The Vietnam War, 1955-1975
Episode #8 of the course “Most Important Historical Events of the 20th Century”
As the longest war in the 20th century, the Vietnam War is well-known for the unpopular involvement of the United States. Essentially, the Communist regime of North Vietnam and its allies (the Viet Cong) were waging war against Southern Vietnam. The United States was a Southern Vietnam ally, but the US, it seemed, partially entered the war to discourage the spread of Communism and encourage the development of democratic societies. To accomplish that goal, the United States was essentially supporting a dictatorial regime in South Vietnam.
The entire conflict was riddled with confusion and uncertainty. The United States kept enemy body counts that did not distinguish between friendly South Vietnamese forces and enemy forces. They also destroyed villages in their efforts to “save” them. Objectives were poorly defined, and the overall policies were unclear. In fact, the United States media often portrayed victories as defeats, which added to the American confusion.
The Vietnam War was intertwined with the Cold War. The Soviet Union and the United States were in a power struggle during the Cold War, which closely followed World War II. As the United States attempted to influence other countries, the USSR tried to stop them and vice versa. That prompted the United States to think that it must stop the spread of Communism, which was a Soviet ideal. Essentially, the two superpowers used Vietnam to fight each other by proxy, which also avoided the use of nuclear weapons.
The United States eventually withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, and Vietnam became unified under Communist control two years later. More than 3 million people were killed in the war, including 58,000 Americans.
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