Conflict in Indochina 1954-1979 Notes:
Key features and issues:
Nature and role of nationalism
Nature and role of communism
Nature and consequences of US involvement
Strategies and tactics
Impact of war of civilians in Indochina
Attempts at peacemaking
Reasons for communist victory
1. Indochina after the French:
Consequences of the Vietnamese victory against the French:
Proclamation of independence 1945: the emergence of Ho Chi Minh, the rise of the Viet Minh.
War with the French: the guerrilla conflict, Great Power interest, the defeat of the French at Dien
The Geneva Agreements: Communist v.s non-Communist solutions, the division of Viet.
Attempts of collectivisation & industrialisation in the Nth.
The Ngo Dinh Diem regime & its opponents: family politics, military & religious opponents, the
emergence of Viet Cong.
The involvement of American forces: the decision by Kennedy & Johnson to commit advisors &
combat troops, the bombing of Nth Viet, total war by the Nth.
Consequences of the Geneva Peace Agreement for the Vietnamese people to 1964.
June, 1954, Bao Dai appointed Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister. He had US backing & was
promised financial & other assistance to consolidate the new state of the South Vietnam.
July 20: the Geneva Accords were signed.
Accords were a face saving device for the French while recognising the victory of the Viet Minh.
Significant features of the Accords:
Temporary division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel until free elections could be held in July 1956.
Free passage of people across the 17th parallel for a period of 300 days.
Provided a military truce.
French troops to withdraw.
Laos & Cambodia established as independent states.
National elections to be held in 2 years throughout Indochina.
No foreign bases.
The USA & Republic of Vietnam refused to sign the Accords.
By 1954, after 7 years of war, 2 competing govts emerged: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in
Hanoi & the Republic of Vietnam in Saigon. Each claimed to be the only legitimate government.
Political, social, economic and military developments within the North and South Vietnam.
Political development in the North:
During this period (1954-early 1960s) political development was limited.
1951: The Communist Party & the Vietminh were consigned into a new political organisation
called Lao Dong (Vietnam Worker‟s Party) – this was an attempt by Ho Chi Minh to gain wider
support by not being exclusively communist.
It was during the 1950s that we see a shift in policy of Ho Chi Minh. He begun to concentrate
more on social reform. Up until then he had been hesitant to do this, as he didn‟t wish to
antagonise the USA. Social reform in the 1950s:
- Launched an education program to combat illiteracy.
- Agricultural Reforms: these reform centred around the communist idea that everyone was equal,
punished the landlords that made up about 5% of the rural population. These reforms were often
violent & brutal-resulted in the Ho Chi Minh govt losing support.
Social Development in the North:
Prime Minister Dong was confronted with extensive problems after the defeat of the French & the
Geneva Accords: The over populated Red River Delta was unable to receive rice from the Mekong
Delta in the South. Famine was avoided by emergency rice supplies from Burma by the USSR.
North Vietnam was in social disarray by the end of 1954: Solution-massive agricultural &
industrial reforms implemented to rebuild the country.
1955: The Vietminh established the Agricultural Reform Tribunals-supervised redistribution of
land & to purge north of landlords & other feudal elements.
Catholics feared persecution as communists were renowned for denouncing religion-as a result up
to 1 million Catholics fled to the South.
1958: Communist Party replaced the Tribunals: an attempt to win back peasant population, 1960:
86% of Nth Vietnam working & living under this structure.
Economic Development in the North:
The most successful economic reform of the 1850s was the redistribution among the poor peasants
(60%of the pop.) of land seized from landlords.
Land reform – terrible failure. Ended in 1956.
In 1960 Ho Chi Minh re-embarked on collectivisation, this time calling the units „cooperatives‟
Was rich in minerals & coal but industry lacked technicians therefore recourses couldn‟t be
A Three-Year-Plan for industrial production was introduced in 1958 & in 1960 the first Five-
Year-Plan: Both failed to meet their targets, industrial development relied heavily on aid from
Ho Chi Minh led a well-fed pop, politically educated with an industrial base suitable fro a war
In the period from the Geneva Conference to the beginning of 1960 Nth Viet changed from a
country facing impending famine to the country with the fastest growing economy in Sth-Eat Asia
> this allowed the Communist Party to strengthen its control & put it in a strong position.
Military development in the North:
2 armies: National Liberation Front (NLF) a.k.a. Viet Cong (VC), North Vietnam Army (NVA)
NVA: adopted Soviet model, Soviet weapons & artillery enabled the expansion of the NVA.
- Aims: the reunification of Vietnam, propaganda in Sth Viet, covert operations.
- The core of the NLF was the remnants of the Viet Minh (about 10,000) who had remained in the
Sth in 1954.
- Had a regular force of 5,500 and about 30,000 part-time guerrillas.
- US govt described the NLF guerrillas as „outside agitators‟ who entered villages & used terror
tactics to manipulate a passive pop.
- 1962: Nth Vietnamese supplies began to pour in for the NLF. By 1963 there were more than
30,000 regular & 80,000 regional NLF troops in Sth Viet.
Political development in the South:
1955: Ngo Dinh Diem replaced Bao Dai as leader of Sth Viet.
The South was hopelessly divided > political chaos after 9 years of warfare.
Diem believed in personalism as a political theory:
- Using family & family ties to help govern.
- Specifying individual duties to the state.
- Diem argued „personalism‟ was a compromise between communism & democracy.
- His ideas never won wide support outside his inner circle of supporters.
Foundation for political power: family, police & army, Can Lao Party: a secret organisations.
The Vietminh had never been as powerful in the Sth as it was in the Nth due to 3 strong factions
that opposed them in the region:
- Binh Xuyeh: a criminal organisation.
- Hoa Hao: religious sect.
- Cao Dai: religious sect.
Diem used US resources to crack down on rival political groups in the Sth.
Diem fiercely enforced censorship of the domestic press.
He reserved redistribution of land as he didn‟t want to lose the support of big landowners.
However this failed to win him support from the peasantry.
1960: New opposition to Diem:
- People‟s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) > brought together religious & political sects that Diem
- National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (NLF) > devised a political propaganda campaign
designed to challenge the existence of Sth Viet.
Diem‟s govt depended on American support. The govt was riddled with corruption & lacked wide
2 factors combined to seal the fate of Diem:
- Poor performance of the Sth Vietnamese army.
- Wave of public protests staged by Sth Viet‟s Buddhist majority.
2nd November 1963: Diem was assassinated following a military coup.
Social development in the South:
Strategic Hamlet Plan 1962:
- Peasants were relocated to fortified villages in order to lessen vulnerability to the NLF & VC.
- Peasants were extremely reluctant to be moved due to ancestor worship & that the hamlets were
established miles from markets.
- Strategic hamlets failed. Diem loss mass support from peasants & the US> therefore the peasant
support lay with VC – there was no sense of unified support for the Sth Vietnamese govt.
- Diem persecuted non-Catholic religious groups esp. Buddhists.
- 11 June 1963: 66 year old mink, Quang Doc, committed self-immolation – the event was televised
& cause outrage among the US & allies.
- 1 November 1963: US approval of a coup against Diem.
Economic development in the South:
Sth Viet had no important natural resources.
US supported the Sth‟s economy.
Kennedy requested that Diem share the economic, political & military decisions with the USA: a
request which was denied.
Military development in the South:
Called the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
Diem & Sth Viet would have struggled to survive without American military & economic aid.
Diem called for to Kennedy for American troops. Was denied. However there war 16 000 US
military advisors by 1963.
Diem didn‟t have control over the whole army. Was killed by a military coup in 1963.
2. The USA and Indochina:
Political and social issues in Indochina by 1960.
- Both DRV & RVN relied on foreign aid.
- RVN refuses to hold elections > knew Ho Chi Minh held the majority; the Sth couldn‟t win an
- Communist propaganda spread throughout Viet but Vietminh & after 1966, NLF.
- Diem creates „strategic hamlets‟ to counter communist infiltration. Villagers forced off land into
- Many Catholic refugees were experienced bureaucrats. NV left with inexperienced, inefficient
- NV: land redistribution.
- SV: Local hill tribes displaced by Catholics.
- Religious tensions: Catholic/Buddhists.
- Low levels of literacy hampered attempts to increase popular involvement in govt.
- Independent since 1953.
- Pathet Lao (communist) forces integrated into army of Laos – uneasy coalition govt with
conservative parties in 1957.
- 1958 elections: Pathet Laos won 13 of 21 seats.
- USA withdraws aid to communist dominated govt & civil war breaks out in 1959.
- Independent since 1953.
- Prince (and OM) Norodom Sihanouk‟s govt tried to maintain neutral relations with both
communist & non-communist countries.
- Sihanouk‟s govt popular with the people therefore communist propaganda had limited success
Nature and development of US policy towards Indochina generally and Vietnam in particular.‟
Aimed not to fight an all out war with the Soviet Union but rather confine communism & the SV
to their existing boundaries.
Use of military alliances, financial investments.
There could be no such thing as a non-aligned nation.
Concern that the collapse of 1 Asian country to communism would lead to other countries
following to communism.
Victimised by Russian & Chinese aggression – unless the US intervened.
1947-President Truman injected funds into countries identified as „Russian dominoes.‟
President Eisenhower – spoke of the domino theory in April 1954. Became the driving force of US
“You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the
last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.”
– President Eisenhower, April 1954.
Division of Viet.
South –Diem- puppet govt – not democratic.
Eisenhower had always believed that people had to be liberated from communism.
Judged on the level of commitment by presidents as success or failure.
Some argued for the use of the atomic bomb > rejected by Eisenhower.
Vietnam was seen as an area of great importance.
Based on the advice of McNamara & Rusk he decided that a move from a limited role in
defending Sth Viet to a much larger one was needed. Increased contribution of military equipment
& military advisors.
“The independence and territorial integrity of Vietnam are being…violated by Communist agents
& forces from the nth…The United States is also conscious of its responsibility and duty….to
assist a brave country in the defence of its liberties against unprovoked subversion & Communist
terror.” - Kennedy.
Johnson‟s Vietnam policy:
“Nothing could be worse than…being responsible for America losing a war to the communists.” –
Became a test case for the reputation of the US & its capacity to defeat communism.
“I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left the woman I
loved – the Great Society – in order to get involved in that bitch of a war…I would lose everything
at home…But if I left that war & let the communists taker over St Viet, then I would be seen as a
Tonkin Gulf Incidents:
2 Aug the US destroyer Maddox was fired upon by Nth Vietnamese gunboats. 2 days later another
destroyed Turner Joy was attacked > some doubt whether the 2 nd attack occurred.
That night LBJ announced the 1st massive reprisal air attacks against Nth Viet.
7 Aug 1964 Congress approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. For LBJ to “respond instantly with
use of appropriate force to repeal any unprovoked action against the armed forces of the United
Operation Rolling Thunder:
On 2 March 1965 Johnson unleashed a continuous bombing programme. More than 100 bombers
raided Nth Vietnamese targets.
Used triple the bomb tonnage dropped during WWII.
US Combat Troops:
First arrived on 8 March 1965 at Da Nung to defend the air base.
Announced Vietnamisation June 1969. Slowing of the US ground war, emphasis to be on aerial
bombing & training of the ARVN, military budgets for Sth Viet wouldn‟t be reduced.
Decision based on: the air war had not forced Nt Viet to surrender, the American home front was
influenced by anti-war movements, casualty rates were rising, too much money was being spent
on the war, the war „belonged to Sth Viet.‟
Argued for „Peace with Honour‟
Despite 3 yrs of Vietnamisation the ARVN couldn‟t defend Sth Viet.
Xmas Bombing 1972.
Nixon wins election with a promise of peace.
Peace talks reconvene. The Paris Peace Accord, signed October 1972. Terms of peace agreement:
- Ceasefire in Vietnam (not Indochina)
- Exchange of POWS
- North‟s troops could stay in Sth but they could not raise their numbers.
- Thieu‟s govt to remain but to share power with reps from NLF. Committee of National
- Canada & Indonesia (US/Western Allies) & Poland & Hungary (Soviet Eastern Allies) to
supervise the ceasefire.
Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the consequences for Vietnam and
Impact of troop commitment:
- July 1965: Westmoreland > McNamara > LBJ more troops needed.
- 28 July 1965: LBJ increased troops.
- There had never been a formal declaration of war.
- Tried to win support from the Sth Vietnamese: „pacification.‟
- Eliminate the enemy: „search and destroy.‟
- Established „Revolution Development‟ teams into villages as part of pacification.
- Training & leading village defence units.
- Implementing land reforms
- Organisation local elections.
- However the policy was undermined by search & destroy missions and bombing.
- The destruction of villages suspected also was not popular.
- Impact: 1/3 of pop dislocated by 1968.
- The American money had an impact.
- Establishment of brothels, bars.
- Increased prices - consumption of goods and services
- Traditional family & economic values challenged.
- Consumer goods from the US damaged local industry.
- Increased dependence on US imports.
- Employment opportunities linked to the US.
- Corruption and black market.
- Sth Vietnamese resented US tactics.
- Increased protest movement.
- Sth Vietnamese govt (supported by US) used military force against protesters.
At least 1.5 million (ARVN 184 000 & 430 000 civilians) are killed.
3 million injured
5. 8 internal refugees (1/2 Sth Vietnamese peasantry), 50% Sth Vietnamese lost their homes.
1 million widows, 1/2 million orphans & at least 1000 Amerasian children left.
200 000 prostitutes in the Sth, in 1976 100 000 drug addicts in Saigon alone.
1/2 million hectares of farmland lost.
124 000 hectares of mangroves eliminated (46 species)
Economy 40 yrs behind other Sth-East Asian countries.
" Huge numbers of refugees fled to the rapidly swelling cities & young men were drafted into the
armies of both sides, creating rural labour shortages (Alongside high unemployment). Whole
villages were destroyed." - Melanie Beresford
"Sth Viet's cities swelled to a degree unusual even by Third World Standards." - Melanie
US direct involvement in 1970 and 1973 only escalated problems with rampant shortages in food
as can be seen when food riots broke out in September 1972.
Unemployment and displacement were widespread with countless fleeing rural areas; “within six
months the population of Phnom Penh swelled from round 700 000 to over one and a half
million.” - J. Tully
America‟s financial support upheld the Cambodian economy with Cambodia overexerting its
budget twice over. America also provided much needed commodities such as oil, medical supplies
and other basic supplies.
The Khmer Rouge claimed Cambodia was “under threat of national extinction by…the US and
colonist capitalist systems associated with the West”. - B. Thornton
America further isolated support when American troops entered Cambodia in April 1970 in
response to growing military activity by the North Vietnamese and the expansion of the Khmer
Rouge. The American troop arrival and the affects on the bombing campaign attracted many
recruits to the Khmer Rouge‟s call for a communist revolution and an end to foreign interference.
Despite withdrawing troops America continued to see Cambodia as an important theatre of war in
the fight against communism so Cambodia was carpet-bombed between February and August
1973 in hopes of defeating the Khmer Rouge.
The bombing had widespread effects; leading to the collapse of agriculture, destroying the
traditional rural lifestyle resulting in nearly two million refugees, public infrastructure were
destroyed with inflation rampant, there was an estimated 600 000 dead; ten percent of the
The severe impacts of the bombing saw much anger and resentment towards America, making the
Khmer Rouge‟s anti-American stance attractive for victims of the bombing.
During the bombing America dropped 257 456 tons of bombs on Cambodia.
America‟s actions regarding Cambodia were viewed by many as excessive and belittling, further
legitimising the Khmer Rouge‟s call for independence for interference from foreign powers. The
sheer destruction of America‟s involvement allowed the Khmer Rouge to demonise the US and
strengthen their communist manifesto.
3. The Second Indochina War:
Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army and
the National Liberation Front (NLF), and by the South Vietnamese and the USA.
1966: War of Attrition
Westmoreland decided to wage a war of attrition, as part of this concept 'search & destroy'
missions were used extensively.
By the end of 1966 Westmoreland had failed to draw the VC & NVA into regular combat. The
North Vietnamese forces continued to use guerilla warfare strategies therefore Westmoreland
decided to wage a war of attrition.
1967-Operation Cedar Falls:
Who: The US & ARVN forces.
What: The objective was to destroy s suspected network of enemy tunnels and bunkers.
Where: The Binh Duong province.
Outcome: Villages were evacuated then destroyed. The area was carpeted by bombs. The rice
paddies & nearby jungles were sprayed with herbicides & defoliants. The US troops returned to
capture & confront any enemy survivors.
Westmoreland argues that it would only be a matter of time before the war of attrition began to
have effect & the VC/NVA would be unable to reoccupy areas.
Strengths: The operation was carried out on a grand scale with 32 000 US & ARVN troops
including the support of tanks & air power. The operation successfully managed to evacuate 7000
to 10 000 civilians with the villages then being destroyed.
Weaknesses: The US didn't have the solution of how to secure an area & then maintain that
security without permanently stationing large numbers of troops. While the operation may have
had initial success within 2 months the VC had reoccupied the area.
Feb 1967-Operation Junction City:
Who: US & ARVN troops.
What: Was primarily a search & destroy mission. Its aim was to remove communist bases that
were believed to exist along the Cambodian border.
Outcome: The communists were forced to retreat however they re-established their bases within
Cambodia with huge repercussions for both Cambodia & the US.
Strengths: The operation forced the communists to retreat. The strategy employed was similar to
that of Cedar Falls with evacuation of civilians followed by massive bombing & defoliation.
Weaknesses: Despite the communists being forced to retreat they simply re-established their bases
inside Cambodia with a lasting impact.
Sept 1967-Apr 1968- Khesanh:
Who: The NVA & VC.
Where: Isolated US bases in the highlands of Sth Viet including Conthien, Dakto & Khesanh.
What: When captured, VC intelligence indicated large NVA movement into the area.
Response: Westmoreland reinforced Khesanh with 6000 troops & commenced Operation Niagara,
the bombing of the surrounding area on an unprecedented scale.
Outcome: Over 3months 10 000 NVA troops were killed & the USA suffered 500 dead. On 17
April the last NVA troops withdrew. The following June, Khesanh was abandoned by the US.
Historical debate: Westmoreland believed that it was the major offensive of the war, designed by
the NVA to be America's Dien Bien Phy, but defeat forced the NVA to reappraise its strategy.
General Giap on the other hand, argued that it was designed to be nothing more than a diversion
before the larger Tet Offensive. The historical debate centers around whether it was a successful
communist ploy or a major communist mistake.
War of the Elephant: VS War of the Flea:
Johnson‟s War Nth Viet
Tonkin Gulf Resolution Total War
Operation Rolling Thunder Tunnels
Combat troops 500 000 by 1968 Ambush
Search & destroy Booby Traps
Defoliation Ho Chi Minh Trail.
3.14 million Americans served in Viet
58,183 Americans were killed.
By the end of 1973 225,748 Sth Vietnamese soldiers were killed.
Nth Vietnamese & Vietcong suffered bout 1 million fatalities.
Impact of the 1968 Tet Offensive:
The NLF & NVA used the cease-fire for the celebration of the Lunar New Year to launch a major
offensive against the US.
"It collapsed support for an expansion of the war & destroyed any credibility of the US Army in
claiming success & stability in the south." - Harpur.
Changed perceptions (far from victory > futility of war highlighted).
TV War/impact on home front. "The filming & televising of the offensive, including the embassy
fiasco & the summary execution of a Viet Cong by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, caused outrage &
protest in America." -Harpur.
Psychological defeat but military victory.
Enormous costs to both sides: civilians 14 000, NVN 45-50 000.
Generated thousands of refugees.
Johnson decides not to run for another term.
For North, military defeat > difficult to recoup the losses.
Nth expected the Sth to rise up in a revolution but this didn't happen.
Led to mass demonstrations & low morale.
After years of hearing that they were winning the war, many Americans having watched the
killing & chaos is Saigon on their nightly TV newscasts - stopped believing what they were told
by their govt. While the US generals were proclaiming a great victory, public tolerance of the war
& its causalities reached breaking point. For the VC, the Tet Offensive proved to be a big success
after all - it made the cost of fighting the war (both in $ & in lives) unbearable for the Americans.
Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina.
Political instability. From Nov 1963 to June 1965 there were at least 10 changes of govt.
Severe corruption in govt.
Black market > turned over 10 million a yr.
Search & destroy missions > killed livestock, destroyed crops & homes.
“Of [the peasants] weren‟t pro-Viet Cong before we got there, they sure as hell were by the time
[the Americans] left.” – Stanley Karnow
Bombing > defoliation of rural areas resulted in displacement of many.
An estimated 4 million refugees fled from the countryside to the main cities > the cities were ill
equipped for the sudden growth in pop.
Exposed to American culture > bars, products, brands, sex industry etc. “For young girls women
in particular the primrose path to relative riches was irresistible.” – Karnow
The economy was depended on American aid > fell to pieces when American withdrew support &
Was put into a state of total war > the Nth Viet govt mobilised the whole pop of Nth Viet for the
Every aspect of Nth Vietnamese life was “dominated by this mood of embattlement & siege.” – J.
Cameron > helped to unite the ppl.
During the period of 1961 to 1975 an estimated 200 000 Nth Vietnamese civilians were killed.
However the “ever present spectre of death or maiming of one‟s self or loves ones” (S. Malarney)
helped contribute to the unity of the Nth.
Bombing destroyed cities, infrastructure, and farm lands etc.
Nth Viet didn‟t experience the mass relocation from rural to urban areas like the Sth.
Operation Menu resulted in the obliteration of rice crops in the border areas > strained the
Destruction of the agriculture industry.
Many Cambodians were forced to relocate because of the bombing.
Estimated the war created 3,389,000 refugees out of the C pop of 7 million
Loss of civilian lives.
Contributed to the rise of the KR.
Bombing of the country began in 1964 and continued till 1973.
Mass destruction of homes, resources & infrastructure.
750 000 ppl were forced to relocate.
Impacted on the morale of the ppl.
Loss of traditional rural lifestyle.
Impact of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia.
See US military involvement.
Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA.
The civil rights movement - at its height in the early & mid 1960s - created a climate for protest.
Opponents of the US govt policy in Viet built coalitions with advocates of equal right for ethnic
minorities & women, environmental activists, & supporters of 'new life-styles.' This eclectic
grouping - dubbed the 'New Left' - was loosely organised, agreeing only on the demand for the
immediate withdrawal of American forces from Viet.
The first anti-war protests were held during Kennedy's administration; as the war continues &
escalated, the number of protestors increased. E.g. an antiwar demonstration in Boston in 1965
drew only 100 ppl while a similar demonstration in the same place drew over 100,000 in 1969.
The original protestors were predominantly white, middle-class, college students.
Protestors engaged in civil disobedience by publicly burning their draft cards or refusing to report
when drafted. It is estimated over 100 000 fled the US to avoid conscription.
After serving in Viet, many veterans returned opposed to the war. Some formed the group
Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
As protestors grew more vocal, so did Americans who supported the country's role in Viet.
Increasing animosity arose between those arguing for an end to the war & social change at home
vs those supporting govt policy & fearful of dramatic social change.
Violent confrontation. E.g. in 1970 students at Kent State & Jackson State Universities were shot
& killed while peacefully demonstrating their opposition to the war.
With Nixon's decision to end the draft & bring home the remaining American troops in 1973, there
was a notable decline in anti-war activity; broad-based, anti-war coalitions began to dissolve.
Effects: while many Americans were exhilarated by their ability to publicly protest decisions made
by their govt, other Americans were appalled by such a show of disrespect for the govt during a
time of war. The influence of the protestors and them bringing about the end of the war is still in
Democrats Convention Aug 1969 - "10 000 anti-war protestors...left-wing extremists, moderate
dissidents & hippies simply out to create chaos" Police attacked with "clubs, rifle butts & tear gas
while the youths, some waving Vietcong flags, riposted with rocks & bottles." - Stanley Karnow.
By June 1969 Nixon was stewing "in the pressure cooker of mounting antiwar sentiment." -
On 3rd Nov, in an attempt to strengthen his credibility 2 weeks before the next moratorium, N
shared his "plan to end the war" (Vietnamisation). N pleaded for public backing from the "silent
majority" as "NV cannot defeat or humiliate the US. Only Americans can do that."
Vietnam and the Media:
40 journalists a day followed US troops. It can be argued that the govt lost control of the story.
First TV war/'living room war'. It became not a foreign story but a domestic one, where the war
was presented from the soldier‟s point of view. Common soldiers were given a voice. 'Our boys'
have names/faces & stories. Psychologically this had a major impact.
Johnson was outraged of coverage of troops (e.g. Morley Safer's 'Zippo Lighter Story'). Felt the
coverage was unpatriotic & organised his own media campaign of optimism & patriotism (close to
TV coverage of the My Lai massacre was perhaps most damaging.
Effects: can be argued that public protests against the war undermined troop morale & the
military's ability to fight effectively.
Effects: "Vietnam dramatised class divisions & divisions of political opinion, that Americans had
not wanted to confront." - Michael O'Malley
The Defeat of the South Vietnamese forces.
“By March, 1975 President Thieu had been forced into a „poor man‟s war‟ as the United States
had all but withdrawn its financial backing for the Sth Vietnamese regime and war effort.” – Brian
Thieu had long held onto the principle that the Sth Vietnamese should hold as much territory as
possible, but with the absence of the United States Airforce to make this a feasible strategy, Thieu
had to abandon his previous strategy.” > “The decision to abandon the Nthern strongholds &
effectively cut Viet in 2 via the Central Highlands was made in an atmosphere where Thieu had
“The army‟s firepower was reduced by 60%, there were medical shortages & soldiers‟ basic needs
were not being furnished, as a direct result of the US withdrawal.”
Soldiers were deserting at the rate of 15 000 - 20 000 per month in the latter half of 1974.
“Communist enclaves ahd been well established in the Sth especially in the Mekong Delta region
where they awaited they final word to launch an attack on Saigon.”
“Dung‟s (Nth Viet general) strategy was to collapse the ARVN forces in the NR 1 & MR 2 by
closing off the escape corridors & hopefully being able to launch a major offensive to conclude the
war during 1976 & 1977.”
“The Committee was quick to utilise the weaknesses of the Sth Vietnamese troops, the increasing
domestic problems of the US which meant they could not aid the Sth Vietnamese & the anti-Thieu
feeling which was gaining momentum.”
Tactic of subterfuge & surprise and of the blossoming lotus.
“Thieu here is not portrayed as a blundering egomaniac, hell bent on retaining power at all cost but
a man who has few choices remaining in the face of overwhelming Communist victories &
diminishing foreign aid. The flaws of his regime became public knowledge as the troops lost their
commitment on seeing their officers withdraw, leaving no disciplined structure.
The family syndrome took care of any loyalty still remaining in the demoralised forces.
The NVA had superior fighting numbers, morale, leadership, firepower and logistics,:
The family syndrome, Thieu‟s indecision, rumours of impending NVA invasions in Hue &
Danong & the huge refugee problem created by the fleeing soldiers is credited as the major reason
why the region fell.
“It collapsed like a house with its timbers eaten away by termites, which has continued to look
sound until the very moment it crumbles.” – Isaacs.
Snepp stated that Thieu‟s decision was doomed because he traded land for nothing so the whole
policy was “pointless & fatal.”
“In his final days as President, Thieu shifted blame for the events of March to his troops, and
Communist agents, even to the BBC & Voice of America amid calls for him to step down.”
“Thieu had few choices, his decision was neither logical or grossly irresponsible, it was born from
desperation by a man concerned over his political future amid a background of threatened coups,
US unwillingness to support a war in Viet, the growing strength of the NVA & the final realisation
that without the electronic intelligence & support of the US, Vietnamisation as a policy did not
3. Pol Pot’s Regime:
Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
“In the first few days after Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea, all cities were evacuated,
hospitals cleared, schools closed, factories emptied, money abolished, monasteries shut, libraries
scattered. For nearly four years freedom of the press, of movement, of worship, of organisation &
of association, & of discussion all completely disappeared. So did everyday family life. A whole
nation was kidnapped and then besieged from within. By 1977, parents ate breakfast in sittings; if
they were lucky their sons & daughter waited their turn outside the mess hall. Human
communication almost disappeared. Democratic Kampuchea was a prison camp state, & 8 million
prisoners served most of their time in solitary confinement. And 1.5 million of the inmates were
worked, starved & beaten to death. Why?” –Kiernan
Reasons for rise of Khmer Rouge :
Lon Nol coup disposes of Sihanouk/Sihanouk gave support to K.R
- 18/3/1970: Lon Nol stages a successful coup against Sihanouk‟s govt.
- Frome exile in Beijing, Sihanouk announces his alignment with the insurgents.
- Sihanouk‟s supporters join CPK with the aim of returning Sihanouk to power.
Chinese sponsorship of K.R:
- DRV & China both wishing to expand their influence over C.
- China sponsors Pol Pot which provides his faction “with manoeuvrability that it would not
otherwise have enjoyed.
US military intervention/bombing:
- Early 1960s: US secret reconnaissance missions & mine-laying incursions into C.
- 1965: US escalation of Viet War.
- Vietnamese communists using C as a sanctuary from American attack.
- Fire fights between C military & VC. US forces “bombed & strafed Cambodia‟s border areas” in
pursuit of Vietnamese forces hiding there.
- 18/3/1969: Operation Menu began. Over 3600 secret B-52 bombing raids; appox 100 000 tons of
- Civilian deaths & “a wave” of refugees.
- By 1970: Cambodian-Vietnamese border disintegrating.
- May 1970: US invasion of C. 540 000 bombs dropped by 1973.
- Whole villages destroyed, huge increase in refugees.
- 1950-1970: Landless farmers increased from 4% to 20%.
- “Probably the most important single factor in Pol Pot‟s rise” was “US economic & military
destabilisation of Cambodia.”
- The few survivors from bombing raids, who had lost entire families were easy targes for CPK
recruiters; survivors told Lon Nol‟s govt ordered bombing.
- The displaced (particularly teenage children) had “no ties to the land or traditional village
- “From the ashes of rural Cambodia arose Pol Pot‟c Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). It
used the bombings & devastation & massacre of civilians as recruitment propaganda.
- Operation Rolling Thunder & search & destroy mission restrict rice production in N and SV.
- C govt loses prime source of revenue & is “plunged towards bankruptcy.”
- Not enough rice to feed the increased numbers of troops in ARVN & MLF.
- Rice smuggle out of Cambodia to avoid payment of export tax to C govt (taxable rice exports
fall by 2/3)
Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot.
To return Cambodia to Angkar glory days.
To make Cambodia a purely communist country.
Implementing revolution rapidly
Cut Cambodia off from the world > year 0
Consolidation of personal power
Banned religious practice
Radical Agrarian Marxism (RMA) > aimed at converting Cambodia into a nation of uneducated,
Separated families to:
- Destroy a person‟s individuality
- Eliminate the human will to resist
- Promote fear, confusion & anxiety.
Angkar Loeu (supreme organisation), The Khmer Rouge's mystical identity, had no human form.
A system of govt based entirely on secrecy, deceit & violence. Its political ideologies were crude
interpretations of Marxist-Leninist doctrines purposely adopted by the KR to serve its sole
purpose: absolute control.
All Cambodians were physically forced to become labourers.
The citizens had 2 choices: submit to the KR or face death.
All previous cultural values & inventions, especially those from the West weren't tolerated.
All Cambodians were forced to wear black garments, just like the KR.
Cambodia's frontiers were closed off. Aside from China, the KR's patron, the rest of the world had
no idea of the happenings inside C. > Start from Year Zero. The regime “was not interested in
merely improving or even radically modifying existing Cambodian society. Rather it…was
determined to shatter it to bits & start completely anew.” – John Barron
The entire country was converted into work zones, state farms & prison camps.
Destruction of traditional peasant lifestyle.