The Vietnam war was fought during the years 1960 to 1975. It began as a determined attempt by Communist guerrillas, the so called Vietcong, in the South, backed by Communist North Vietnam, to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. The struggle widened into a war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam and ultimately into a limited international conflict. The United States and some 40 other countries supported South Vietnam by supplying troops and munitions, and the USSR and the People’s Republic of China furnished munitions to North Vietnam and the Vietcong. On both sides, however, the burden of the war fell mainly on the civilians.
America’s foreign policy followed what was called the ‘domino theory’. This was the idea that the countries of South East Asia were closely linked together. If one fell to communism, then others would also fall, like a row of dominoes. China became communist in 1949. North Korea and North Vietnam also had communist governments. If the South Vietnamese ‘domino’ followed, who would be next? Malaya? Burma?
In 1961, John Kennedy became President of the USA (1961-63) and pledged to continue the policy of supporting nations against the threat of communism. In his inaugural address in January 1961 he gave this warning:
‘let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty’1
With such speeches and increased aid in money and men, Kennedy ‘raised the stakes’ in Vietnam. By the end of his time in office the USA had more than 16,000 American advisers in South Vietnam training the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in American military techniques. Many others were helping the government forces by showing them how to provide the peasantry with improved hygiene, agriculture and education. The idea was to increase support for the South Vietnamese government among the villages.
Despite these tactics and the massive American aid, however, the VC numbers continued to increase. By November 1961, the VC fighting forces had grown from the 2000 fighters that had been left after Diem’s ruthless anti-Communist campaign in 1957, to 16 000.