policy of ‘domino effect’ now extended to this Southeast Asian region. The principal idea of the domino effect in the Cold War was that if one country (domino) fell under communism, all other countries surrounding it would experience the same ascendance. This foreign policy influenced Vietnam at a time when Ho Chi Minh’s government got recognition from China, where Mao Zedong announced the victory of communism in China. Thus, the USA again sent military aid to Vietnam, but this time it was against Ho Chi Minh and his communist motives.
Making a crack through guerilla warfare tactics inspired by Mao’s uprisings in China, the Viet Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, a French stronghold besieged by the Vietnamese communists for 57 days in 1953. This marked the setting of French colonial rule in Vietnam and led to the subsequent treaty being signed at the Geneva Conference in 1954, splitting Vietnam into two distinct North and South, divided by the 17th parallel.
Many people fled to the South which came to be known as the Republic of Vietnam with Ngo Dinh Diem as the President. Diem assumed dictatorial powers and called all his dissents as sympathizers of Vietnam communism - Viet Cong, who were suppressed by Diem’s regime. On the other hand, North Vietnam was undergoing land reforms. The goal of a united Vietnam was continual for Ho Chi Minh and thus was not satisfied with the split even if it ensured peace. The Viet Cong headed South to break the peace which led to another important phase in the Vietnam War.
Under John F. Kennedy’s presidency, military funding to South Vietnam, trained troops, and war tactics were once again used under the domino effect policy. The Viet Cong, on the other hand, received aid from China. Thus, Vietnam again became the ground for an ideological battle.
The rising dictatorship in the South led to a military coup in 1963 when Diem was overthrown and assassinated by a group of Army of the Republic of Vietnam, making the Viet Cong stronger. It was in the same year that J. F. Kennedy was also assassinated, and the presidency was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson. The year also witnessed the Gulf of Tonkin confrontation when the United States Ship, Maddox, was unprecedentedly attacked by the North Vietnamese. This led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which amplified the powers of the USA to use force against the Viet Cong.
Multiple attacks, unprecedented confrontations, and guerilla warfare tactics led to a major conflict that came to be known as ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ (1965). The war continued to kill people on both sides every day. Questions were raised about the purpose of the incongruous involvement of the USA in this war corresponding to the amount of loss it was suffering. Neighbouring Laos and Cambodia were also dragged into the devastation caused by this war. The growing vigour of the North Vietnamese invigorated them to move to the capital of South Vietnam and capture the area to finally gain control of the whole South. Popularly known as the Tet Offensive, the US troops brutally defeated the Viet Cong in this confrontation. The anti-war movement was on surge across the USA, and after years, both sides were finally convinced to enter the phase of negotiation. These peace talks however failed due to internal diplomacy ties. Airstrikes, on-ground clashes, deaths, and destruction were all back in place.
The anti-war uprisings rose to much stronger levels, finally pushing America to adopt the policy of Vietnamisation (1969). The South Vietnamese army, the Arvin, was now being trained by the US troops, to withdraw troops from Vietnam. Arvin was promised support whenever in need, but that support did not prove to be enough. Peace treaties were signed with the North to ensure minimal loss. The Viet Cong, however, did not give up their pursuit of united Vietnam and started pushing into the South. It was in 1975 when Saigon was finally captured by the North, which marked the unification of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese’ grimacing journey fueled by vested interests of the western worlds and an individual’s solid determination of unification lends us the thought of how strong willpower and retribution can be, to stir up the whole world into war. Humans have forever had the strength within themselves but are marred with egoism. These great wars have only been tumbling forward in history as stories and despite them offering a plethora of knowledge, we as humans choose to ignore them and continue with the destruction.