Vietnam War: 1955-1975

The Vietnam War was a military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from November 1, 1955, to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by communist allies, and the government of South Vietnam, supported by the United States and other anti-communist countries.

In the 1860s, Vietnam had become a colony of France, known as Indochina. It remained so until France's defeat by Germany in 1940.

Map of Indochina      Map of South Vietnam
Map of Indochina [2]            Map of South Vietnam [1]

Between 1940 and 1945, France had no control over what happened in Vietnam, but after World War II, France tried to reestablish itself as the dominant force in Vietnam. North Vietnamese Communists led by Ho Chi Minh, wanted independence for all of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh saw communism as the way to achieve independence and to relieve the Vietnamese people of the influence and control of other countries. After a long war with France, the Vietnamese Communists defeated the French forces in 1954.

The Vietnamese Communists did not receive the desired independence for the country. China intervened and helped negotiate a peace treaty between the North Vietnamese and France. The country was split into two parts: North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

map showing South Vietnam

South Vietnam [3]
map showing North Vietnam

North Vietnam [4]

Although the Vietnamese Communists were not happy, they listened to China, which wanted to influence the newly created state of North Vietnam.

As in the case of Korea, the U.S. did not want all of Vietnam to become communist and, therefore, committed its military to the struggle. The U.S. sent advisors, money, and troops into South Vietnam. The U.S. government viewed involvement as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam and as a part of their wider strategy of containment. The North Vietnamese government viewed the war as a colonial war, fought initially against France, backed by the U.S., and later against South Vietnam, which it regarded as a U.S. puppet state. The Viet Cong was a lightly armed South Vietnamese communist-controlled common front that fought a guerrilla-style war against anti-communist forces in the region. U.S. military advisors started arriving in 1950. U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s. U.S. troops tripled in 1961 and tripled again in 1962. U.S. combat units were deployed beginning in 1965. Operations spanned borders, and Laos and Cambodia were bombed heavily. U.S. involvement peaked in 1968, but, after this, U.S. ground forces were withdrawn. Despite the Paris Peace Accords, signed by all parties in January 1973, fighting continued.

Although never directly involved in this war, China gave or sold weapons, food, and medical supplies to the Vietnamese Communists in the North.

By the early 1970s, U.S. support of the war decreased and communist North Vietnam had the means to win the war that the South Vietnamese did not have without the aid of the U.S. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese army in April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year. The war tallied huge numbers of fatalities. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from less than one million to more than three million. Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict.


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[1] Source: This image from is in the public domain.

[2] Source: This image from is in the public domain.

[3] Source: This image from is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

[4] Source: This image from is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.