The early days - 1000 years of chinese domination- Liberation from china - China bites back - Le lo enters the scene - The coming of the europeans - Lording it over the people - Tay son rebrllion - The last of the nguyens - The french takeover - Independence aspiration - WWII breaks out - A false dawn - War with the french - A separate south vietnam - A new north vietnam - The north south war - Enter the cavalry - The turing point - Nixon his doctrine- Other foreign involvement - The fall of the south - Reunification of vietnam - Opening the door - Vietnam today


The Americans saw France 's colonial war in Indochina as an important part of a worldwide struggle against communist expansion. Vietnam was the next domino and could not topple. In 1950, the US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) rocked into Vietnam, ostensibly to instruct local troops in the eff iciency of US firepower; there would be American soldiers on Vietnamese soil for the next 25 years, first as advisers, and then the main force. By 1954 US military aid to the French topped US$2 billion. A decisive turning point in US strategy came with the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Two US destroyers, the Maddox and the Turner Joy , claimed to have come under 'unprovoked* attack while sailing off the North Vietnamese coast. Subsequent research indicates that there was plenty of provocation; the first attack took place while the Maddox was in North Vietnamese waters assisting a secret South Vietnamese commando raid and the second one never happened.However , on US President Johnson's orders, 64 sorties rained bombs on the North - the first of thousands of such missions that would hit every single road and rail bridge in the country, as well as 4000 of North Vietnam's 5788 villages. Two US aircraft were lost and Lieutenant Everett Alvarez became the f irst American prisoner of war (POW) of the conflict; he would remain in captivity for eight years. A few days later, an indignant (and misled) US Congress overwhelmingly passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which gave the president the power to 'take all necessary measures' to 'repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression *. Until its repeal in 1970, the resolution was treated by US presidents as carte blanche to do whatever they chose in Vietnam without any congressional control. As the military situation of the Saigon government reached a new nadir, the first US combat troops splashed ashore at Danang in March 1965. By December 1965 there were 184,300 US military personnel in Vietnam and 636 Americans had died. By December 1967 the f igures had risen to 485,600 US soldiers in country and 16.021 dead. There were 1.3 million men fighting for the Saigon government, including the South Vietnamese and other allies. By 1966 the buzz words in Washington were 'pacification ', 'search and d e­stroy ' and 'free-f ire zones '. Pacif ication involved developing a pro-government civilian infrastructure in each village, and providing the soldiers to guard it. To protect the villages from VC raids, mobile search-and-destroy units of soldiers moved around the country " hunting VC guerrillas. In some cas es, villagers were evacuated so the Americans could use heavy weaponry such as napalm and tanks in areas that were declared free-fire zones. These strategies were only partially successful: US forces could control the countryside by day, while the VC usually controlled it by night. Ev en without heavy weapons, VC guerrillas continued to inflict heavy casualties in ambushes and by using mines and booby traps. Although free-fire zones were supposed to prevent civilian casualties, plenty of villagers were nevertheless shelled, bomb ed, strafed or napalmed to death - their surviving relatives soon signed up to join the VC.