The Vietnam War: An Overview
The Second Indochina War, 1954-1975, grew out of the long conflict between France and Vietnam. In July 1954, after one hundred years of colonial rule, France was forced to leave Vietnam. Communist forces under the direction of General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the allied French troops at Dien Bien Phu, a remote mountain outpost in the northwest corner of Vietnam. This decisive battle convinced the French that they could no longer maintain their Indochinese colonies and Paris quickly sued for peace. As the two sides came together to discuss the terms of the peace in Geneva, Switzerland, international events were already shaping the future of Indochina.
On August 2, 1964, in response to American and South Vietnamese espionage along itscoast, North Vietnam launched a local and controlled attack against an American ship on call in the Gulf of Tonkin. A second attack was supposed to have taken place on August 4, although Vo Nguyen Giap the DRV’s leading military figure at the time and Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara have recently concluded that no second attack ever took place. In any event, the Johnson administration used the August 4 attack to secure a Congressional resolution that gave the president broad war powers. The resolution, now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed both the House and Senate with only two dissenting votes (Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska). The Resolution was followed by limited reprisal air attacks against North Vietnam.