The Vietnam War

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line


1940 Japanese occupy French Indochina (Vietnam)
1941 Ho Chi Minh organizes the Viet Minh

Japan withdraws from Indochina

Viet Minh declare independence

1946 U.S. allies with French against Vietnamese

Viet Minh defeat French at Dien Bien Phu

Geneva Conference on Indochina: Vietnam divided along 17th parallel

1955 Ngo Dinh Diem becomes president of Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
1960 National Liberation Front and Viet Cong begin attacking South Vietnam
1960-1963 American troops go to South Vietnam, fi rst as military advisers, then as combatants

Diem assassinated

Tonkin Gulf Resolution


Military draft in United States

Operation Rolling Thunder

First national antiwar demonstration in Washington, DC

1966 Congressional hearings on Vietnam

Tet Offensive

Robert F. Kennedy assassinated

Richard Nixon elected president


U.S. troop withdrawals begin

United States bombs Cambodia


Kent State massacre

Tonkin Gulf Resolution repealed


Twenty-Sixth Amendment ratified

The New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers

1972 Major North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam Nixon reelected
1973 Cease-fi re agreement between United States and North Vietnam War Powers Act
1975 Saigon evacuated; South Vietnam surrenders to North Vietnam
1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated


The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was unlike any other war in which the United States had participated. It lasted for more than ten years, it was never formally declared by Congress, and it ended in an inglorious retreat.

The United States became involved in Vietnam because American leaders wanted to contain communism in Asia. Rather than supporting the Vietnamese declaration of independence under Ho Chi Minh, the United States helped to broker an international agreement that divided Vietnam into two nations, which were to reunite and hold free elections in 1956. Meanwhile, the United States backed the government of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam and sent troops to help train the South Vietnamese army. Deservedly unpopular, Diem was assassinated in 1963, just three weeks before Kennedy.

Lyndon Johnson stepped up bombing in Vietnam and sent hundreds of thousands more troops. However, the Viet Minh and their southern allies the Viet Cong proved impossible to pin down in conventional battles. They fought the war on their own terms, by jungle ambush. U.S. bombs were destructive, but they were ineffective at accomplishing any strategic objectives.

Richard Nixon became president in 1968 on a promise to end the war, which had stirred up unprecedented public opposition, particularly among young Americans. He lied to Congress, the people, and the military about his intentions and actions, secretly invading and attacking neutral Cambodia. In 1975, the Americans were forced to abandon the fight.

The unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC, in 1982 helped the nation to heal. This memorial publicly honored the Vietnam veterans for the first time.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Vietnam War Practice Test

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