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U.S. soldiers standing in Ia Drang Valley
The Vietnam War Timeline Explained
The Oss
In the mid-1940s, Ho Chi Minh — leader of the North Vietnam revolutionary group Viet Minh — wanted French and Japanese occupations gone, and Ho sought help from the U.S.
U.S. covert intelligence unit Office of Strategic Services (OSS) armed, equipped, and trained the Viet Minh in warfare. While Ho did become an OSS member, the alliance didn’t last.
Indochina War
After World War II, the French were ousted by the Japanese in Vietnam. In an attempt to re-exert control over Vietnam, they began a war against Ho and the Viet Minh.
The French were unable to defeat the inexperienced and under-equipped Viet Minh, leading to a defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 that ended the first Indochina War.
In 1954, Geneva said that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) would be split, with communist DRV in the north and the non-communist State of Vietnam in the south.
The U.S. supported South Vietnam due to the belief that if Vietnam fell to communism, the entirety of Southeast Asia would as well — an idea widely known as “Domino Theory.”
The Southern War
DRV President Ngo Dinh Diem was anti-communist and led his regime to kill tens of thousands of suspected communists, many of whom were innocent civilians.
In the north, DRV politician Le Duan pushed for the escalation of southern violence. Limited uprisings by the southern resistance in May 1959 ignited the Second Indochina War.
U.S. President John Kennedy used counterinsurgency against the Viet Cong (formerly Viet Minh) insurgency and expanded the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
The ARVN failed to deliver victories and many questioned their abilities. U.S. officials, however, still portrayed the fiction that they were successful to the American public.