History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I embarrassingly don't know much about the history of the Vietnam War.

I would like to learn more about the war, but I can't figure out when exactly the war started and ended. World War 2 was from 1939 to 1945. When did the Vietnam War start and end? What defines the beginning and what defines the end? I would be interested in the US involvement.

(As a sidequestion: I have tried to find a good documentary online, but I can't find anything that describes the beginning of the war. So I would also like a recommendation of a good documentary (free online would be nice) that describes how the whole thing got started)

share|improve this question
Well, the US were involved with the Vietnamese rebellion against France in the Korean War. – Russell Sep 16 '12 at 2:31
I think it was on a Tuesday... – T.E.D. Sep 17 '12 at 20:39
up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Indochine war began after negotiations were suspended between the Viet-Minh and the French Republic in 1946 (the date is often the insurecction on the 19th december, but in fact, the French bombed Haiphong on the 23th november, some even trace it to the leave of General Leclerc, the military administrator, in 1946).

The US involvement only began in 1954 (even if Vietnamese soldiers fought along the US and South Koreans in Korea), because the US had "found out" a communist government in Vietnam wouldn't be very good. The US backed the South Vietnamese government to ignore the results independency negotiations of Geneva (1954). These treaties specified a general election had to be organized in 1955. However, given the Viet-Minh methods, this election was likely to result in a "crushing victory" for the Viet-Minh in the North, if any other party had been allowed to take part.

During the late 1950s, the southern government, which had never been elected (the French had put former emperor Bao Dai as Head of State short before the independency, but without organizing any election), became more and more unpopular and autoritary. At the same time, ex- and current Viet-Minh members formed the Viet-Cong.

1963 can be considered the beginning of the Viet-Nam war, as the year saw the first battle where US soldiers were involved, as well as the assassination of the South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem and the establishment of a military government without any reaction (im not sure about this) from the US government, who started a new aggressive policy towards North Vietnam (Kennedy wanted to reduce US involvement in Viet Nam, but Johnson changed this). And so it began.

share|improve this answer

While the Vietnamese Communist Party had been involved in militant anti-French agitation from the early 1930s, and, while large number of Vientamese workers (including agricultural workers) and peasants had hungered for freedom from the French government—including its fish sauce tax—it was the elimination of the old party leadership by the Japanese in 1940/41 and the refoundation of the VCP (soon to become the Vietnamese Workers' Party) on an explicitly nationalist basis that marks the start of the period of war. This was the foundation of the Viet Minh and the beginning of the period of warfare around national independence and changes to the social order of Vietnam.

These events, of course, have their origin in the changing methods of French imperialist extraction in the 1920s. When you exorbitantly tax a nation's primary source of protein and salt, and thoroughly proletarianise its major employing industry (agriculture) you notice rapid social changes and conflict.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.