Vietnam and the Vietnam War (1954-1968)

By Dr Aurélie Basha i Novosejt, published 29th June 2023

Division and War

In July 1954, France and the Viet Minh signed the Geneva Peace Accord, which resulted in dividing Vietnam along the 17th parallel into a northern section, under the control of the communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, and a southern section, led by the Catholic anticommunist Ngô Đình Diệm who was backed by the United States. The partition was to be temporary until elections in 1956.

In this podcast Dr Aurélie Basha i Novosejt of the University of Kent discusses how the divided Vietnam developed in the years after the Geneva Peace Accord, how the United States started to get directly involved in the conflict, the controversial Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Operation Rolling Thunder and the consequences both in Vietnam and the United States of this massive military expansion. 

During the podcast Dr Aurélie Basha i Novosejt references some key turning points and has provided some audio links to add to your understanding of this period of Vietnamese and US history: 

1. What was life like in North Vietnam in the mid to late 1950s? What political, economic and social reforms took place? To what extent was a personality cult established around Hồ Chí Minh?
2. How different was Ngô Đình Diệm’s approach in the south?
3. How did Ngô Đình Diệm establish and consolidate his control in South Vietnam? What was life under his leadership like?
4. Why did Eisenhower pursue greater US involvement in Vietnam?
5. What were Kennedy’s policies towards Vietnam?
6. Why was Diệm assassinated and what were the consequences?
7. How was Johnson’s policy towards Vietnam different from previous presidents? What support/opposition did he have within the US?
8. What were the consequences of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution? How controversial was the Gulf of Tonkin incident?
9. What was Operation Rolling Thunder? What was its significance?
10. How have historian’s interpretations of this period of Vietnam and the United States’ history changed over time?
11. What are the consequences for both North and South Vietnam of this expansion of the war by the United States?

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