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Vietnam War


The Vietnam War was the longest war ever fought by the United States. It lasted more than 15 years, from 1959 to 1975. It was also the first war that the United States lost.


The United States entered the war to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. American leaders feared that Communist forces would gain control of Vietnam.

After that, nation after nation might fall to Communism. Communism is a political and economic system that the United States strongly opposes. Vietnam had been split in half in 1954, after fighting a war to gain independence from France. When French forces withdrew, Vietnamese Communists gained control of North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the North Vietnamese Communists.

South Vietnam had a non-Communist government. This government was weak and corrupt. But the United States supported it in order to keep the Communists from taking control of all of Vietnam. Many people in South Vietnam rebelled against their government. They backed efforts of the north to unify the country.


The United States at first supported South Vietnam only with money and military advisers. The number of advisers in Vietnam jumped from 800 to nearly 17,000 during the early 1960s while John F. Kennedy was U.S. president.

In 1964, U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson reported that North Vietnam had attacked U.S. Navy ships along Vietnam’s coast. The U.S. Congress then gave the president power to send combat troops to Vietnam. (Later information revealed that the report of the attacks was probably false.)

Nearly 80,000 U.S. troops were in South Vietnam by the end of 1965. By 1969, at the height of the war, the United States had about 543,000 troops in Vietnam. Many of them were teenagers. The average age of Americans fighting in Vietnam was 19.

The United States conducted a brutal air war against North Vietnam. In one year, the air force flew 150,000 bombing missions. By 1967, the United States had dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than it dropped on its enemies during World War II (1939-1945).


The war caused many Americans to lose faith in their government. The government had repeatedly claimed that victory was near. Instead, more and more Americans were sent to fight. Many people believed that government and military leaders were lying about the war. Americans also saw on television the destruction caused by their country.

Tens of thousands of college students and other Americans demonstrated against the war. Johnson decided not to seek reelection in 1968 because of opposition to his war policies. The protests became stronger after Richard Nixon took office as president in 1969. Nixon extended the bombing to the neighboring country of Cambodia in 1970.


Although Nixon increased the bombing of North Vietnam, he began withdrawing U.S. troops. Without U.S. support, South Vietnam’s government collapsed. North Vietnam won the war in 1975. Vietnam was reunited as a Communist nation.

Millions of people died in the Vietnam War. Many of them were civilians, not soldiers. The war created about 10 million homeless Vietnamese refugees. It left hundreds of thousands of orphans.


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is in Washington, D.C. The memorial consists of slabs of black granite engraved with 58,000 names. These are the names of the American men and women who died in the war.

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta