The Vietnam War, also known as the American War (by the Vietnamese) or the Second Indochina War, was a Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from approximately 1 November 1955 (accounts differ) to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam (also known as the North Vietnamese Army) engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 800,000 to 3.1 million. Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict.
- Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
- Muhammad Ali, As quoted in Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties (1999) by Mike Marqusee; also quoted in the International Socialist Review Issue 33 (January–February 2004)
- The AK-47 went head-to-head with the M-16, and emerged on the winning side.
- Narration to the Top Ten Rifles presentation by the Military Channel (renamed American Heroes Channel in 2014), part of their Top Ten series which began in 2005.
- We cannot remain silent on Viet Nam. We should remember that whatever victory there may be possible, it will have a racial stigma…. It will always be the case of a predominantly white power killing an Asian nation. We are interested in peace, not just for Christians but for the whole of humanity.
- Eugene Carson Blake, remarks at a World Council of Churches meeting, Geneva, Switzerland (February 12, 1966); reported in The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C. (February 13, 1966), p. A–5.
- The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction – all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured. It is not pleasant to say such words, but candor permits no less.
- Noam Chomsky, in American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Introduction.
- In the nineteen-sixties came the Vietnam War
Can somebody tell me what we were fighting for?
So many young men died
So many mothers cried
Now I ask the question
Was God on our side?
- I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, "What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail".
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years (1963), vol. 1, p. 372.
- With 450,000 U.S. troops now in Vietnam, it is time that Congress decided whether or not to declare a state of war exists with North Vietnam. Previous congressional resolutions of support provide only limited authority. Although Congress may decide that the previously approved resolution on Vietnam given President Johnson is sufficient, the issue of a declaration of war should at least be put before the Congress for decision.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarks to Republican congressmen, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 15, 1967), published in a paraphrased form in The Washington Post (July 22, 1967), p. 1.
- The Communist leaders in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi must fully understand that the United States considers the freedom of South Viet Nam vital to our interests. And they must know that we are not bluffing in our determination to defend those interests.
- Gerald R. Ford, "U.S. Foreign Policy: New Myths and Old Realities", address to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. (July 21, 1965); in Michael V. Doyle, ed., Gerald R. Ford, Selected Speeches (1973), p. 199.
- We underestimated the willingness of these peasants to pay the price. We won every set piece battle. Westy believes that he never lost a battle. We had absolute military superiority, and they had absolute political superiority, which meant that we would kill 200 and they would replenish them the next day. We were fighting the birth rate of a nation.
- David Halberstam, as quoted in Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam (2011) by Lewis Sorley, p. 96.
- George, without doubt, the Army will be blamed for any failures in the Vietnam War.
- General Paul D. Harkins made this remark to then-Major George S. Patton, IV, son of the famous World War II general, while Harkins was the first head of Military Assistance Command Vietnam in early 1963. As quoted in The Fighting Pattons (1997) by Brian M. Sobel, p. 120.
- Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.
- Michael Herr, in Dispatches (1977), "Colleagues", section 3.
- In Asia we face an ambitious and aggressive China, but we have the will and we have the strength to help our Asian friends resist that ambition. Sometimes our folks get a little impatient. Sometimes they rattle their rockets some, and they bluff about their bombs. But we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, remarks at Akron University, Akron, Ohio (October 21, 1964); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, book 2, p. 1390–91.
- It must be very hard for Americans to fully understand the significance of the Hiroshima bombings to the Japanese. The closest parallel in American history of that lasting fissure in the national psyche resulting from a military defeat would be the Vietnam War. Americans still have not healed those wounds, and perhaps it is presumptuous to expect that the Japanese would be any different.
- David Kalat (2010), A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, McFarland, p. 214
- I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Viet-Nam, against the Communists.
- John F. Kennedy, televised interview with Walter Cronkite (September 2, 1963); in The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 652.
- The war the soldiers tried to stop.
- John Kerry, commenting on how Vietnam would be known to future generations, at rally of antiwar demonstrators, west front of the Capitol (April 24, 1971), as reported by The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. (April 26, 1971), p. A–7.
- As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.
- Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
- We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers [...] I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy" [...] Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.
- Look at Vietnam, look at Lebanon. Whenever soldiers start coming home in body bags, Americans panic and retreat. Such a country needs only to be confronted with two or three sharp blows, then it will flee in panic, as it always has.
- Osama bin Laden, as quoted in The Looming Tower, by Wright, p. 187.
- In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Donald Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.
- All we are saying is give peace a chance.
- John Lennon, song "Give Peace a Chance" (1969); common chant in rallies against the Vietnam War.
- When I entered West Point, some Americans still believed the Vietnam War might end honorably. By the time I graduated, South Vietnam did not exist. As cadets, we watched the war teeter and implode, and the historical sweep was not lost on us.
- General Stanley A. McChrystal, in his memoirs My Share of the Task (2013), p. 17
- It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.
- Attributed to an unnamed United States major, referring to the bombing of Ben Tre, South Vietnam; reported by AP correspondent Peter Arnett, "Major Describes Move", New York Times (February 8, 1968), p. 14.
- Often misquoted in a variety of ways, notably: In order to save the village, we had to destroy it. or "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
- John McGuffin, Internment (1973), Anvil Books, page 26 (early misquote); Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006), ISBN 978-0-312-34004-9.
- What, then, had we learned with our sacrifices in the Ia Drang Valley? We had learned something about fighting the North Vietnamese regulars- and something important about ourselves. We could stand against the finest light infantry troops in the world and hold our ground. General Westmoreland thought he had found the answer to the question of how to win this war: He would trade one American life for ten or twelve North Vietnamese lives, day after day, until Ho Chi Minh cried uncle. Westmoreland would learn, too late, that he was wrong; that the American people didn't see a kill ratio of 10-1 or even 20-1 as any kind of bargain.
- Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young (1992), p. 345
- But we had validated both the principle and the practice of airmobile warfare. A million American soldiers would ride to battle in Huey helicopters in the next eight years, and the familiar "whup, whup, whup" of their rotors would be the enduring soundtrack if this war. Finally- even though it took ten years, cost the lives of 58,000 young Americans and inflicted humiliating defeat on a nation that had never before lost a war- some of us learned that Clausewitz had it right 150 years earlier when he wrote these words: "No one starts a war- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."
- Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young (1992), p. 345
- But also out here in this dreary, difficult war, I think history will record that this may have been one of America's finest hours, because we took a difficult task and we succeeded.
- Richard Nixon, remarks to American troops of the First Infantry Division, Di An, Vietnam (July 30, 1969); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, p. 588.
- Tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.
- Richard Nixon, Appeal to the nation (3 November 1969) for support in the Vietnam War, as reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 730.
- I have often reflected that General Abrams, who had worked so hard to make the South Vietnamese armed forces capable of defending their country, at least had been spared the agony of seeing the death of the Republic of Vietnam. Westmoreland, on the other hand, was not spared that trauma, but seems over the years since the war to have become a national scapegoat, blamed for everything that went wrong in Vietnam, large or small, regardless of whether he had even a remote connection with the matter. It is a singularly fair and unsupported judgement. Many scores of senior American officials, civilian and military, including the author, contributed to our Vietnam mistakes, most of which have been so judged in hindsight. The real "blame", of course, must be laid squarely on the Hanoi regime and the North Vietnamese people, who demonstrated to the world that they had the will to prevail. Although it is a small comfort to Westmoreland, history is replete with the examples of one native son's being singled out, rightly or wrongly, as the person responsible for a national disaster.
- General Bruce Palmer, Jr., in his book The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam (1984), p. 133-144
- I: The nine classic principles of war as explained and demonstrated by Clausewitz definitely apply in this type of conflict. One principle should be added and that would be the principal of cultural understanding or familiarization.
- II: Operations should be guided by good intelligence "now," as opposed to refined intelligence, for example, two hours from now.
- III: Fully understand the form of warfare in a Vietnam type of conflict- call it counterinsurgency or whatever term is being used to characterize the so-called meeting engagement. Go within the training base and develop doctrine at all levels which supports this form of combat.
- IV: When contact with an enemy unit is either present or expected, the commander must always hold a unit close in hand and in reserve to commit upon hostile contact. This reinforcement capability is absolutely critical in guerrilla warfare.
- V: A commander may talk all day and most of the night on the subject of preventative maintenance in the field. However, it is simply not well done on the battlefield as there are far too many distractions, interruptions and poor facilities. As a result of my experience, I believe the best procedure is periodic withdrawal of armored units to a safe rear area where higher echelon maintenance personnel can provide valid assistance. Although those who would oppose that procedure would oppose it all the way, I found that armored vehicle capability, especially tanks, increased in the long term.
- Major General George S. Patton, IV, stating his "Five Principles for Counterinsurgency Warfare", developed after thirty-three months total spent in Vietnam. As quoted in The Fighting Pattons (1997) by Brian M. Sobel, p. 159
- George Patton, the Army needs someone like you right now. You can't quit.
- Joanne H. Patton, to her husband, George S. Patton, IV, as quoted in as quoted in The Fighting Pattons (1997) by Brian M. Sobel, p. 188
- Patton asked him to go aboard a chopper equipped with a loudspeaker and order his men to surrender. The prisoner quickly refused, and Patton said to him, "If you don't go up in the chopper with me and ask them to surrender you have personally signed their death warrants, because I will be forced to obliterate this position." The NVA captain again declined, and Patton's frustration was evident. He glowered at the man, and said, "Goddamn it, who is winning this war?" "You are," was the reply. "Then in that case," Patton shouted, "why don't we save the lives of your soldiers and let us take them out and feed them and medicate them?" "Sir," he said, "you didn't ask who would win this war." "Well, who is going to win this war?" Patton snorted. "We will," the prisoner said forcefully, "because you will tire of it before we do."
- Brian M. Sobel, quoting an exchange between George S. Patton, IV and a North Vietnamese Army officer in December 1968, in his book The Fighting Pattons (1997), p. 167-168.
- Only a few days after the Ia Drang, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was back at the division base camp at An Khe on a cold and rainy Thanksgiving. Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade, the battalion commander, met a visiting Westmoreland near the mess hall and told him that everyone was just about ready to eat their Thanksgiving dinners. But Westmoreland told him, "Get them all together and let me talk to them." The troops had been issued a hot meal, real coffee instead of the powdered stuff that came with C-Rations, turkey, and the trimmings. They were walking back to their squad tents to enjoy this special repast when the order was given to assemble. "There stood General Westmoreland himself," said Sergeant John Setelin. "He made a speech there in the rain and while he talked we watched the rain turn that hot dinner into cold Mulligan stew. Who knew what the hell the man said? Who cared?"
- Lewis Sorley, in his book Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam (2011), p. 96.
- I have been among the officers who have said that a large land war in Asia is the last thing we should undertake. Most of us, when we use that term, are thinking about getting into a land war against Red China. That's the only power in Asia which would require us to use forces in very large numbers. I was slow in joining with those who recommended the introduction of ground forces in South Vietnam. But it became perfectly clear that because of the rate of infiltration from North Vietnam to South Vietnam something had to be done.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, interview, "Top Authority Looks at Vietnam War and Its Future", U.S. News & World Report (February 21, 1966), p. 42.
- The enemy had achieved in South Vietnam neither military nor psychological victory. For the South Vietnamese the Tet offensive served as a unifying catalyst, a Pearl Harbor. Had it been the same for the American people, had President Johnson discerned the same support behind him that Thieu did behind him, and had he acted with forcefulness, the enemy could have been induced to engage in serious and meaningful negotiations. Unfortunately, the enemy scored in the United States the psychological victory that eluded him in Vietnam, so influencing President Johnson and his civilian advisors that they ignored the maxim that when the enemy is hurting, you don't diminish the pressure, you increase it.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 334.
- In the renewed war in South Vietnam beginning in the late 1950s, the considerable success that Giap and the Viet Cong enjoyed was cut short by the introduction of American troops. In the face of American airpower, helicopter mobility, and fire support, there was no way Giap could win on the battlefield. Given the restrictions they had imposed on themselves, neither was there much chance that the Americans and South Vietnamese could win a conventional victory; but so long as American troops were involved, Giap could point to few battlefield successes more spectacular or meaningful than the occasional overrunning of a fire-support base. Yet Giap persisted nevertheless in a big-unit war in which his losses were appalling, as evidenced by his admission to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that he had by early 1969 lost half a million men killed. Ruthless disregard for losses is seldom seen as military genius. A Western commander absorbing losses on the scale of Giap's would have hardly lasted in command more than a few weeks.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 405.
- Forced in January 1973 by American pressure to to accept a cease-fire agreement that left well over 100,000 North Vietnamese troops inside South Vietnam and free access for tens of thousands more, South Vietnamese leaders surely had reason to believe that if their enemy seriously violated the agreement, the United States would interfere. Yet that was not to be. In the face of that grave psychological blow for the South Vietnamese, it required no military genius to assure South Vietnam's eventual military defeat.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 405-406.
- Ironically, the North Vietnamese victory could have come much sooner. In view of the increasing commitment of American troops in the mid- and late 1960s, General Giap would have been well advised to abandon the big-unit war, pull in his horns to take away the visible threat to South Vietnam's survival, and thereby delude the Americans that they had already achieved their goal of making the South Vietnamese self-sufficient. President Johnson had given Giap that chance at the Manila conference of 1966 when he had announced that once "the level of violence subsides," American and other foreign troops would withdraw within six months. That would have been eight years before the eventual South Vietnamese defeat, long before the South Vietnamese armed forces would have had any claim to self-sufficiency. Making that offer at the Manila conference may well have been an effort by President Johnson to rid himself of the albatross of South Vietnam, whatever the long-range consequences. For once the United States had pulled out under those circumstances and Giap had come back, what American President would have dared risk the political pitfalls involved in putting American troops back in?
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 406.
- Dating from the days of the Geneva Accords of 1954, the refugees always flowed south, not north, and even those Americans who long maintained that the refugees were not fleeing the enemy but American shelling and bombing would have to admit that even after American shelling and bombing stopped, the flow was still always southward. So it was until the final deplorable end. How could anyone genuinely believe that the South Vietnamese people had no desire to forestall the march of totalitarianism, to maintain their freedom- however imperfect- when for years upon years they bore incredible hardships and their soldiers fought with courage and determination to do just that? They carried on the fight under a government that many Americans labeled unrepresentative, repressive, and corrupt. No people could have pursued such a grim defensive fight for so long without a deep underlying yearning for freedom.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 409.
Lyndon B. Johnson Telephone Call With Senator Richard Russell (May 27, 1964)
- As quoted in "The Vietnam War Transcript Trump Needs to Read" Politico Magazine, Jeff Green Field, September 27, 2017
- Johnson: What do you think about this Vietnam thing? I’d like to hear you talk a little bit.
- Russell: Well, frankly, Mr. President, it’s the damn worse mess that I ever saw, and I don’t like to brag and I never have been right many times in my life, but I knew that we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don’t see how we’re ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles. I just don’t see it. I just don’t know what to do.
- Johnson: Well, that’s the way I have been feeling for six months.
- Russell: Our position is deteriorating and it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less they are willing to do for themselves. It is a mess and it’s going to get worse, and I don’t know how or what to do. I don’t think the American people are quite ready for us to send our troops in there to do the fighting. If I was going to get out, I’d get the same crowd that got rid of old Diem [the Vietnamese prime minister who was overthrown and assassinated in 1963] to get rid of these people and to get some fellow in there that said we wish to hell we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out.
- Johnson: How important is it to us?
- Russell: It isn’t important a damn bit for all this new missile stuff.
- Johnson: I guess it is important.
- Russell: From a psychological standpoint. Other than the question of our word and saving face, that’s the reason that I said that I don’t think that anybody would expect us to stay in there. It’s going to be a headache to anybody that tries to fool with it. You’ve got all the brains in the country, Mr. President—you better get ahold of them. I don’t know what to do about this. I saw it all coming on, but that don’t do any good now, that’s water over the dam and under the bridge. And we are there.
- Johnson: Well, they’d impeach a president, though, that would run out, wouldn’t they?
- Russell: I don’t think they would. I don’t know how in hell you’re going to get out, unless they [the South Vietnamese government] tell you to get out.
- Johnson: Wouldn’t that pretty well fix us in the eyes of the world and make us look mighty bad?
- Russell: Well, I don’t know, we don’t look too good right now, going in there with all the troops, sending them all in there, I’ll tell you it'll be the most expensive adventure this country ever went into.