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U.S. Goes to War in Vietnam

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1 U.S. Goes to War in Vietnam

2 Cold War President Johnson believed that Vietnam was a key battle in the Cold War. He would not settle for a communist government in South Vietnam!! Remember that in 1949 China became a communist country and the Soviet Union would gain access to atomic weapons.


4 -Lyndon Johnson President of the United States 1963 - 1968
“I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.” -Lyndon Johnson President of the United States

5 Lyndon Baines Johnson Vice President under Kennedy
Johnson had been a senator. He had limited foreign policy experience. He kept Sec. of State Dean Rusk Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy (All had been appointed by JFK)

6 Sec. of State Dean Rusk

7 Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara

8 National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy

9 Johnson could not intervene in Vietnam without congressional approval.
He would get it in August of 1964.

10 Gulf of Tonkin Incident
U.S destroyers were patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam. Johnson said they were attacked without provoking it.


12 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Allowed Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression.” This was NOT a declaration of war however it did allow Johnson to widen the war.


14 Unprovked? The U.S. destroyer, U.S.S. Maddox, had been helping the South Vietnamese commandoes raid two North Vietnamese islands. They had proved the attack! President Johnson did not give Congress all of the information. He withheld some to get permission to widen the war efforts.

15 February 1965 Vietcong (VC) forces attacked the U.S. military base at Pleiku, South Vietnam. Eight Americans were killed. U.S. reaction was code-named Operation Rolling Thunder The bombing lasted for three years.

16 Barracks at Pleiku in 1965

17 Operation Rolling Thunder

18 Targets Bases Roads Railways
Ho Chi Minh Trail: a network of dirt roads and muddy trails along the Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos borders

19 Ho Chi Minh Trail

20 1967 Nguyen Van Thieu New leader in the South
Did not have support of the population This helped build NLF (National Liberation Front) numbers NLF controlled many rural areas and villages Johnson felt that Saigon, government of South Vietnam would fall without American support


22 March 1965 Marines waded ashore at Da Nang, South Vietnam.



25 General Westmoreland asked LBJ to send troops to help guard the air base at Da Nang.


27 Johnson believed that peace was close.
1965 – 180,000 soldiers 1966 – 360,000 soldiers 1967 – 500,000 soldiers Not so close…..

28 Optimistic First troops in VN were optimistic.
Believed that the VC would be beaten quickly.

29 1967 optimism turns sour Americans and troops become frustrated
Success would be measured through body counts. Number killed v. Number we killed. This would help Americans feel as though the U.S. was winning the war. U.S. underestimated the VC and the NLF.



32 Ho Chi Minh “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.” By the end of 1967, the U.S. claimed to kill 220,000 communists.

33 Uncle Ho

34 Air War Bombing cost fewer American lives than ground combat. U.S. relied more and more on air power. Operation Rolling Thunder 25,000 bombing raids in 1965 108,000 in 1967

35 Targets Initially limited to military targets and supply routes in NVN. Soon it included Roads Railways Factories Homes

36 By 1967 U.S. had dropped more bombs on Vietnam than the Allies dropped during all of WWII. All of the fire power failed to defeat the Vietcong. VC would go underground—tunnels There were over 30,000 miles of tunnels

37 Ground War U.S. ground troops used the “search and destroy” policy for land missions. Finding the enemy was a challenge.

38 Conditions Heat Mosquitoes Ants Razor-sharp jungle grasses
Hungry leeches Heavy packs Muddy trails Flooded rice paddies Booby traps

39 Bouncing Betty

40 War Zone All of South Vietnam U.S. soldiers searched for VC
Peasants—friend or foe?

41 Guerrilla Tactics VC used guerrilla tactics
Small groups of fighters attacked and avoided conventional open warfare Wear down the enemy Ambushes, hit and run raids, sabotage












53 U.S. was losing the war. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose; the conventional army loses if it does not win.”

54 Advantages of Guerrilla Tactics
VC knew the terrain and could move through the mountains and jungles without being seen. Terrorism and the nationalist message would help to convince the peasants. Peasants would provide food and information to the fighters.

55 Pacification Program Uprooting entire villages and forcing the people to move to the cities or refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire (hamlets). The army would then burn the fields and empty villages.


57 Pacification did not work!
This didn’t stop the VC. Pacification created more enemies.

58 Hearts and Minds U.S. sent advisers over to help with medical and farming issues. It didn’t really work. We couldn’t win. We had more power but as one reporter put it, “it was like a sledgehammer on a floating cork….Somehow the cork refused to stay down.”

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