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)

  • Well, the US were involved with the Vietnamese rebellion against France in the Korean War.
    – Russell
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 2:31
  • 2
    I think it was on a Tuesday...
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 20:39

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 1
    "Kennedy wanted to reduce US involvement in Viet Nam, but Johnson changed this" history.stackexchange.com/a/40576/26470 claims all 3 presidents wanted war for political gain.
    – user26470
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 20:55

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.


The Vietnam War started in 3-4 mirco phases-stages:

It began shortly after the end of World War II in 1945 with a war for independence from centuries old French colonial rule.

In 1954, the French withdrew its colonial forces from Vietnam. Although it was a victory for Vietnam, it was, in retrospect, a short-lived victory.

Almost immediately after the French departure from Vietnam-(and greater Indochina), the second phase of the war consisted of the Vietnamese turning on each other thereby leading to a Civil War. The Communists, led and inspired by Ho Chi Minh, were widespread in North Vietnam-(with growing support from the Soviet Union and neighboring China), while South Vietnam (initially led by Diem) remained culturally Buddhist and Catholic with growing Advisory support from the United States, specifically from the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. The Vietnam war raged for 10 years whereby Vietnamese were fighting Vietnamese.

However, The 10 yearlong Vietnamese Civil War transitioned into a third phase, whereby the United States (under President Lyndon Johnson) increased its military presence with mass troop deployments-(both enlistees and draftees),shorty after the passage of 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Congressional Resolution. For the next 8 plus years, what is called, "The Vietnam War" occurred.

It was also a wider war that expanded into nearby Cambodia in 1970-(representing almost a fourth beginning micro-phase/stage and in actuality, creating a greater war in Indochina, which was not limited to Vietnam alone).

  • Note: When I used the word, "Advisory:, I was referring to the Military "Advisers" that were sent to Vietnam by Presidents Eisenhower & Kennedy.
    – user26763
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 20:50

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