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The Cold War

Vietnam War

Dates: November 1, 1955 - April 30, 1975

The Vietnam War was fought between communist North Vietnam and the government of Southern Vietnam. The North was supported by communist countries such as the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. The South was supported by anti-communist countries, primarily the United States.

The United States lost the Vietnam War. It lasted for twenty years, something the US never expected when it joined in the fight. Not only did the US lose the war and the country of Vietnam to the communists, the US lost prestige in the eyes of the world.

Vietnam War Soldiers and Helicopter
Combat Operations at La Drang Valley, Vietnam
Source: U.S. Army

Before the War

Prior to World War II Vietnam had been a colony of the French. During World War II the Japanese took control of the area. When the war ended there was a power vacuum. Vietnamese revolutionary and communist Ho Chi Minh wanted freedom for the country of Vietnam. However, the Allies all agreed that Vietnam belonged to the French.
Portrait of Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh
Author Unknown


Eventually Ho Chi Minh and his rebels began to fight the French. Ho's soldiers in the north were called the Viet Minh. Ho tried to get US help, but they didn't want Ho to succeed as they were worried about communism spreading throughout Southeast Asia. When Ho began to have success against the French, the US became more concerned. In 1950 they began sending aid to the French in Vietnam.

The US Enters the War

In 1954 the French lost a major battle to the Vietnamese. They decided to pull out of Vietnam. The country was divided up into a communist Northern Vietnam and a Southern Vietnam. It was supposed to be reunited under a single election in 1956. However, the United States did not want the country to become communist. They helped Ngo Dinh Diem get elected in the South.

Major Events During the War President Johnson's War Plan

President Lyndon Johnson had the plan to help the Southern Vietnamese get strong enough to fight the North rather than having the US win the war for them. By putting limits on the troops and not allowing them to attack Northern Vietnam from 1965 to 1969, the US had no chance to win.

A Difficult War

Not only were the US troops limited in what they could do strategically by President Johnson, the jungles of Vietnam proved a difficult place to fight a war. It was very difficult to find the enemy in the jungles and also difficult to determine who was the enemy. The troops had to deal with booby traps and constant ambushes from people they thought they were fighting for.

The US Exits the War

When Richard Nixon became president he decided to end US involvement in the war. He first began removing troops from Vietnam in July of 1969. On January 27, 1973 a ceasefire was negotiated. A few months later in March the final US troops were removed from Vietnam. In April of 1975 South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam. Soon the country became officially unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Vietnam was now a communist country. The US had lost the Vietnam War and also taken a major blow in the Cold War.
Wall and Flag at the Vietnam Memorial
Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
in Washington, D.C.
The names of those killed or
missing-in-action are listed on the wall.
Source: U.S. Federal Government

A Proxy War

The Vietnam War can be considered a "proxy" war in the Cold War. Although the Soviet Union and the United States did not directly go to war, they each supported a different side in the war.

Facts About the Vietnam War Activities

To learn more about the Cold War:

Back to the Cold War summary page.

Overview Major Events Wars People of the Cold War

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Works Cited

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