Swarthmore College Peace Collection

[excerpted from Patriotism, Peace and Vietnam: A Memoir by Peggy Hanna (Left to Write, Springfield, Ohio), 2003]

" In 1858, the French occupied Vietnam. During France's entire rule, there were constant peasant uprisings but to no avail. In 1930 and 1931 thousands of Vietnamese were executed and imprisoned by the French Legion in an attempt to suppress all nationalist parties. A young man named Ngo Dinh Diem assisted the French during this time and would later be chosen by the United States to be president of South Vietnam.

Japan, with no resistance from the French, occupied Vietnam in 1940. During the 1940 to 1945 period, all Vietnamese groups struggling for independence from the French and the Japanese formed a coalition under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. They called themselves the League for Independence or the Vietminh.

On September 2, 1945, the day Japan surrendered to the Allies, Ho Chi Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and read to the crowds in Hanoi the Vietnamese "Declaration of Independence." At that time, the new republic included all of Vietnam. Three weeks later, the British were helping to re-establish French rule and forced the Vietminh out of Saigon. During this time, Ho Chi Minh tried to gain support from President Truman but received none.

By 1947, French troops occupied Hanoi and the fight for independence was on again. In early 1950, the French brought in the former Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai, to serve as president, thus the United States could recognize Bao Dai (the French puppet government) and help the French without appearing to bolster colonialism. By 1954, 250,000 Frenchmen were fighting in Vietnam and the United States was financing most of the cost of the war. Finally in the spring of 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Pu.

The warring parties, including the United States, France, China, Great Britain, Laos, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh) and the "State" of Vietnam (Bao Dai), attempted to settle the political problems following the end of French colonial rule. Even though the Democratic Republic of Vietnam controlled over three-fourths of Vietnam ground, they agreed to a temporary administrative separation of north and south Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel. This was never to be seen as a permanent division.

It was also agreed that elections would be held within two years to unify the country. Neither zone would receive help or enter into international alliances. The United States and the Bao Dai regime were the only ones not to accept the Geneva Agreements, but the United States did promise not to go against them. The United States then pressured the French to replace Bai Dai with Ngo Dinh Diem as prime minister of the Republic of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese, as a united country, were to decide for themselves in 1956 which government they preferred, but the United States knew Communist Ho Chi Minh would be elected by a landslide so they refused to allow the elections to be held. This was in violation of the Geneva Agreements that recognized Vietnam as one country and one people.

Our involvement grew while Diem's rule became a ruthless, mercenary dictatorship supposedly aimed at communists but actually brutalizing any opposition. At the same time, the American people were led to believe Diem was a dedicated, respected advocate of freedom and democracy.

By December 1960, the National Liberation Front (NLF), a resistance movement in the south, organized their armed forces (Vietcong). Within two years, the NLF controlled eighty percent of the countryside. By 1965, the United States was forced to admit defeat or widen the war in an effort for victory. President Johnson then initiated the bombing of North Vietnam and committed U.S. ground troops to South Vietnam. Victory was ever elusive."

[from p. 113-115]

Vietnam War
Groups fighting in Vietnam:
Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam)
Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG) / National Liberation Front (NLF) / Vietcong [3 names for the same entity]
[from p. 62]

"1961 - Newly elected President John F. Kennedy continues aid to South Vietnam.
1963 - 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam, up from Eisenhower's 900 advisors. Kennedy assassinated. Vice President Johnson becomes president.
1964 - Tonkin Gulf Resolution opens door to war. Johnson says, 'Our response...will be limited... We seek no wider war.' Johnson wins presidential election as peace candidate. By the end of 1964, United States has about 23,000 military personnel in South Vietnam, serving in a full but undeclared war, with fighting also in Laos and Cambodia. America casualties for the year total 1,278.
1965 - Communist Vietnamese troops attack American military camp killing 8 Americans and wounding 109. Johnson responds with Operation "Rolling Thunder" bombing raids on North Vietnam through 1968. U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam rises to 184,300 by 1965. Americans killed in action for the year number 1,369 with 5,300 wounded. Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (South Vietnam) killed in action for 1965 was 11,242." [from p. 1]
"1968 - The National Front for Liberation of South Vietnam...and North Vietnamese troops attack South Vietnam cities in the Tet Offensive. Between 1965 and 1968, 30,343 American troops killed in action; 14,314 in 1968 itself. The cost of the war is approximately $30 billion. President Johnson withdraws from the presidential race. Johnson calls a halt to the bombing and begins negotiations with North Vietnam. American troops in South Vietnam number 536,000. Rev Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy are both assassinated... Tet Offensive heightens popular doubt about war.... Richard Nixon wins election." [from p. 7, 21]
"1969 - Nixon authorizes bombing of North Vietnam and, secretly, Cambodia. Antiwar sentiment continues to mount with dramatic demonstrations in the fall when news of the 1968 My Lai massacre breaks.... Nixon begins to withdraw troops while turning war over to South Vietnamese. By year's end, U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam was reduced by 61,000.... Over 9,000 American troops killed in action in 1969. American troops killed in action 1965 through 1969 totals 39,757." [from p. 21, 30, 35]
"1970 - Nixon announces invasion of Cambodia.... Congress repeals Tonkin Gulf Resolution in June, an action Nixon disregards. U.S. troop strength in South Vietnam at end of 1970 is 334,600. Of them, 4,221 killed in action." [from p. 41, 50]
"1971 - Nixon continues to withdraw troops but resumes and intensifies the bombing campaign. Agent Orange defoliant used since 1962 discontinued. Nixon encourages a tactical South Vietnamese invasion of Laos.... [Paris Peace Talks begin.] In the fall, President Nixon orders U.S. soldiers to be assigned only to defensive roles. U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam at the end of the year [number] 156,800. Vietnam Veterans Against the War hold a large demonstration in Washington, D.C. that is part of one of the largest mass demonstrations in U.S. history. Publication of stolen portions of the Pentagon Papers, a defense department analysis of the war through 1967, exposes government lies about the war. United States drops three times the total tonnage of bombs during all of World War II on Vietnam during the thirty months of Nixon's presidency." [from p. 56, 60, 78, 82, 85]
"1972 - Nixon visits China and Russia as North Vietnam opens a major offensive in the south. The United States responds with massive bombings in the south as well as in the north, including Hanoi. The last U.S. combat unit is withdrawn in August, leaving 44,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam. Jane Fonda goes to Hanoi.... Nixon wins re-election. The Paris Peace Talks resume after a lengthy disruption. Nixon initiates the "Christmas Bombings" of North Vietnam until December 31 when negotiations are resumed." [from p. 93, 104]
"1973 - The Paris Peace Accords are signed. Military draft ends. U.S. troops are withdrawn, although U.S. military commitment to the South Vietnamese government extends through the continuing war until Hanoi's final, successful offensive in the spring of 1975." [from p. 105]

Statistics Re: Total Dead From War

America (including MIAs)
South Vietnam
North Vietnam / Vietcong
Korea (American Ally)
Australia / New Zealand (American Allies)
Thailand (American Ally)
Vietnamese civilians
in the millions

[from p. 107]

This page by Anne M. Yoder, Archivist, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Nov. 2007