The Vietnam War as we all know has devastating effects on the country and its people. Lives are forever changed because of it. All wars start out when two sides have differences and Vietnam was no different. It started because of France and a Vietnam leader, Ho Chi Minh, had a difference of opinion about the type of government Vietnam should have. Vietnam wasn’t as different as it was to Vietnam today. Before the war, the French conquered Vietnam for over 200 years with peace. During the war, there was chaos everywhere. As one soldier recalls, “…getting from base to base was already a challenge considering the fact that you had VCs hiding in bushes just waiting for you to come out. It was as close as you can get to hell” (Baker 75). The war divided the country from the 1950’s all the way till April of 1975. By the time the war ended, over 1.8 million people had died. The country now had a communist government and was starting over. French’s conquest was over, and the Vietnamese people now have their system of government.
Vietnam before the war was ruled by France. They had invaded in the middle 1700s, and by 1750, they had complete control of Vietnam. The French conquered and ruled with complete domination of the Vietnam people. To win over the French, nationalism led to a revolution. The war developed as a sequel to the struggle between the French, who were the rulers of Indochina before World War II, and the Communist-led Vietminh, founded and headed by the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh came to power when Vietminh guerrillas seized the capital city of Hanoi and overthrew Emperor Bao Dai. “Vietnam regained full independence at the time of the Geneva Agreements of 1954, which ended France’s8 year struggle to reinsert colonial control” (Bain 3). Two important people in recent Vietnam history are Ho Chi Minh, and Ngo Dinh Diem Ho Chi Minh was a communist leader that declared Vietnam’s independence from France. He had many accomplishments during his lifetime, and without him, Vietnam would not be the way it is today. Ngo Dinh Diem was the president of South Vietnam after Vietnam was split in half. While Ngo Dinh Diem was against communism, Ho Chi Minh was for it. He wasn’t as successful as Ho Chi Minh for he was ruthless. He brutally killed many monks in 1963 and damaged the already bad reputation of South Vietnam. He was assassinated in November 1963.
Ho Chi Minh was considered a hero to a lot of his followers. The considered him a hero because he freed Vietnam from the French. Although he was one of the reasons the war started, many don’t blame him. He helped Vietnam become an independent country, and most would agree that without him, Vietnam would not be as it is today. In 1930, Ho Chi Minh organized the Indochinese Communist Party. The Indochinese Communist Party was set out to oppose the French. Then in August of 1945, he established the Vietminh. Vietminh was a fierce guerilla army that eventually became the Vietcong or VC. A couple of months later, Ho Chi Minh develops the Vietnam Declaration of Independence. The declaration was to declare Vietnam independence from France. He had played a major role in giving Vietnam the freedom it deserved and for that, he was considered a hero.
Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, ruled for a short seven years. His ruthless behaviors were what caused his downfall. A major cause of his downfall was when he issued the ban on Buddhist flags during a Buddhist holiday. Diem was a Catholic, so he disliked the practice of Buddhism. Since most of the population in South Vietnam were Buddhist, they were outraged. The Buddhists, who remembered that Catholic flags had been widely displayed on a Christian holiday a few weeks earlier, refused to obey the government’s ban and demonstrated in protest. Government forces opened fire on the demonstrators, and nine people were killed.
When the government refused to apologize, or even to admit that the dead had been killed by government fire, the conflict became widely spread. Some Buddhist monks attracted world attention by a bizarre form of protest against the policies of the government. They committed suicide by sitting down in various locations in Saigon, letting gasoline be poured over them, and burning themselves to death. The US government realized, in the summer of 1963, that the Diem government was hopeless. Nobody in the government, including the officials, liked the way things were running. They finally decided that if they were going to win the war against Communists, Ngo Dinh Diem would have to go. US officials in Saigon, therefore, began encouraging officials to overthrow Diem. Within a few months the plan ready, and Diem was overthrown and shot. The Americans were distressed at his death. The US would have preferred to see Diem be exiled but the officers who carried out the assassination in November 1963 did not feel it would be safe to leave Diem alive.
The Vietnam War had many casualties and battles that went on from 1959 to 1975. As previously stated, the war was set off when Ho Chi Minh attempted to negotiate the end of colonial rule with the French. Unfortunately, the negotiation was unsuccessful. The French army shelled Haiphong harbor in November of 1946, killing over 6,000 Vietnamese civilians. By December of 1946, the war between France and the Viet Minh began. The war would last until May 7 of 1954 when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. A few months after the French were defeated, a Geneva Conference declares Vietnam split into two at the 17th parallel. Ngo Dinh Diem became prime minister of South Vietnam.
He later declared South Vietnam as an independent nation and declares himself president. He was an unsuccessful leader in fighting the war. Top US officials in Vietnam tried to be optimistic and tried to create the impression that Ngo Dinh Diem was a magnificent and popular leader who was winning the war. A few American reporters were saying that something was seriously wrong, but the US Embassy in Saigon did its best to discredit them. In 1963 it became clear that the Embassy’s optimistic view was not getting anywhere. Diem was unresponsive to US suggestions that to reform his government. After seven years of serving as the president, he was assassinated. That was what led the US to become more involved in the war.
US involvement rose when a North Vietnamese torpedo boat attacked the U.S. destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response to that, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for a resolution. That resolution came on August 7 of 1964 when the US decided to bomb North Vietnam. The first of the American troops arrived in Vietnam on March of 1965. The US offered North Vietnam aid in exchange for peace but was declined. When Congress gave the President full military access, US troops gradually poured into Vietnam. “By 1966, 2000,000 US soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. That number grew annually until, by 1969, over ½ million troops were committed to the Vietnam enterprise” (Bender 14). One major battle was the Battle of Khe Sahn on January 21 of 1968. The battle went on for another six months. When it finally ended, over 25,000 troops had died in both the US and Communist side. While the battle was raging on, there were peace talks between US and Vietnamese officials.
Although unsuccessful, some progress was made. By now, President Nixon had taken office, and on June 8 of 1969, he announced the first troop withdrawals from South Vietnam. A few months later, Ho Chi Minh dies. Although the Communists have lost their leader, they still feel the need to conquer. US and South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia in hopes of eliminating the rest of Ho Chi Minh’s followers. Fighting would continue for another three years until finally the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accord, ending American combat role in the war. Then on March of 1973, the last of the US troops were ordered to leave Vietnam. The war truly ended when the North Vietnamese forces take over Saigon, South Vietnam surrenders to North Vietnam, ending the war and reunifying the country under communist control.
Vietnam today is one country and is under a communist government. It has changed quite a bit. The system of government before the Vietnam War was more of a monarchy. Emperor Bao Dai was powerful and had the power to do many things. Those that went against him could sometimes end up dead. The system of government after the Vietnam War is based on the communist legal theory and French civil law system. Although Vietnam is a based on the communist government, it doesn’t seem much like it anymore. The government doesn’t decide what kind of job you will have and doesn’t limit the citizen’s rights. The chief of state is President Tran Duc Luong, and the Vice President is Nguyen Thi Binh. The President serves a 5-year term and is elected by a National Assembly. They have the three branches of government that the United States has, Judicial, Executive, and Legislative.
The people of Vietnam live in freedom. They are free to do what they want as long as it’s not illegal. The legal system in Vietnam seems corrupt to many. When entering the country, most tourists would hide at least a 5 dollar bill inside their passport to bribe the officers working there. If not, a complete baggage check is usually expected. Vietnam is a country in the process of development. The war has scared the country forever, but that does not get in the way of everyday living. Many rich families are now poor because of the invasion of the Vietcong. When they invaded, they took everything that the people had and left them with just their bare hands. Many of the people that fought in Vietnam has had the opportunity to come and live in the United States. The Vietnam war surely has had a devastating effect on the country and its people, but when weighed on a scale, the pros and cons of the war are very close to equal.