Vietnam War – Concept, causes and consequences

We explain what the Vietnam War was, its timeline and its causes. Also, its consequences and who won this conflict.

Vietnam War
The Vietnam War took place between 1955 and 1975.

What was the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War or War against the United States (in Vietnam) was a military conflict that took place between 1955 and 1975, between the Republic of Vietnam (or South Vietnam) and the communist insurgent guerrillas of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam (North Vietnam or Viet Cong), as well as their allied countries in the context of the Cold War.

The Vietnam War was one of the largest and most famous military conflicts to ever occur between the socialist bloc led by the USSR and the capitalist bloc led by the USA. The two opposing sides were:

  • The Republic of Vietnam, with its American allies, the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Laos, with the military support of Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand and Taiwan.
  • The Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Viet Cong army, along with the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communist Army) and the Pathet Lao (Lao Communist Army), with military support from China, North Korea, Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Twenty-year-long, this war had a great human cost, especially in the ranks of the opposing Vietnamese factions (250,000 dead and 1,170,000 South Vietnamese wounded, compared to 1,000,000 dead and 600,000 North Vietnamese wounded), and in civilian populations both from Vietnam (2,000,000 deaths), Cambodia (200,000 to 300,000) and Laos (20,000 to 200,000).


The most relevant events of the conflict are organized as follows:

  • 1954. The Geneva Accords end the war between France and Indochina, and divide the colony into three nations: Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The latter was divided into two different countries until a unification referendum was held in 1956.
  • 1955. The US CIA helps General Ngo Dinh Diem to carry out a coup in South Vietnam and establishes a military dictatorship to prevent the elections.
  • 1959. Armed resistance begins in South Vietnam, sponsored by its northern sister, leading to a Civil War.
  • 1961. US President John F. Kennedy promises the South Vietnamese government his help against “communist terrorism.”
  • 1964. The victories of the insurgent army give it control of 60% of the country. The US fabricates a cause to enter the war with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, through a false attack on its naval forces.
  • 1965. Massive US bombings in North Vietnam and landing of its troops for the first time. In retaliation, the Viet Cong blows up the American embassy in Saigon.
  • 1967. Of its 485,000 men in Vietnam, the US has lost more than 16,000. A presidential regime is established in South Vietnam, replacing the pro-American dictatorship.
  • 1969. The Paris conferences begin and President Nixon of the United States announces the repatriation of 25,000 soldiers.
  • 1970-1. North American invasion of Cambodia and then Laos, in pursuit of the communist armies of these countries, causing havoc on the peasant population.
  • 1972. Suspension of negotiations. American Linebacker and Linebacker II bombing operations.
  • 1973. The ceasefire is signed in Paris. The US abandons the war.
  • 1976. The Spring Offensive begins that will lead communist troops to capture Saigon and end the war.

Causes of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War
North Vietnam tried to reunify the country under a communist government.

It must be remembered that Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia, were French colonies in Asia, which after World War II found the ideal moment to proclaim their independence.

However, the new country could not agree to the two radical tendencies in its midst, and ended up dividing itself into two different countries from the 17th parallel: North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

The war was due to the US interrupted attempts to reunify the country under a nationalist coalition in which all political sectors intervened, financing a corrupt, atrocious and inefficient dictatorship.

This mobilized the popular uprising and the formation of the National Liberation Front, which sparked a civil war in South Vietnam. This situation was used by North Vietnam to try to reunify the country under a communist government.

Consequences of the Vietnam War

In addition to the tragic and irreparable consequences that all wars leave, such as millions of dead citizens, displaced people or refugees, the Vietnam War caused severe damage to the country’s infrastructure and its vegetation, due to the use of napalm and chemical weapons. Other consequences were:

  • The reunification and reconstruction of Vietnam. Under the same flag and a single government. The economic and social challenges of this new government were particularly severe, considering the state of ruin in which the war left the country.
  • The United States suffered a crushing defeat. This was a very severe blow to the military and political image of the country in the world, which served to change the idea that this nation had in the world and that its population had of itself.
  • Communist movements in Laos and Cambodia. With the US defeated, revolutionary leaders from neighboring countries found a favorable outlook for their own totalitarian regimes.

Who won the Vietnam War?

Vietnam War
The US agreed to withdraw its troops in 1973, when a ceasefire was signed in Paris.

The Vietnam War won the Viet Cong, when the US agreed to withdraw its troops in 1973, when a ceasefire was signed in Paris. South Vietnam was left to its fate in the midst of the conflict, however, and in 1976 communist troops seized its capital in Saigon and deposed the government, establishing the forced reunification of the country under the authority of Hanoi.