World History 101: When Was the Vietnam War?

As of 2017, the Vietnam war remains the longest war in United States history at almost two decades. The years of warfare coupled with graphic images of the fight made the war unpopular.

How the War Began
Vietnam was originally a French colony and was referred to as French Indochina. During World War II, the French lost possession of Vietnam to the invading Axis power, Japan. At that time, the Vietnamese communist faction, called the Viet Minh, were fighting off Japan in the North. Once World War II had ended, France announced it would be reclaiming French Indochina, which led to another war between the French and the Viet Minh. This conflict ultimately ended at the Geneva Conference in Switzerland in July 1954, where both parties met to decide the future of Vietnam. The French agreed to pull out of North Vietnam and Chairman Ho Chi Minh, the country's communist leader, retained control of the North while the French set up a democratic government in the South. The country was temporarily divided by the 17th parallel. However, the division was not intended to be permanent although it remains divided as of 2017.

U.S. Involvement
While the Vietnam War began as a war between the North Vietnamese and Japanese, and eventually the French, the truce between the French and Vietnamese, called the Geneva Agreements, served to pull the U.S. into a war with North Vietnam in 1954. The U.S. had begun influencing control over South Korea gradually. At the time of the Geneva Agreements, there was a growing concern in the U.S. regarding the threat of communism. It was thought that communism could spread, essentially taking over much of Southeast Asia, in a concept called the domino theory. The central thought was that as one government fell to communism, others would follow.

On July 26. 1950, the first overt steps toward war in Vietnam were initiated by U.S. President Harry S. Truman when he approved $15 million in financial aid to the French in their war to regain control of Vietnam. In early 1955, the U.S. sent direct aid to the South Vietnamese army. The U.S. also offered to train South Vietnamese soldiers. Later that year, the Republic of South Vietnam formed with a new anti-communist leader, Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. While Diem struggles, the U.S. continued to send military advisers to South Vietnam. By the time the first U.S. troops landed on the ground the U.S. already had more than 23,000 military advisers in South Vietnam and a naval presence on its shores.

U.S. Boots on the Ground
On March 8, 1965, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade marched ashore at China Beach in central Vietnam. The U.S. president at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, was reluctant to send the marines as the Vietnam War was not popular in the U.S. More than 60,000 American soldiers were killed and the trained, disciplined armed forces had a difficult time responding to the guerrilla warfare tactics of the North Vietnamese. Two years later, in March 1967, U.S. Congress authorized $4.5 billion for the Vietnam War effort. The war lasted almost another decade despite multiple protests by the American people against the war. On April 20, 1975, the last of the American military troops withdrew from Vietnam. Within hours of the withdrawal, the North Vietnamese took Saigon and South Vietnam offered an unconditional surrender.