Vietnam War: The Early Years through rare photographs, 1965-1967

On May 07, 1954, Viet Minh forces won the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and ended French involvement in Indochina. This victory led to the Geneva Conference where the French and Vietnam negotiated an armistice. (Note: the second part of this photo collection: The Vietnam War: Rise and Evacuation through Rare Photographs, 1968–1975).

Under the terms of the Geneva Accords, France agreed to withdraw its troops from Indochina, while Vietnam was temporarily divided into North and South Vietnam, led respectively by Ho Chi Minh and Bao Dai on the 17th parallel. did in. Citizens were able to move freely between the two states for a period of 300 days. General elections were to be held within two years till July 1956 to unite the country.

However, the agreements apparently did not please the United States. At first, he feared that general elections under the influence of communists would not be fair and free.

Second and most importantly, if the Communists win in Vietnam, communism could spread throughout Southeast Asia and become a major threat to America. Dwight D. Eisenhower promised American support to his government to ensure a non-communist Vietnam.

Following that commitment, US aid to South Vietnam began in early January 1955. The Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), Indochina was also reorganized into MAAG, Vietnam to train the South Vietnamese military.

By early 1955, Diem had consolidated his power and control over South Vietnam. He also launched several political repressions and anti-communist campaigns across the country, in which 25,000 anti-government activists and communists were arrested and over 1,000 were killed, as claimed by the communists.

In return, communist rebels also killed hundreds of South Vietnamese officers. In July 1955, Diem rejected the national election, claiming that South Vietnam was not bound by the Geneva Accords. In October, he easily ousted Bao Dai and became President of the new Republic of Vietnam (ROV).

Nevertheless, Diem's ​​political repression and attacks on the Buddhist community made him more and more unpopular among ordinary South Vietnamese.

Realizing the growing unpopularity of the Diem regime, Hanoi founded the National Liberation Front (NLF), known as the Viet Cong, on December 20, 1960, which included all anti-government activists – communists and non-communists. The two, as a commoner, front to fight against Diem.

In May 1961, Kennedy sent 400 US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) soldiers to the Central Highlands of South Vietnam to train the Montagnard tribesmen in counter-terrorism tactics. He also tripled the level of aid to South Vietnam. A steady stream of airplanes, helicopters, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and other equipment poured south.

By the end of 1962, 9,000 U.S. The military advisers were under the direction of a newly created Military Support Command Vietnam (MACV), commanded by the U.S. Army. Army General Paul Harkins took over.

Under American guidance, the Diem government also began building "strategic settlements". The purpose of these fortified villages was to protect rural Vietnamese from Viet Cong threats and propaganda.

US And South Vietnamese leaders were cautiously optimistic that the U.S. The increase in aid was eventually enabling the Saigon government to defend itself. On 2 January 1963, however, at Ap Bek on the grounds of Reeds, southwest of Saigon, a Vietcong battalion of about 320 men inflicted heavy casualties on an ARVN force of 3,000 soldiers, armed with troop carrying helicopters, new UH‐1 ("Huey") helicopter gunships, tactical bombers and APCs.

AP Beck represented a leadership failure for the ARVN and a major morale booster for anti-government forces. The absence of fighting spirit in the ARVN reflected the Saigon regime's continued inability to garner political support.

In fact, many South Vietnamese regarded strategic settlements as government oppression, not protection, as people were forced to leave their ancestral homes for new settlements.

While Viet Cong guerrillas achieved military success, the leaders of Vietnam's Buddhist majority opposed what they saw as religious persecution of the Diem regime. In June, a monk dramatically burned himself to death at a busy Saigon crossroads.

The "Buddhist crisis" and dissatisfaction with Diem by top Vietnamese military leaders made American officials more receptive to the idea of ​​a change in South Vietnam's leadership. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not intervene as a group of ARVN officers plotted the coup.

On 1 November 1963, the generals seized power, and Diem and his unpopular brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were assassinated. Three weeks later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and American policy in Vietnam was again at a crossroads.

If the new government in Saigon failed to show progress against the insurgency, would the United States withdraw its support for a lost cause, or would it support the effort to preserve South Vietnam as an anti-communist outpost in Asia? Will it go ahead?

Lyndon B. Johnson inherited the Vietnam dilemma. As Senate Majority Leader and as Vice President in the 1950s, he supported Eisenhower and Kennedy's decisions to aid South Vietnam.

Four days after Kennedy's death, Johnson, who is now president, reaffirmed in National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 273 that the American goal was to aid South Vietnam in "competition against an externally directed and supported communist conspiracy". Had to do. American policy defined the Vietnam War as a North Vietnamese offensive against South Vietnam.

North Vietnam infiltrated troops and material into South Vietnam along the sea and the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Throughout his administration, Johnson insisted that the only possible settlement of the conflict would be one in which North Vietnam recognized the legitimacy of South Vietnam's government. Without such recognition, the United States would continue to provide Saigon with as much aid as it needed to survive.

There were important military questions that the U.S. How adequate was the assistance and in what form should it be taken? By the spring of 1964, the Viet Cong controlled vast areas of South Vietnam, the strategic hamlet program had essentially ended, and North Vietnam's aid to southern rebels had increased.

In June, Johnson appointed one of the Army's most distinguished officers, General William C. Westmoreland, then Commandant of West Point, as Commander US MACV.

Westmoreland immediately called for more men, and by the end of 1964 the number of American personnel in the South had exceeded 23,000. Increasingly, however, the American effort focused on the north. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other key White House aides were convinced that the attack on South Vietnam was among Hanoi's ambitious designs backed by Moscow and Beijing.

During 1964, the United States assisted South Vietnam in covert operations to gather intelligence, disseminate propaganda, and harass the North.

On the night of August 2, North Vietnamese gunmen fired on a destroyer USS Maddox on an intelligence-gathering mission in the same area of ​​the Gulf of Tonkin, where South Vietnamese commandos were raiding against the North Vietnamese coast. Two nights later, in stormy conditions, Maddox and another destroyer, Turner Joy, reported a gunboat attack.

Although doubts existed about these reports, the president ordered retaliatory air strikes against the North Vietnamese port of Vinh. The White House had hoped that some sort of incident would eventually occur, and it prepared the text of a congressional resolution calling on the president to use armed force to defend the US military and prevent further aggression from North Vietnam. was authorized.

On 7 August 1964, Johnson received an almost unanimous consent from Congress (414–0 in the House; 88–2 in the Senate) for his Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the key legislative basis for all subsequent military deployments to Southeast Asia. became.

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