What was U.S. involvement in Vietnam War?

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The United States began its involvement in Vietnam as early as in 1950 to aid the French in the First Indochina War. Following the French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu on November 1, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reorganized the Indochina Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to the specific MAAG, Vietnam to support the Republic of Vietnam (ROV) in their war against the North communists. In spite of the U.S. economic and military aid, South Vietnamese government in general and the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) in particular did not show that they were capable of handling the Viet Cong (National Liberation Front).

At the time when the U.S. had failed to stop communist expansion in Eastern Europe, China, Korea and lately Cuba, Vietnam immediately became another place of concern. In October 1961, after many successful Viet Cong’s attacks, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara recommended sending six divisions to Vietnam.

On July 27, 1964, the U.S. government sent 5,000 additional advisers to South Vietnam, increasing the total American advisers there to 21,000. On August 2, 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred where the USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese Navy boats. This incident urged Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964, giving President Johnson the power to wage war in Vietnam.

First of all, U.S. Air Force and Navy, together with Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVAF), conducted an aerial bombardment campaign against North Vietnam known as Operation Rolling Thunder. One of its main objectives was to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail which was a North Vietnamese logistical system that ran from North Vietnam through Laos, Cambodia and to South Vietnam to provide support in forms of manpower and materiel to the Viet Cong (NLF). The campaign, which lasted for more than three years from March 2, 1965 to November 2, 1968, became the most aggressive air/ground battle waged during the Cold War period.

On the ground, the first 3,500 United States Marines arrived at Da Nang on March 8, 1965. The number of troops increased dramatically to 429,000 a year later. A new U.S. military strategy called “Search and Destroy” was deployed. The idea was to send out ground forces to hostile territory, track down and destroy the enemy then withdraw immediately afterwards. However, its effectiveness was doubtful as the “body count” figures – the measuring tool to determine its success were usually collected by indirect means.

Following the Tet Offensive and the success of anti-war candidate Eugene Joseph “Gene” McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary in March 1968, President Lyndon Johnson halted bombing North Vietnam to encourage Hanoi to begin peace negotiations. Nevertheless, it was not until November when the Operation Rolling Thunder ended than could serious negotiations begin.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon came up with the so-called “Vietnamization” strategy which gradually built up South Vietnamese forces so that they could defend their nation on their own. However, a military campaign conducted by North Vietnamese army in 1972 known as Easter Offensive questioned the effectiveness of the strategy.

In December 1972, the U.S. Air Force carried out the Operation Linebacker II whose purposes were to demonstrate American commitment to Saigon government and at the same time keep Ha Noi at the negotiating table. Although the operation lasted for only 12 days, 15,237 tons of bombs were dropped on major complexes in Hanoi and Hai Phong areas.

On January 15, 1973, President Nixon suspended the offensive against North Vietnam so that the negotiations could continue in Paris. On January 27, 1973, the Viet Cong, North Vietnam, the U.S. and South Vietnam came to an agreement known as the Paris Peace Accords to end the war and restore peace in Vietnam. The accord marked the end of U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam. Almost all U.S. troops left South Vietnam by the end of 1973.

However, the accord had little effect on the conflict as it was blatantly violated by both South and particularly North Vietnam. On April 29, 1975, almost all American civilians and military personnel were evacuated from Saigon by helicopter before North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon on April 30, ending the Vietnam War.

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