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Ho Chi Minh had risen to power in 1945 with the end Japanese occupation of Vietnam. The Vietnamese welcomed his Ho's proclaiming the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before a large gathering on 2 September 19145. Ho led a Communist dominated independence organization that had been in opposition to the French and the Japanese. Ho's regime started land reform, giving land peasants. The French wanted to reimpose their control over what had been their colony before the Japanese occupation. The French fought the Viet Minh. The popular Viet Minh defeated the unpopular French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. After nine years of effort in Vietnam, French politics swung to favoring disengagement. In 1954 there was a conference in Geneva. The Viet Minh, Soviet Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China were participants. The French agreed on a cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. A demarcation line was drawn at the 17th parallel to divide Vietnam until nationwide elections in 1956. The northern half was to belong to the Viet Minh, the southern half was to be under the French puppet king, Bao Dai.

The US was unhappy about the agreement and didn't sign it. With Vietnam in mind, Eisenhower had recently described his fear of countries in East Asia falling to communism like dominoes: on country falling to be followed by a neighboring country. The Eisenhower expressed his belief that the elections scheduled at Geneva would be won by the Communists. The Eisenhower administration and then the Kennedy administration supported an anti-Communist regime, the Diem regime, in South Vietnam as a replacement of Bao Dai. The Diem family were Roman Catholic, and Vietnam had a Catholic minority, and it had the support of high-ranking Vietnamese military men who had been a part of France military machine. The Kennedy administration began its support for the Diem regime with the hope that it could win support among the Vietnamese in general in what Kennedy wanted as a defeat of Communism in Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia). Diem had the backing of those in the south who had been landlords and wanted land back that Viet Minh reforms had taken from them. The Diem Regime began a war against peasants who were sympathetic with the Communists. The promised elections to unite the country were denied the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh saw itself as having the right to authority in the whole of Vietnam, the US as an intruder and the Diem regime as puppets of a US aggression.

Diem was assassinated in 1963, and the regimes in the South – in Saigon – were many, and led by military men. An attempt was made at elections, but not one of the generals was able to rule democratically. Their regimes had some civilian supporters, but none represented the feelings of a broad segment of the population of South Vietnam. These regimes had fervent followers, but they needed more public support. The US sent troops into Vietnam as compensation for what Saigon regimes were unable to accomplish, and it helped the Saigon regimes with its air power, bombs, napalm and chemicals. But ultimately the Communists in Vietnam had majority opinion on its side.For the Saigon regime, lack of support lost the war for them.

In the US, victory of the Communists was seen by some as the result of an unwillingness to use more violence, more air power and prolonged warfare. Another stab-in-the-back theory developed: the US effort failed according to a few because of the Congressional Democrats, the media and leftist traitors. There was also the opinion of the former commander in Vietnam, General Westmoreland. He mentioned that for the US Vietnam was the first major conflict fought without censorship, and "without censorship," he said, "things can get confused in the public mind."

When France's President DeGaulle – no great friend of Communism –  met President Kennedy in Paris in 1961 he advised against the US getting involved in Vietnam. He warned that Southeast Asia would quickly become a "bottomless military and political quagmire".

After Vietnam was united under the Communists, one of the Vietnamese making it to the US was the former Saigon prime minister and military junta leader, Nguyen Cao Ky. He wrote a book, How We Lost The War in Vietnam. In it he described the role of hearts and minds in Saigon's defeat. He described the US role in Vietnam as "misguided" and naive concerning the opinions of the common Vietnamese.

CONTINUE READING: Trouble in Cambodia

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