Who Won the Vietnam War?
In the Vietnam War, the Communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) defeated the South Vietnamese Army, with the latter surrendering on April 30, 1975.
North Vietnam was actively supported by their South Vietnamese ally – Viet Cong (VC), along with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. South Vietnam was actively supported by the United States.
On March 29, 1973, the U.S. withdrew from Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam, and on August 15, 1973, the U.S. officially ended direct military involvement.
On April 30, 1975, the NVA and VC captured Saigon, and on the same day, South Vietnam President General Duong Van Minh and his entire cabinet surrendered to the Communists, finally ending the 20-year conflict. North and South Vietnam were united and became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with Saigon as its capital. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the North Vietnamese leader.
Casualties and cost of war
As per the US National Archives and Records Administration 2008, the total loss of American lives recorded during the Vietnam conflict was 58,220.
The breakdown, by category: Regular Military – 34,508; Selected Service personnel – 17,671; Reserve – 5,762; Not reported – 182; National Guard – 97.
Break down by service category: Army – 38,224; Marine Corps – 14,844; Air Force – 2,586; Navy – 2,559; Coast Guard – 7.
Break down by race: White – 49,830; Black or African American – 7,243; Hispanic One Race – 349; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – 229; American Indian/Alaska Native – 226; Non-Hispanic more than one race – 204; Asian – 139.
Deaths by country
South Vietnam – 55,661; North Vietnam – 1,120; Laos – 728; Cambodia – 523; Thailand – 178; China – 10.
Total wounded: 303,644
Total missing: 1,596 as on 2015
Between 1953 and 1974, the total cost to the United States was estimated to be $134.45 billion ($1.020 trillion at 2015 value). The breakdown: direct military cost $111 billion; US military aid to South Vietnam $16.138 billion; US economic aid to South Vietnam $7.315 billion.
There are varying accounts of the total number of civilian and military casualties in North and South Vietnam. As per estimates released by the Vietnamese government, the North Vietnamese side lost 2 million civilians and 1.1 million military personnel. These figures probably include deaths in Laos and Cambodia, which were also drawn into the conflict. The number on the South Vietnamese side is estimated to be around 300,000.
The genesis of the Vietnam War
From 1850 till 1954, France controlled French Indochina, a region that included present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
In September 1940, the Japanese Imperial forces occupied Indochina and had support from the French. France had already been occupied by Germany, and its colonies were treated as an extension to serve Germany and its allies’ war effort.
In 1941, the Indochinese Communist Party created Viet Minh Common Front, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, to take on the occupying Japanese Imperial forces. At the time, Viet Minh was actively supported by the United States and the Chinese Nationalist Party.
As World War II ended, the Japanese established the Empire of Vietnam, with Bao Dai as its head. The war drained Vietnam of its food resources that were sent out to support the German-Japanese war effort. This, along with bad weather, contributed to creating a devastating famine during 1944-45. Ho Chi Minh-led Viet Minh encouraged the starving people to raid warehouses that housed food grains. The resulting loot only made Ho Chi Minh more popular among the people.
With the British withdrawal from South Vietnam on March 26, 1946, Viet Minh began the guerrilla campaign against the French, with the aim of establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Viet Minh soon spread its operations into neighboring Laos and Cambodia.
Two developments contributed to the beginning of the Vietnam War; the Communists coming to power in China in 1949; the Korean War in 1950.
In January 1950, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, with Hanoi as its capital. This, along with the commencement of the Korean war in June of the same year, drew the United States’ attention to intervention in the region, in order to curb the growing communist influence.
China increased weapons supplies to Ho Chi Minh’s forces, and the Cold War increased tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, it was only a matter of time before the US got drawn into the conflict.
The US did not expect a protracted involvement and initially, it restricted its involvement to the supply of weapons, training, and financial aid to the government in South Vietnam. But from 1965 onwards, the US committed its military forces to direct engagement and was to mark the beginning of a long-drawn-out war that culminated with the US withdrawal from Saigon on March 29, 1973.
Domestic opposition to the war
The United States government faced severe opposition from the American people who wanted the US to exit the war. Street protests against the war increased from 1967 onwards, putting pressure on the government to end American involvement. Domestic pressure, the OPEC oil crisis of 1973, and the Watergate Scandal, all contributed towards the US finally withdrawing from further involvement in the Vietnam War.
Today, the United States and Vietnam share a friendly relationship, with increasing mutual trade, tourism, and people-to-people interaction.