During WWII Japan captured Vietnam and allowed the collaborationist French to continue to oversee their colony. Vietnam saw the coming of the Japanese an end to white colonial rule, but a man named Ho Chi Minh saw the Japanese as alien invaders, no more welcome than the French. They were only interested in seizing Vietnamese crops.
In 1941 Ho Chi Minh set up a headquarters near the remote village of Pac Bo, in a limestone cave at the slide of a mountain.
Their Ho Chi Minh founded a Group that was against the French, which he called the Viet Minh. Most people did not know that the Viet Minh was a communist organization.
In the spring of 1945, the U.S was looking for allies behind Vietnamese lines so they could find a way to undermine Japanese forces, until when Ho Chi Minh contacted them. So the U.S sent an O.S.S team to meet with the Viet Minh leadership.
Ho Chi Minh began to call his followers the Viet-American Army and praised America as a champion of democracy.
America began its work in Vietnam in secrecy until it failed 30 years later. Meanwhile, famine gripped the northern part of Vietnam, while Japanese storehouses were filled with sacks of rice.
When 2 A-bombs hit Japan, Japanese surrender seemed imminent, so Ho Chi Minh called the people of Vietnam to get their country back before the French could reestablish their colonial regime and they did.
The alliance between the Soviets and the U.S that won WWII had collapsed.
The Soviets now occupied eastern Europe and hoped to spread their influence into Iran, Turkey, and the Mediterranean. This period was known as the Cold War. The French president at that time warned that if the U.S insisted on independence for its colonies, France might have no choice but to fall into the Soviet’s orbit. The U.S must do nothing to undercut Frances’s empire, including Vietnam.
Now the U.S was officially neutral, hoping for the Viet Minh and the French would reach a peaceful solution on their own. Allied leaders agreed to temporarily divide Vietnam into two separate parts:
North Vietnam which was controlled by Nationalist Chinese troops and South was controlled by British Colonial Troops, where rival factions, the French and the Viet Minh, were already fighting on the streets of Saigon; the violence in and around Saigon escalated.
On September 26, 1945, an OSS team, (Office of Strategic Services) was heading for the airport when they came and were by Viet Minh by mistaking them for French.
In the fall of 1945, fresh French troops came to take over from the British and eventually the whole country. In 1946, The Viet Minh killed hundreds of people thought to have consolidated with the French.
In winter 1946, fighting broke out in Hanoi. The Viet Minh were no match to French firepower, so they went back to their HQ far in the north. Later, Communist countries like China and the Soviet Union offered the Viet Minh accepted.
President Truman, who was being blamed for losing China and not being able to contain communism, approved a $23 million aid program for the French in Vietnam. The U.S was not neutral anymore.
In June of 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. President Truman ordered 10s of thousands of troops to help South Korea and finally were able to push back North Korea.
In July of 1950, President Truman secretly dispatched transport planes and a shipload of jeeps to Vietnam for the French.
In 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower in part because he promised to take a tougher stance on communism. The same year, American taxpayers were footing more than 30% of the bill for the French war in Vietnam. Within 2 years, that number would rise to nearly 80%.
On March 13th the Viet Minh did a siege against a French airbase named Dien Bien Phu, which was a major victory for the Viet Minh.
The French president begged Eisenhower to intervene but he wanted approval from allies and the congress. Britain and Congress said no, but he still secretly sent transport planes with their markings painted over with.
In 1954, Vietnam was temporarily divided again and the French had to leave the north and go back south. Ho Chi Minh was elected for the north and a man named Ngo Dinh Diem for the South. America was trying to help South Vietnam into a democracy, but on April 27th, 1955 President Eisenhower decided to end American support for Diem’s regime because many people thought he was too complicated.
So then Diem made an all-out assault on the Binh Xuyen syndicate. Eisenhower saw no choice but to stick with Diem. Then the French announced that they were going to withdraw completely from South Vietnam. Vietnam celebrated that Diem could move the French completely out of Vietnam while Ho Chi Minh could only move the French away from the north.
On October 26th,1955, Diem named himself the first president of the brand-new Republic of Vietnam. Eisenhower ordered scores of American civilians to South Vietnam, full of plans for economic development. But those civilians would always be outnumbered by military advisors.
South Vietnam was training for a full conventional invasion, but North Vietnam was focused on rebuilding their country. The Communists (North Vietnam) imposed harsh land reforms, modeled on those underways in China, with a ruthlessness that left thousands of people dead.
Ho Chi Minh worried if he took direct military action against the South, the U.S would be drawn more deeply into the struggle. He told the south they should politically and not physically. But the message didn’t get too far into South Vietnam.
In a campaign Diem called “Denounce the Communist,” Diem had imprisoned tens of thousands of citizens without trial and executed hundreds of more.
So the Communists began taking matters into their own hands and began attacking South Vietnamese officials. Ho Chi Minh would remain the face of revolution around the world, but he shared power with people growing impatient of his cautiousness. Now 40 to 50 armed men began slipping into South Vietnam. Violence against the Diem regime steadily accelerated.
On the evening of July 8th,1959, at Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon, 6 American military advisors were watching a movie in their mess hall. Viet Minh guerillas, who had crept silently into the compound, opened fire through the windows and killed the six advisors.
On November 8th,1960, President John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States of America. Vice President was Senator Lyndon Johnson. Six weeks after Kennedy’s election, at a remote village called Tan Lap, representatives of southern revolutions met up to make an organization to replace the Viet Minh, dedicated to overthrowing Diem and ousting the foreigners who supported him. The new organization would be called the Viet Cong.
Kennedy sent the Green Berets, a special task force, to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to organize mountain tribes to fight the Viet Cong and to undertake convert missions to sabotage their supply bases in Laos and Cambodia. Then he doubled funding for South Vietnam’s army, dispatched helicopters, and Armored Personnel Carriers (APC’s.)
Kenndy also authorized the use of Napalm and the spraying of defoliants to deny cover to the Viet Cong and destroy the crops that fed them. A whole army of chemicals was used including a chemical called “Agent Orange”, and the president secretly continued to increase the number of American military advisors.
Meanwhile, the Politburo in the Viet Cong said that every fit man had to serve in the army.
Inspired by JFK’s call for peace, thousands of Americans joined the Peace Corps and other organizations and other organizations to help project American ideals.
Pete Hunting, a 22-year old from Oklahoma City, went to Vietnam right after college to do what he could to help Vietnam. He worked for the International Voluntary Services, a non-profit organization working to help the people of South Vietnam. 2 years after he arrived, Pete was driving when he ran into a Viet Cong ambush. He was shot 5 times. He was the first American civilian volunteer to be killed in Vietnam.
Farmers resented leaving their homes and moving to strategic hamlets, but later they found out that the Viet Cong was picking people to work in there army from these “strategic” hamlets. Then the whole program fell apart.
On January 2nd, 1963, 10 American helicopters ferried an army company to a spot just north of Tan Hoi. Their objective was to capture a Viet Cong Radio Transmitter. They met no Viet Cong. The Viet Cong commander only let them get within 100 feet before giving them the order to fire. The South was losing the battle. 10 more helicopters came filled with combat troops. They were escorted by 5 more helicopter gunships. As soon as the helicopters landed, the Viet Cong opened fire with mortars and machine guns.
The machine guns hit 14 of 15 helicopters. 5 were destroyed, killing many crewmen. Colonel Vann watched from his spotter plane. He radioed the Southern Army (also known as ARVN) commander to send in an APC unit to rescue the men.
But the commander refused to send in more men. Vann asked him again but he still rejected it. This went on for about 1 hour, but it took another 2 hours for the APCs to get toward the trapped men. There was no more firing. Eight of the APCs were getting shot. 6 of the gunners were dead.
The commander convinced more APC units to go to the battle, so the guerillas lept from their fox holes and threw hand grenades at the APCs. None did any real damage, but the drivers were shocked and halted, turned around, and hid behind messed up helicopters.
Vann then begged the ARVN to make a simultaneous assault on the enemy by the remaining ground forces. But they refused. That night the Viet Cong slipped away, carrying the dead and wounded, but knowing they won a great victory. When reporters said that the ARVN lost, some government officials denied that.
A month later violent protests were happening for freedom of Buddhists practicing their religion. When the Buddhists flew their flag to celebrate the 2,527th birthday of Lord Buddha, police tore them down.
Protesters took to the streets. The Catholic deputy chief sent security forces to suppress the protests. They opened fire. 8 protesters died. The Diem Regime blamed the Viet Cong. American officials urged Diem to make meaningful concessions to the Buddhists if he wants his country to be united. He refused.
On June 10th, 1963, Malcome Brown of the Associated Press got an anonymous tip that said something important was going to happen tomorrow at a major intersection in Saigon. He took his camera.
The next day a Monk set himself on fire to protest against Diem.
While the monk burned another monk repeated over and over again in English and Vietnamese “A monk becomes a Martyr.” Soon other monks would become Martyrs.
On November 1, 1963, ARVN troops (Not including American) did a coup and attacked Saigon and told Diem and his brother to surrender. They eventually did, but only in exchange for the promise to be let go and Diem to step down. When Diem and his brother got into the APC to get out of the country they were still shot and killed a few moments after they got in. The South Vietnamese government was officially overthrown.
Unfortunately, President Kennedy was assassinated on November 1, 1963. So a man named Lydon Baines Johnson was sworn into presidency.
After the coup, the Viet Cong was making coordinated attacks along the countryside. About 40% of the ARVN turned the Viet Cong’s side, and more than 50% of South Vietnam civilians were in the hands of the Viet Cong.
Between January 1964 to June of 1965 there would be 8 different governments in South Vietnam. All of these leaders were so close to the Americans, that they were seen as puppets.