Between 1945 and 1954, the Vietnamese waged an
anti-colonial war against France and received $2.6 billion
in financial support from the United States. The French
defeat at the Dien Bien Phu was followed by a peace
conference in Geneva, in which Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam
received their independence and Vietnam was temporarily
divided between an anti-Communist South and a Communist
North. In 1956, South Vietnam, with American backing,
refused to hold the unification elections. By 1958,
Communist-led guerrillas known as the Viet Cong had begun to
battle the South Vietnamese government.
To support the South’s government, the United States sent
in 2,000 military advisors, a number that grew to 16,300 in
1963. The military condition deteriorated, and by 1963 South
Vietnam had lost the fertile Mekong Delta to the Vietcong.
In 1965, Johnson escalated the war, commencing air strikes
on North Vietnam and committing ground forces, which
numbered 536,000 in 1968. The 1968 Tet Offensive by the
North Vietnamese turned many Americans against the war. The
next president, Richard Nixon, advocated Vietnamization,
withdrawing American troops and giving South Vietnam greater
responsibility for fighting the war. His attempt to slow the
flow of North Vietnamese soldiers and supplies into South
Vietnam by sending American forces to destroy Communist
supply bases in Cambodia in 1970 in violation of Cambodian
neutrality provoked antiwar protests on the nation’s college
From 1968 to 1973 efforts were made to end the
conflict through diplomacy. In January 1973, an agreement
reached and U.S. forces were withdrawn from Vietnam and U.S.
prisoners of war were released. In April 1975, South
Vietnam surrendered to the North and Vietnam was reunited.
1. The Vietnam War cost the United States 58,000 lives
and 350,000 casualties. It also resulted in between one and
two million Vietnamese deaths.
2. Congress enacted the War Powers Act in 1973,
requiring the president to receive explicit Congressional
approval before committing American forces overseas.
It was the longest war in American history and the most
unpopular American war of the twentieth century. It resulted
in nearly 60,000 American deaths and an estimated 2 million
Vietnamese deaths. Even today, many Americans still ask
whether the American effort in Vietnam was a sin, a blunder,
a necessary war, or a noble cause, or an idealistic, if
failed, effort to protect the South Vietnamese from
A succinct history of the Vietnam War