Vietnam was colonised by France in the mid 19th century. During the Second World War the French Vichy government ruled Vietnam and collaborated with the Japanese. A communist resistance movement grew and was supported by the American Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S). In March 1945 the Japanese overthrew the French and encouraged Vietnamese nationalism.
Vietnam declared independence in 1945. But France was reluctant to lose her South East Asian empire and so resisted Vietnam’s bid for independence. Fighting soon broke out and only ended in 1954 when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu.
At the Geneva conference in 1954, Laos and Cambodia gained independence and Vietnam was temporarily divided along the 17th Parallel. A communist government under Ho Chi Minh was established in North Vietnam. In South Vietnam the government, which was headed by President Ngo Dinh Diem, was backed by the US.
‘Between 1975 and early 1990s over 20,000 Vietnamese refugees came to Britain, around 1 percent of the total.’
National elections were due to be held in 1956 after which it was hoped that the country would be reunited. Ho Chi Minh was confident that the elections would go in favour of the communists. The United States, worried that the communists would win, did not push for the elections to go ahead. They feared that if Vietnam became a communist state other countries in South East Asia would follow. The elections were never held.Civil War
In the late 1950s the Viet Cong, a communist army guerrilla movement backed by the North, mounted a campaign against the US-backed South. The Viet Cong, also known as the National Liberation Front, hoped that they could reunite Vietnam under communist rule.
But the US was determined not to allow this and supported South Vietnam against the Viet Cong. The US increased the number of military advisers and aid to South Vietnam. But the communists made important gains and by the mid 1960s US troops had to be deployed in combat operations against the Viet Cong.American involvement
The number of US troops in Vietnam peaked at more than 500,000. They were supported by forces from Australia, New Zealand and America’s allies in the Far East including South Korea. A massive bombing campaign was also initiated. But the Viet Cong were still able to launch the ‘Tet Offensive’ in 1968 which attempted to overrun South Vietnam. US troops managed to regain much of the ground lost during the offensive, but by then many Americans were convinced victory could not be achieved in Vietnam.
The bombing campaign continued but brought no real gains. At the end of 1972, the Viet Cong controlled the entire western half of Vietnam.
A ceasefire was arranged in January 1973 and under the terms of the Paris Peace Accords, the US had to withdraw all its forces from Vietnam. It was also agreed that the division along the 17th Parallel would be respected. But the Viet Cong continued their campaign and in April 1975 Saigon fell to the communists. In 1976 Vietnam was officially reunited and became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.