Cold War Counties-- Vietnam and Korea bY José Ramos

The Cold War's Effect on Vietnam

From the nineteenth century until World War II, Vietnam had been part of the French colony of Indo-china, along with Laos, and Cambodia. Under the French, a majority of the Vietnamese citizens had been subjugated to unfair treatment by their colonial overseers. Many Vietnamese people did not have ownership over the lands they cultivated from, nor did they have adequate hospitals or schools. When World War II began in Europe, France had been defeated early by the Nazis, Japan marched into French Indo-china and took control of the territory. The region remained under Japanese control until the end of the war. A man by the name of Ho Chi Minh led a socialist revolution against the Japanese, with his army called the Viet Minh. The very same day the Japanese surrendered, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam its own, independent nation where all men are created equal.

A poster of Ho Chi Minh with the Vietnamese flag in the background.

Upon the learning that a portion of their empire had declared its independence, the French were not pleased. To the French, Indo-china had been an important territory due to its massive rubber production. In 1946, the French attacked Vietnam and drove the Viet Minh forces from Saigon, the capital city of Vietnam. In November 1946, the French ships had fired upon Haiphong, killing 6.000 Vietnamese troops and civilians. The United States began to fund the conflict between the French and the Communist Vietnamese. By 1954, the United States was paying eighty percent of the war's total budget. In 1954, the battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of the conflict. The French had sustained so many casualties to the point they could no longer continue their fight. Vietnam had officially won its independence; this victory marked the first time a colonial power would lose a war against a smaller, communist nation.

Viet Minh troops waiving a Vietnamese flag over the battle at Dien Bien Phu.

At the Geneva Accords of 1954, a border between a communist north and a capitalist south was established along the 17th Parallel. In the two Vietnams, there was to be free and fair elections held in 1956 to determine how the two nations would united into a single nation. This solution was merely meant to be a temporary fix to the problem, by no means was it meant to be the solution to the Vietnam crisis. The United States refused to sign the Accords, and began to strengthen the non-communist South. The United States established a new regime in South Vietnam, led by a man named Ngo Dinh Diem. It also established the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), as a military defense organization to counter the communist aggression in the region.

A map of Vietnam after the Geneva Accords of 1954.

Ngo Dinh Diem was solely put into power in South Vietnam by the United States based on the fact that he was a strong anti-communist leader in the nation. In 1955, Diem named himself President of South Vietnam without holding any elections in the nation. As president of South Vietnam, he enacted polices that reclaimed land for the poor, enacted forced conscription mainly targeting young, poor men from the countryside. He also was unafraid to arrest, torture, and murder any political opponents. In 1956, Diem called off the planned elections between the two Vietnams because it was believed that Diem would have lost the election in a landslide; the communists were thought to have polled about eighty percent of the vote. The cancellation of the election of 1956 served only to further the gap between the North and South.

South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Under President Kennedy, the increase of military agents, advisers, and American-made military equipment in Vietnam greatly increased. However, by 1963, the US government had largely come to the conclusion that Diem's leadership of South Vietnam had proved to be ineffective and decided not to intervine in his eventual assassination; just three weeks before President Kennedy was, too, assassinated. The United States enacted a program in South Vietnam called "Strategic Hamlets," in which resettled villages would be encircled by a fence or wall in order to stop the spread of Viet Cong communist ideals. This only proved to strengthen the Viet Cong's support in the South and add to the distrust of the Americans by the Vietnamese people, much of the local population had sympathetic views towards the communist guerrillas. Under Lyndon B. Johnson, he stressed a more direct American involvement in the conflict to stop the spread of communism, also, he did not want to be known as the president to have allowed the loss of another nation to communism.

A photo inside a Strategic Hamlet

On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddix had been attacked by North Vietnamese aircraft of the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Another attack was reported to have happened two days later, but due to conflict reports, the storm that took place that night, and the pilots not having seen any North Vietnamese planes overhead, no one knows for sure if the attack actually took place. These attacks prompted Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 6, giving the president the power to deploy US troops without approval from Congress, or the declaration of war. It is important to mention that war was never legally declared against North Vietnam. The first American troops to be officially deployed to Vietnam arrived on March 8th, 1965. President Johnson significantly increased the number of US troops in Vietnam, in the subsequent years. In 1965, there were 100.000 American troops on the ground in Vietnam. By 1968, the height of the war, there were 520.000 active troops in Vietnam.

An aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, 1964.

During the Tet Holiday of 1968, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had planned a strategic attack on major population centers across South Vietnam. This would come to be known as the Tet Offensive. Though the Tet Offensive was not very successful for the communist forces, it shocked the American public. The Vietnam War was the first conflict that the was widely broadcast on television. Seeing the atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam, this served as fuel for the anti-war movement across the United States, which beginning in, 1967 not only protested the war itself, but also President Johnson. Johnson choose not to run for reelection in the 1968 General Election, due to extreme unpopularity. Richard Nixon won the election after having campaigned on the promise of ending the war in Vietnam. In 1969, Nixon began the process of "Vietnamization" which was removing the dependence the South Vietnamese had on American defense and forcing them to defend themselves.

Richard Nixon at a campaign rally in Philadelphia, 1968

Peace talks between the US, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam took place in Paris from May 13, 1972 to January 1973. At the end of these talks, both sides had agreed to respect each other's borders, and to allow for the US to completely pull out of the conflict by the end of 1973. However, upon the US departure from Vietnam, the North quickly invaded the South. By 1975 the capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon, had fallen to the communist forces. The war in Vietnam was officially over; the communists had won and there would no longer be two Vietnams. As many presidents had feared, the domino effect proved to be true in Southeast Asia because in the years following Vietnam's turn to communism, the neighboring nations of Laos and Cambodia, too, fell to communism.

A North Vietnamese soldier carrying a North Vietnamese flag on the grounds of the US Embassy, April 30, 1975.

Due to the Cold War, the status of Vietnam as two separate nations is no more. All of Vietnam is still ruled under a communist state, where there is little personal freedom. In Vietnam, the Cold War turned hot as there was direct fighting between the Communist North and the Capitalist South and Americans.

The Cold War's Effects on Korea

In 1910, the Korean peninsula was ruled by the Japanese as an overseas colony. Following the Japanese defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to relinquish control over any territories they had gained through warfare-- including the Korean peninsula. The peninsula was split along the 38th parallel, which roughly divided the nation in half. The northern half of the nation was put under the control of the Soviet Union, and the southern half was under the control of the United States. Under the Soviet Union, North Korea would become a deeply communist society; under the United States, South Korea would come to embrace all capitalism had to offer.

Trucks crossing the border between North and South Korea, the 38th Parallel

The peace between the two nations was broken when North Korea sent troops across the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25th, 1950. At the time, the American government had been debating whether or not to increase the military budget; President Truman thought it to be a bad idea because it may undermine the American policy of containing the spread of communism. The United States pushed the United Nations to take action against North Korea, pushing through a resolution that passed unanimously in favor of intervening in the conflict on the side of South Korea. The Soviet Union had not been present to veto the resolution because they were boycotting the UN on account that the US would not allow newly communist People's Republic of China to join, in favor of the nationalist Republic of China, better known as Taiwan.The first batch of UN troops, comprised by mainly US troops and 15 other nations, landed at Inchon on July 1, 1950. This move would make the Korean War turn global because now, nations all over the Earth are involved and fighting against the spread of communism.

South Korean refugees fleeing southward as the North Korean army comes closer and closer, 1950.

The Korean War can be categorized into four distinct phases that took place during the whole conflict. Phase one is the initial invasion of the South by the North, and the South Korean forces being pushed all the way south by the port of Pusan. Stage one is categorized by its rapid and sudden movements along the front lines. Phase two of the Korean war is the UN landing at Inchon, behind the North Koreans front line, in the hopes of splitting the peninsula in half and making the war hard for the North Koreans. The capital of the south, Seoul, was recaptured and the North Koreans were pushed back past the 38th parallel to the Yalu River, on the border with China. Stage three is the counter-attack made by the North Koreans and Chinese. On November 27, 1950, 150.000 North Koreans and 250.000 Chinese troops attacked the UN forces along the Yalu River and eventually pushed the UN forces back to the 38th parallel. By December 1950, the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, was recaptured by the communist forces. Stage four of the Korean War is the stalemate that ensured along the 38th parallel. This final stage would last for most of the war, from December 1950 to the war's end in July 1953.

A map of the Korean peninsula detailing where the major events of the war took place.

From the beginning to the end of the war, there had been no major shifts in the border between North and South Korea; the border between these two nations still was centered just about along the 38th parallel. When peace talks had begun in 1951, it was not anticipated that the talks, or the war, would last much longer. Stalling on the part of the North Koreans caused the peace talks to last until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. in the city of Panmunjom.

The armistice between North and South Korea being signed, July 27, 1953.

Because of the Cold War, the Korean peninsula is divided into North and South. The North is a one party, communist state where the control of the nation passes through a hereditary linage. The South, however, has a booming, capitalist economy and has fully embraced the lifestyle familiar to those in the West. The border between these nations is the most heavily guarded and militarized in the world, being officially called the De-Militarized Zone, or DMZ. The two nations of North and South Korea do not have official relations, nor do they recognize the other's sovereignty. Based on a technicality, the armistice signed by each nation in July 1953, never officially ended the war, only the fighting so it is not technically wrong to say that the Korean War is still going on. The Cold War spread to Asia, and specifically to Korea, on the basis that both the Soviet Union and United States felt the necessity to expand their spheres of influence and spread their ideology around to newly independent nations.

The border between North and South Korea looking into North Korea, called the De-Militarized Zone, also known as the DMZ.


Created with images by manhhai - "Fall of Saigon 1975" • manhhai - "SAIGON 1955 - Proclamation de la République du Sud-Vietnam et installation du président Ngo Dinh Diem dans les fonctions de président de la République" • manhhai - "Ban Me Thuot 1963-1964" • manhhai - "Vietnam War 1964" • manhhai - "Fall of Saigon 1975"

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