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The Vietnam War

Mark Jacobson, PhD, is a former Amherst College Visiting Professor who pursues academia in 20th Century American Wars. Below is a paragraph he wrote explaining the Vietnam War.

"The Vietnam War refers to the period of American involvement in a brutal post-colonial civil war. It is, depending on what date historians start from, America’s longest war, with the period of involvement ranging from 1945, 1954, or 1965, until the end of the war in 1975. U.S. involvement in the war resulted in the deaths of 58,220 Americans and the wounding of almost 100,000 others. Somewhere near 700,000 South Vietnamese civilians lost their lives with total North Vietnamese military and civilian casualties likely exceeding 1,000,000. The war began largely as a post-colonial struggle for independence from France (1945-1954). Following the Viet-Minh defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, peace talks resulted in independence for Vietnam, although it was divided until elections could be held into a Communist North led by Ho Chi Minh and a republic in the South led by Ngo Dinh Diem. 

When war broke out following failed attempts at elections, the US was concerned that the fall of the South would lead to neighboring nations falling – a domino effect – under communist rule. In response to the growth of an insurgency in the south by the communist backed Viet Cong the  US advisory mission grew to over 16,000 during the Kennedy Administration and following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in the US Congress, President Johnson sent more US forces, growing by 1968 to 549,500. Despite the use of airpower and counterinsurgency approaches, the war appeared for years to be at a stalemate at best for the US. On January 31, 1968 the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched a coordinated offensive (the Tet Offensive) which would lead CBS News’s Walter Cronkite to declare on national TV that “this war is lost,” which did have an impact on US public opinion which was already questioning the war. The war was divisive at home with anti-war activity tied up into the broader social revolutions of the 1960’s. US combat operations formally ended following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. The final U.S. troops and Embassy personnel left following evacuations in April 1975." -Mark Jacobson, PhD


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