How the US got involved
During the Second World War Southeast Asia had been under Japanese control, but in 1945 the French re-occupied Indo-China. A nationalist group, the Vietminh, eventually surrounded and wiped out the French occupying army and America was dragged into fighting a costly and disastrous war in Vietnam.
At the Treaty of Geneva in 1954, Indo-China was divided into Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, although it was agreed to hold elections in 1956 to unify the two parts of Vietnam.
Ngo Dinh Diem, the ruler of South Vietnam, refused to hold elections.
Ho Chi Minh was a communist, who was supported by China. In 1960, he set up the National Liberation Front (NLF) in South Vietnam, which started a guerrilla war [Guerrilla war: A type of warfare that uses unusual tactics, and in-depth knowledge of local surroundings, to defeat opponents both physically and psychologically. ] to take over South Vietnam from Diem and his American backers.
The Americans called the NLF guerrillas the Vietcong, and supported Diem with military advisers and money.
Diem's government was made up of rich Christian landowners. It was corrupt and unpopular and persecuted the poor Buddhist peasants. By 1963, most of South Vietnam's rural areas were under Vietcong control - the ARVN [ARVN: Army of the Republic of Vietnam, created by the French in 1950. ] (South Vietnamese army) could not defeat them.
In 1963, the US supported a military coup, which murdered Diem and put a military government in South Vietnam.
In August 1964, sailors on the American warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin claimed they had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, allowing the American President Lyndon B. Johnson to take direct military action in retaliation.
In February 1965, the Vietcong attacked American air bases and killed American soldiers. President Johnson declared war against North Vietnam.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.