VIETNAM WAR FACTS
General VoNguyen Giap.

General Giap was a brilliant, highly
respected leader of the North Vietnam military. The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam war memorial
in Hanoi :
'What we still don't understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi .
You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two,
we were ready to surrender! It was the same at the battle of TET. You defeated us!
We knew it, and we thought you knew it. But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the
battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!' General Giap has published his memoirs and confirmed what most Americans knew. The Vietnam war was not lost in Vietnam -- it was lost at home. The same slippery slope, sponsored by the US media, is currently underway. It exposes the enormous power of a Biased Media to
cut out the heart and will of the American public.
A truism worthy of note: ... Do not fear the enemy, for they can take only your life.
Fear the media, for they will destroy your honor.

Quotes:

"No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic." [Nixon]

The Vietnam War has been the subject of thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, hundreds of books, and scores of movies and television documentaries. The great majority of these efforts have erroneously portrayed many myths about the Vietnam War as being facts. [Nixon]

THE FACTS ARE:

91% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served [Westmoreland]

74% said they would serve again even knowing the outcome [Westmoreland]

There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non veterans of the same age group (from a Veterans Administration study) [Westmoreland]

Isolated atrocities committed by American soldiers produced torrents of outrage from antiwar critics and the news media while Communist atrocities were so common that they received hardly any attention at all. The United States sought to minimize and prevent attacks on civilians while North Vietnam made attacks on civilians a centerpiece of its strategy. Americans who deliberately killed civilians received prison sentences while Communists who did so received commendations. From 1957 to 1973, the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499. The death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, and schoolteachers. [Nixon] Atrocities - every war has atrocities. War is brutal and not fair. Innocent people get killed.

Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only 1/2 of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes. [Westmoreland]

97% were discharged under honorable conditions; the same percentage of honorable discharges as ten years prior to Vietnam [Westmoreland]

85% of Vietnam Veterans made a successful transition to civilian life. [McCaffrey]

Vietnam veterans' personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent. [McCaffrey]

Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than our non-vet age group. [McCaffrey]

87% of the American people hold Vietnam Vets in high esteem. [McCaffrey]

Myth:

Most Vietnam veterans were drafted.

2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. [Westmoreland] Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers. [McCaffrey]

Myth:

The media have reported that suicides among Vietnam veterans range from 50,000 to 100,000 - 6 to 11 times the non-Vietnam veteran population.

Mortality studies show that 9,000 is a better estimate. "The CDC Vietnam Experience Study Mortality Assessment showed that during the first 5 years after discharge, deaths from suicide were 1.7 times more likely among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans. After that initial post-service period, Vietnam veterans were no more likely to die from suicide than non-Vietnam veterans. In fact, after the 5-year post-service period, the rate of suicides is less in the Vietnam veterans' group." [Houk]

Myth:

 A disproportionate number of blacks were killed in the Vietnam War.

86% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, 1.2% were other races. [CACF and Westmoreland]

Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book "All That We Can Be," said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam "and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia - a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war." [All That We Can Be]

Myth:

The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.

Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.

·          50,000 American Servicemen served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964.

·          9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era (Aug.5, 1964-May 7, 1975).

·          3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the Southeast Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand,

           and sailors in adjacent South China sea waters).

·          7,484 American women served in Vietnam. 6,250 were nurses.

·          8 nurses died-1 was killed in action.

·          Vietnam Veterans represented 9.7% of their generation.

·          240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam era.

·          Hostile deaths: 47,378

·          Non-hostile deaths: 10,800

·          Missing in action: 2,338

·          POWs: 766 (114 died in captivity).

·          Wounded in action: 303,704

·          Severely disabled: 75,000--23,214 100% disabled; 5,283 lost limbs; 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.

·          Married men killed: 17,539

·          Men under the age of 21 killed: 61%

·          Average age of men killed: 22.8 years.

·          Highest political office attained by a Vietnam veteran to date: Vice President Al Gore.

·          Most successful Vietnam veteran/businessman to date: Frederick Smith of Federal Express.

·          79% of the men who served in Vietnam had a high school education or better when they entered the military service.

·          The suicide rate of Vietnam veterans has always been well within the 1.7% norm of the general population.

·          97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged.

  ["Myth vs. Reality" by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley]

Five men killed in Vietnam were only 16 years old. [CACF]

The oldest man killed was 62 years old. [CACF]

11,465 KIAs were less than 20 years old. [CACF]

Vietnam Veterans represent 9.7% of their generation †

 8,744,000 GIs were on active duty during the war (Aug. 5, 1964 – March 28, 1973) †

2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (Jan. 1, 1965 – March 28, 1973) †

Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964 †

Of the 2.6 million, between 1 – 1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.†

Peak troop strength in Vietnam: 543,482 (April 30, 1969)†

Total draftees (1965-1973): 1,728,344†

Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam†

National Guard: 6,140 served; 101 died†

Last man drafted: June 30, 1973†

97% of Vietnam veterans were honorably discharged†

91% of actual Vietnam War era veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served their country†

66% of Vietnam veterans say they would serve again if called upon†

Non-substantiated comments:

Men often had to explain why they served; not serving was acceptable to many.
Soldiers served a tour of duty rather than for the length of the war.
In combat, there was no safety in the rear--there was no rear in Vietnam.
The war was fought in a country whose history, culture, religions, and values little known or understood by the general population of the United States.
There was no direct threat against the United States.
War against Vietnam was never declared by Congress, thus the correct term is Vietnam Conflict, although the word war is commonly used.
The war's goal was unclear; there was never clear indication that America would do whatever was necessary to win.
There were no clear combat zones; there was no front.
Territory was taken, lost, and taken repeatedly.
Little emotional support was offered to soldiers returning home.
All of the soldiers did not return home at the same time.
No war since the Civil War caused such a rift in U.S. public opinion, leading to social unrest and violence.

The war was broadcast on television daily. It has been called the television war.

Myth:  

The average age of an infantryman fighting in Vietnam was 19.

Assuming KIAs accurately represented age groups serving in Vietnam, the average age of an infantryman (MOS 11B) serving in Vietnam to be 19 years old is a myth, it is actually 22.8. None of the enlisted grades have an average age of less than 20. [CACF]

The average man who fought in World War II was 26 years of age. [Westmoreland]

Myth:

The domino theory was proved false.

The domino theory was accurate. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. The Indonesians threw the Soviets out in 1966 because of America's commitment in Vietnam. Without that commitment, Communism would have swept all the way to the Malacca Straits that is south of Singapore and of great strategic importance to the free world. If you ask people who live in these countries that won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion from the American news media. The Vietnam War was the turning point for Communism. [Westmoreland]

Democracy Catching On - In the wake of the Cold War, democracies are flourishing, with 179 of the world's 192 sovereign states (93%) now electing their legislators, according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. In the last decade, 69 nations have held multi-party elections for the first time in their histories. Three of the five newest democracies are former Soviet republics: Belarus (where elections were first held in November 1995), Armenia (July 1995) and Kyrgyzstan (February 1995). And two are in Africa: Tanzania (October 1995) and Guinea (June 1995). [Parade Magazine]

 Myth:

The fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II.

The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter.

One out of every 10 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty. 58,169 were killed and 304,000 wounded out of 2.59 million who served. Although the percent who died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in World War II. 75,000 Vietnam veterans are severely disabled. [McCaffrey]

MEDEVAC helicopters flew nearly 500,000 missions. Over 900,000 patients were airlifted (nearly half were American). The average time lapse between wounding to hospitalization was less than one hour. As a result, less than one percent of all Americans wounded who survived the first 24 hours died.

The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border) [Westmoreland]


 The 1990 unsuccessful movie "Air America" helped to establish the myth of a connection between Air America, the CIA, and the Laotian drug trade. The movie and a book the movie was based on contend that the CIA condoned a drug trade conducted by a Laotian client; both agree that Air America provided the essential transportation for the trade; and both view the pilots with sympathetic understanding. American-owned airlines never knowingly transported opium in or out of Laos, nor did their American pilots ever profit from its transport. Yet undoubtedly every plane in Laos carried opium at some time, unknown to the pilot and his superiors. For more information see http://www.air-america.org/


Poor job of reporting by the news media.

FACTS ABOUT THE FALL OF SIAGON:

 Myth:

Kim Phuc, the little nine year old Vietnamese girl running naked from the napalm strike near Trang Bang on 8 June 1972, was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang.

No American had involvement in this incident near Trang Bang that burned Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The planes doing the bombing near the village were VNAF (Vietnam Air Force) and were being flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of South Vietnamese troops on the ground. The Vietnamese pilot who dropped the napalm in error is currently living in the United States. Even the AP photographer, Nick Ut, who took the picture was Vietnamese. The incident in the photo took place on the second day of a three day battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) who occupied the village of Trang Bang and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) who were trying to force the NVA out of the village. Recent reports in the news media that an American commander ordered the air strike that burned Kim Phuc are incorrect. There were no Americans involved in any capacity. "We (Americans) had nothing to do with controlling VNAF," according to Lieutenant General (Ret) James F. Hollingsworth, the Commanding General of TRAC at that time. Also, it has been incorrectly reported that two of Kim Phuc's brothers were killed in this incident. They were Kim's cousins not her brothers.

 Myth:

The United States lost the war in Vietnam.

The American military was not defeated in Vietnam. The American military did not lose a battle of any consequence. From a military standpoint, it was almost an unprecedented performance. (Westmoreland quoting Douglas Pike, a professor at the University of California, Berkley a renowned expert on the Vietnam War) [Westmoreland] This included Tet 68, which was a major military defeat for the VC and NVA.


THE UNITED STATES DID NOT LOSE THE WAR IN VIETNAM
THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE DID.

Facts about the end of the war:

The fall of Saigon happened 30 April 1975, two years AFTER the American military left Vietnam. The last American troops departed in their entirety 29 March 1973. How could we lose a war we had already stopped fighting? We fought to an agreed stalemate. The peace settlement was signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. It called for release of all U.S. prisoners, withdrawal of U.S. forces, limitation of both sides' forces inside South Vietnam and a commitment to peaceful reunification.*

The 140,000 evacuees in April 1975 during the fall of Saigon consisted almost entirely of civilians and Vietnamese military, NOT American military running for their lives.*

There were almost twice as many casualties in Southeast Asia (primarily Cambodia) the first two years after the fall of Saigon in 1975 then there were during the ten years the U.S. was involved in Vietnam.*

POW-MIA Issue (unaccounted-for versus missing in action)

Politics & People, On Vietnam, Clinton Should Follow a Hero's Advice, Sen. John Kerrey is quoted as saying about Vietnam, there has been "the most extensive accounting in the history of human warfare" of those missing in action. While there are still officially more than 2,200 cases, there now are only 55 incidents of American servicemen who were last seen alive but aren't accounted for. By contrast, there still are 78,000 unaccounted-for Americans from World War II and 8,100 from the Korean conflict.
"The problem is that those who think the Vietnamese haven't cooperated sufficiently think there is some central repository with answers to all the lingering questions," notes Gen. John Vessey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Reagan and Bush administration's designated representative in MIA negotiations. "In all the years we've been working on this we have found that's not the case."**

More Realities About War:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - it was not invented or unique to Vietnam Veterans. It was called "shell shock" and other names in previous wars. An automobile accident or other traumatic event also can cause it. It does not have to be war related. The Vietnam War helped medical progress in this area.

Restraining the military in Vietnam in hindsight probably prevented a nuclear war with China or Russia. The Vietnam War was shortly after China got involved in the Korean war, the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe and the proliferation of nuclear bombs. In all, a very scary time for our country.

SOURCES

[Nixon] No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon

[Parade Magazine] August 18, 1996 page 10.

[CACF] (Combat Area Casualty File) November 1993. (The CACF is the basis for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, i.e. The Wall), Center for Electronic Records, National Archives, Washington, DC

[All That We Can Be] All That We Can Be by Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler

 [Westmoreland] Speech by General William C. Westmoreland before the Third Annual Reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) at the Washington, DC Hilton Hotel on July 5th, 1986 (reproduced in a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Historical Reference Directory Volume 2A)

[McCaffrey] Speech by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, (reproduced in the Pentagram, June 4, 1993) assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Vietnam veterans and visitors gathered at "The Wall", Memorial Day 1993.

[Houk] Testimony by Dr. Houk, Oversight on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 14 July 1988 page 17, Hearing before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs United States Senate one hundredth Congress second session. Also "Estimating the Number of Suicides Among Vietnam Veterans" (Am J Psychiatry 147, 6 June 1990 pages 772-776)

**The Wall Street JournalThe Wall Street Journal, 1 June 1996 page A15.

*1996 Information Please Almanac 1995 Information Please Almanac Atlas & Yearbook 49th edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York 1996, pages 117, 161 and 292.

†The Vietnam War Internet Project an educational organization dedicated to providing information and documents about the various Indochina Wars and to the collection and electronic publication on the web of oral histories and memoirs of both those who served in and those who opposed those conflicts. [HOME PAGE]

"Myth vs. Reality" by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley

Origins of the Vietnam War

In 1941, a Comintern agent named Ho Chi Mihn formed the League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Mihn. This communist affiliated force fought against the Japanese, who were actually in control of French Indochina during WWII. While ostensibly administered by Vichy France, Imperial Japan was actually in charge on the ground with French bureaucrats doing their bidding. The OSS (US Office of Strategic Services) aided the Viet Mihn against the Japanese, but the Pentagon correctly saw this theatre as a sideshow, and refused to commit significant assets.

The Japanese eventually threw out and humiliated the Vichy French officials in the region, and gave Vietnam nominal independence in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. When Japan surrendered, they turned over Vietnam to the Viet Mihn.


The needs of the Cold War showed the US government that France was going to be critical to the vital European theatre, so no opposition was launched against French claims in Indochina. The independent Vietnamese government only lasted a few days before the British and Chinese occupied the region, and eventually allowed the French to return. Ho Chi Minh used the time to weaken nationalist opposition by assassinations and overt attacks.

Ho Chi Mihn and his followers fled into the mountains and began a guerrilla war as the French reoccupied Indochina, and after the defeat of the Nationalists in China, received aid from the People's Republic of China and USSR. The eight-year war cost the French 94,000 dead and 40,000 captured. The basic French plan was to push the Viet Mihn to attack strong positions in remote locations, where French logistics were superior and the French forces could inflict stinging losses. The French were worn down by shortages of engineer barrier materials, poor road networks and limited amounts of mobile forces, able to respond to each crisis in turn.


While most French actions resulted in victory, each loss was difficult to replace, while the Viet Mihn could afford even the heaviest losses. The French moved from attempts to control all of Indochina to attempts to control secure zones, and sweeps outside of those zones. The Viet Mihn increasingly possessed heavy weapons and supporting arms. The new French Commander, Henri Navarre, reported he was unable to produce victory in the war, but could still achieve a stalemate. He selected Dien Ben Phu as the site. This was an old Japanese airstrip with loyal tribes in the area. It was less than 10 miles from Laos and less than 200 from Hanoi, and was astride the main Viet Mihn supply route deeper south.

The French had missed the transition from guerrilla to mixed warfare, on the lines proposed by Mao, and thus found that at the end of a long supply line, their firepower wasn’t as great as that of General Giap. Mixed warfare was the phase when the guerrillas were able to field the beginnings of real armies. The response to guerrillas was to spread out to track them down, but with real army units available, the counter-guerrillas could not spread out without being vulnerable to the army forces, and if they concentrated to face the army, the guerrillas were unmolested. Even with covert US aid to deliver supplies to Dien Ben Phu, the French were unable to keep their forces fully combat ready, and they were eventually defeated one fortification at a time. The Viet Mihn were aided by overt Chinese support and were able to call on vast logistical aid. General Giap praised the performance of his 400 Soviet supplied GAZ trucks in keeping his forces supplied, even during the monsoon, which crippled French resupply attempts.

This French phase ended with Indochina broken into North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This was a great complication, for the communist forces were always clear they were fighting for Indochina, not a specific country, while the West was hamstrung by international boundaries.

The outbreak of the Korean War finally ended US ambivalence over Vietnam. Now seen as part of the Soviet and Chinese plan to take over the Pacific Rim, US advisors were sent to Vietnam. During the overlapping period while the French were still in Vietnam and Korea was ongoing, March Battalion Korea was sent to fight with the UN forces in Korea, becoming a well regarded part of the US 2nd Infantry Division. It was later destroyed in Vietnam.

US Entry into the Vietnam War

Under President Eisenhower a force of 500 instructors was to lead and teach Republic of Vietnam forces. As the unpopular Diem government alienated Buddhists and others, the communist government of the north decided it was time to move, and formed the National Liberation Front, better known as the Viet Cong (VC). President Kennedy decided the Vietnamese were incapable of solving the problem on their own, and that US combat forces were required. He sent 12,000 US troops into the fray. The ability of the VC to operate in the south was correctly seen as the first issue to solve, but the strategic hamlet plan to separate the population from the guerrillas was badly handled and served to further anger the peasant farmers, already incensed about high rent payment to landowners.

Kennedy approved the removal of the now hated Diem and his family, though he was shocked when the coup resulted in their deaths. The coup was a strategic error, creating a period of instability and the NLF quickly took advantage. US forces were increased to 16,000 as Kennedy sought a way to regain control.

The assassination of President Kennedy was followed by President Johnson, who saw Vietnam as a distraction from his domestic priorities. A pair of controversial attacks on USN warships in the waters off Vietnam was used to increase the US commitment to the war. The first of these two attacks certainly took place, and the missile boats are in Vietnamese museums. The second attack may have been a radar error, and remains controversial to this day. Lyndon B. Johnson used these to force a major increase in forces committed, unwilling to be seen as the President who lost the war.

The US started a major bombing campaign against the north to encourage it to stop supporting the NLF, and began increases of military forces committed until US troops topped half a million. Additionally, Filipino, Thai, Australian, New Zealand and Korean troops also fought for the south.

President Johnson had a very secretive policy and this lack of candour hurt his policy with the US public. Current scholarship is reexamining conventional wisdom about the role of the anti-war movement, but at the time it was seen as a major theatre of conflict and a vital means to defeat US involvement in the war. The traditional American weakness in Information Operations was well evident during the whole conflict.


The Tet Offensive
In January of 1968 the NLF attacked Khe Sanh in the Demilitarised Zone in what proved to be the biggest battle of the whole war. Some 10,000 North Vietnamese were killed as well as around 500 US soldiers. It proved to be a diversionary tactic from what was to take place a week later,
the Tet Offensive.

On the night of January 31st, whilst the country was celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Viet Cong started an enormous offensive on towns and cities all over South Vietnam including Saigon where the courtyard of the US embassy was briefly occupied. US and South Vietnamese forces hit back with huge firepower which caused huge losses of VC personnel and civilians. Around 3000 members of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and US troops lost their lives as a result of the Tet Offensive whilst more than 30,000 VC troops were killed.

Whilst US military chiefs claimed a great victory, the shocked media back in the US portrayed it as a stunning US defeat having seen events unfold on their TV sets. As a result, public opposition to the war back in the US reached an all time high. In spite of enormous VC casualties, the Tet Offensive ultimately proved to work in their favour. Antiwar demonstrations in the US became even more widespread as reports of atrocities against Vietnamese civilians became public such as the My Lai Massacre.

Final Years of the Vietnam War (1969-75)

One notable casualty of the Tet Offensive was the presidency of Lindon Johnson who was succeeded by President Nixon who was elected in no small part to put an end to the war. When elected, he didn’t know how he was going to do this, but his staff quickly put together the Vietnamization program. US units would gradually turn over missions to the ARVN which would be greatly strengthened and trained. As part of this comprehensive restructuring, the government of Cambodia under Sihanouk was forced to abandon their claims of neutrality while sheltering People’s Army of Vietnam forces on his soil, and Nixon ordered secret bombing raids on those extranational sanctuaries. Sihanouk was deposed, and the Khmer Rouge were able to take advantage of the instability. Cross border ground operations took place, and were followed by Vietnamese led incursions into Laos which served as a sanctuary for the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN).

US forces continued to draw down, and fell to less than 200,000 in 1971, with more reductions scheduled. 1972 saw overt invasion from the north. US airpower provided the edge needed to defeat the Easter Invasion. Another US aerial attack was used to force the north to negotiate the Paris Peace Accords. US military forces were essentially removed after this, as required within 60 days. This was the only part of the treaty that actually took place.

In 1975, the north again attacked, with more tanks than the Wehrmacht used to invade France in 1940 and more trucks than Patton’s Third Army. The critical US logistical and air support was denied. President Thieu panicked, and issued a series of conflicting orders to his forces, which collapsed in the face of the invasion.

The Republic of Vietnam fell on 30th April 1975, right after Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and months before Laos fell to the Pathet Lao.

In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands were imprisoned by the new leadership, with tens of thousands killed. Two million fled the country. Two million died in Cambodia alone, almost a third of the population, killed by the Khmer Rouge. In 1995, Hanoi admitted that four million civilians died in the war, north and south, and over a million Vietnamese soldiers. US forces suffered 58,000 dead.

In 1941, a Comintern agent named Ho Chi Mihn formed the League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Mihn. This communist affiliated force fought against the Japanese, who were actually in control of French Indochina during WWII. While ostensibly administered by Vichy France, Imperial Japan was actually in charge on the ground with French bureaucrats doing their bidding. The OSS (US Office of Strategic Services) aided the Viet Mihn against the Japanese, but the Pentagon correctly saw this theatre as a sideshow, and refused to commit significant assets.

The Japanese eventually threw out and humiliated the Vichy French officials in the region, and gave Vietnam nominal independence in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. When Japan surrendered, they turned over Vietnam to the Viet Mihn.

The needs of the Cold War showed the US government that France was going to be critical to the vital European theatre, so no opposition was launched against French claims in Indochina. The independent Vietnamese government only lasted a few days before the British and Chinese occupied the region, and eventually allowed the French to return. Ho Chi Minh used the time to weaken nationalist opposition by assassinations and overt attacks.

Ho Chi Mihn and his followers fled into the mountains and began a guerrilla war as the French reoccupied Indochina, and after the defeat of the Nationalists in China, received aid from the People's Republic of China and USSR. The eight-year war cost the French 94,000 dead and 40,000 captured. The basic French plan was to push the Viet Mihn to attack strong positions in remote locations, where French logistics were superior and the French forces could inflict stinging losses. The French were worn down by shortages of engineer barrier materials, poor road networks and limited amounts of mobile forces, able to respond to each crisis in turn.

While most French actions resulted in victory, each loss was difficult to replace, while the Viet Mihn could afford even the heaviest losses. The French moved from attempts to control all of Indochina to attempts to control secure zones, and sweeps outside of those zones. The Viet Mihn increasingly possessed heavy weapons and supporting arms. The new French Commander, Henri Navarre, reported he was unable to produce victory in the war, but could still achieve a stalemate. He selected Dien Ben Phu as the site. This was an old Japanese airstrip with loyal tribes in the area. It was less than 10 miles from Laos and less than 200 from Hanoi, and was astride the main Viet Mihn supply route deeper south.

The French had missed the transition from guerrilla to mixed warfare, on the lines proposed by Mao, and thus found that at the end of a long supply line, their firepower wasn’t as great as that of General Giap. Mixed warfare was the phase when the guerrillas were able to field the beginnings of real armies. The response to guerrillas was to spread out to track them down, but with real army units available, the counter-guerrillas could not spread out without being vulnerable to the army forces, and if they concentrated to face the army, the guerrillas were unmolested. Even with covert US aid to deliver supplies to Dien Ben Phu, the French were unable to keep their forces fully combat ready, and they were eventually defeated one fortification at a time. The Viet Mihn were aided by overt Chinese support and were able to call on vast logistical aid. General Giap praised the performance of his 400 Soviet supplied GAZ trucks in keeping his forces supplied, even during the monsoon, which crippled French resupply attempts.

This French phase ended with Indochina broken into North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This was a great complication, for the communist forces were always clear they were fighting for Indochina, not a specific country, while the West was hamstrung by international boundaries.

The outbreak of the Korean War finally ended US ambivalence over Vietnam. Now seen as part of the Soviet and Chinese plan to take over the Pacific Rim, US advisors were sent to Vietnam. During the overlapping period while the French were still in Vietnam and Korea was ongoing, March Battalion Korea was sent to fight with the UN forces in Korea, becoming a well regarded part of the US 2nd Infantry Division. It was later destroyed in Vietnam.

Please note that this article was prepared for us by a US journalist. As is the case with all historical writing, interpretation of events may vary.


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