King's College London
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From Empire to Nationhood

Indochina and Vietnam

Vietnam WarVietnam War The Vietnam War had its origins in the campaign waged by the French against the communist Viet Minh guerrillas in its colony of Indochina.

The French defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 marked the effective end of France as a colonial power and led to the partition of Vietnam into communist North Vietnam, and South Vietnam backed by the United States.

The departure of France left a power vacuum that was quickly filled by the US. Its support of the capitalist Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) was consistent with the commitment to resist the so-called 'Domino Theory'.

Vietnam baseVietnam basePresident Dwight Eisenhower coined the phrase at a press conference in April 1954 to describe the concern that communist victory in Indochina would result in a succession of states falling to communism.

The perceived threat to American values at this time also provided the context for the infamous anti-communist Senate hearings led by Joseph McCarthy. The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 further heightened fears of communism.

America's eventual defeat in Vietnam in 1973 showed the limits of even a superpower when confronted with determined opposition. The impact of photographs and film of returning US casualties and episodes such as the Mai Lai massacre when US soldiers killed dozens of Vietnamese civilians, turned public opinion against the war.

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