Indochina after the French
- 1 Indochina after the French
- 1.1 Consequences of the Vietnamese victory against the French
- 1.2 Consequences of the Geneva Peace Agreement for the Vietnamese people to 1964
- 1.3 Political, social, economic and military developments within North and South Vietnam
- 2 The USA and Indochina
- 2.1 Political and social issues in Indochina by 1960
- 2.2 Nature and development of US policy towards Indochina generally and Vietnam in particular
- 2.3 Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the consequences for Vietnam and Cambodia
- 3 The Second Indochina War
- 3.1 Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front (NLF), and by the South Vietnamese and the USA
- 3.2 Impact of the 1968 Tet Offensive
- 3.3 Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina
- 3.4 Impact of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia
- 3.5 Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA
- 3.6 The defeat of the South Vietnamese forces
- 4 Pol Pot’s Regime
- 4.1 Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
- 4.2 Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot
- 5 HSC Past Questions
Consequences of the Vietnamese victory against the French
(See Geneva Peace Agreement)
Consequences of the Geneva Peace Agreement for the Vietnamese people to 1964
Aims and Outcomes
- France must grant complete independence to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
- There would be a temporary division of Vietnam into two sectors along the 17th parallel of latitude
- A 10km wide demilitarised zone would separate North and South Vietnam and no foreign bases were allowed within any area of Indochina.
- Residents of Vietnam had 300 days to decide whether to move to the North or South or stay where they were – legal migration north and south.
- Free democratic elections for a sovereign government for a united Vietnam were scheduled for July 1956 (didn’t happen). An International Control Commission would supervise the elections.
- The principal objective of Ho Chi Minh to establish an independent and unified Vietnam was compromised by the conflicting ideologies of superpowers in the 1954 Cold War era.
- Geneva Accords à inconclusive nature (adequately coined ‘Geneva Indecisions’) à failure
- Use as argument for a Geneva Accords question.
- Indecisive nature is partially due to the fact that they were only intended to be temporary as they were pressed by an urgency resulting from the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
- Impracticable and satisfied nobody
- Stanley Karnow: they “produced no durable solution to the Indochina conflict”
- Shulzinger: there is an “Impossible task of creating a separate state and society…in a single land”.
- The Accords were signed hesitantly by Ho due to Soviet and Chinese pressure
- The US – under the fear that elections would cause communism to further spread amidst the domino effect of the Cold War – were not signatory the agreement at all.
- Lack of support for the Accords à the terms were not duly adhered to àg. South Vietnam’s refused to partake in the 1956 national elections.
- THEREFORE: unviable nature of the Agreements in themselves was a cause of their failure and more pointedly for future conflict in Indochina
- Stanley Karnow: “the conference was merely an interlude between two wars- or rather, a lull in the same war”.
North Vietnam 1954-1960 (Democratic Republic of Vietnam DRVN)
- The Geneva Peace Agreement led to the formation of a communist North Vietnam under the efficient political framework of the Lao Dong, run by President Ho and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, through which Ho attempted, and succeeded, to consolidate his power in the north with the premise of securing control of the whole of Vietnam later.
- The Mekong Delta in the South had been the traditional source of the country’s rice for centuries. This was now denied to the North due to the separation along the 17th parallel. The red river Delta in the North was over-populated and even though up to 1 million people moved to the south after the Geneva Accords, food shortages remained an issue. Impending famine was only avoided by the importation of emergency rice supplies from Burma by the USSR. The situation was eased by the 1 million who went away.
- Ravaged by constant warfare for almost 15 years:
- Japanese deprivation and exploitation between 1940-1945 had ruined much of the North’s agricultural infrastructure. It had led to serious famine in 1945. 8 years of warfare between the French and the Viet Minh had further desolated the fragile northern economy. Much of the North’s irrigation network; many of its roads; bridges; and peasant’s homes were in ruin by 1954. These problems were exacerbated by refugees who dismantled and stripped harbour installations, post offices, hospitals, and factories as they left. Despite support from China and the USSR, the North was desperately short of badly needed capital for investment in 1954.
- Departure to the South:
- The Geneva Accords had allowed for a 300 day period when people could move either North or South. Up to 1 million people moved south, the vast majority of them were Catholics who feared persecution under the Northern communist regime. Though their departure removed a major source of opposition within the North it also denied the Northern economy the badly needed skills of many specialised workers.
- Foreign Policy
- In the context of the Cold War, the relations between the DRV and the USA were hostile.
- In December 1955, USA closed its Hanoi embassy.
- USA viewed DRV not as an independent nation, bur merely a pawn in the game of World Wide Communist insurgencies directed from USSR.
- Throughout the 1950s North Vietnam relied heavily on the USSR and China. e.g. rice imports from China 1954-1957.
- Soviet technological aid had been vital to resurrect the DRV’s industrial sector.
- Even though Ho depended upon the aid from USSR and China, he was determined to build a communist state independent from them.
- The relationship w/ China was still slightly tentative due to historical tensions
- By the late 1950’s there was an added complication to the DRV foreign policy à the USSR and China were drifting apart due to ideological differences and old power rivalry.
- On occasion this Sino-Soviet split even broke out into armed conflict along their common border.
- North Vietnam sought to avoid taking sides in this conflict realising that it would need the support of both in future.
- Ho implemented The Agricultural Reform Tribunals in order to resolve the agricultural and industrial devastation that had spawned from the 15 years of war that had ravaged the North
- Threatened the purpose of the Geneva Accords to ensure peace in Vietnam, as over 100,000 people perished in the Viet Minh’s redistribution of land.
- In August 1956, Ho publicly admitted that “errors have been committed” after a series of peasant uprisings revealed the likelihood of Diem winning the 1956 national election.
- The Tribunals, although successful in achieving self-sufficiency in rice production by 1957, were abandoned in early 1958 for the Cooperativisation plans.
- Based on the principle that each village or hamlet shared the work and responsibility amongst its members
- Adopted by 86% of DRVN, and successfully won back the support of the peasants
- Kolko: it provided “a much desired form of insurance and stability”.
- Nationalisation of all previously French owned companies, banks and public utilities along with the implementation of a 3 year economic plan in 1958
- Strengthened the economy which became less reliant on Soviet and Chinese support.
Evaluation of North
- James Harper: the results of the DRV’s efforts in the 1950s “allowed the communist party to strengthen” as well as putting the north “in a strong position to confront the problem of a divided country”.
South Vietnam 1954 – 1960 (Rebublic of Vietnam RVN)
- The failure of the Geneva Peace Agreements à created separate state of South Vietnam, under the autocratic rule of Ngo Dinh Diem under the Bao Dai regime à the South would come to provide their own element of resistance and ultimately lead to the second Indochinese Conflict.
- Diem’s Consolidation of Power
- While initially when appointed by the Bao Dai in 1954, Diem was considered “an unlikely candidate to build a nation” (Schulzinger)
- Consolidated his position with nepotistic promotions and support from the USA until he gained presidency of the RVN through a rigged election in July 1955.
- Diem’s consolidation of power was ultimately unsuccessful à James Harrison: “Diem created a dictatorship so unpopular as to lead to his own overthrow”.
- Confrontation by factionalism
- In April 1955, Diem sought a confrontation with and then crushed the three largest factional groups opposed to him – Binh Xuyen, Hoa Hao and Cao Dai.
- The combined private armies of the three sects totalled 35,000 men.
- Even though the 3 groups were decidedly defeated, they still controlled large areas of the country.
- Diem had defeated vehement anti-communist groups. Some members were pushed into the arms of the Viet Minh.
- Those who became resistance fighters for the Viet Minh, Diem dubbed ‘Viet Cong’
Social/ Economic Issues
- His determination to eradicate communism is evident in his Denunciation Campaign à 60, 000- 80,000 people were detained.
- Diem’s implementation of the Agroville Program in 1956 aimed to prevent infiltration by Viet Minh soldiers. It was a calculated program to control the country side and remove peasants from communist influence.
- The agroville program collapsed due to rural resistance and total penetration by the Viet Cong. Diem’s officials in the countryside disappeared at the rate of 15 per week.
- Defeating the Vietcong in the countryside became Diem’s most urgent priority in 1961 à Strategic Hamlet Program was introduced with the aims of: The protection of rural villages from the Vietcong infiltration, The provision of guns and ammunition to farmers so they could resist the Vietcong military attacks, The establishment of ‘Secure’ Hamlets which would extend their support to the Diem regime. Program failed for three reasons.
- ‘Secure’ Hamlets became military fortresses, complete with moats, barbed wire, impenetrable fences, mines, and booby traps. The Vietcong neutralised these monuments by avoiding them completely
- The rural folk resisted the forced relocation and disruption to their lifestyles that the building of the Strategic Hamlets required.
- The government of South Vietnam did not eliminate or reduce the impact of the Vietcong in the countryside, instead, the Vietcong operations intensified and its infrastructure expanded. Progressively more and more rural farmers identified with the Vietcong’s patriotism and nationalism. In 1963, Diem and the Americans, not Uncle Ho and the Vietcong, were viewed as enemies that must be defeated in order to achieve the reunification of North and South in Vietnam.
- On the 20th December 1960, the NLF was established.
- The growing strength of NLF activity was alarming leading military figures.
- The NLF sought to infiltrate every corner of Southern society.
- Many of the NLF recruits were teenagers who were resentful of Diem’s landlords and tax collectors and were not necessarily communist.
- When it was formed it had a regular force of 5500 and an irregular force of 30 000 guerrillas.
- By the end of 1961 the Americans estimated that the Vietcong controlled about 80% of the countryside – the principal targets of the Vietcong were people who worked for the Diem regime.
- Diem’s favouritism of the Catholic minority increased anti-government unrest amongst the Buddhist community which peaked in May 1963 with an uprising involving grenades and tear gas that ultimately culminated in Quang Duc’s ultimate protest against Diem – self-immolation.
Evaluation of the South
- In November 1963, Army and Air force officers staged another coup against Diem which, despite US offers of safe passage out of the country, led to the murder of Diem and Nhu on the 2nd of November, effectively ending his regime, but plunging South Vietnam into a period of “political chaos” (General William Westmoreland) with many coups, corruption and self-seeking generals.
The USA and Indochina
- The intractable policy of containment and the domino theory blinded U.S. statesmen and the few South East Asian analysts and led them to enact ill-founded strategy, and support the fledging democracy in South Vietnam and ‘bastion democracies’, after the French capitulation at Dien Bien Phu on May 7th 1954.
- Many non-communist elements in Indochina that were predominantly nationalist opposed US doctrine.
- US policy towards Indochina was purely focused on what America thought was important for Indochina.
- The USA saw campaigns such as those launched by the Vietcong as part of a global conflict, not in local terms. The Vietnamese had fought foreign occupation for thousands of years and in turn had rejected the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the French again and then the Americans.
- The US were always defending never attacking North Vietnam. American soldiers had been trained in regular combat not to counter guerrilla warfare. Troop strength and superior equipment made little difference.
- It is very clear in retrospect that the US gravely and fundamentally misunderstood the nature of warfare in Vietnam. Before the war they had trained for battles along the high and wide European plateaus, not the confined, oppressing heat of the Indochinese jungle. They also relied to heavily on helicopters in extraction and thought that helicopters and mobility could win the war for them.
- Sophisticated weaponry and devastating the environment was not equal to the North Vietnamese strategic advantage of familiar terrain, immunity to local disease, the hearts and minds of the people, justification and reasons to fight, knowledge and application of guerrilla warfare and the ability to locate the enemies position; harass them and the melt back into the jungle.
Nature and development of US policy towards Indochina generally and Vietnam in particular
US Policy Towards Vietnam:
- No American troops were sent to help the French in the 1st Indochina War, but US money was – by the end of the war the US was paying up to 80% of French war expenses.
- President Eisenhower argued that it was the most economical way for the US to prevent the further spread of communism.
The growth of American involvement in Vietnam during the Diem years – 1954-63:
- By the end of 1954 there was 600 advisors in South Vietnam – their function was to train the new Southern army ARVN. Advisor numbers increased steadily during the following decade.
- Truman Doctrine(1947) – Containment, Domino Theory,
- 1954: 600 US advisors- aim to increase and train ARVN
- 1955 US aid package $322 first of many grants
- By 1960’s- Southern economy totally reliant on US
- The US gave its full support to Diem through key people such as Colonel Lansdale.
- US backed rigged 1955 national referendum that ousted Bao Dai and inaugurated Diem
- The US totally supported Diem when he cancelled plans for holding nationwide elections in 1956 – Diem argued that the North could not be relied upon to hold fair elections – both Diem and the US knew that a nationwide poll would almost certainly result in a victory for Ho Chi Minh
- As Diem and Nhu strengthened their hold on power, often in brutal fashion, there was no US question – passive resistance from USA
- The number of US advisors in South Vietnam grew steadily – some of these were civilian forces. Example: a Michigan police unit was training RVN police forces.
- However, most were involved in the training of the ARVN
- With Viet Cong attacks steadily increasing, the advisors main role became to train the Southern Troops in counter insurgency (these were the Green Berets)
- The hope was that the Southern Army could be brought to a point where it could deal with the Viet Cong without the need of American troops
- US did not question power of Diem, Nhu and Can Lao
- Number of Us forces growing-some were civilian forces training RVN forces and ARVN
- Advisors main role to train Southern troops in counterinsurgency-Green Berets
- 1960: 900 advisors
- 1961: 3200 advisors
- 1960: 900 us advisors
- 1961: 3200 advisors
- Technically there were no US combat troops in Southern Vietnam.
- However by late 1962 “US advisors” assisted ARVN troops by flying helicopters and aircraft missions
- 1962: 11000 American personnel for South.
- 1963: 16700
- American involvement was now beyond military and economic
- WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds)-to develop a social infrastructure. Provision of health services, education and subsidized rice.
- Agroville program and Strategic Hamlets had the backing of US funds. The strategic hamlet was a much more ambitious plan though the aims were similar.
- Withdrawal of 1000 troops-question of involvement in assassination of Diem
Lyndon Baines Johnson Nov 1963-1969
- Self-interest , prestige
- Pressure that Democrats were not “soft” on communism
- Feb 1964: Secret raids on N Vietnam- aim was to attack economic targets and limit help to VC
- March 1964: The pentagon develops detailed bombing plans. Targets were firstly NV military sites and guerilla sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos. The second targets were Northern infrastructure sites
- Early March the Johnson administration prepared a draft congressional resolution which would give the president the power to take whatever action he wanted against communists. This was kept secret and was not known until the Pentagon Papers were released.
- US forces carried out secret SOG and DESOTO patrols against NV to gain intelligence information about NV and VC forces
- June: Advisors increased 23000
August 1964: The Tonkin Incident
- During late July 1964 the USS Maddox was involved in patrols off the coast of NV
- The Maddox moved very close to the coast within 7km and area claimed by Hanoi as being in NV territorial waters
- This was clearly a provocative act on the part of Maddox. North Vietnamese vessels in retaliation attacked the Maddox, the crew of the Maddox claimed they then sank a NV patrol boat and damaged two others before leaving the area
- Two days later the Maddox and the USS C Turner Joy returned to the area there was a violent thunderstorm at the time. Claims were made by the US authorities -subsequently found to untrue- that the US vessel had been attacked again
- This could have been a result of confusion caused by the storm or a deliberate lie by the US to give it an excuse to retaliate
- Johnson acted quickly and decisively, he went on nation-wide television and stated that the US would not allow its vessels to be attacked with “impunity”.
- Air raids quickly followed against various targets in NV including Haiphong harbor
- According to historians such as Kolko- “this was an astute move”
- It showed his to be a firm and decisive leader and did not take things any further and risk making Vietnam a negative election issue but within days congress had passed the Tonkin Resolution unanimously in the house of representatives.
- With only two negative votes in the senate.
- The Tonkin resolution had to factors:
- The US military could use any and all resources against North Vietnam
- The US could provide ‘direct combat support’ to any member of the SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation), a cold war alliance pact created in 1954
- Effect of Tonkin Resolution:
- The Tonkin resolution would remain enforced until May 1970
- It gave Johnson the power to take “all” necessary measures to prevent any further aggression. The president could make any decision he desired about Vietnam and he did not have to have to go through congress for approval. Once the resolution had been passed he put it aside until after the elections
- As South Vietnam was a member of SEATO and now seamed ‘threatened’ by North Vietnam, 24th Feb Operation Rolling Thunder was launched
- The sustained bombing of NV begins 8th March 1965 The first US combat forces 3500 arrive to Da Nang air base
- The end of 1965: 200 000 US combat troops –mid 1968: 550 000 troops
Paragraph: Evaluate the view that North Vietnam’s determination to spread communism in Indochina caused the failure of the Geneva Peace Agreements in the 1960’s
American involvement both financially, militarily and politically in South Vietnam, was another influential factor in the failure of the Geneva Accords in the 1960’s. American Involvement primarily centred around their Cold War foreign policies, such as the Truman Doctrine of 1957, the containment policy and the domino theory, which all centred around the objective of stopping the spread of communism – the means of achieving this was ensuring that South Vietnam remained a democratic state. As America was not signatory to the Geneva Peace Agreement, it was able to stand behind Diem’s refusal to partake in the national elections, a feat which otherwise would not have succeeded. Without the support of this super power, many of Diem’s policy would not have been implemented, including the Agroville program and the Strategic Hamlets. Furthermore, with growing tensions between the North and South The National Liberation Front (NLF) was established in December 1960. It sought many things in its 10 Point Program, among them were the overthrow of Diem’s regime and the development of an economy independent from the USA; as Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. states “it was not until September, 1960 that the Communist Party of North Vietnam bestowed its formal blessing and called for the liberation of the south from American imperialism”. By 1961 JFK had approved National Security Action Memorandum, granting some but not all of the military forces recommended by Taylor. In the same year, America estimated the NLF controlled 80% of the countryside. Fuelled by the oppression of Diem and the USA, the Vietcong were ruthless in their assaults, systematically killing over 4000 government officials, school teachers and other collaborators in 1961 alone. Following successful NLF attacks in 1961, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara recommends sending six divisions (200,000 men) of ‘green berets’ to Vietnam. By March 1964, the pentagon was developing bombing plans of South East Asia, beginning with DRVN’s military sites; ultimately concretising the prospect of future conflict.
Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the consequences for Vietnam and Cambodia
Steps in escalation
- February 1964: US commenced secred raids into NV. Aim = attack economic targets and limit Northern help to Vietcong
- March 1964: Pentagon developed bombing plans. 1st targets = North Vietnamese military sites and guerrilla sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos. 2nd targets = Northern infrastructure sites.
- As early as March,Johnson administration began preparing dradt congressional resolution, giving the president the power to take whatever action he wanted against communists. Kept secret and unkown until Pentagon Papers were released.
- US forces carried out secret SOC and DESOTO patrols against NV to gain intelligence information about NV and Vietcong forces
- June 1964: Honolulu Conference increased US advisor numbers to 23 000
- TONKIN INCIDENT
- 5 August 1964: US forces attack patrol boat sites and oil storage centres in NV
- PASSING OF TONKIN RESOLUTION
- Little US action in response to NVA and VC attacks in South.
- September 1964: sustained bombing against North authorised but not implemented. Johnson preoccupied with elections.
- Johnson wins Presidential election (landslide)
- Following major VC attacks in Dec and Jan 1965, Johnson launched Operation Flaming Dart air raids into the north
- 24th February 1965: Operation Rolling Thunder launched
- 8th March 1965: first US combat forces (3500) arrive to defend Da Nang air
- End of 1965: around 200 000 US combat troops in Vietnam
- Mid 1968: almost 550 000 US combat troops in Vietnam
- The US tried to win support from the South Vietnamese with: ‘pacification.’ (Reduction, as of a rebellious district, to peaceful submission) which provided medical supplies and food to the peasants.
- Established ‘Revolution Development’ teams into villages as part of pacification. The RD was supposed to provide security and education and assist with development however failed.
- Training & leading village Defence units.
- Implementing land reforms
- The organisation of local elections.
- However the policies were undermined by search and destroy missions and bombings. The destruction of villages was also not popular.
- Impact: 1/3 of the population was dislocated by 1968 as a result of the hamlet plan (which failed).
- At least 1.5 million (ARVN 184 000 & 430 000 civilians) were killed.
- 3 million had been injured
- 8 internal refugees (1/2 South Vietnamese peasantry)
- 50% of the South Vietnamese lost their homes.
- 1 million widows, 1/2 million orphans & at least 1000 Amerasian (offspring of parents that were a cross between one America and one Vietnamese parent) children left.
- There were over 200,000 prostitutes in the South
- In 1976; there were over 100 000 drug addicts in Saigon alone.
- The Economy had been set back by 40 years behind the other Southeast Asian countries.
- The American money had an impact on Vietnam.
- Establishment of brothels, bars.
- There was significantly increased prices – consumption of goods and services
- Traditional family & economic values were challenged.
- Consumer goods from the US damaged local industry.
- The Vietnamese began to have an increased dependence on US imports.
- Employment opportunities linked to the US.
- Corruption became as a serious issue due to the black market.
- The South Vietnamese had disliked US tactics.
- This resulted in an Increased protest movement.
- South Vietnamese government (supported by US) had used military force against protesters.
“Huge numbers of refugees fled to the rapidly swelling cities & young men were drafted into the armies of both sides, creating rural labour shortages (Alongside high unemployment). Whole villages were destroyed.” – Melanie Beresford
“South Vietnam’s cities swelled to a degree unusual even by Third World Standards.” – Melanie Beresford
“It’s not that we lost the war militarily. The fact is we, as a nation did not make good our commitment to the South Vietnamese. By virtue of Vietnam, the US held line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling.” Westmoreland
The Second Indochina War
Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front (NLF), and by the South Vietnamese and the USA
Strategies and Tactics of the NLF and North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
- The Vietcong/ NLF
- The elephant and the Tiger
- The early success of the NLF and NVA mirrored the fortunes of the Vietminh against the French. In this war it was simply the case of same tiger different elephant.
- Guerrilla Warfare
- The analogy of the elephant and the tiger described the fundamental tactic of guerrilla warfare. The tactics followed by the communist guerrilla’s owed much to experience of the Chinese communists in their struggle for power. They include the following:
- Avoided major confrontation with the US
- Attacked at night, operated in small groups and travelled light
- VC used tactic of ambush
- Booby traps could be anywhere e.g. Sharpened bamboo punji sticks
- Often mines of jungle tracks
- The terrain of South Vietnam was well suited to guerrilla warfare
- Most of country was jungle and mountains
- VC knew their locale intimately
- They wore no uniforms and were able to blend in with the population
- Made life difficult for US troops > never knew who was a civilian or who was the VC
- The people who the US was fighting looked the same, dressed the same and spoke the same language.
- Out of frustration and fear, US troops played in safe by assuming the locals they met were VC
- Caused hostility and persuaded many South Vietnamese to join the VC
- The VC had a two-sided relationship with the local population
- Ho and Giap insisted on a high level of respect for villagers, men expected to assist them, respect their women and deal with them honestly this behaviour earned the VC local support
- VC could also be ruthless to those working for the US or the South Vietnamese regime
- VC activity marked by both idealism and brutality
- VC fighters engaged in political propaganda
- VC developed kilometres of tunnel in South Vietnam to provide a sanctuary for guerrillas.
- Tunnels barely wide enough for a person to crawl through
- Added further frustration to the US troops as guerrilla often just vanished
- Most of the VC fighting occurred in rural areas
- Stanley Karnow: “Vietcong benefited from the image of the Vietminh… and their promise of a better future was enticing… yet for all their brutality, Vietcong terrorism was usually selective.”
- The analogy of the elephant and the tiger described the fundamental tactic of guerrilla warfare. The tactics followed by the communist guerrilla’s owed much to experience of the Chinese communists in their struggle for power. They include the following:
- The North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
- From 1964, regular units of the NVA began moving into South Vietnam.
- Between 1964 and 1968, Giap was willing to engage the US in occasional set battles
- The strategy was to prolong conflict an hence wore down the US
- North Vietnam were willing to lose a dozen of men for each US troop
- During the Tet Offensive of 1968, Viet Cong loses were considerable. As a result, from 1969 onwards the bulk of the fighting against the US was done by the regular NVA forces. They become more important as the war progresses as the USA increased involvement
- By 1972 the NVA was able to launch full scale conventional campaigns. The final defeat of the South in 1975 had no elements of guerrilla warfare.
- The presence of large numbers of NVA troops in the South carried with it a great danger for the North: it might justify and American invasion of North Vietnam.
- To safe guard against this, Hanoi (North) ensured good relations with USSR and China.
- By early 1966 there were Chinese anti-aircraft and mine sweeping units in the North
- Hanoi received such Chinese aid with mixed feelings, it was comforting incase of US invasion however historic Vietnamese fears of Chinese dominations persisted
- It was also routine for the NVA troops to head south out of ‘duty’
- Evaluation of The Vietcong (VC) and Northern Vietnamese Army (NVA)
- To unify North and South Vietnam as one nation by defeating the US and its allies
- No language barriers
- NVA and VC had knowledge of South Vietnam’s topography
- NVA and VC could sympathises with the victims of US bombings
- Use of guerrilla warfare (mines, booby traps, harassment devices and covert tactics)
- Silent and unpredictable > fought and attacked at night
- Nationalism, patriotism and communist ideology interwoven into resistance mentality
- Popular amongst rural Vietnam
- Vowed to eliminate all foreigners and their allies
- They had the time and money (aid from Russia, China)
- Forces outnumbered
- Did not possess the firepower available to the US and its allies.
Strategy and tactics of the USA and the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN)
- South Vietnamese
Impact of the 1968 Tet Offensive
The Tet Offensive was an initiative of the North Vietnam Army to have the civilian population of South Vietnam join them in their offensive and efforts to overthrow the South Vietnam Government, forcing the withdrawal of the United States Armed Forces.
- Year of the Tet Offensive, Khe Sanh, My Lai and the Chicago riots.
- The US was confronted with military setbacks and political turmoil at home.
- General Giap was the major planner/organiser of the offensive
- LBJ was the most prominent casualty of this great turning point
Entitled by North Vietnamese’s General Giap as the ‘General Offensive, General Uprising’ – the plan was designed to overthrow the South Vietnamese government
- Four Goals
- 44 cities in S.V would be attacked by N.V and Viet Cong forces simultaneously, to create panic and confusion
- ARVN units would be isolated and destroyed, thus leading to their surrender
- Hanoi’s show of strength would cause the people of S.V to rise up and overthrow the regime of President Thieu.
- Series of ‘false fronts’ would be created as diversions not directly connected with major offensive. Hoped these false fronts would tempt the US forces away from the safety of their bases, making them susceptible to Giap’s troops.
- Giap planned to have 3 false fronts:
- Loc Ninh – north of Saigon
- Dak To – Central Highlands
- Khe Sanh – small base just south of 17th parallel and 10kms from Laos
- Giap planned to have 3 false fronts:
- During 1967- US and SV intelligence authorities received direct and indirect warnings suggesting a major confrontation with Hanoi in the future.
- March 1967 – some Viet Cong units that were captured possessed maps of Saigon’s sewer system.
- Oct 1967:
- Hanoi Publically released Resolution 13
- 3 regiments of NVA troops began moving down the H.C.Minh trail
- US 25th Infantry Division captured Viet Cong orders
- General Giap’s false fronts:
- Loch Ninh
- Purpose of attack- to test Saigon’s outer defence network
- After heavy fighting, V.Cong units occupied the city for 6hrs, then withdrew
- Dak To:
- Proved to be costliest single battle in Vietnam war
- 3 days- 1200 V.Cong died, US lost 300 and nearly 1000 wounded.
- Khe Sanh:
- The Siege at Khe Sanh was the first act in the 1968 drama.
- General Westmoreland had placed 6000 marines at KS to check NVA activity (it was a fragile border area)
- 20th January: NVA unleashed a unleashed a month-long bombardment
- Americans held out with the help of B-52s (Operation Niagara) bombing the surrounding hills.
- Was a death trap which was televised nightly in the US.
- Operation Pegasus was launched to relieve the situation
- To do this the US diverted troops away from towns and cities of South Vietnam, leaving them open to assault.
- Battle lasted for 2 months
- 10 000 Communist lives lost
- 31st January 1968 six major South Vietnamese cities were attacked
- Hostilities in other parts (including Saigon) didn’t begin until 1st Feb as communication between Viet Cong and the NVA were poor.
- Giap’s plan of simultaneously attacking all targets had failed, but the intense campaign nearly took South Vietnam to its knees.
- Saigon in flames for nearly 1 week as troops fought in the streets.
- US Embassy temporarily occupied by Viet Cong.
- Khe Sanh (one of Giap’s ‘false fronts’) was only saved after massive US Bombings decimated the Vietnamese.
- Hue North Vietnamese units occupied the city for 26 days → casualties for both sides.
- Minor Offensives between March and June 1968 until North Vietnamese and Viet Cong withdrew.
- Tet offensive failed and losses were high
- Over 50 000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese had been killed → took NLF four years to recover.
- South Vietnamese = 2500 lost & US = 1000 Lost (significantly lower)
- Tet Offensive = Military success for US and ARVN forces
- Loch Ninh
Reasons for Hanoi’s Loss
- Giap’s plan was too ambitious – called for a victory which did not occur
- Underprepared – troops were overextended, undersupplied and without reinforcements
- South Vietnamese forces withstood North Vietnamese and did not retreat as Giap anticipated
- US air power was able to provide crucial support to South Vietnamese
- No uprising of the South Vietnamese population which was anticipated – despite the fact that there were many Viet Cong sympathisers residing in South Vietnam
- It collapsed support for an expansion of the war and destroyed any credibility of the US Army in claiming success and stability in the South.
- It changed the perceptions of society and highlighted the futility of war.
- There was much media coverage of the offensive on television, which caused outrage and protest in America.
- There was enormous cost to both sides. Over 2 000 US and 11 000 South Vietnamese troops had been killed.
- It was reckoned that 50 000 Viet Cong were dead. It would take several years for Hanoi to recoup its losses and launch another offensive
- For the Viet Cong the Tet offensive proved to be a big success – it made the cost of fighting the war (both in $ and in lives) unbearable for the Americans. It was said this war was “bleeding America” President Johnson.
- Tet demonstrated the resolve of the Vietcong and the shaky control South Vietnam had over its own territory.
“Our Tet plans required absolute secrecy and all soldiers took an oath of silence. Therefore, when fighting began, our supporters did not know what to do. Most were afraid and confused and did nothing. They did not know about the Tet Offensive beforehand. We took a risk by not telling the people beforehand. We also failed because we underestimated our enemies and overestimated ourselves. We set goals which we realistically could not achieve” General Tran Van Tra
Photo journalist Niel Davis points out that the Americans and the ARVN managed to recapture most of the territory that had been taken by the communists, but that because the media had presented Tet as a defeat, the anti-War movement had been given a boost. The media presented the attack on the American embassy as a moral defeat.
Historian Tim Bowden observes that the Vietcong was “effectively destroyed” during the Tet offensive, and that “it became war with the North Vietnamese vs South Vietnam and America”.
Leonard Bushkoff covers the usual arguments about Tet (i.e. military failure/psychological victory) however, he further states that what it did was to bring Americans crashing down to reality, he agrees that Tet was a tactical American victory, but that its effect on the American consciousness made it a defeat. He claims that Tet exposed the lie of “Cold War rhetoric” and “superpower egotism”.
Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina
The Vietnamese people, particularly the peasants, were forced in different directions by both the Viet Cong and the American forces. To win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local people, the South Vietnamese were forced into strategic hamlets to prevent the VC taking control of the countryside. As part of the strategic hamlet program, the Americans provided the infrastructure for local schools, hospitals and public facilities. At the same time, the Americans continued to fight the Vietcong and the fighting spread into the countryside and many innocent non-combatants were killed. The impact on civilians included:
- The burning of villages suspected of harboring Vietcong
- The spraying of chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange destroying crops and the economy of villages.
- The devastating impact of bombing raids on cities and the countryside.
- A flood of refugees from affected areas crowding into cities.
- Land mines and booby traps killing and maiming innocent Vietnamese, who were often trying to escape the war.
- Americans destroying entire villages and committing war crimes, such as the My Lai massacre.
- American bombing and artillery firepower had a massive impact on SV’s ability to feed itself.
- Cluster bombs often remained, ready to release their deadly impact.
- Large parts of the country were consumed with the vast array of unexploded mines and shells; some still remaining so today.
- A bomb that had targeted a dyke could well leave an area of land previously capable of growing crops submerged in sea water.
- In the early 1960’s SV had been a net exporter of rise. By 1965 it had become a net importer of rice, such had been the impact of the war.
American Chemical Warfare
- Defoliation had an enormous impact on the landscape and food production
- President Kennedy authorized the process of defoliation; the operation was known as “Ranch Hand”.
- Its purpose was to destroy vegetation and thus deny guerrillas the means of hiding from the US/ARVN forces.
- Accompanied by anti-crop projects.
- In 1967 alone, a million acres were treated to US chemical bombardment.
- Between 19622 and 1972, the US sprayed over 20 million gallons of defoliants/herbicides on SV.
- The people of NV were more fortunate in that they only had to suffer bombs.
- According to Australian journalist, John Pilger, parts of NV resembled a “moonscape” as schools, hospitals and houses had been obliterated.
- He reported having been told by NV officials that thousands of children had been rendered permanently deaf as a result of Nixon’s Linebacker Two bombing campaign in December 1972.
End of the War
- Following Communist victories in 1975, life in Vietnam and Cambodia was bleak.
- There were executions and thousands spent time in re-education camps
- The country remained desperately poor à dually due to effect of warfare and US economic sanctions.
- US refused to establish relations with Vietnam for over two decades and the “Trading with the Enemy Act” ensured no US trade or investment was headed Vietnam’s way.
- Many other western governments followed the US lead.
- The US also used its position in the UN to ensure to World Bank loans were given to Vietnam.
- As a result of both political persecution and economic hardship, tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians tried to escape their countries via boat.
- Australia eventually took almost 250 000 Indochinese refugees.
|Social Impact||Cultural Impact||Political/Economic Impact||Environmental Impact||Human Impact|
Impact of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia
American Policy under Nixon 1969 – 1971
- Nixon had the difficult task of bringing American troops home, but still convincing President Thieu that the South was not being deserted. He needed Hanoi to negotiate seriously in the Paris Peace talks, but had to prove to them America was not weakening (at the same time he had to make sure he was not exacerbating anti-war feeling at home).
- In 1969, the US military began operation Phoenix.
- The purpose of Phoenix was to neutralise Vietcong chiefs and their supporters by having the Americans and the ARVN adopting more guerrilla tactics.
- It was an effective program which significantly weakened the Vietcong’s strength. Almost 20 000 were captured, of whom 6000 were killed.
- As a response, in early 1969, the NVA launched a new offensive on the South.
- Nixon’s response was to try and sever links between NVA supporters and their supply routes.
- In March 1969, Nixon ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia. This was known as Operation Menu and Nixon’s aim was twofold.
- To destroy communist headquarters on the border
- The disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail
- The tactic failed. This was the ‘mad man’ in action. The NVA eased up on their offensive, but the communist HQ and HCM trail remained intact.
- Nixon’s policy became quite complicated. He began putting diplomatic pressure on China and the USSR to put pressure on the North. His objectives however were constant.
- US withdrawal with honour
- The survival of the Thiu regime and South Vietnam
- His own re-election
- In 1970 improvements have not happened – he had made little progress. The NVA had launched another offensive in February. In May, 30 000 US and ARVN troops invaded Cambodia to root out the Communist bases.
*This invasion will be talked about when we talk about the War in Cambodia
- The invasion was a failure. No bases were found. What few communists were there had retreated deeper into Cambodia. Combined US/ARVN casualties had amounted to 5500. This invasion had inflamed anti-war protests. Nixon now faced popular unrest and was now faced with a US senate that was eager to limit the seemingly unlimited power that the President had accrued since the Tonkin resolution.
Declining morale of American forces inside South Vietnam
- It was not convincing for young Americans to go to a war they knew America was losing, and that Saigon was riddled with corruption.
- 1971 – desertions were 5 times higher than 1966.
- Drugs had become a major problem. They were cheap, plentiful and a good way to escape the horrors of war. The pentagon estimated that 3/4 of servicemen had tried heroin. Fragging had become a serious problem (this was the attempted murder of troops by their own officers – in 1971 there were 500 cases).
- Nixon still has to prove Vietnamisation is working. In February 1971, 5000 ARVN troops were sent into Laos to attack NVA supply lines. This was operation Lam Son. It was a disaster. Within 2 weeks, half of the ARVN troops were dead and this was all reported back to Americans at home.
- Nixon’s military moves were failing and so were his diplomatic efforts.
- The Paris peace talks dragged on.
- In May 1971, Nixon offered a deal to North Vietnam:
- A withdrawal date for US forces
- US POWs to be freed
- A ceasefire
- An end to Northern troops moving South
- Thieu to remain in power
- Laos and Cambodia left alone.
- North did not take up the offer.
- By the end of 1971, the president had achieved little. The ARVN was as unreliable as ever, the North was not compromising, the Russians and Chinese were failing to pressure Hanoi to make concessions, Nixon was sinking in the polls, popular unrest at home.
Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA
Anti-war protests in the US in the 1960s were a new movement as previously Americans had prided themselves on their patriotism and abided – without questioning – the decisions of the President. e.g the Korean war – people marked submissively towards war unlike Vietnam (conscription). However, it is important not to exaggerate the impact of Anti-war movements because opinion polls at the time suggested that anti-war feeling among Americans never succeeded 50%. However, in a democracy, when a significant minority begins to question government policy, it cannot be ignored.
Reasons for Development of Anti-War Movement
- The US was not winning.
The fundamental reason behind anti-war movement was simply because the US was not winning the war! Initially, few people questioned the circumstances of the Tonkin incident, South-Vietnam as a worthy ally, and the Cold War rhetoric. Throughout 1967, despite rising casualties, the administration view that the enemy was being beaten and that there was light at the end of the tunnel was generally accepted. However, then came Tet (Jan-Mar 1968) and anti-war protest intensified in both scale and violence. Following the Tet offensive, the perception now existed that the US was not winning the war.
- Media Coverage
The Vietnam War became known as ‘the lounge room war’ because television brought the horrific images of Vietnam into peoples home night after night. There were scenes of Napalm attacks turning villages into fireballs
- There were scenes of Napalm attacks turning villages into fireballs, the impact of B 52 bombing and the sheer horror of the war.
- Some new outlets ran a tally count on their nightly news programs which showed how many Americans had died in Vietnam; these tallies would tick over throughout the show, indicating Americans were being killed as viewers watched.
- In May 1969, Life Magazine ran an edition of its magazine which contained nothing but the photographs of all 241 American soldiers who had been killed that week.
- As early as 1965, some newspapers such as the New York Times and English papers like The Observer, carried reports of VC captives and their alleged civilian supporters being tortured.
- There were horrific accounts of ‘friendly villages’ being hit by ‘accidental’ US air strikes.
- While there was no official army censorship of news coverage, Westmoreland, military and administration officials urged reporters to be sensitive in what they reported- a request which was granted in the first couple of years of the war.
- The first TV network to work in Vietnam was CBS in 1963
- TV journalists brought immediacy to their stories
- Often using hand held cameras, TV cameramen accompanied the troops in the field, sharing the risks of enemy fire.
- Vietnam became a ‘domestic’ story as the TV networks often featured an individual soldiers experiences, a technique which added human interest and drama to a story.
- The proximity of journalists to the action put them in a difficult positions. This is exemplified in the case of Morley Safer, in early August 1965 in a report produced for CBS. Safer’s report on the American destruction of the village of Cam Ne shocked Americans. His report showed US GI’s setting fire to the village – in reality mild stuff to what would come in the following years. President Johnson was outraged and rang the head of CBS to complain that: “Your boys just shat on the American flag” – Johnson had Safer investigated for possible communist affiliations.
- Each day in Saigon at 1700, a MACV representative would address journalists about the days events, hoping to enforce the official military view – he would have charts, maps and masses of statistics to give reporters. These daily events, which became known as the ‘5 O’clock follies’ soon became discredited for the propaganda which they were
Summary: Nature and Significance
- From 1965 onward, students, intellectuals and many young Americans began protesting against the Vietnam War. The anti-war movement united a number of protest organisations of the time that were challenging the status quo in American society. Many anti-war organisations came under the umbrella of the ‘hippy movement’. The peace movement in America also became an extension of the feminist movement and the American Civil Rights movement. Historians have claimed that the anti-Vietnam war movement was the most powerful popular movement in American history. The peace movement brought American society to the brink and effectively ended the careers of both Presidents Johnson and Nixon.
- The war in Vietnam was lost on television, not only on the battlefield, as the images of napalmed villages caused many to question America’s moral right to wage war in Vietnam.
- Continuing loss of American troops and the nightly TV scenes of American soldiers returning home in body bags at airports around the country fuelled the anti-war movement.
- Sit-ins and teach-ins became commonplace and many universities became ungovernable. Vigils and burning of draft cards resulted in protestors being jailed.
- The My Lai Massacre of 1968 reinforced the madness and brutality of the war in Vietnam and encouraged more Americans to join the anti-war protest.
- At Kent State University in Ohio, police fired on anti-war protestors which resulted in the death of four students.
- In the 1970’s, with the invasion of Cambodia, protest marches increased in size and frequency. The Vietnam moratorium movements spread around the world including to Australia, and witnessed a cross section of society protesting against the war in Vietnam.
- In the early 1970’s, popular support for the war was rapidly declining. Opinion polls suggested at the time that more than half of Americans believed that the war was morally wrong.
- Karnow maintains that Nixon was effected by anti-war feeling in that he tried to defuse it, however, there was no real direct impact of these movements on his policies
The defeat of the South Vietnamese forces
Paris Peace Accord
- Kissinger and Le Duc Tho finally agreed to the terms of a peace settlement in October 1972 – a month before Nixon was successful in the US presidential election and claimed “peace is at hand”.
- The government of SV was informed of the final settlement in November.
- Key points of the Paris Peace accord:
- A ‘ceasefire’ would be announced.
- The US would continue to withdraw its forces from SV.
- NV would release 591 POWs by March 1973
- More than 150,000 NV troops residing in SV would be allowed to remain in place.
- South Vietnamese territory captured by North Vietnamese/ Viet Cong troops would not be surrendered
- US bombing raids over HCM Trail would cease.
- Washington would not interfere with Chinese or Russian material aid, currently entering NV at a rate of 100 tonnes/ day.
- All US air support would be withdrawn from SV.
- President Thieu would remain as president of South Vietnam, but a future coalition government, including members of the NLF, would be pursued.
- President Thieu was furious à responded with 4 ‘no’s':
- No enemy troops to be allowed permanency inside SV
- No territory to be surrendered to NV
- No coalition governments with the Viet Cong
- No negotiations with the enemy.
- Nixon responded by sending General Alexander Haig to Saigon where Thieu was told that if he did not agree to the accords, Washington would cut all financial ties and abandon SV; however, Thieu’s support for the peace accords would generate increased US financial support for SV and unleash a new secret offensive to quickly end the war. Thieu was unconvinced but had to agree.
- 22 December 1972, Nixon ordered the Christmas Bombing (Operation Linebacker 2), the largest air attack over NV to date.
- During the 12 days, 36,000 tonnes of bombs extensively damaged Hanoi, Haiphong and other centres, but Nixon’s goal – to force Hanoi to surrender – did not occur.
- The Paris Peace Accord was signed in January 1973.
- A ceasefire was announced, but the war continued. Ironically, at that point the war had realistically ended, because NV now possessed 4 assets.
- US combat troops were no longer an issue to contend with.
- The ARVN’s lifeline – US air support – had been withdrawn. HCM Trail was no longer threatened.
- NV now had troops and bases inside SV.
- NV now had time to plan new offensives.
- Thieu “The United States sold out South Vietnam at Paris. At best we could survive one year, maybe two”.
My Lai Massacre
- November 1969 the story of the ‘My Lai massacre’ was published after investigations linked members of the US 23rd Infantry Division to atrocities committed in My Lai Hamlet, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968.
- There was sufficient evidence to prove that soldier of the 23rd had acted in an “irresponsible and reckless fashion” resulting in the deaths of between 175 and 400 South Vietnamese
- 25 indictments for unprofessional conduct came forth; one senior officer, Lieutenant William Calley, was court – martialled for war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment – later reduced to 10 years. à He was released on patrol in November 1974.
- The New York Times publication of the ‘Pentagon Papers’ (June 1971), like the My Lai massacre, further discredited the war on the American homefront. The Pentagon Papers, consisting of 47 volumes and over 7000 pages, detailed American policies and procedures in Vietnam between 1945-1968.
- Confidential and controversial documents issued by the Department of Defence, which formed the majority of the volumes, revealed corruption and gambling diplomacy instead of precise government policies.
- Daniel Ellsberg, a disgruntled senior analyst who worked in US policies in Vietnam, had copied the papers and given them to one of America’s most important media giants.
Water Gate Scandal
- In June 1972 the US media began reporting evidence linking the Nixon Whitehouse to forced break -in of Democrat headquarters, electronic wiretapping, bribery, the destruction of documents, and the falsification of reports directly related to Vietnam and Cambodia.
- This rapidly became known as the ‘Watergate Scandal’ named for the hotel convention centre in Washington, DC in which the Democrat headquarters were located.
- The Watergate scandal destroyed the Republican Party’s credibility, and in August 1974 President Nixon resigned.
- Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, and continued to reassure Thieu that US support “would return if necessary’, yet in reality Ford was powerless to control a combined Congress intent on ending the Vietnam conflict.
- Henry Kissinger later commented, “there were two losers after Watergate, Nixon and South Vietnam”.
South Vietnam: the Last Domino
- The departure of US forces had an obvious negative impact on SV’s economy.
- Between 1965-1973, tens of millions of dollars had been injected into South Vietnam’s hospitality services by American and Australian servicemen and their allies – by 1975 local industries tied to American investments had closed, bank loans had ceased, and unemployment had grown.
- In late 1973, SV requested $1.6 billion defence budget for 1974, but Washington provided only $945 million.
- In simple terms, money ran the war, and when it dried up, SV’s defence structures ground to a halt.
- In the field Vietnamisation was not working, SV troops attempted to fill the gaps left by US soldiers but were largely unsuccessful.
- Critical areas such as military intelligence, logistics and communications began to deteriorate or malfunction to a point where they became inoperable. Budget cuts caused shortages of ammunition, medicine and petroleum products.
- In Feb 1975, two months before Saigon surrendered, army desertion rates reached their peak: 17, 500 troops disappeared that month, or an average of just under 300/day.
- On 30th March 1975, North Vietnamese troops attacked the provincial city of Ban Me Thuot in SV’s central highlands. Within 2 days, ARVN units further south became unsettled, worrying that NV might be mounting a new offensive.
- General Giap evaluated his success at Ban Me Thuot as an opportunity. He ordered General Van Tien Dung, his southern commander, to strike towards Saigon. Within 2 weeks 10 South Vietnamese provinces had collapsed as General Dung drove his forces further south in the Ho Chi Minh Campaign.
- In 1974 North Vietnam had predicted that its forces might reach Saigon by late 1976. But now in mid-April, General Dung’s juggernaut was within 50km of the city. His success prompted Hanoi to issue one last order: “General uprising; capture Saigon”
- Ironically, America’s falling-domino theory applied to South Vietnam’s provinces, not the other nations in Asia.
- In the days preceding Saigon’s collapse, America launched Operation Frequent Wind, the largest air/sea rescue in history.
- More than 130,000 South Vietnamese were evacuated, but the majority were left stranded.
- Despite the ARVN’s last-minute heroic defence, Saigon was overrun and SV surrendered on 30 April 1975.
- In retrospect, the outcome of the Vietnam War was always going to be decided by the Vietnamese, despite the influence of the Americans, the Russians or the Chinese.
- Ultimately, the Vietnamese army that possessed a strong sense of purpose, an uncompromised dedication and a cause that complemented the nation’s long resistance against foreign interference would emerge victorious.
- The soldiers from both North Vietnam and South Vietnam knew this. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies possessed these qualities to a greater degree than their adversaries in South Vietnam. Evident in these scenarios:
- If US aircraft had returned, thus extending the conflict, it is possible that North and South Vietnam would have been bombed into oblivion, resulting in incalculable carnage.
- If America, its allies and the South Vietnamese had somehow ‘won’ the conflict, would this have been acknowledged? Would Hanoi and tens of thousands of its supporters have accepted surrender? Could the permanent presence of America have complemented Vietnam’s long history of resistance to foreigners? The answer is ‘no’.
- The ramifications of the Vietnam conflict, the largest confrontation in the Cold War, can still be found in all the countries that participated, especially among the men and women who served in Vietnam. America had lost its first war.
- “The United States did not do well by its loyal ally” General Bruce Palmer
- “The hard truth lingers on that when South Vietnam in its dying hours turned to us in despair, the United States looked the other way”
Pol Pot’s Regime
Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
Sihanouk’s Cambodia 1955-1970
- In 1941 Norodom Sihanouk, the grandson of the King of Cambodia who died, took control of Cambodia.
- He was educated in French schools in Cambodia and later went to a Calvary school in France
- Cambodia gained independence from the French in November 1953.
The rule of Sihanouk
- On the 2nd of March 1955 Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father, he assumed the leadership of a political party known as the ‘People’s Socialist Community’. His party won the election and he became Prime Minister.
- When his father died in 1960, he took the position as head of state but called himself ‘Prince Sihanouk’ rather than ‘King’ and remained in power until he was removed in a coup in 1970 in the Lon Nol Coup.
- His power was absolute and he would tolerate no opposition to his rule.
- He played on his royal blood a lot – he saw himself as the embodiment of the Cambodian state.
- He built a personal culture around himself.
- To consolidate his power he also created factions within his party. He favouritised politicians and fired ministers all the time. From 1955-58 there were 8 ministries. There was not an effective governing class.
- There was an expansion in education services but there was not an appropriate expansion of the economy which could allow newly educated citizens to play a proper role in the country à emergence of a frustrated, educated middle class.
- In 1963 Sihanouk nationalised Cambodia’s banks and import/ export trade. He cancelled US aid. The effect was disastrous as Cambodia’s annual revenue fell 15%.Therefore the army suddenly became poorly equipped and they also became an opposition group – the army is also lead into areas of corruption.
- By 1960’s the economy was stagnating and unrest in the countryside steadily increased. In 1967 and 1968 the army ruthlessly put down unrest in the country side and up to 10,000 people were killed.
- While Cambodia was facing economic crisis, political unrest and war was raging in neighbouring Vietnam, Sihanouk committed himself to drama, music and other distractions which meant the state was neglected and he lost a lot of respect from the people.
- Foreign policy:
- Sihanouk’s fundamental aim as a ruler was to ensure the neutrality of Cambodia. He understood that the Cold War interest in his region would impact on Cambodia. He realised he need to keep Cambodia neutral between the Western world, particularly the Americans and the French and the Communist countries of China, USSR and Vietnam.
- Sihanouk’s goal was to avoid antagonising either side, by the 1960’s, when war was raging across the border in Vietnam – he was desperate to keep Cambodia out of the conflict and prevent the conflict from spreading across the border into Cambodia. Sihanouk was not successful in this mission.
- In 1955, Sihanouk emphasised Cambodian neutrality when he accepted aid from both the US and China and he refused the offer to SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) in 1956.
- However, Sihanouk over time became concerned at American behaviour when there was an assassination attempt on his life in 1958 he believed that it had been planned by CIA/ ARVN. The murder of Diem in November 1963 and the growing involvement of the US presence in Vietnam greatly alarmed Sihanouk in February 1964 ARVN forces attacked Viet Cong units in Eastern Cambodia.
- In 1963 Sihanouk refused economic aid from America and in 1965 Sihanouk broke of diplomatic relations. From here he moved closer to North Vietnam and the NLF. Chinese supplies for the NLF/ NVA were allowed in via the port of Sihanoukville. However, at home he allowed his army commander Lon Nol to brutally suppress left wing groups.
- By 1969 Sihanouk had become very concerned at the presence of the Vietnamese in the East of his country and the support that he believed they were giving the Cambodian Communist Insurgence.
- As a result, in June 1969 he re-established economic relations with US. 1969 proved to be a pivotal year of Sihanouk’s rule. The following factors weakened Sihanouk’s position and serious plans were made to remove him from power.
- Operation Menu – the US began secret bombing of the VC bases in the East of Cambodia. Apart from the physical destruction and the loss of life, the bombing radicalised the population and turned many towards the KPRP (The Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party)
- The KPRP was now fully engaged the Sihanouk regime. By early 1970 it was in control of around a 1/5 of the country.
- Sihanouk was becoming increasingly disengaged from the business of government, he immersed himself in film making and opened a casino in Phnom Penh. This went against also advise and showed that he was out of touch with the people and subsequently lost vast amounts of money.
- On the 18th March 1970, Lon Nol led a coup against Sihanouk while he was out of the country.
- Lon Nol, both pro-US and anti-communist, soon found himself engulfed by a double crisis. First his demand that Hanoi withdraw all its forces from Cambodia fell on deaf ears. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong replied by attacking the Royal Cambodian Army on several occasions, causing extensive casualties. Lon Nol’s claim to power prompted the Khmer Rouge to retaliate.
- David Chandler, A History of Cambodia: Chandler’s description of Sihanouk reveals a man increasingly unable to cope, who lost control of economy, foreign policy and government, “as Sihanouk was becoming vulnerable, his enemies were becoming stronger”
- He had a difficult job maintaining stability in the Cold War climate (i.e. the fact he had to keep Cambodia neutral during conflict in neighbouring Vietnam)
- Ultimately a combination of his contextual influences and his own frivolity and inability to focus on policy when needed to, led to a demise in his rule and opposition in his own society.
Pol Pot’s Rise to Power
In 1951, a Cambodian party was created called the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea but it was guided by the North Vietnamese. Soon a young man called Saloth Sar (aka Pol Pot) joined the party and became the leader.
- Born 1925 north of Phnom Penh
- In 1960, the KPRP broke away from Vietnamese connections and in 1963, Pol Pot moved into the jungle to organise revolt against Sihanouk’s regime.
- In 1965, Pol Pot met communist leaders in North Vietnam but resented their patronising attitude – he had a much better relationship with Mao Zedong in China, which at this time, was going through its Cultural Revolution, this was a violent upheval based on the idea of constant revolution and renewal by removing all ‘old and foreign’ influences, these ideas would have a major effect on Cambodia in 1965.
- In 1966, The KPRP became known as the Khmer Rouge, and Pol Pot was the head of the central committee known as the Angkor.
- Throughout 1969, the Americans bombed suspected VC sanctuaries in Eastern Cambodia. The destruction and loss of life were enormous and the effect of bombing raids increased the popularity of the Khmer Rouge.
The Rise to Power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:
- Ousting of Sihanouk
- In January 1970, Sihanouk left Cambodia and travelled to Paris for medical treatment, but within 2 months, his rule was overthrown by his Prime Minister Lon Nol. He was strongly anti-Vietnamese, anti-communist and also not happy to be connected to the US.
- On 31st January he closed down the Phnom Penh casino.
- On the 18th of march the country’s national assembly declared that Sihanouk was no longer head of state and was now under Lon Nol and his military regime
- Cambodia between 1970 and 1975 had become a country of confused and competing forces.
- Cambodian Nationalists vs. North Vietnamese:
- The North Vietnamese reaction to Lon Nol’s seizure of power was a swift response to send several NVA divisions into Easter Cambodia with the intention of overthrowing Lon Nol.
- April 1970 – there were NVA-Cambodian clashes close to Phnom Penh – the government accused Vietnamese living in Phnom Penh of collaborating with the invading forces; many Vietnamese in Cambodia were to be massacred.
- Thousands of Cambodian students volunteered to join the military units to push the NVA out – at this stage Lon Nol can be depicted as a popular, genuine, Cambodian nationalist.
- US/ ARVN forces vs. VC/NVA in Cambodia:
- In May and June 1970, US and ARVN troops (total 80,000) invaded border areas to clean out suspected communist camps.
- This action greatly complicated the situation in the country:
- As a result, Communist Vietnamese retreated deeper into the country.
- As the US/ARVN assault attacked the VC/NVA forces, this would presumably place them on the same side as the Cambodians.
- However, the situation was not that simple:
- The Cambodian people now also had another Vietnamese army – the South’s – in the midst.
- Some of the Southern troops did not treat the local Khmer population well. Olds hatred simmered below the surface.
- The South Vietnamese withdrew with the Americans, though later in the year they attacked a communist base in North East Cambodia. The ARVN force and its commander were routed (caused to retreat in disorder.
- The Khmer Rouge vs. the Lon Nol regime – Civil War
- In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed ending the Vietnam War. The Accords called for all foreign troops to be withdrawn from Cambodia. However, NVA forces lingered in Cambodia for several months and US bombing continued in support of the Lon Nol regime. Foreign activity in Cambodia was over by late 1973. The North Vietnamese were preparing for action against South Vietnam, and the US Congress had ordered an end to the bombing.
- US aid to Lon Nol was in the billions of dollars. The American bombing had been of horrific proportions; between February and August, up to 275 000 tons of bombs were dropped – more than Japan received in World War II! It devastated large parts of the Cambodian countryside. Lon Nol forces also attacked suspected Khmer Rouge supported villages. To escape the carnage, there was a mass movement of refugees into Phnom Penh. The Lon Nol regime was increasingly seen as a US puppet and responsible for the bombing. As a result, many Cambodians living in the countryside rallied to the Khmer Rouge against the Lon Nol regime (though it needs to be noted that many others were forced into Khmer Rouge ranks).
- Cambodia was now in the midst of a “civil war”.
- The Khmer Rouge gained control of Phnom Penh on 17 April, 1975.
The age of Angkar Loeu
Sydney Schanberg: describing the KR – “they were universally grim, robot like, brutal.”
- Between 17-20 April the KR purged Phnom Penh – going back to Year Zero, western technology and behaviour was forbidden
- Power lines were cut, telephones destroyed and government buildings sacked
- Irreplaceable archival materials detailing Cambodia’s rich history were destroyed.
- Buildings made of brick, concrete and stone were condemned as ‘unsafe’ because they were constructed by the French or Cambodian government whose values according to the KR, represented a ‘decadent age’
- Loyalty only to the Angkor – up to 90% of Cambodian population was Buddhist, the KR sought to destroy all remnants of Buddhism and very few of Cambodia’s 80 000 monks survived
- A terrified population was ordered to leave the city.
- Year Zero had begun – within a week this once proud city of gentle people was a skeleton of its former self
- Angkar Loeu (Supreme Organisation)
- The KR’s mystical political identity, had no human form.
- As a system of government it was based entirely on secrecy, deceit and violence
- Its political ideologies were crude interpretations of Marxist-Lennist doctrines (v. much based on Stalin’s policy) à its sole purpose was absolute control
- 1977 Pol Pot identified himself as ‘Angkar’
- Instead, all Cambodians were physically forced to become labourers whether they liked it or not.
- The citizens of Cambodian had two choices:
- Submit to the KR
- Face death
- Pol Pot’s revolution was nothing less than a brutal enforcement of KR values upon an unreceptive population.
- Pol Pot admired President Mao Zedong, especially his Cultural Revolution which ‘artistically, politically and socially cleansed China of its former values, attitudes and heritage’.
- Pol Pot borrowed these concepts when creating a New Cambodia, but his implementation of these ideals was far more brutal.
- Radical Agrarian Marxism (RAM)
- A fundamental KR policy aimed at converting Cambodia into a nation of uneducated, rural peasants (hypocrisy as KR leaders were educated)
- Angkar was an imposed idol, and this idol would not cohabit with religious or spiritual values.
- All Cambodians were forced to wear black garments just like the KR
- Between 1975 and 1978 Cambodia’s frontiers were closed
- Ethnic cleansing began: thousands of Vietnamese living in Cambodia were arrested, sent to work gangs or killed.
- The KR purposely separated families and kept moving people from one zone to another in order to achieve three goals:
- To destroy a person’s individuality
- To eliminate the human will to resist
- To promote fear, confusion and anxiety via indiscriminate violence
- On 5th January 1976 the KR announced the birth of the Democratic Kampuchea and published the nation’s new Constitution. The word ‘Cambodia’ was now forbidden.
- Article 1 states that: “The State of Kampuchea is an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign and democratic state enjoying territorial integrity”
- In fact, Kampuchea was never unified by popular consent but rather it was consolidated by force and intimidation.
- Article 1 states that: “The State of Kampuchea is an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign and democratic state enjoying territorial integrity”
- The khmer Rouge lasted 3 years 8 months and 20 days
- Over 7 million died under the Khmer Rouge regime
Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot
The evacuation of Phnom Penh
- Pnhom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on the 17th April 1975
- The evacuation was rapid and brutal:
- Over 2 million people forced out of Phnom Penh
- They were not allowed to take food or belongings
- If they refused to obey they were beaten or shot – no exceptions were made – the old, lame, hospital patients etc.
- Up to half a million people died during the forced evacuations
- The breakdown of social relationships, the chaos, cowed the population into fearful acceptance/ submission of Khmer Rouge authority.
Aims of the Khmer Rouge
- New regime declared their first year of rule as ‘Year Zero’ – implication in the word is clear – starting afresh, destroying civilisation.
- Pol Pot had spent time in China during the 60’s, during the violent upheavals of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ – he was impressed with the following notions:
- The aims were:
- The preservation of Khmer racial purity
- The preservation of Khmer cultural purity
- The development of a communal way of life
- The creation of a new agricultural Cambodian society
- The regime wanted to maintain the purity of the Khmer race and therefore non-Khmer groups were targeted – Vietnamese who had lived there for generations were targeted, new arrivals such as Chinese were driven out or killed, ancient minorities such as Muslims were also targets of oppression.
- Modern transport, modern economic institutions, modern medicine were destroyed and not allowed to pollute the nation.
- Foreign influences such as foreign ideas, education and languages were to be eradicated.
- There was a strong move to enforce communal way of living – the traditional family was decried. The first loyalty of children was not to their parents but to the Angkor (the Khmer Rouge Organisation). It would be an agricultural society, like the old times, a society organises a system of communes that would achieve a harmonious, pure existence.
- Angkor was everything – it was the state not the individual that mattered
- There was no room for urban communities – the evacuations were permanent.
Khmer Rouge foreign policy
- Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was an isolated country, contact with the rest of the world was forbidden, all for the purpose of maintaining Khmer purity. However, this exclusion did not apply to Communist China. Close links with China were valuable because China was able to protect the Khmer Rouge against North Vietnam.
- Relations between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam were strained from the start. Ancestral rivalries had fuelled hatred between the Cambodians and the Vietnamese. In April 1975, Khmer Rouge forces were in armed conflict in Vietnam over ownership of several small islands in the Gulf of Siam.
- Historian Chandler: describes the attitude of many Cambodians when he said “for them, what had happened in the 1970’s made as little sense as an earthquake, a prairie fire, or a typhoon”.
- Between 1975 and 1978 Tuol Sleng high school in Phnom Penh was the headquarters of Santebal (the Khmer Rouge’s Secret Service) and was renamed ‘S-21′
- As the Khmer Rouge would not tolerate educated people, the Phnom Penh University and the city’s schools were closed. Professors, teachers and students were arrested and detained indefinitely.
- Most died at S-21 – there were only 7 survivors
- The agents of Pol Pot’s terror campaigns were the Khmer Rouge Youth – urban and rural teenagers aged 13-20. Illiterate and highly propagandised, they enforced Angkar’s perverted goals with brute force.
- Some ‘enemies’ of the KR were executed immediately, while others were forced to write lengthy personal histories detailing their past employment and political persuasions. These were known as ‘confessions’ – thousands survived. Nearly all were a compilation of lies written by innocent people terrified to a point they would write anything to avoid execution.
- Khmer Rouge interrogators countersigned all confessions before passing them on to their superiors.
- Example of document: “Here is the confession of traitor Hu Nim, who finally admitted to being a CIA agent after we whipped him five times. He told us more after we stuffed him with water.”
- Hu Nim was not a CIA agent. His series of confessions exceeded 200 pages in length. Despite his innocence, the Khmer Rouge executed him on 6 July 1977.
- Ironically, many Khmer Rouge officials, or those who willingly served the Pol Pot regime, were also executed.
- Forever insecure and paranoid about conspiracies, the Khmer Rouge contributed to its own downfall by breaking up into cliques that periodically purged each other as internal alliances changed.
- On the walls of Tuol Sleng were thousands of photographs of Khmer Rouge victims prior to their executions. The worst atrocity occurred on 15 October 1977 where 418 prisoners were killed.
- Heng Nath was a survivor of Tuol Sleng (one of the only 7) He survived because his skills as an artist were put to use. “If you entered you were dead”
The Killing Fields
- Sydney Schanber, a New York Times Journalist, spent many years in Cambodia. After the Khmer Rouge seized power, he was evacuated and returned to the US while his friend, Dith Pran (Cambodian news reporter) was captured. Dith Pran eventually escaped to Thailand and the two were re-united in 1979. Schanberg wrote The Death and Life of Dith Pran detailing Pran’s life under the Pol Pot regime – stimulus for film The Killing Fields:
- “The Draconian rules of life turned Cambodia into a nationwide gulag”
- “Weddings were arranged by the Khmer Rouge…waves of suicides were the result of these forced marriages”
- “Sometimes Khmer Rouge youths were ordered to kill their teachers or even their own parents”
- On the Khmer Rouge youths: “They took them very young and taught them nothing but discipline…that’s why their killed their own people, even babies, like we might kill a mosquito” Pran
- Kampuchea was divided into vast agricultural zones where khmangs (enemies of the state) were forced to work long hours under primitive conditions.
- Khmer Rouge chlops spies were everywhere.
- Interrogations took place at night -workers disappeared and were replaced by mainly innocent khmangs.
- In remote rural areas khmangs were drowned in the flooded paddy field and left there, which gave rise to the term ‘the killing fields’.
- Kimmo Kiljuen: “life on the collectives…destroyed one’s individuality” / “95-97% of the population lined on collective farms”
End of Khmer Rouge
- 1977-78- Khmer Rouge, Vietnam hostilities intensified. Ancestral issues over borders flared and the purging of Vietnamese was told in horror tales by the few refugees who fled.
- In late December 1978, Hanoi retaliated by sending 5 divisions of the People’s Army, supported by tanks, across the Kampuchean frontier. Their target was Phnom Penh.
- The Khmer Rouge were outnumbered, broke ranks and retreated.
- 1979-1991: Cambodian people did not get the peace they truly deserved. The Khmer Rouge regrouped and, led by an exiled Pol Pot, waged a guerrilla war against the Vietnamese.
- Refugee numbers mounted as civilians were caught in the crossfire of a civil/ ethnic class whose origins were hundreds of years old.
- Arnold Issaacs on Kassie Neou: “careless slip into English” / “he was savagely beaten”/ “prisoners lay on the ground in neck chains and ankle irons with rice sacks for bedding”
HSC Past Questions
Assess the significance of the Tet Offensive in bringing about victory for the North Vietnamese in the Second Indochina War.
Account for the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Assess the significance for Indochina of the Vietnamese victory against the French in the period up to 1964.
Account for the Communist victory in the Second Indochina War.
Assess the importance of nationalism to the Vietnamese up to 1965.
From 1965 the US implemented a policy of direct military involvement in Vietnam. Evaluate the consequences of this policy.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies and tactics used by the opposing sides during the Second Indochina War.
Account for the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Assess the importance of the Geneva Peace Agreement to developments within North and South Vietnam to 1964.
To what extent were the anti-war movements in the United States responsible for communist victory in the Second Indochina War?
To what extent was US involvement responsible for the ongoing conflict in Indochina in the period 1954–1979?
Evaluate the view that the impact of war on civilians in Indochina was responsible for communist victory in the period 1968–1979.
Assess the consequences of the Vietnamese victory against the French for Indochina in the period 1954–1964.
To what extent was the rise to power of Pol Pot’s regime a consequence of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia?
Evaluate the view that an inability to separate nationalism from communism dominated US policy towards Indochina in the period 1954–1968.
Assess the significance of the 1968 Tet Offensive as part of North Vietnam’s strategy in achieving victory in the Second Indochina War.
To what extent were anti-war movements responsible for the American decision to withdraw from Vietnam in 1973?
Evaluate the view that US intervention was primarily responsible for the suffering of villagers in South Vietnam and Cambodia.
Evaluate the view that North Vietnam’s determination to spread communism in Indochina caused the failure of the Geneva Peace Agreement by the 1960s.
To what extent were the Vietcong responsible for the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam and the eventual defeat of the South Vietnamese forces in the period 1968–1975?
Discuss the significance of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in the growth of US intervention in Vietnam in the period 1954–1968.
Assess the impact the spread of conflict from Vietnam had on Cambodia in the period up to 1979
Assess the importance of anti-communism in shaping the policies of the United States towards Indochina between 1954 and 1979.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies and tactics used by soldiers in Vietnam between 1960 and 1975.
Assess the contribution of the media in determining the outcomes of war in
Indochina from the overthrow of Diem to the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1975.
Evaluate the significance of the Tet Offensive in the success of communism in Indochina between 1968 and 1979.
Describe the involvement of the United States in Indo-China between 1954 and 1968.
How was EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia affected by war in the 1970s?
From your knowledge of the issue today, how far has EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia recovered from war since 1989?
Describe the role of EITHER the Viet Minh between 1945 and 1954 OR the Viet Cong between 1960 and 1969.
Why were there communist victories in Indo-China in 1975? In your answer you may discuss EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia OR both.
From your knowledge of the issue today, how has the impact of war continued to influence EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia over the past decade?
Describe the involvement in Indo-China of EITHER France between 1945 and 1954 OR the USA between 1960 and 1975.
What were the results of war for EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia between 1970 and 1979?
From your knowledge of the issue today, how has EITHER Vietnam OR Cambodia attempted to recover from war since 1989?
Describe the role of the Vietminh in Indo-China in the period from 1945 to 1954.
What was the impact of EITHER Ngo Dinh Diem OR Ho Chi Minh on Vietnam in the period after 1945?
From your knowledge of the issue today, what influence has EITHER Australia OR the United States had in the countries of Indo-China over the last ten years?