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Conflict in Indochina 1954-1979

1954: Geneva Conference divides Vietnam
1955: Ngo Dinh Diem proclaims himself president of the Republic of Vietnam
1957: Communists begin guerilla warfare in the Mekong Delta
1959: North Vietnamese begin to send troops south via the Ho Chi Minh trail. Diem
introduces policy of Agrovillles
1960: The National Liberation Front (Vietcong) for South Vietnam is formed
1962: Introduction of Strategic Hamlets
1963: Diem ousted and murdered in a military coup (Nov). JFK assassinated (3 weeks
1964: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by US Congress
1965: Operation Rolling Thunder begins. Arrival of first US combat troops

Indochina after the French

Consequences of the Vietminhs Victory against the French

In November 1946, hostilities broke out between France and the Vietminh marking the beginning of
the First Indochina war
It ended in 1954 with French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu
It was a humiliating defeat for the French, who now decided to withdraw from Indochina. It also meant
that the French entered the Geneva Conference in a weak negotiating position
It was a resounding victory for Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh. Enhancing their status within Vietnam
and fuelled their commitment to an independent, unified Vietnam
US were disappointed that massive financial and logistical support given to the French had been largely
ineffectual. While the French were prepared to accept Vietminh victory the American were not. The US
takes on the leading role in resisting the unification of Vietnam under a communist leader Ho chi Minh.
This would result in American intervention and the outbreak of the Second Indochina War within a
The American adoption of policy of containment after WWII seeking to prevent the spread of
communism combined with the belief in the threat of the domino theory motivated their involvement
in the region. America aimed to pump aid and military support to poor countries most at risk in an
attempt to surpass communist uprising. This sparked a huge change in US foreign policy marking the
beginning of them playing an active role in international affairs rather than remaining isolated.
The fact that Ho was influenced by Soviet Union fuelled the American belief that Indochina was
vulnerable and prey for expansionary communism.
It established the reputation of North Vietnamese commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who would
eventually go on to lead his forces to victory over the Americans
Worldwide, the Vietminhs victory over the French was a major milestone in the post World War II
battle against European colonialism. Effectively the defeat of a major European power was an
inspiration to independence movements throughout Asia and Africa.

Consequences of the 1954 Geneva Peace agreement

Each member of the Geneva Conference undertakes to respect the sovereignty, the independence, the
unity and the territorial integrity of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Between May and July 1954 a Conference was held in Geneva to discuss problems in Korea and
Principal delegations came from China, the USA, the USSR, France and Great Britain. There were also
representatives from Hos Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Cochin China.
The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu occurred in the middle of the conference. This was a significant
event as the French humiliating defeat made them eager to consider a progressive withdrawal from
Indochina. The DRV representatives, on the other hand, were now in a much better negotiating
Summary of the Geneva agreement
o Officially ended French colonial rule in Indochina as French would withdraw within a year
o Laos and Cambodia would become independent countries
o Vietnam would be temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel, pending election to unify the
country. These elections were to be internationally supervised and held by July 1956


Tonkin or northern Vietnam would be rules by Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh
Vietminh forces were to withdraw from annam and cochin China, areas south of the 17th
parallel. Pro-French Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai created an alterative government in South
Vietnam. This proved to intensify debate concerning Vietnams political future
The temporary division of Vietnam was a compromise that Ho accepted under pressure from China and
the USSR.
However Ho was deeply suspicious of any temporary division and for this reason Vietminh forces
were never entirely removed from the South.
The USA refused to sign the Geneva Agreement as the triumph of a communist government even in
half of Vietnam was viewed as a major setback. The Cold War policy of containment dictated that the
remainder of the country must not be allowed to go the same way.
The elections planned for 1956 were never held. In the south Emperor Bao Dai retired from political life
and Diem emerged from a power struggle as the dominant figure.

Political, social, economic and military developments within South Vietnam


Emperor Bao Dai appoints Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister (at the suggestion of the US). This marks
the end of US-French co-operation in Indochina
Diem had little political experience, no victories and a nondescript nationwide identity
Diem created an autocracy in order to overcome his lack of genuine popular support
The establishment of Can Lao in 1954 marked Diems unsuccessful bid to create a non-communist
version of Ho Chi Minhs Lao Dong. Can Lao political party controlled state politics, however
ultimately the party stood as an adoration of the Diem regime, proving unsuccessful on nationwide
basis because it was never a true representation of the people.
Can Lao was highly secretive and was utilised to suppress and neutralise Diems opponents
o Cao Dai and Hao Hoa were powerful religious sects
o Binh Xuyen crime syndicate, was defeated by newly created ARVN in 1955
Diem boycotts 1956 national election, which had been promised by the Geneva agreement. With the
US support, Diem claimed that the communist north could not be trusted to allow free and fair
voting. However it was the realistic fear of an overwhelming Communist victory in the national
elections which forced Diem, to boycott the elections. Diems move effectively divided Vietnam into
two countries. However the north refused to accept the division and the scene was now set for a
bitter military conflict.
Diem defeats Bao Dai in a rigged referendum proclaiming a new Republic of Vietnam (RVN) 1955
with himself as President in 1956
The concepts of democracy, freedom of the press and representative government were unknown
political ideals in South Vietnam.
A government rampant with corruption was the reality behind the faade of a democracy
DRV (North Vietnam) encourage southern insurgency in response to Diems attacks on communists
Unsuccessful military coup against Diem (1960) many officers resent Can Lao/Catholic dominance
and nepotism
Creation of the NLF (National Liberation Front or Viet Cong) in 1960 comprised of a coalition of
anti-Diem forces seeking a unified Vietnam

NLF military branch was Peoples Liberation Armed forces (PLAF). Diem called both PLAF and NLF
Diem is assassinated by ARVN officers on the 1st November 1963. A period of political turmoil
follows with a rapid succession of leaders
After Diems death the USA would be obliged to support an ongoing series of reckless and corrupt
South Vietnamese regimes controlled by the military

Social development

Refugee influx from the North. About 1 million Catholics flee to the South, due to:
o CIA black propaganda campaign which claims concentration camps are being built in the North
for Catholics.
o The excesses of the Land Reform Program in the North forces many peasants to flee persecution
National Assembly Law (1959) gave Diems government the power to arrest anyone deemed to be a
danger to the security of South Vietnam within 2 years, 60,000 Vietnamese were in jail in Sth.
Diem begins Communist Denunciation Campaign this marked the beginning of repression against
anyone suspected of being or communist the guilty were taken away re-educated, imprisoned or
executed. Many innocent South Vietnamese were wrongful arrested
Diem establishes Agrovilles resettlement of peasants into fortified villages to avoid communist
infiltration (1959). Angered many peasants due to forced relocations from traditional family
land/graves and poor quality of the land. This caused further social dislocations, depleted
agricultural output and contributed to an influx of alienated rural workers in cites.
Influx of American a rise to Westernised values of individualism unchecked competition gives rise
to greed and corruption
US cultural imports infiltrated into southern society, marking a rise to westernised values
Strategic Hamlet Program was implemented in 1962 to relocate southern villagers into stockaded
hamlets where they could be protected from the Vietcong. Policy was unpopular amongst peasantry
Diem continued to favour Catholics who were the minority at the expense of Buddhists. In 1963
Buddhists revolted after they were refused permission to fly flags of Buddhas birthday even though
Catholics were granted permission earlier. This sparked street protests and a series of self-
immolations of Buddhist monks which resulted in worldwide controversy and anger. Madame Nhu
unsympathetic reference to suicides as Buddhist barbeques further discredited the Diem regime.
While US threatens to withdraw aid if Diem does not end Buddhist persecution

Military developments

Diem assumes complete control over the military 1955 classic dictatorship structure
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) trained, sponsored and equipped by the USA
Senior army officers were sacked and replaced with loyal supporters of Diem. Loyalty rather than
ability defined career paths
ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) created, trained, and equipped by the US in 1955 to defeat
the forces of the NLF
Americans establish Military Assistance & Advisory Group (MAAG) in 1956. Bring in advisers,
technology and equipment whilst funding infrastructure projects.
ARVN defeated in battle against Vietcong fighters in the Mekong delta and 1960 elusive


ARVN was painted by the Americans as being inept however it was the conventional tactics
employed against an elusive enemy that lead to poor performances

Economic developments

Due to their economic reliance on the French the economy became bankrupt after the French
departure and many major assets were withdrawn.
Unemployment rife reaching 50% by 1962
Thriving black market economy corruption
United States invested tens of millions of dollars to develop South Vietnams infrastructure, public
works, school, hospitals in a bid to make the nation a fortress of anti communism. US injection of
funds fills the economic vacuum which had formed, enabling the RVN economy to remain afloat
Land Reforms of the Viet Minh are abolished and land is returned to former landlords lead to
hunger among peasants

Political, social, economic and military developments within North Vietnam

Political developments

North Vietnam quickly development into a one party dictatorship communist ruled the party
All power rested in the hands of the Loa Dong Party (Vietnam Workers Party). The party was based
on principals of:
o Anti-colonialism
o Vietnamese unification
o Communism
The Loa Dong Party controlled the DRV (North Vietnam) from the national level right down to each
village via an extensive system of party branches.
Ho Chi Minh was elevated to the position of President propaganda portrayed him as the father of
all Vietnamese people
Division occurred within the party
o Giap argued for a moderate program of reform, believing that the disastrous state of the
Northern economy meant that radical policies could only make the situation worse.
o Radical section was lead by Party Secretary Truong Chinh who wanted to follow the Chinese
model of rapid land reform. Chinh won Agricultural Reform Tribunals
Despite its early problems, the leadership of the DRV proved to become extremely stable.

Social developments

Regaining national independence became the common goal

Women given new status - begin occupying traditionally male roles as labourers, managers, soldiers
Massive education program launched among peasants to overcome illiteracy and promote political
Over 150,000 Viet Minh troops and political activists returned from the south of the DMZ as
stipulated by the Geneva agreement (however, about 25,000 political activists and military cadres
remain in the south)
However North Vietnam was in a disastrous state in 1954:

Food was the most pressing problem as the main food bowl, the Mekong Delta in the South
was now denied to the North. The disastrous land reforms implemented did nothing but
exacerbate the food shortages
o Japanese exploitation had ruined much of agricultural infrastructure
o Despite help from China and SU the Nth was desperately short of capital investment in 1954
o Labour -of the million predominately Catholics that moved to the south were skilled
professionals. Their departure denied the Northern economy of badly needed skill
The purpose of the Agricultural Reform Tribunals Purpose was to supervise the redistribution of
land. Landlords are rich peasants originally targeted as counter-revolutionists. Over 100,000 people
died during the campaign of purging
In June 1956 there were peasant uprisings the DRV seemed on the verge of collapse
Campaign for the Rectification of Error Ho stepped in and asserted his authority admitting that
errors had been made and in 1958 the Tribunals were abandoned for much more moderate program
of Cooperativisation Plans villagers shared out the labour and responsibilities.
By 1960 over 85% of peasant population were participating in Cooperativisation program, with food
production and living standards rising. Stability is eventually restored in the North.

Economic developments

Major reconstruction needed after the First Indochina War Redistribution of land confiscated from
departing French colonists
Food production given priority for a rapidly growing population Collectivisation of agriculture
Strict government control over the economy (socialist state) was implemented including
o All resources were nationalised for he common good of the state
o Prices fixed
o Elimination of private profits
North Vietnam made significant economic progress - national income grew, transportation doubled,
became virtually self-sufficient and Nth Vietnam possessed the highest economic growth rate of any
Asian country. Effectively by 1960 DRV had been transformed from an predominately agricultural to
a semi-industrial economy
Unemployment virtually eradicated via nationwide redevelopment program every had a job + role

Military developments

Following the Geneva Conference government urged patience and caution on the tens of thousands
of Vietminh fighters who remained in the South as they did not want to provoke an American attack
particularly due to the current state of the economy
Chinese and Soviets inject vast amounts military aid to DRV
In 1959 the Central Committee established Group 559 which was set up to facilitate the movement
of personnel and equipment to communist comrades in the South. Supply routes were developed
through Laos and Cambodia which would become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail
USSR suggests that Vietnam remain two separate states however DRV rejects this idea as Ho is not a
puppet of communist super powers


People Army Vietnam (PAVN) or the North Vietnamese Army emerges as a conventional army of
battle-hardened veterans from the First Indochina War effective fighting force with a sense of
purpose, injustice and ideological fervour
20th December 1960, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) was established it
comprised of a broad range groups who sought to overthrow the Southern Diem government and
reunify the country. NLF gradually became dominated by communists.
Political cadres from the Loa Dong Party attached to each military unit of the NVA to ensure loyalty
to the communist cause
Conscription introduced in North Vietnam in 1960


Differences main distinctions



Characterised by fear,
instability and hunger
Life was dominated by
denunciation, execution, re
education and land reform
Dissent wasnt tolerated
Both governments sought
help from superpowers

Souths inner security problem escalated with Diems increasingly

totalitarian ruling and repression resulted in the military coup and
increasing numbers of NLF supporters
In the North, internal security problems were significantly reduced
after the Campaign for the Rectification of Errors; and the
successful end to food shortages
Also had greater influence in the South with the help of NLF
The Secretary of State Dulles concluded that the chances of building
a viable Vietnam under Diem was under 10%
Despite Diems lack of support America felt obliged to support and
increase aid! north manages to ease its internal security problems
more effectively then the South greater influence in South help of

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution

The USA support covert South Vietnamese raids against North Vietnam
To support those activities the US stationed a number of warship in the South China Sea and
specifically in the Gulf of Tonkin
American vessels were active in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the North Vietnamese coastal city of Haipong.
On 2nd August 1964, North Vietnamese Torpedo boats attacked the Maddox an American destroyer
inside North Vietnam territorial waters the Maddox was not damaged
Johnson ordered two ships to resume offshore patrols in international waters and reported to
Congress that North Vietnam had deliberately attacked US ship.
Johnson submitted a resolution to the Congress asking for unlimited support to stop overt North
Vietnamese aggression against US ships this was approved with two major provisions:
o US military could use any and all resources against North Vietnam (within days periodic
bombing of Nth Vietnam began)
o US could provide direct combat assistance to any SEATO nation threatened by Nth Vietnam
Effectively the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution legitimised the introduction of US troops

The US and Indochina

Political and social issues in Indochina by 1960

Initially after the Geneva Agreement the North was not prepared for an armed struggle in the south.
Rather, Ho aimed to consolidate communist rule in the north. As a result Ho urged caution and
patience on its cadres in the south. Demonstrates that he is somewhat reluctant to precipitate anger
on behalf of US.
However Diems decision to boycott the promised elections in 1956 precipitated anger and
resentment in the North. The implementation of the Communist Denunciation Campaign sparked
further animosity and effectively led to the development of the NLF. Diem repressive policies were
proving so successful, it seemed possible he might destroy communist presence in the south.
In 20th December 1960, the NLF was set up whose aim was to overthrow Diem and create conditions
for possible reunification. It was a broad coalition comprising of a range of groups however gradually
became dominated by Communists. The NLF represented a clear declaration of a war of national
independence on the Diem government and its backers the US.
When it formed the NLF has a regular force of about 5500 along with an irregular force of about
30,000 guerrillas. This force was reorganised into the Peoples Revolutionary Army
The term Vietcong was a derogatory term used by Diem to describe NLF.
The NLF was steadily strengthened by supplies (weapons) coming into the South from the North via
the Ho Chi Minh trail (1959)
The NLF grew quickly in strength and by late 1961, it was estimated that it controlled up to 80% of
the southern countryside.
The principal targets NLF were people who worked for the Diem regime. In 1961 alone, over 4000
selective assassinations were systematically carried out. The aim of the assassinations was to make it
impossible for the Diem regime to function.
The NLF willingness to employ brutal tactics towards its enemies (assassination) enhanced its overall
NLF propaganda was very effective appealing to the peasants, giving them purpose whilst spreading
discontent and opposition to Diems repressive rule.
The NLF exploited anti-American sentiment through propaganda
The intense attacks from NLF sparked the introduction of the Agroville Program which was to be
later replaced by the US enforced Strategic Hamlets. These policies aimed to resettle peasants into
fortified villages to avoid communist infiltration. However the success of the NLF in infiltrating these
institutions led to this policy being abandoned
Formed regular force 5500 along with an irregular force of about 30 000 guerrillas. This force was
reorganised into Peoples Revolution Army

The nature and development of US policy towards Indochina generally and

Vietnam in particular
Americas Indochina policy under Kennedy

Kennedy adopted a policy of flexible response that sought limited engagement in the region,
preventing a major escalation of involvement that would result in ground troops
Kennedy wanted the flexibility to be able to response to different crisiss and cold war hotspots
around the world, rather than being totally committed to one region.


In essence the Cold War context dictates his approach to the region
Flexible response was the belief that American force could be applied gradually, depending on the
severity of the threat. This would enable the US to have the flexibility to be involved and respond to
different cold war hot-spots
This strategy relied less on the traditional organisations of American foreign policy making such as the
Departments of State and Defence. Rather, Kennedy took control of foreign policy decision-making
by appointing his own circle of trusted advisors, such as Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defence),
and his own brother Robert Kennedy (Attorney General)
Flexible response was employed by Kennedy in response to the Cold War context. There was an
emphasis of taking each situation as it comes. Under this policy. He described Vietnam as the
cornerstone of the free world in SE Asia.

Flexible Response in Vietnam:

CIA funding and advice to Diems regime (role of Colonel Lansdale)

Kennedy refuses to be drawn into a ground war and only commits military advisors to the region
MACV (US Military Assistance Command Vietnam) established (1962) non-combat advisers
Emphasis is placed on unconventional warfare that focused on covert, counter-insurgency operations
to defeat the guerrillas
Emphasis on nation-building medical and educational facilities to win support of the people of
South Vietnam
Support for the overthrow of Diem (Nov 1 1963)
The Diem government became an embarrassment to democracy and a liability to the Kennedy
Administration. The instability of Diem regime results in America forced to escalate US involvement
It can be seen that the Kennedy Administration did not deal with the NLF forcibly enough,
underestimating their ability. The Vietcong were able to asset power (assassinations) making a
mockery of Vietnam. The growth and influence of the NLF prevented American from gaining a
foothold in South Vietnam.

American Indochina policy under Johnson

Kennedys was criticised for his soft line approach, that led to the emergence of the NLF and growing
instability, and thus was replaced by a more direct hard line approach by LBJ.
Support for covert raids on North Vietnam naval presence in the Gulf of Tonkin
Gulf of Tonkin incident (August 2, 1964) the USS Maddox was illegally patrolling in North Vietnam
territorial waters off the Gulf of Tonkin and was fired upon by North Vietnamese warships
The US aimed to provoke further attacks by sending another destroyer, the Turner Joy into the Gulf of
Tonkin. Reports that both ships were fired upon by the North Vietnamese were unsubstantiated
US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution giving Johnson a blank cheque to execute the war.
This resolution was used by LBJ to justify escalation of American involvement (ground troops)
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave the President the power to:
o Use any force necessary against North Vietnam
o Send troops to support any member of SEATO (notably, South Vietnam)
The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was the closest the US government got to declaring war on North
With the beginning of the ground war, Kennedys idea of flexible response became irrelevant

The first action permitted by the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was the sustained bombing of North
Vietnam Operation Rolling Thunder begins (1965)
US commits to a ground war first US combat troops arrive in 1965
This was a gamble to bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table, however, further troop escalation
failed to achieve this. Instead it was the beginning of an open-ended commitment of American troops
to Vietnam
US Troop escalation:
o 1965: 184,300
o 1966: 385,300
o 1967: 485,600
o 1968: 536,100
o 1969: 475,200

Impact of direct US military involvement in Vietnam and the consequences for

Vietnam and Cambodia
Consequences of direct US military on South Vietnam

Rapid development of infrastructure: Engineering works around the clock to build roads, bridges,
airfields and six deep water harbours in South Vietnam:
o Shanty towns sprang up around American bases
o Local prostitutes congregated wherever large numbers of GIs were on R & R
Influx of American culture in the South as GIs with money to spend saw the rapid increase in bars
and nightclubs.
Environmental effects: damaged crops and food shortages; 5.4 million acres of forest destroyed;
rivers and streams poisoned by defoliant chemicals
Unexploded mine fields: caused death and severe injury to ordinary peasants many years later
Displacement of refugees from the countryside due to intense bombing. Many fled to Saigon
creating a desperate housing shortage and gangs of delinquents
Use of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange defoliant led to congenital disorders
Vast amounts of US consumer and luxury goods flooded South Vietnam creating a $10 billion a year
black market. This led to:
Urban crime (American weapons were readily available, e.g. an M-16 rifle could be purchased for
Many goods were stolen from American army warehouses
significant drug problem among US troops and Vietnamese people (drugs such as marijuana and
heroin could be easily bought)
A few profiteers channelled $18 billion out of Vietnam into foreign bank accounts. Much of this was
originally US aid for South Vietnam

Consequences of direct US military involvement on North Vietnam

Operation Rolling Thunder caused enormous damage:

o 100,000 killed
o 85% of electricity production cut
The North Vietnamese government responded by:
o Constructing trenches and shelters with 3 million access holes throughout Hanoi



Evacuating many people from Hanoi and Haiphong

Accepting Soviet radar, anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles
Bridges and roads were quickly re-built
American bombing strengthened the morale and resistance of the North

Consequences of direct US military involvement on Cambodia

Use of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange defoliant led to congenital disorders
Vast amounts of US consumer and luxury goods flooded South Vietnam creating a $10 billion a year
black market. This led to:
o Urban crime (American weapons were readily available, e.g. an M-16 rifle could be
purchased for $80USD)
o Many goods were stolen from American army warehouses
o Significant drug problem among US troops and Vietnamese people (drugs such as marijuana
and heroin could be easily bought)
o A few profiteers channelled $18 billion out of Vietnam into foreign bank accounts. Much of
this was originally US aid for South Vietnam

The Second Indochina War

Nature and effectiveness of the strategy and tactics employed by the North
Vietnamese Army and the NLF, and by the South Vietnamese and the USA

National Liberation Front (NLF): a southern Vietnamese organisation dominated by communists who
sought the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government and the reunification of Vietnam
Peoples Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF): Also known as the Viet Cong. This was the fighting force
under the control of the NLF
Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN): the North Vietnamese army (also known as the NVA)
Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN): the South Vietnamese army

NVA and NLF strategies
Giaps three-phase strategy aimed to drain the ARVN and US of resources and its will to fight:
o Phase 1: Guerrilla warfare (Peoples War) by the PLAF
- Guerrilla bands would be formed, trained and establish bases
- Begin process of infiltration into Southern villages (agrovilles and strategic hamlets)
o Phase 2: combination of guerrilla and conventional warfare by the PLAF
- Guerrilla bands would become active and begin to challenge ARVN through ambush
and assassinations
o Phase 3: the NVA would begin conventional battles (open warfare)
- Aimed to encourage and lead to an open uprising in the South and popular revolt
Aimed to make the war so long, bloody and expensive that US public opinion would turn against it.
Therefore, NVA strategy required patience, discipline and a deep commitment to the nationalist
cause Ho was in it for the long haul, what ever it took to ensure Vietnam independence
Political cadres attached to each unit inspired their forces, instilling the values goals of reunification
and independence whilst ensuring that ideological discipline was maintained (cadres usually
members of the Loa Dong Party)

NVA and NLF tactics
Only engaged in direct conflict when it was possible to escape air attacks
Preferred to fight under the cover of night or heavy cloud
During the night they moved troops and supplies, laid mines, set booby traps and arranged
NLF - Black pyjamas made them indistinguishable from ordinary peasants
Highly mobile - carried only light arms
Refused to fight conventional battles during the early phases of Peoples War
Made up for lack of firepower with persistence and ingenuity ambushes and booby traps
Fought in close proximity to the enemy so that they would be reluctant to call in air-strikes due to
the danger to their own men. This tactic was referred to as grabbing the belt buckle
Hit and run tactics or one slow four quick hitting the enemy inflicting casualties and withdrawing
quickly before ARVN and US forces were able to utilise firepower.
Infiltration of southern villages
o Complex tunnel networks (Chu Chi tunnels)
o Propaganda against US/ARVN atrocities helped gain access to strategic hamlets
o Enlisted women in large numbers
o Relied on popular support (food, shelter, information)
o Cells of between 3-12 (only one with contact with NLF hierarchy)
o Execution of government officials served as a warning to other villagers
o Destruction of opposition program involved destroying individuals and institutions that
supported Diem in an attempt to bring them under communist control. Initially directed at
soft targets then attacks extended to ARVN bases (assassination and kidnappings)
Propaganda campaigns:
o Hanoi Hanna English broadcast to weaken morale of US troops
o Proselytizing (arguing, cajoling, convincing) southern villagers
Use of the Ho Chi Minh trail:
o Virtually concealed jungle path through Laos & Cambodia into South Vietnam
o Avoided the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone
o Very dangerous due to US bombing and special forces activity
o By 1966, more than 100,000 NVA troops would arrive in the South each year
o Close to million NVA troops killed by wars end

ARVN strategies and tactics
From 1956 the US took responsibility of reorganising the South Vietnamese army (creating the
Generally untrained in guerrilla tactics officer training focused on conventional warfare
Diem promoted officers on the basis of loyalty, therefore most officers were:
o catholic and not representative of ordinary Vietnamese
o sycophants looking for promotion, rather than the most talented
o notoriously corrupt (often unpaid for months)
ARVN were a conscripted force (poorly paid)
Had little popular support compared to the NLF
Soon lacked morale and belief in their cause:



Deserted at a rate of 20% per year

Suffered ten times as many casualties as the US during the war

US strategies and tactics
Early use of counter-insurgency and military advisers
Superior technology and air-power (air-strikes could be used to support troops)
Attrition body counts were the only way to measure success (lack of clear war objectives)
Pacification winning hearts and minds
Search and destroy finding the enemy before he attacked US bases
Defoliation Agent Orange (highly toxic weed-killer) aimed to remove the jungle cover of Viet Cong
Chemical weapons
o Napalm Jelly-like fuel that clung to the skin
o white phosphorus
o poison gas used to kill inhabitants of tunnels and bunkers
Carpet bombing - extensive bombing to devastate an entire area
Vietnamisation - involved equipping and training the ARVN to take over military operations and
allow the US to withdraw. To support this, bombing of the NLF bases in Cambodia began

Impact of the 1968 Tet Offensive

Concern in Hanoi that the war had reached a stalemate
Although guerrilla tactics were deteriorating Americas will to fight, they had not produced decisive
With Presidential elections looming, there was a perfect opportunity to erode public support for the
There was a firm belief that a major offensive against the cities would initiate a mass urban uprising
against the GVN

Aimed to isolate and destroy US and ARVN forces, leading to their surrender
Spark a general uprising against the Saigon government
Undermine popular support for the war within the US
Aimed to overthrow the South Vietnamese government
Giap aimed to attack forty-four cities simultaneously, creating panic and confusion

Strategies and tactics (prior to the offensive)
A massive build-up of military equipment for the Vietcong occurred throughout 1967, unknown to
the Americans
Throughout 1967 American and South Vietnamese intelligence authorities received direct and
indirect warnings suggesting a major offensive. However the American and South Vietnamese
underestimated Hanoi, believing that they lacked the audacity or capability to launch a major

Prior to the offensive, the NVA launched attacks on several northern provinces in South Vietnam
(Loc Ninh, Dak To (costliest single battle), Khe Sanh). This strategy effectively drew US and ARVN
troops away from the points at which the Tet Offensive would be launched
21 Jan 1968: over 20,000 NVA troops surrounded and attacked the huge US base at Khe Sanh
(containing 6000 US marines)
This siege of Khe Sanh lasted until late March when the NVA withdrew having suffered 10,000
casualties as a result of massive US bombing mission
Holding Khe Sanh became a symbol of American determination to win the war
However the siege at Khe Sanh served a major strategic purpose in drawing US resources away from
South Vietnamese cities

Strategies of Tactics (Tet Offensive)
The Tet Offensive began on the 31st January 1968 when six major cities in South Vietnam were
attacked. The offensive was conducted by the NVA and NLF (85,000 troops)
Tet is a Vietnamese holiday for the beginning of the Lunar New Year (acted on surprise)
It marked Phase 3 of the three-phase of Peoples War. Giap shifted from guerrilla tactics to
conventional fighting involving infantry attacks on urban targets during daylight hours
Saigon was in flames for a week, as troops fought in the city streets and buildings
US Embassy was temporarily occupied by Vietcong
North Vietnamese units occupied Hue (Vietnam ancient capital) for 26 days
Eventually NVA and Vietcong units withdrew. Tet proved to be a military failure
Over 50,000 Vietcong and North Vietnamese had been killed (took NLF 4 years to recover)
While only 2500 ARVN and 1000 American troops were killed
Tet Offensive failed because:
o Relied too heavily on precise timing and enormous human resources. Giaps plan of
simultaneous attack on all targets failed as a result of poor communication.
o US air power provided crucial support that Hanoi couldnt match
o South Vietnamese troops stood their ground and did not retreat as Giap suspected
o Uprising of the people did not take place

Impact of Tet Offensive
US policy
The Tet Offensive ended in a military defeat for the North, as the anticipated uprising did not occur,
however it proved to be a major psychological victory for North Vietnam
Prior to Tet, in late 1967, Americans were told by General Westmoreland and President Johnson that
victory and an end of the war was within sight. However Tet shattered this belief, whilst resulting in
Johnson losing enormous credibility
Prior to Tet, it was thought that the NVA and Vietcong had suffered irreparable losses from which
they could not recover. Tet illustrated that the policy of attrition had not worked.
US retaliatory bombardment (particularly in Hue and Khe Sanh) resulted in thousands of civilians
deaths in urban areas. This was of great propaganda value to the North.
The image that America was winning the war was crushed by the Tet Offensive. Americas position in
South Vietnam now seemed vulnerable and weak

Media and public opinion


Many television networks began to question Americas intentions

Media coverage in the US showed the brutal and devastating nature of the war whilst demonstrating
that the war was unwinnable.
Shocking footage of Vietcong suspects being executed unsettled the American homefront, whilst
changing public opinion.
Reputable news publications (e.g. Wall Street Journal) turned against the war
Americans began to question the war as a result. Many citizens deemed the war to be immoral and
the anti-war movement was given significant momentum.
Continuing escalation was no longer an option for Johnson. A face-saving exit was the best he could
hope for.
After Tet, the American public lost faith in their leaders ability to win the war. Rhetoric had not
matched reality.
On 31 March, Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election as President. The two
Democrat front runners (Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy) campaigned on an anti-war
In essence the Tet Offensive was a turning point in the war
Although Hanoi most the Tet offensive on the battlefield, it won the post Tet media war

Impact of the war on civilians in Indochina

Impact on South Vietnam
Caused by the collapse of the rural economy. From 1963-66 total farm production dropped by 23%.
Large US bases attracted many refugees
Saigons population rose by 45% from 1960-70
Many refugee women turned to prostitution a ready market of young American general infantry
guaranteed a steady income
Crime rates increased as desperate civilians struggled to feed families
US soldiers sold goods the they had purchased tax-free through the Armys Post Exchange (PX) on
the black market
The black market fuelled inflation (around 30% during the entire war)
Government corruption was rife as local officials expropriated American aid intended for villagers -
tax revenue for development and welfare was channelled away from the people it was intended to
win support from.
Drugs such as marijuana and heroin became readily available as a new market of young and
growingly disillusioned soldiers flooded South Vietnam. The pentagon estimated that of the
servicemen had tried heroin and 2/3 were using marijuana
Criminal activity was aided by the purchase of cheap American guns
People in the urban south were mainly small business owners and therefore opposed to the
communists. This was a significant reason as to why the Tet Offensive failed to spark an urban
uprising against the GVN
Villagers in the south were the most vulnerable civilians in the war as they were often harassed and
attacked from both sides attempting to gain their support
The My Lai massacre was an example of the indiscriminate nature of the American search-and-
destroy tactics - in 1968 a platoon of American soldiers herded villagers into groups and began
murdering them (between 300-500 Vietnamese died)

The Armys official report stated that there were incidents of individual and group individual nad
group acts of murder, rape, sodomy, maiming and assault against non-combatants
Many peasants were driven out of areas that the US had declared free-fire zones. These were
zones in which American and ARVN were authorised to strike any military or civilian target
Efforts to win hearts and minds of southern villagers were undermined by reprisals for Vietcong
ambushes. This resulted in the deaths of many innocent peasants
Many were attracted to the NLF by the promise of land reform
But those who supported the GVN were targets of terrorist attack
The Americans attempted to address this issue by introducing modern farming technology (such as
pesticides, new rice strains, new farm machinery) to help improve peasant harvests and allow them
to sell their surpluses
This green revolution in the rural south led to the largest rice crop in Vietnamese history in 1971.
The new rice yields became known as Honda rice, since from the income it generated, many
peasants were able to afford a motorbike
Nevertheless, many still harboured resentment towards the Americans due to the Strategic
Hamlets campaign
Because American aid rarely found its way to southern villages, many were forced to join the
refugee exodus to the city
A population decline in rural areas also had a significant impact on the availability of rural labourers

Impact on North Vietnam
The air-war against the North unified public resolve behind the government of North Vietnam
In February 1965, the North Vietnamese government decided to evacuate the city of Hanoi
Families were relocated in rural communities this is major factor that explains why the North was
able to resist such intense bombardment of their cities
By late 1966, of Hanois population had been evacuated to the country-side
By the end of the war the US had dropped 2.5 million tons of bombs on North Vietnam. This was
more than the total dropped during World War 2, including the two atomic bombs
US bombing severely disrupted North Vietnams economy and industrial output. However, guerrilla
warfare does not require masses of modern industrial weapons
Life went on in between the bombing raids peak hour shifter to between 4am-6am and factories
operated from 6am-10am
By 1967, the economic damage on the North was calculated to be US$200 million
Nevertheless, North Vietnam continued to function due to financial and industrial aid from China
and the USSR
The unified nature of the North helped people withstand terrible conditions with a determination to
defeat the Americans


Impact of the spread of the Vietnam War to Cambodia

Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA
Nature and significance of anti-war movements in the USA
The threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War saw the rise of a broad peace movement in
the 1950s
The Vietnam anti-war movement grew out of this anti-nuclear movement
First protest against the war was in 1963 by the Student Peace Union
When Diem visited America in 1963, he was met by relatively small groups of student protesters
A prevailing mood of rebellion by the baby-boomer generation (in their early 20s at the time) gave
rise to the New Left, which was highly critical of American government and society
Because of the draft, this generation resented the Vietnam war as the epitome of all that was wrong
with American capitalism
Colleges and universities were the main centers of the New Left and were breeding grounds for the
anti-war movement
The main student group was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
The SDS sought to use similar non-violent methods to those used by the Civil Rights movement
Teach-ins became a common way for students and academics to educate young people about the
In 1965, the SDS organised the first national protest against the war in Washington DC. This was
attended by 20,000 people
In 1966, SDS membership grew from 2,000 to 30,000
In 1967, returned GIs opposed to the war formed Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Leaders of the African-American community, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr also
opposed the war, usually on the basis that young, disadvantaged black men could not avoid the draft

Key events in the development of the Anti War movement
My Lai massacre (March, 1968)
Showed the brutal nature of the war in which Vietnamese civilians were often the innocent victims
of American atrocities
led many in the US to begin questioning the morality of the war (exploded the myth of Americans
being the good guys)

Kent State massacre (May, 1970)
killing of 4 student protesters at Kent State University over the American invasion of Cambodia
seemed to underscore the view that violence was the preferred method of American authorities

Publication of the Pentagon Papers (June, 1971)
The Pentagon Papers were a 7000 page top-secret US government report on Americas involvement
in Indochina from post-WWII to 1968
It was leaked to the New York Times and excerpts were printed June 1971
The Papers revealed that Johnson had ordered attacks on Laos and North Vietnam while promising
the public that he would not expand the war

The Papers also revealed that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution had been drafted months before the
Gulf on Tonkin incident occurred. This revealed that Johnson had been searching for an excuse to
send ground troops to Vietnam
The State Department sought to have further publication of the Papers stopped, but the Supreme
Court ruled that to do so would be a violation of free speech

The defeat of the South Vietnamese forces


Richard M Nixon won the US presidential election of 1968 largely on the promise of a secret plan to
win the war (along with Kissinger he adopted a hardline approach realpolitik)
His policy of Vietnamesation was implemented in an attempt to achieve:
o Honourable peace
o He wanted to be seen as neither accepting defeat or deserting the South
o Gradual withdrawal of troops
Vietnamisation essentially called on South Vietnam to take on a more active role in its own defense,
as the US would scale-down it commitment
The policy of Vietnamisation involved:
o Gradual withdrawal of US troops (eventually only advisers would remain)
o Greater responsibility of the ARVN for South Vietnams war effort
o Continued US air-support and firepower
o No reduction to military budgets for South Vietnam
However ARVN defeat in Cambodia illustrated the logistical problems with policy of Vietnamesation
including that fact that ARVN relied heavily on US for resources, transport and guidance.

Vietnamesiation a sell out of Vietnam?

After Tet, an escalation of troops could have
produced victory at a point when the
communists were at their weakest
The ARVN were hopelessly ill-equipped to take
over the fighting
A gradual withdrawal was tantamount to an
admission of defeat
An American withdrawal from Vietnam would
encourage communists elsewhere
The US was duty-bound to assist the South
Vietnamese government after more than
thirteen years of support

Change of military strategy

Despite over 500,000 US troops, there was no
sign that the communists were on the verge of
The air-war against the North had not led to
Hanois surrender
Politically, the tide of opinion had turned
against the war
The war was a massive financial drain on the
US economy (costing $USD 2 million per day)
High casualty rates led to significant increases
in drug-taking, fragging and desertion in the
Successive South Vietnam governments had
done little to help themselves


By 1968, nearly 15,000 Americans had died in Vietnam. In June 1968, General Westmoreland was
replaced by General Creighton Abrams
Creighton Abrams sought to fight a war that would limit American casualties, while at the same time
continue the strategy of attrition kill as many of the bastards as he could
Westmoreland's large-unit search-and-destroy missions were abandoned in favour of a more
territorial offensive strategy
Operation Apache Snow one such battle was that intended to remove the North Vietnamese from
their bunkers on top of Ap Bia mountain ( Hamburger Hill)
While it resulted in a tactical victory (the hill was captured), territorially it was of no significance
and was abandoned by the Americans one week later
This led many at home to conclude that the US generals had no real strategy to end the war (420
American casualties had been sustained for an objective that was of no territorial significance)

Invasion of Cambodia

Large sections of the Ho Chi Minh trail passed through Cambodia. Communist fighters had used
Cambodia as a sanctuary since 1965
Sihanouk believed that by turning a blind eye to Vietcong incursions into Cambodia would prevent
the KR from overthrowing his government and ensure the Cambodian neutrality was respected if the
Vietminh emerged victorious
This angered the US and Nixon interpreted this as direct support for Hanoi. As a result on 18 March
1969, they launched Operation Menu without public knowledge or the approval of Congress
Operation Menu was a secret bombing campaign that aimed to destroy COSVN and Vietcong bases
in Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh Trail (proved unsuccessful)
Over a 14 month period 3000 B-52 bombing missions dropped 100,000 tones of bombs on Cambodia
In March, 1970 while Sihanouk was in Paris, the CIA helped orchestrate a coup, in which Sihanouk
was deposed by General Lon Nol
On 1 May, US and ARVN troops invaded Cambodia a direct violation of Cambodias neutrality
A key military aim of the invasion was to show the ARVN as a self-sufficient fighting force. However,
the Viet Cong remained as elusive as ever and the ARVN. Although the Ho Chi Minh trail was
damaged it was never destroyed. Sparked the retaliation of Pol Pots Khmer Rouge

ARVN operations in Laos

Viet Cong sanctuaries also existed in Laos, therefore in January 1971 the ARVN crossed Laos in order
to cut the supply at the top of the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy nearby Vietcong bases
Unlike the invasion of Cambodia, the US did not provide troop support the ARVN was on its own.
This was a major test of the policy of Vietnamisation
After walking into a Vietcong trap, the ARVN fought for ten days in the longest battle of the Second
Indochina war
Their military goals were abandoned as they retreated in haste, leaving tanks and equipment behind
US aircraft was forced to
The ARVN was saved only by the US helicopter rescue mission that flew hundreds of rescue missions
In all, the ARVN lost 8,000 men about 45% of its force

The incursions into Laos and Cambodia demonstrated that the ARVN was still incapable of success without
the support of America.

US air-support for the ARVN during the Easter Offensive

In 1972, Nixon sought new diplomatic avenues of ending the war dtente (relaxing of cold war
tension) between the USA and China attempt to:
o Drive a wedge between China and the USSR
o Have China influence North Vietnam to end the war (peace talks in 1971 had failed)
In response, Hanoi launched the Easter Offensive on the 30th of March 1972. Approximately 200,000
PLAF and PAVN forces attacked South Vietnam on three fronts
Caused the ARVN forces to withdraw in total disorder and chaos (ARVN troops almost capitulated).
They besieged 10 provincial cities along Ho Chi Minh city exposed ARVN vulnerability
Eventually however, the ARVN rallied and by May with US air support (operation linebacker), the
undersupplied and overextended NVA forces were forced to retreat.
ARVN had grown into the 4th largest military unit in the world
As a result of the Easter Offensive, the ARVN suffered 43,000 casualties. North Vietnam and the
Vietcong experienced approx 100,000 casualties
By 1972 fewer than 100, 000 troops remained in Vietnam and further withdrawals indicated that
South Vietnam was becoming increasingly vulnerable. Such heavy reliance on US air support could
not continue indefinitely. The failure of Vietnamisation was exposed
It also showed that North Vietnam was willing to respond militarily to diplomatic pressure

US withdrawal from Indochina
Henry Kissinger, Nixons Secretary of State met with North Vietnams leader Le Duc Tho in August
o Nixon wanted to be re-elected
o North Vietnam wanted Linebacker to end
By September the basis of a negotiation was reached US believed it was a weak treaty
The following month, Nixon won the US Presidential elections on the promise that the war in
Vietnam would be brought to an end (we believe peace is at hand)
After being re-elected Nixon placed pressure on the North making 69 changes to the treaty. The
North responded with changes of its own then on the 13th of December Tho suspended talks
Nixon did not tolerate this as he wanted peace before his inauguration and thus he threatened Tho
The North did not respond and thus Linebacker 2 was launched

Paris Peace accords
With the failure of the Linebacker II bombing campaign against the North and fearing that the US
congress would soon cut all funding for the war, Nixon agreed to Le Duc Thos call for peace talks to
resume in 1972
South Vietnam was rarely consulted
On 15 January, 1973, the US stopped all military action against North Vietnam
On 27 January, the USA, North and South Vietnam and the Peoples Revolutionary Government (new
name for NLF) met in Paris for the final round of negotiations
The peace treaty was signed n the 27th of January and involved:
o A cease fire would begin monitored by a four nation International Commission of Control
o All foreign military activity in Laos and Cambodia would cease


A Council of National Reconciliation and Concord was established to resolve outstanding
political disputes between North and South and begin organizing national elections
o All remaining 24,000 US military personnel were the be withdrawn from Vietnam
o All US air-support of the ARVN would cease
o All American prisoners-of-war were the be released
Washionton reaffirmed its loyalty by assuring the South that if the north broke the treaty they would
resume bombing the North
South Vietnamese president Thieu was unsatisfied believing that South Vietnam had been left
totally vulnerable to a massive attack in the future

Defeat of South Vietnamese forces
Without any meaningful US commitment to South Vietnam, the peace agreement eventually broke
North Vietnam now had virtually unrestricted access into Cambodia and began infiltrating significant
numbers of troops and equipment
The International Control Commission became redundant once Canada withdrew from it
Communists controlled Laos (Pathet Lao) and were on the verge of gaining power in Cambodia (the
Khmer Rouge) this of course helped the North
When US congress cut funding to South Vietnam from $3.2 billion in 1973 to $1.1 billion in 1974, the
North sensed that the South was on the verge of collapse
In a test of American willingness to intervene again, the NVA attacked Phuoc Long province near the
Cambodian border, about 65 km from Saigon
In 1974 Nixon resigns over Watergate scandal and US congress reduces aid to South Vietnam
o Jan 6: NVA captures Phuoc Long province (no US retaliation)
o Jan 8: North Vietnam decides to invade the South
o Mar 14: NVA capture the Central Highlands, effectively cutting the country in two
o Mar 30: Hue and Danang fall to the NVA
o Apr 29: South Vietnam signs unconditional surrender, after the NVAs Ho Chi Minh
campaign captures Saigon
Account for North Vietnams success in the Second Indochina War

Vietnams long history of resistance against foreign intervention

US involvement
o Erosion of Vietnamese heritage and culture
Problems with Diems regime
o Failure of Strategic Hamlets
South Vietnams political instability
o Diem coup
Popular support for the North
o Rectification of Errors Campaign
PLAF had a purpose and were committed to the cause for reunification
Strengths and weaknesses of tactics and strategies used by both sides
o Guerrilla warfare tunnels and jungles
o Ho Chi Minh trail

US homefront and the media coverage of the war

o Tet Offensive (turning point)
o Anti war movements
o The My Lai Massacre 1968
o Kent State Protests 1970
o The Pentagon Papers 1971
o The Watergate Scandal 1974
Vietnamesation and the decline of the South
o ARVNs defeat in Cambodia and Laos
o Paris Peace Accords and its implications

Pol Pots Regime

Rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
Beginning of destabilisation in Cambodia
The Khmer Rouge began as an anti-imperialist nationalist movement in 1951 that had links with
Vietnams Viet Minh
However during the 1960s Khmer Rouge leadership changed their policy towards Vietnam,
effectively beginning to oppose all forms of Vietnamese influence in Cambodian affairs

For most of the 1960s the KR were an insignificant threat to Sihanouks rule. Sihanouk, a royal, had
popular support among a predominantly peasant population
Sihanouk believed that by turning a blind eye to Vietcong incursions into Cambodia would prevent
the KR from overthrowing his government and ensure the Cambodian neutrality was respected if
the Vietminh emerged victorious
This angered the US and Nixon interpreted this as direct support for Hanoi.
Nixon was supposedly complicit in supporting Lon Nols coup against Sihanouk
As a result on 18 March 1969, they launched Operation Menu without public knowledge or the
approval of Congress
Instead of Sihanouks moderate balancing act, Lon Nol threw Cambodias support behind America
This of course drew a strong reaction from the Cambodian communists (the Khmer Rouge) who
now had to contend with a hostile Cambodian government and one depending heavily on the US

Lon Nols rule
Lon Nol was a staunch anti-communist who believed that Cambodias security lay in a closer
relationship with the US
He came to power by staging a coup with US support against Sihanouk
He also feared that a powerful communist Vietnam with the support of China and the USSR would
pose a major threat to a neutral Cambodia
Lon Nol therefore actively encouraged American involvement in Cambodia. He openly supported US
bombing campaign Operation Menu
At the same time Lon Nol demanded that all NVA and Viet Cong troops leave Cambodia within three
days and refused North Vietnam access to the port of Sihanoukville.


He actively encouraged a wave of anti-Vietnamese sentiment to spread in Cambodia, which had a

long history of conflict with its larger neighbour
Despite his efforts to evict the Viet Cong from Cambodia, Lon Nols forces were no match for the
battle-hardened Viet Cong
He therefore called on the Americans and ARVN to come to his assistance
On 27 March, ARVN troops with the support of American air power invaded Cambodia at Lon Nols
This led to an increased flow of military equipment to the Cambodian army

The Cambodian Civil War
Support for the Khmer Rouge grew after the US-backed invasion of Cambodia. KR effectively used
the civil war as anti-American propaganda and aligned themselves with Sihnaouks government in
exile which provided legitimacy
It was also given legitimacy by becoming a significant part of Sihanouks government-in-exile
By 1970, the Khmer Rouge were engaged in a civil war against Lon Nols Royal Cambodian Army,
which received massive support from the US
This occurred amid the US bombing campaigns that lasted until August 1973 when Congress finally
ended them
It is estimated that the US bombing campaigns killed 150,000 Cambodians
This provided enormous propaganda value to the Khmer Rouge. The KR exploited US bombing
campaign arguing that the only way to stop bombing was to overthrow Lol Nol
The Khmer Rouge army grew to about 40,000 by 1973 and in contrast to Lon Nols Royal Cambodian
Army, was a disciplined and efficient fighting force
By the time American bombing of Cambodia ended (August 1973), Lon Nol controlled just one-third
of Cambodia
By 1973 the Khmer Rouge controlled most of the roads in Cambodia, making travel virtually
Food shortages were common and Lon Nols government was incapable of providing much needed
social services and infrastructure
By 1975, Lon Nol controlled only the capital Phnom Penh and a few other nearby towns
All hope of a US intervention to prevent a KR victory evaporated when Ford succeeded Nixon as US
president. Ford was far less willing to tackle congress over the need to increase aid to Cambodia
On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh after five years of civil war. Lon Nol had
fled Cambodia two weeks earlier
Most civilians were jubilant and hopeful that peace would finally be restored

Nature, aims and methods of Pol Pot

After defeating Lon Nol, The Khmer Rouge set immediately set about implementing their program -
Cambodia was renamed Democratic Kampuchea
The Khmer Rouge were highly secretive and semi-mystical body. It transformed itself into the Angkar
or Organisation
Angkar itself had no human form and transcended the human concept of an organisation
The KR appealed to Cambodia nationalism by claiming that it would restore Cambodias glory back to
the days of the Angkor or the Khmer empire (15th century)

In an attempt to de-Westernize the new Kampuchea, a new calendar was introduced that began in
the year zero after their takeover
The leaders of the Khmer Rouge remained anonymous to the Cambodian people and the outside
world. They referred to themselves simply as the Centre
After the KR victory against Lon Nol, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot (known as Brother
Number 1) became the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea
The Khmer Rouge four major aims for Kampuchea:
o Total independence and self-reliance this meant a rejection of all foreign aid and Western
technology (all imperial remnants were to be destroyed)
o Single-party dictatorship based on a very loose interpretation of Marxist ideology.
Cambodias situation was held to be so unique, that it had little to learn from other forms of
o Total rejection of western modernism as the cause of Cambodias problems The Khmer
Rouge therefore sought to destroy anything that had not been developed or created by the
Khmer people
o A complete recasting of Cambodian social values that elevated Angkar above family and
religion. The Cambodian peasant was idealised as the perfect citizen
The Khmer Rouge were as much a nationalist group as a communist one. They looked neither to
Russian or Chinese versions of Marxism. Their own interpretation of Marxism therefore lacked any
sense of internationalism
Instead, the KR claimed that its own version of communism was the most beautiful and most pure
According to the KR ideology, cities represented all that was corrupt, vile and alien to Cambodian
Cities represented foreign domination and external influence and therefore had to be evacuated.
Phnom Penh had to be totally redeveloped according to the new social and economic values of the
The peasant was idealised as the truest Cambodian and the country-side viewed as the true
Millions of Cambodians were evacuated from the cities and sent to rural areas. To assist the
evacuation of Phnom Penh, all electricity and water supply was cut. Hospitals were emptied of the
sick. About 400,000 died in the evacuation alone
Phnom Penh became a virtual ghost-town
Under the KR, Kampuchea was cut off from the Western world - all traces of Cambodias colonial
past were removed as well as other foreign influence:
o international trading stopped
o all foreigners were forced to leave
o all outside communications were cut
o almost all flights (except to Hanoi and China) ceased
Having been transferred to the country-side, anyone deemed a counter-revolutionary was
promptly executed
This included members of the old regime, bureaucrats, skilled laborers, land-owners, anyone
educated in the West, most educated people such as teachers, doctors and engineers
Kampuchea was divided into a number of zones that would report to the centre and urban
Cambodians were soon put to work cultivating rice (3 tonnes per hectare was the aim)


All private property was abolished and people were placed in rural co-operatives, often separated
from their families Angka was considered more important than the family
Production targets of rice were set three times higher than those prior to the civil war
Rice was needed for export so that Kampuchea could fund its industrialisation and feed a new urban
workforce made up of the peasantry
Targets for rice production were never met and after the first year of Khmer Rouge rule, the country
was in the grip of famine
International medical aid was refused in favour of traditional cures
The rural catastrophe was not reported from the zones to the Centre, for fear that the zone leaders
would be punished for their failings
In February 1976, soldiers who were ordered to help with the rice production expressed some
As a result, a purge of the army and Party itself began. Local party officials were the main targets.
They were tortured and confessions extracted
The infamous S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison was a high school converted into a torture chamber.
Approximately 17,000 were imprisoned in S-21 with only eight known survivors
Prisoners informed on other known traitors who they claimed were CIA or KGB agents. Thus, the
cycle of terror continued
With the disappointing rice crop of 1977, the purge was given further momentum. Between 1975-79
it is estimated that around 1.8 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge. This equaled 24
% of the Cambodian population at the time
This genocide ended in December 1978, when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam successfully invaded