The Vietnam War Facts: 6 Things You Need to Know about the War

The Vietnam War facts

The Vietnam War (sometimes called the Second Indochina War) was one of the deadliest and costliest wars ever fought in modern history. And although the war, which lasted for close to two decades (1955-1975), has been covered extensively by historians over the years, there are still some very important details that have gone unnoticed. Worldhistoryedu.com presents to you six very important things that you probably did not know about the Vietnam War and how it escalated in the late 1960s to claim the lives of millions.

The Vietnam War was steep deep in the Domino Theory

America’s intervention in curbing communism around the globe was fueled by the prevailing Domino Theory of the time. The theory stated that should a country adopt communism, then it was likely that the neighboring countries of the said country would fall under the influence of communism in a domino effect.

Vietnam War facts – Dwight D. Eisenhower’s quote about the Domino Effect

After the partitioning of Vietnam – into North Vietnam and South Vietnam – during the Geneva Conference of 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower became very uneasy about communist North Vietnam. This prompted the White House to intervene in Vietnam to halt the spread of communism to neighboring South Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia. Similarly, Eisenhower’s successors – President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson – did everything in their might to contain communism in Southeast Asia.

But all their efforts proved futile. Never-before-seen aerial bombardment by the United States turned Vietnam into the most bombed country in history. Millions of lives – civilian and military – were lost in the process.

Leaders from both the U.S. and South Vietnam died during the war

South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem (left) and U.S. President John F. Kennedy were both assassinated in 1963

With casualties mounting more in South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam), pressure began to pile on South Vietnam’s leader – Ngo Dinh Diem. His critics largely came from Buddhists, who formed the majority in South Vietnam. Many of those monks accused Dinh Diem for failing to handle the war properly. President Diem was also accused of being a tyrant who cared very little about the plight of the soldiers that fell to a better-trained North Vietnam force. On November 2, 1963, Diem was assassinated by his generals in the 1963 military coup.

Coincidentally, the leader in the U.S. – President John F. Kennedy – suffered similar fate as that of Diem just three weeks later, on November 22, 1963. In JFK’s case, it was a lone assailant known as Lee Harvey Oswald.

By the way, both Diem and Kennedy were devout Catholics.

President LBJ sent more than half a million American soldiers to Vietnam

Upon succeeding JFK, President Lyndon B. Johnson reversed Kennedy’s directive to bring 1,000 men back home | Image: ARVN (the Army of Republic of Vietnam) and US Special Forces, September 1968

As at the President Kennedy’s, the United States had 16,000 troops stationed Vietnam. However, that all changed upon Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) taking the reins of the White House. Beginning around the latter part of 1963, the Texas-born president deployed more and more troops to the Vietnam. Washington’s goal had changed to from containment to pursuing an outright and decisive victory against North Vietnam. After allegations that North Vietnam attacked U.S. destroyers in August 1964, LBJ was given permission to attack the North under the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from Congress in August, 1964. With this came increased troops’ presence in Vietnam.

Americans used cunning ways to avoid being drafted into the military

During the Vietnam War, many youth held the view that getting drafted was in effect tantamount to receiving a death sentence. Many Americans therefore used all sorts of approaches to avoid being drafted. They purposely failed the physical examinations during the draft process. Some dodged it by simply heading north into Canada. For some, a jail sentence seemed a better option than the draft.

There were stories of young men mutilating their bodies and leaving an unhealthy lifestyle so as to fail the draft. And back then when the U.S. military openly prevented gays and homosexuals from enlisting, pretending to be gay seemed like a reasonable thing to do if one wanted to avoid the mandatory draft.

Every increase in draft calls by the U.S. military was met by violent protests and civil disobedience across the nation.

The war turned out to be LBJ’s political downfall

The Vietnam War affected LBJ’s re-election bid | Image: President Lyndon B. Johnson talking with his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the Oval Office in 1967

Prior to LBJ leaving office, in 1969, the total number of American troops fighting in Vietnam was well over half a million. LBJ – a president fondly remembered for the admirable strides he made in civil rights and voting rights – is often held responsible for escalating the conflict. The fallout with the American public was so great, LBJ decided not seek another term in the White House.

The horrors of the war incensed many Americans

Vietnam War facts | Vietnam War demonstrators, numbering about 100,000, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on October 21, 1967.

With more and more troops committed to the Vietnam War, and with news of the sheer scale of human carnage, Americans started growing extremely frustrated with Washington’s usage of brute force. Politicians in Washington and military men in the Pentagon fed the country news of its progress in Vietnam; meanwhile, there was nothing further than that from the truth. The war had simply come to a stalemate. Somehow, we were shielded from the stark reality of the atrocities and war crimes committed by both sides in Vietnam. Villages were indiscriminately burnt down and the South Vietnamese forces, shored up by the U.S., were as brutal (if not more) as their communist neighbors.

As news of those crimes against humanity came to the public view, Americans became very outraged. There were frequent anti-war protests in almost every major city in the U.S. For example, over 100,000 demonstrators marched to Pentagon in October, 1967 to reject America’s continued war efforts in Vietnam.

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