The Beginning of War
The Vietnam War was also known as the Second Indochina War. It occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1959 to April 1975. The war was fought between communist North Vietnam and the government of South Vietnam.
North Vietnam was supported by its communist allies. Those countries were China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cambodia. South Vietnam was supported by the United States and other member nations of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The SEATO supporters were South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, the Khmer Republic, Thailand, and the Kingdom of Laos.
Before the start of the Vietnam War, on May 7, 1954, the French were defeated and surrendered to the Việt Minh. The Việt Minh was a national liberation movement which initially formed to seek independence for Vietnam from France. The Geneva Accords concluded between France and the Việt Minh. Vietnam was partitioned into two, the north and the south, pending national elections to be held by July 20, 1956. The agreement stipulated that the two military zones were to be separated by a temporary demarcation line known as the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ in June 1955.
Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, civilians were to be given the opportunity to freely move between the two provisional states. Around 52,000 Vietnamese civilians moved from south to north. About 800,000 northerners, mainly Catholics, fled south, fearing persecution by the communists. They fled mostly in aircraft and ships provided by France and the U.S. My grandparents, my parents, and their families were among the Northern Vietnamese who fled to the south. The U.S. funded a $93 million relocation program for the northern Vietnamese refugees. This was my family’s first migration in search of freedom.
In 1955, Ngộ Ðình Diệm, a devout Roman Catholic, was the prime minister who later became the president of South Vietnam. Diệm rejected the national election created by the Geneva Accords and announced that the election would not be held. “How can we expect ‘free elections to be held in the Communist North?” Diệm asked.
The Eisenhower administration proposed a policy the Domino Theory which if one country fell to communist forces, then all of the surrounding countries would follow. It was hypothesized that it applied to Vietnam. President Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed U.S fears that 80% of the population would have voted for the Communist Hồ Chí Minh.
In April and June 1955, Diệm (against the U.S. advice) launched military operations against the Cao Ðài religious sect, the Buddhist Hòa Hảo, and the Bình Xuyên organized crime group. Diệm accused these groups of harboring communist agents. The majority of the Vietnamese were Buddhist so his attack on the Buddhist community created and deepened more mistrust among the Southern Vietnamese community.
The Sino-Soviet split led to a reduction in the influence of China. China insisted that the Việt Minh accept a division of the country. Hanoi authorized the communist in the south to begin a low level of rebellion called insurgence in December 1956. The insurgence began in the response to Diệm’s denunciation of the Communist campaign. Thousands of local Việt Minh cadres and supporters had been executed or sent to concentration camps. Diệm was in violation of the Northern Communist party line.
Four hundred southern Vietnamese government officials were assassinated in 1957 and the violence gradually increased. It was soon broadened the government officials to include other symbols of the status quo, such as school teachers, health workers, and agricultural officials. By 1958, an estimated 20% of South Vietnam’s village chiefs had been murdered by the insurgence. The insurgence sought to completely destroy government control in South Vietnam in the rural villages and replace it with a shadow government.