!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Follow Us!

We are planning some big changes! Please follow us to stay updated and be part of our community.

Twitter Facebook

US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Project: History of US Interventions
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

add event | references

Ho Chi Minh is leading the Vietminh—a popular movement of Catholics, Buddhists, small businessmen, communists and farmers—in their fight for Vietnam’s independence from the French. He makes a dozen appeals to US President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for help, insisting he is not a communist and suggesting that Indochina could be a “fertile field for American capital and enterprise.” He even mentions the possibility of allowing a US base in Camranh Bay. Likewise, US diplomats in Vietnam in their communications to Washington note that he has no direct ties to the Soviet Union and that he is a “symbol of nationalism and the struggle for freedom to the overwhelming majority of the population.” Major Archimedes L. A. Patti of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) later writes that Ho “pleaded not for military or economic aid,… but for understanding, for moral support, for a voice in the forum of western democracies. But the United States would not read his mail because, as I was informed, the DRV Government was not recognized by the United States and it would be ‘improper’ for the president or anyone in authority to acknowledge such correspondence.” Instead, the US will help the French—even offering them two atomic bombs. Ho Chi Minh is eventually forced in 1950 to look to the USSR and China for support. [Herring, 1986, pp. 10; Pilger, 1986, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh, Archimedes L. A. Patti

The Geneva Accords temporarily divide Vietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh’s forces in the north and Bao Dai’s regime in the south. The accords also call for elections to be held in all of Vietnam within two years to reunify the country. [Geneva Accords: Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam, 7/29/1954] The US opposes the unifying elections, fearing a likely victory by Ho Chi Minh, and refuses to sign the Geneva accords. “If the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win,L the CIA notes. [Kolko, 1985, pp. 84] And US President Dwight Eisenhower admits, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.” [Eisenhower, 1994, pp. 372]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh

Under the Phoenix Program, the CIA creates and directs a secret police ostensibly run by the South Vietnamese. Its objective is to destroy the Viet Cong’s infrastructure. During the course of the program’s existence, the secret police units, operating as virtual death squads, are implicated in burnings, garroting, rape, torture, and sabotage. As many as 50,000 Vietnamese are killed. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 274; Valentine, 2000 Sources: Ralph McGehee, Anthony Herbert] The most decorated American soldier of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert, will later recall in his book, Soldier, “They wanted me to take charge of execution teams that wiped out entire families and tried to make it look as though the VC themselves had done the killing.” [Pilger, 1986, pp. 274]

Entity Tags: Anthony Herbert

The casualty statistics of the Vietnam War are staggering.
bullet At least 58,000 American soldiers loose their lives. [Herring, 1986, pp. 275]
bullet 815,000 US soldiers are disabled. [Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation, 4/15/2004]
bullet According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 20,000 Vietnam veterans commit suicide after the war. [Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2004]
bullet Between 100,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese combatants are killed [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]
bullet Between 400,000 and one million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong combatants are killed. [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]
bullet Between 300,000 and 2 million Vietnamese civilians (North and South) are killed. [Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century website, 4/15/2004]

May 1954: French Army Defeated in Vietnam

The French army is defeated at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. [Herring, 1986]

Ngo Dinh Diem returns from exile in the US to head the South Vietnamese government. The CIA office in Saigon, under the leadership of Colonel Edward Lansdale, conducts a propaganda campaign aimed at creating the perception that North Vietnam is plagued with massive civil unrest and disorder while there is stability in South Vietnam and widespread popular support for its newly installed leader. [Herring, 1986, pp. 44; Pilger, 1986, pp. 192] “Paramilitary groups infiltrated across the demilitarized zone on sabotage missions, attempting to destroy the government’s printing presses and pouring contaminants into the engines of buses to demobilize the transportation systems. The teams also carried ‘psywar’ operations to embarrass the Vietminh regime and encourage emigration to the South. They distributed fake leaflets announcing the harsh methods the government was prepared to take and even hired astrologers to predict hard times in the north and good times in the south.” [Herring, 1986, pp. 44] “[Landale’s team] stimulated North Vietnamese Catholics and the Catholic armies deserted by the French to flee south. SMM teams promised Catholic Vietnamese assistance and new opportunities if they would emigrate. To help them make up their minds, the teams circulated leaflets falsely attributed to the Viet Minh telling what was expected of citizens under the new government. The day following distribution of the leaflets, refugee registration tripled. The teams spread horror stories of Chinese Communist regiments raping Vietnamese girls and taking reprisals against villages. This confirmed fears of Chinese occupation under the Viet Minh. The teams distributed other pamphlets showing the circumference of destruction around Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities should the United States decide to use atomic weapons. To those it induced to flee over the 300-day period the CIA provided free transportation on its airline, Civil Air Transport, and on ships of the US Navy. Nearly a million North Vietnamese were scared and lured into moving to the South.” [Pilger, 1986, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Ngo Dinh Diem, Bao Dai, Edward Geary Lansdale

The US helps arrange a national referendum between Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and Emperor Bao Dai. Diem “wins” 98.2 percent of the vote. Interestingly, a total of 605,000 votes are cast despite there being only 405,000 registered voters. [Herring, 1986, pp. 55]

Entity Tags: Ngo Dinh Diem, Bao Dai

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, backed by the US, successfully blocks the unifying elections that had been set by the 1954 Geneva Accords, which the US refused to sign (see 1954). It is widely believed that Ho Chi Minh would have easily carried the elections (see 1954). This would have been an unacceptable outcome for the US. [Herring, 1986, pp. 55]

Entity Tags: Ngo Dinh Diem, Ho Chi Minh

US President Dwight Eisenhower rejects a Soviet proposal that North and South Vietnam remain permanently divided and join the United Nations as separate states. [Karnow, 1997, pp. 692]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower

1960-1973: Agent Orange Used in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the US military uses about 21 million gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle in order to deny enemy fighters cover. The defoliant—manufactured primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical—gets its name from the 55-gallon drums it is shipped in that are marked with an orange stripe. At least 3,181 villages are sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide, which is comprised of a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins. Much of the dioxin is TCDD, which is linked to liver and other cancers, diabetes, spina bifida, immune-deficiency diseases, severe diarrhea, persistent malaria, miscarriages, premature births, and severe birth defects. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese are exposed, as are about 20,000 US soldiers. According to Vietnamese estimates, Agent Orange is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people. Because there is a continued presence of high dioxin levels in the food chain of several sprayed areas, the health effects of Agent Orange persist to the present day. According to studies by Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, some Vietnamese have dioxin levels 135 times higher than people living in unsprayed areas. Schecter has called Vietnam “the largest contamination of dioxin in the world.” The Vietnamese believe the herbicide has contributed to birth defects in 500,000 children, many of them second and third generation. Though the US government has accepted responsibility for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange (providing up to $1,989 per month for affected vets and more than $5,000 per month for those severely disabled and homebound), the US has refused to compensate Vietnamese victims. To date, no US agency, including the US Agency for International Development, has conducted any program in Vietnam to address the issue of Agent Orange. When asked by Mother Jones magazine in 1999 if the Vietnam government has raised the issue in private talks with the United States, a State Department official responds: “Ohhhh, yes. They have. But for us there is real concern that if we start down the road of research, what does that portend for liability-type issues further on?” [BBC, 11/19/1999; Mother Jones, 1/2000; BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; Associated Press, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Dow Chemical, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: US Military

During the Vietnam war, the US uses a total of 373,000 tons of napalm. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/3/2000; Boston Globe, 5/1/2001] One ton of napalm alone is enough to burn a football field in seconds. [BBC, 4/24/2001] The use of napalm in Vietnam is widespread and is a favorite weapon of the US military command. General Paul Harkins says it “really puts the fear of God into the Vietcong—and that is what counts.” [Hilsman, 1967] Pilots are given authority to use the weapon without prior authorization if the original target is inaccessible. [Herring, 1986, pp. 10] Entire villages are destroyed by napalm bombs. [Deans, n.d.]

Timeline Tags: US Military

Buddhist clerics begin immolating themselves in protest of South Vietnamese President Diem’s prosecution of Buddhists. [Herring, 1986, pp. 95]

Entity Tags: Ngo Dinh Diem

The policies of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem create concern in Washington when Diem’s government intensifies its repression of the Buddhists and clamps down on the press. Also worrisome to his US backers are rumors that he is considering unification with the North. [Herring, 1986, pp. 96; National Security Archives, 11/5/2003] When the Kennedy administration learns that a group of South Vietnamese generals are planning a [second] coup attempt, the decision is made to provide them with support. [National Security Council Staff, 8/28/1963 pdf file; US Department of State, 10/25/1963 pdf file; National Security Council Staff, 10/29/1963 pdf file; US President, 11/1/1963 pdf file; National Security Archives, 11/5/2003] “President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the US response might be, by withdrawing US aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally. In addition, at several of his meetings Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning.” [National Security Archives, 11/5/2003]

Entity Tags: Ngo Dinh Diem, John F. Kennedy

South Vietnamese gun boats attack the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me as part of operation OPLAN 34A. Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official working under US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, will later describe 34A as a “100 percent US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with… foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam], CIA and CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet]; some people in the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam] had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.” [Ellsberg, 2003 Sources: Daniel Ellsberg]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

The USS Maddox is gathering intelligence off the coast of North Vietnam. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 148; Herring, 1986, pp. 119; Media Beat, 7/27/1994] When a group of North Vietnamese torpedo boats come within range of the vessel there is a brief, but tense, exchange of fire. The USS Maddox fires on the boats, which respond with torpedoes. The torpedo boats are quickly driven away when aircraft from the USS Ticonderoga come to the assistance of the Maddox. The US government and the press will report that the torpedo boats had launched an “unprovoked attack” against the Maddox while it was on a “routine patrol.” [Herring, 1986, pp. 119; Media Beat, 7/27/1994] When reports of the incident are received in Washington, the Maddox is ordered to continue is operations close to North Vietnamese shores. Another destroyer, the C. Turner Joy, is sent to support it. [Herring, 1986, pp. 120]

Two days after an engagement with North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), Captain John J. Herrick of the USS Maddox sees two “mysterious dots” on his radar screen. He determines they are torpedo boats and sends an emergency cable to headquarters in Honolulu reporting that the ship is under attack. Honolulu quickly passes the report on to Washington. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 195] President Johnson meets with his advisers and decides that the US must respond. “We cannot sit still as a nation and let them attack us on the high seas and get away with it,” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara says. [Herring, 1986, pp. 121] A few hours later, a cable arrives from Captain Herrick, which reads: “Freak weather effects on radar and over eager sonar men . . . No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” A little later, Herrick cables that though it was “a confusing picture,” he did believe that there had been an attack. [In 1985, Herrick will reveal that this judgment had been based on “intercepted North Vietnamese communications” which he had not seen.] Half an hour later, the White House receives a third cable from Herrick, in which the captain says he is now uncertain what had happened. But this last report is ignored and President Johnson announces in a televised address, “Renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.” Meanwhile, US forces in Vietnam launch “retaliatory” air strikes against five North Vietnamese patrol boats and the oil facilities at Vinh. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 196; Herring, 1986, pp. 121; Ellsberg, 2003] The American media praises the president’s speech and actions. The New York Times states the following day that Johnson had gone to “the American people… with the somber facts.” And the Los Angeles Times urges its readers to “face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities.” But time will reveal that there had been no attacks. US Navy squadron commander James Stockdale, who had been in the air at the time of the alleged attacks, will later recall: “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there… There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.” [Media Beat, 7/27/1994]

Entity Tags: James Stockdale, John J. Herrick, Robert McNamara

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee hold closed hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attacks (see August 2, 1964) (see August 4, 1964). Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had received a tip from an unnamed Pentagon insider (not Daniel Ellsberg), asks US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara if the torpedo attacks might have been a response to operation OPLAN 34A which had conducted attacks on the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me on July 31 (see July 31, 1964). The Senator raises the possibility that the North Vietnamese may have thought the ship was supporting OPLAN 34A’s attacks. Morse suggests that McNamara should inquire as to the exact location of the Maddox on those days and what its true mission was. McNamara responds: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any…. The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times. I did not have knowledge at the time of the attack on the island. There is no connection between this patrol and any action of South Vietnam.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971; Herring, 1986, pp. 122; Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: Wayne Morse, Robert McNamara, US Congress

In response to alleged “unprovoked” attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats against the USS Maddox on August 2 (see August 2, 1964) and August 4 (see August 4, 1964), Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” [US Congress, 8/7/1964; Herring, 1986, pp. 122-123] It sails though the House unanimously and in the Senate it meets only the slightest resistance with two dissenting votes. [Herring, 1986, pp. 122-123] When Daniel Ellsberg leaks the Pentagon Papers seven years later, it is revealed that the resolution had been drafted 2 months earlier, well before the alleged incident. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 196]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg, US Congress

One day after the alleged “unprovoked” attacks on the USS Maddox by North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), the vessel’s captain, John J. Herrick, reports to Washington: “Evaluation of info from various sources indicates DRV considers [my] patrol directly involved with 34-A ops (see July 31, 1964) DRV considers US ships present as enemies because of these ops and have already indicated their readiness to treat us in that category.” [Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: John J. Herrick

In a conversation with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger about civilian casualties in Vietnam, US President Richard Nixon says, “I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.” [CBS News, 2/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger

The New York Times publishes excerpts from a secret Pentagon study leaked by Daniel Ellsberg of the RAND Corporation to journalist Neil Sheehan. Ellsberg had worked in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The study, later known as the “Pentagon Papers,” had been commissioned by McNamara and completed in 1968. It focused on how policy and tactical decisions had been made during the war. Between 30 and 40 writers and researchers participated in the 40-volume project, producing 3,000 pages of analysis and compiling 4,000 pages of original documents. After the Times publishes its first article on the papers, the US government goes to great lengths to block additional stories. But on June 30, the US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in favor of the New York Times. [New York Times, 6/13/1971; National Security Archives, 6/29/2001; Vietnam Veterans of America, 4/15/2004] The June 13 Times article reports that the Pentagon Papers included the following conclusions:
bullet “That the Truman Administration decision to give military aid to France in her colonial war against the Communist-led Vietminh ‘directly involved’ the United States in Vietnam and ‘set’ the course of American policy.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Eisenhower Administration’s decision to rescue a fledgling South Vietnam from a Communist takeover and attempt to undermine the new Communist regime of North Vietnam gave the Administration a ‘direct role in the ultimate breakdown of the Geneva settlement’ for Indochina in 1954.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Kennedy Administration, though ultimately spared from major escalation decisions by the death of its leader, transformed a policy of ‘limited-risk gamble,’ which it inherited, into a ‘broad commitment’ that left President Johnson with a choice between more war and withdrawal.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Johnson Administration, though the president was reluctant and hesitant to take the final decisions, intensified the covert warfare against North Vietnam and began planning in the spring of 1964 to wage overt war, a full year before it publicly revealed the depth of its involvement and its fear of defeat.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That this campaign of growing clandestine military pressure through 1964 and the expanding program of bombing North Vietnam in 1965 were begun despite the judgment of the Government’s intelligence community that the measures would not cause Hanoi to cease its support of the Vietcong insurgency in the South, and that the bombing was deemed militarily ineffective within a few months.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That these four succeeding administrations built up the American political, military and psychological stakes in Indochina, often more deeply than they realized at the time, with large-scale military equipment to the French in 1950; with acts of sabotage and terror warfare against North Vietnam, beginning in 1954; with moves that encouraged and abetted the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diuem of South Vietnam in 1963; with plans, pledges and threats of further action that sprang to life in the Tonkin Gulf clashes in August, 1964; with the careful preparation of public opinion for the years of open warfare that were to follow; and with the calculation in 1965, as the planes and troops were openly committed to sustained combat, that neither accommodation inside South Vietnam nor early negotiations with North Vietnam would achieve the desired result.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg, Robert McNamara

The Vietnamese continue to suffer from Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used by US forces during the Vietnam War that has been blamed for huge numbers of birth defects. [BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001]

The US Government knowingly harbors Nguyen Huu Chanh, leader of the “Government of Free Vietnam,” an organization actively seeking to overthrow the Communist government of Vietnam. From his suburban office complex in Garden Grove, California, he plans and directs attacks against Vietnamese targets. The Vietnam government considers Chahn its most-wanted terrorist and has asked the United States to halt the plotter’s activities. [Time, 10/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Nguyen Huu Chanh

South Korea’s Supreme Court rules that US chemical corporations Monsanto and Dow Chemical must pay 39 Korean Vietnam War veterans $415,000 in total for skin diseases they suffered when they came into contact with the defoliant Agent Orange. South Korea sent some 300,000 soldiers to fight alongside US and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. The court also sends back for review a 2006 case that ordered the two firms to pay $61 million in compensation to 6,795 South Korean veterans and their families. The lawsuit filed by over 16,000 veterans in 1999 alleged that Agent Orange was responsible for skin diseases such as “chemical acne,” shown to be caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange. Veterans in South Korea estimate the number of Korean victims of Agent Orange at about 150,000. Dow says, in a statement quoted to the Yonhap news agency, that it disagrees with the ruling, and that the verdict was not backed by the available evidence. Dow cited US court rulings which had found in chemical corporations’ favor. The South Korean Supreme Court says in sending back the $61 million ruling case to a lower court, “There is no evidence their diseases were caused by their exposure to the defoliant sprayed during the Vietnam War.” Agent Orange, which contained the lethal chemical dioxin, was used heavily in Vietnam to deprive enemy forces of ground cover in rain forests, and to destroy food crops used by guerrillas and civilians. Vietnam has also asserted claims, saying that millions of its citizens have suffered and some have died due to Agent Orange exposure. The US has consistently refused to accept responsibility for the Vietnamese government’s claim, though it has agreed to be liable for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure (see 1960-1973). [Birmingham News, 7/12/2013; Agence France-Presse, 7/13/2013]

Entity Tags: South Korea Supreme Court, Monsanto, Dow Chemical

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike