The Vietnam War was a prolonged military conflict that started as an anticolonial war against the French and evolved into a Cold War confrontation between international communism and free-market democracy.
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the north was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist countries. The United States and its anticommunist allies backed the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) in the south.
American involvement in Vietnam began at the end of World War II, when the Vietnamese were struggling against the French colonial presence in their country. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh (Vietnamese Independence League) and the founder of Vietnam’s Communist Party, successfully blended nationalist, anti-French sentiment, and Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideology. In 1954, the Viet Minh decisively defeated the French.
The peace negotiations at Geneva decided to divide Vietnam into northern and southern halves. The communists, headed by Ho Chi Minh, would govern the northern half with its capital at Hanoi. They were supported by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. South Vietnam, with its capital at Saigon, was supported by the United States, which was determined to maintain an independent, non-communist country.
In December 1960, a civil war erupted for control of South Vietnam, while the National Liberation Front (commonly called the Viet Cong) in Hanoi sought to unite the country under its own communist leadership. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy expanded US support to prevent the communists from overrunning South Vietnam. Support included US military advisers, additional military assistance, and authorization of the use of napalm, herbicides, and defoliants.
US involvement in Southeast Asia was driven by the domino theory, which claimed that if one country fell to communism, other surrounding countries would fall as well, just as one toppled domino will knock down others behind it. The United States adopted a containment strategy to prevent the spread of communism.
Source: The Vietnam War
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