The war of Vietnam is an armed conflict between 1959 and 1975 and in the midst of the Cold War, between South Vietnam (and its ally the United States) and North Vietnam, supported by the USSR and China. After a period of guerrilla warfare marked by the gradual infiltration of North Vietnamese forces into the South, the conflict became more radical and prompted massive intervention by the United States. In a military stalemate and after heavy losses, the American forces were forced to withdraw in 1973, paving the way for a reunification of Vietnam under the leadership of the communist north.
Origins of the Vietnam War
The Geneva Accords, which ended the Indochina War, had divided Viet Nam into two zones along the 17th parallel. It was also agreed that general elections should be held within two years to reunite the country. Due to the refusal of the South Vietnamese government to organize these elections, the Communist government of Hanoi, which had been careful not to dismantle its networks in the South, undertook from 1957 to achieve the unity of Vietnam by the subversion of the authority of Saigon. This enterprise was favored by the discontent aroused by the Diem regime and by the misery of the rural populations of the South.
The various groups of opponents to Diem, whom the government of Saigon confused, from 1959, under the name of Viêt-cong ("Vietnamese communists"), formed on December 20, 1960 during a clandestine congress the National Front Liberation of South Vietnam (FNL). There were genuine non-Marxist nationalists, but increasingly came under the leadership of the Communists. In February 1961, the F.N.L. set up a liberation army for South Vietnam, and, with the human and material aid provided by the North, the guerrilla operations, which began in 1957, took the form of a veritable war.
Faced with this situation, the Kennedy administration provided increased aid to the South Vietnamese government. By the end of 1961, the number of American military "advisers" in South Vietnam reached 15,000 men, and in February 1962 an American military command was created in this region. The opposition against the Dam regime had grown to such an extent (from May 1963, a wave of spectacular suicides of bonzes publicly immolating themselves by fire) that Kennedy decided to abandon Diem and let the coup be accomplished (if not favored). State military which cost the life of the South Vietnamese dictator (November 1, 1963). The fall of Diem was to be followed for two years by a series of coups d'état which contributed to the deepening of the disorder in South Vietnam. Authority was not reestablished in Saigon until June 1965, when General Thieu became head of state.
What was to be called the American "escalation" in Vietnam began following a naval incident in August 1964 between two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin against the North Vietnamese fleet. In retaliation for the attack on their ships by the North Vietnamese (August 5, 1964), the Americans launched their first air attack north of the 17th parallel. From February 1965, the American air force carried out systematic raids on the North. in June 1966 it even attacked Hanoi and Haiphong. The intervention of the American ground forces in the combat in South Vietnam began in March 1965, and, from that moment, the American troops did not cease increasing, going from 23,000 men at the beginning of 1965 to 267,000 around the middle of 1966 and to 542,000 men in 1969.
South Korean, Australian and New Zealand troops were also engaged alongside the South Vietnamese. Despite the scale of the resources engaged, the Americans did not obtain any decisive results, the Viet-Cong forces and the North Vietnamese troops receiving modern equipment from the Communist countries and also benefiting from their long experience in the guerrillas. The Tet offensive, launched by the Communists in January / February 1968 against Saigon and several major centers in the South, demonstrated to the Americans the power of their adversary. The Vietnam War deeply divided American opinion, starting in 1965 in the United States a protest movement that was to grow, and damaged the international prestige of America.
The laborious peace negotiations
Orienting himself towards the search for a negotiated solution, President Johnson decided to partially halt the aerial bombardments on the North (March 31, 1968). Opened in Paris on May 13, 1968 between Americans and North Vietnamese (joined in January 1969 by South Vietnamese and F.N.L.), the peace talks were to drag on for nearly five years. During this period, the United States opted for "Vietnamization", which consisted in gradually withdrawing its forces from South Vietnam by giving the South Vietnamese army sufficient means to fight alone against the Communist forces.
After the total halt of the American raids against North Vietnam, decided in November 1968 by President Johnson. Newly elected Nixon began repatriation of American forces (June 1969). On the other hand, the Communists by no means slowed down their offensive actions, which forced the Americans to intervene in Cambodia (1970) then to resume their air attacks against the North, to block the ports of North Vietnam (May 1972) and to submit Hanoi and Haiphong to the most violent bombings they have known in the entire war.
However, the secret negotiations opened in August 1969 on the sidelines of the Pan conference, between Kissinger and Lê Duc Tho, ended up leading to the signing of the Paris Agreements (January 27, 1973), following which the American soldiers withdrew from the Vietnam within two months. These agreements also established the ceasefire between the various Vietnamese forces present and included political clauses for national reconciliation. They were not respected by either the North or the South, who instead tried to improve their positions.
The F.N.L., which in June 1969 had constituted itself as a Provisional Revolutionary Government (G.R.P.), continued to receive reinforcements of troops and material from North Vietnam. The regime of southern Vietnam, heavily corrupted, will prove unable to hold out, despite American logistical support, in the face of combined pressure from Viet Cong. At the end of 1974, the Communists resumed the offensive on a large scale. In the spring of 1975, they captured Hue (March 24) and Da Nang (March 29), causing the general collapse of the South Vietnamese army. Too late, the resignation of President Thieu (21 Apr.) did not allow the opening of political negotiations.
The end of the Vietnam War
While the Khmer Rouge had already submerged Cambodia, the Communists entered Saigon on April 30, 1975. The Second Vietnam War ended with the complete victory of Communism not only in Vietnam, but throughout Indochina. . Beyond ideologies, this conclusion confirmed the constant in Vietnamese history, the domination of the South by the more authoritarian and more centralized North. Saigon, renamed "Ville Ho Chi Minh", was stripped of traces of the Western presence, and socialist structures were gradually being put in place in South Vietnam. The reunification of Vietnam was to take place, through elections scheduled for the first half of 1976, and it was already decided that Hanoi would be the capital of reunified Vietnam. On April 25, 1976, for the first time since the consultation of January 8, 1946, North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese elected a single National Assembly. Two months later, this Assembly adopted a new constitution and ratified the country's reunification.
This conflict, certainly one of the most famous of the twentieth century, is distinguished by its media coverage and the role played by American public opinion. Of great violence, marked by numerous abuses, it caused several million victims (including a large majority of Vietnamese civilians), the American army suffering its heaviest losses (58,000 deaths) since World War II. This conflict will leave a deep trauma in American consciousness. In the reunified Vietnam which has become a socialist republic, "re-education" camps are multiplying and quickly thousands of opponents try to flee the country by sea (boat people) ...
- The Vietnam War: A Deadly Conflict at the Heart of the Cold War, by Mylène Théliol. 50 minutes, 2017.
- The Vietnam War and American public opinion 1961-1973. Press of the Sorbonne, 1995.
- The Vietnam War, documentary by Isabelle Clarke and Daniel Costelle. DVD, 2015.