History of War



Vietnam War: Overview

Vietnam War Statistics

American military deaths: 58,220

American soldiers killed at less than 20 years old: 11,465

South Vietnamese civilian deaths: 195,000–430,000

North Vietnamese civilian deaths: 50,000–65,000

North Vietnamese military deaths/missing: 400,000–1,100,000

Peak American troop strength: 326,863

Peak North Vietnamese troop strength: 287,465

Total Deaths: 1,102,000–3,886,026

Poltical Context

By 1955, the country of Vietnam had been fighting for its independence against French imperialists for nearly 10 years. While the country had rallied around a communist ideology, led by Ho Chi-Minh, this war was more about its independence than establishing a communist state. With a victory against the French, the country was divided into two, similar to the Korean War, with the Soviets and Chinese supporting the North and the United States supporting the South. In this conflict, however, there was much more popular support in all of Vietnam for Ho Chi Minh who had defeated the French, over the Prime Minister, Ngo Diem in the South, who was merely a figurehead dicator supported by the West. Consequently, a North Vietnamese coup resulted in Diem’s assassination in 1963 and the South Vietnamese Republic never regained any level of governmental stability from this point onward.

Vietnam WarFollowing the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1965, which is a controversial event that historians argue was either provoked or staged by the Americans, Lyndon B. Johnson escalated the number of troops in Vietnam, beginning the main combat phase of the Vietnam War. During this time, the US Army engaged in many futile village raids and bombing campaigns but never rallied enough support from the South Vietnamese to establish a strong enough will to take control of the country. Communist insurgents in the South, called the Viet Cong, also made it difficult for the Americans to know who exactly they were fighting and who they were fighting with.

Domino Theory

Domino Theory

The main rationale for the US entering Vietnam was to stop the spread of communism, particularly in Southeast Asia. This stemmed from the “Domino Theory,” which posited that if Vietnam fell tothe influence of the Soviet communist regime, so would its neighbouring East Asian countries,which included Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, and India. However, by fighting a dirty guerilla war against a country that had never threatened them in any way, the United States quickly lost support for the war at home and by 1969, they were already looking to start withdrawing troops from the country.


Nations Involved

South Vietnam & Allies:

South Vietnam Flag US Flag    
South Vietnam United States    

North Vietnam & Allies:

North Vietnam Flag Chinese Flag Soviet Flag
North Vietnam People's Republic of China Soviet Union  
    (non-combat support)


Key Players

South Vietnamese/American Leaders:

Lyndon B. Johnson Robert McNamara William Westmoreland Ngo Diem
Lyndon B. Johnson Robert McNamara William Westmoreland Ngo Diem
American President
Secretary of Defense
Deputy Commander
President of South Vietnam


North Vietnamese Leaders:

Ho Chi Minh Pham Van Dong  
Ho Chi-Minh Pham Van Dong  
North Vietnamese
Vietnamese Prime Minister (1955-1976)