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  • In order to have a respectable understanding of the Vietnam

  • War, we have to rewind all the way back to the late 1800s

  • when France was colonizing Southeast Asia.

  • And in particular, it colonized what is now Laos, Vietnam,

  • and Cambodia-- and they were collectively

  • called French Indochina.

  • You can see Cambodia here, Vietnam along the coast,

  • and then, Laos, right over here.

  • And France stayed the colonizing power--

  • I have a little gap in my timeline here--

  • and they stayed a colonizing power

  • all the way through World War II.

  • And so you can imagine, during World War II,

  • France was quickly overrun by the Germans.

  • The Vietnamese wanted their independence,

  • and so you have a liberation movement that rises up.

  • And it was led by the Viet Minh, and the Viet Minh

  • were led by Ho Chi Minh.

  • This right here is a picture of Ho Chi Minh.

  • And besides being a liberation movement,

  • they were also communist, which, you could imagine, later

  • on during the Cold War will kind of bias

  • the United States against them.

  • But you fast forward through World War II.

  • Eventually, the Japanese take control over Indochina,

  • over Vietnam.

  • But by the time '45 rolls around, or at least

  • the end of '45-- and we know that the United States defeats

  • Japan-- now, all of a sudden, the Viet Minh

  • are able to declare a somewhat temporary independence.

  • And it's temporary because shortly

  • after that-- and the region is occupied temporarily

  • by the Chinese in the north, and the British in the south, who

  • were part of the Allied forces against the Axis.

  • But eventually, you have the French coming back,

  • and they want to reassert their control

  • over their former colony.

  • And you have this war that develops-- the First Indochina

  • War between the French and the people

  • sympathetic to the French-- the Vietnamese

  • who were loyal to the French-- and the North.

  • And the French-- just to make it clear

  • how it sets up, at the end of World War II

  • when you had the temporary occupiers, the British

  • and the Chinese, the Chinese, obviously,

  • had more influence in the North.

  • The British had more influence in the South.

  • When the French come back they, essentially,

  • are able to reinstate control over the South.

  • So right when the Indochina War is beginning,

  • the French already have more control over the South.

  • And actually, historically the French

  • had more influence in the South, as well.

  • During French colonial rule it was really the southern third

  • of Vietnam where you had a lot of French influence.

  • And this is a current map, and the current map

  • does not have this orange boundary over here

  • that we'll talk about in a second.

  • Vietnam is now unified.

  • But before the Vietnam War, this was not Ho Chi Minh City,

  • this was Saigon.

  • And Saigon was kind of where most of the French control

  • was centered.

  • But you fast forward to 1954, this

  • ends up in a bit of a stalemate.

  • And so you have the Geneva Conference of 1954

  • that partitions Vietnam along the 17th parallel between North

  • Vietnam and South Vietnam.

  • And the whole point of this partition

  • was, really, to just allow for a cooling

  • off period, a period where you can have thing

  • settling down, and then having elections.

  • It wasn't meant to be a permanent partition.

  • But there was a 300-day period where

  • people could move across the partition.

  • And during that partition, you actually

  • had 900,000 people, mainly Catholics, move from the North

  • to South.

  • You also had several hundred thousand people

  • moving from the South to the North,

  • so it wasn't a one-way movement.

  • But net net, most of the movements by Roman Catholic

  • Vietnamese was from the North to the south.

  • You fast forward a little bit, you eventually have--

  • and I'm sure I'm butchering the pronunciation here--

  • Ngo Dinh Diem take control.

  • He starts off as prime minister in '54,

  • eventually he takes control, and becomes president in '55.

  • This is him right here.

  • He takes control of South Vietnam,

  • and this guy is not a big fan of things like elections,

  • or non-corrupt government, and all the rest.

  • And he takes control of South Vietnam.

  • But you could imagine that the United States is positively

  • inclined to him.

  • One, he dresses in nice Western suits and all of that,

  • and had nicely combed hair.

  • But he was also anti-communist.

  • And at this time period, the United States

  • is starting to think in terms of the Cold War.

  • And in terms of, how do we stop communism?

  • How do we contain it?

  • This whole theory of containment--

  • that the best way to stop the Soviet Union

  • is to just make sure that communism can not spread.

  • That it gets contained.

  • We have the domino theory in the United States

  • that if one country falls to communism in a region,

  • that the rest of the countries will eventually fall.

  • And that is not good for containment.

  • So we did not want South Vietnam to fall.

  • We essentially start supporting these characters over here.

  • And even from the early '50s, the United States

  • starts supporting the anti-communist.

  • And at first, this support, it's in the-- I

  • guess we should say-- the guise of advisers.

  • But these advisers-- one, we start

  • sending more and more aid, and more and more advisers.

  • And these advisers started getting more and more involved

  • in the actual conflict.

  • And so after this partition, you can imagine,

  • that you still have an ongoing conflict

  • between the North and the South.

  • And on top of that, you have actors

  • who are sympathetic to the North,

  • sympathetic to the Viet Minh, sympathetic to Ho Chi Minh,

  • in the South.

  • Some of them were in the North, they come back to the South.

  • Some of them were just in the South.

  • And they did not like the Diem government.

  • Besides just being sympathetic to Ho Chi Minh,

  • Diem was a fairly corrupt autocratic ruler,

  • who wasn't a big fan of democracy.

  • And so these players in the South

  • who started to rise up against President Diem or the Viet

  • Cong.

  • And so this really sets up what the Vietnam War is all about.

  • You have the communist Ho Chi Minh-controlled North

  • that was fighting a conventional war against the South.

  • You have this partition on the 17th parallel.

  • And on top of that, you have an unconventional fighting force--

  • I guess you'd call them guerrillas--

  • in the South of Vietnam called the Viet Cong.

  • So it was, kind of, a double-- There were two things

  • that the South had to fight against-- the North officially,

  • and also this insurrection that was occurring within the South.

  • And so the whole time the United States did not

  • want this insurrection to succeed-- they did not

  • want all of Vietnam to become communist.

  • We keep sending more and more advisers.

  • It actually started even before Kennedy,

  • but Kennedy he starts sending-- he escalates

  • the number of advisers that gets sent.

  • It's still not, at this point, it's still not a formal war.

  • We haven't officially declared-- where

  • we don't have, officially, soldiers in battle.

  • You fast forward to 1963, besides all

  • of the great characteristics of Diem that I already mentioned,

  • he also was into persecuting Buddhists.

  • So to make matters worse, not only was he corrupt,

  • not only did he not like elections,

  • but he liked persecuting his own people.

  • And by 1963, this kind of got out

  • of hand, his level of persecution of the Buddhists.

  • He started toward storming temples, and all the rest.

  • And so he was assassinated.

  • And not only was he assassinated,

  • it kind of leaves this power vacuum,

  • and you have all these people jockeying for control,

  • none of these really especially savory characters

  • inside the South.

  • These two guys eventually come to power, Nguyen Cao Ky

  • and Nguyen Van Thieu.