South Vietnam

former government in Southeast Asia

South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam, was a state governing the southern half of Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. It received international recognition in 1949 as the "State of Vietnam" (1949–55), and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" (1955–75). Its capital was Saigon.

Tổ Quốc – Danh Dự – Trách Nhiệm  (motto)
How could anyone genuinely believe that the South Vietnamese people had no desire to forestall the march of totalitarianism, to maintain their freedom- however imperfect- when for years upon years they bore incredible hardships and their soldiers fought with courage and determination to do just that? They carried on the fight under a government that many Americans labeled unrepresentative, repressive, and corrupt. No people could have pursued such a grim defensive fight for so long without a deep underlying yearning for freedom. ~ William Westmoreland
Tổ Quốc – Danh Dự – Trách Nhiệm (Fatherland - Honour - Duty)
RVN-Administrative map produced by the CIA in 1967
Seal of the president of the Republic of Vietnam (1963–1975) (Gold)
Saigon City Hall, 1968


  • During the revolutionary conflict, the antirevolutionary state was always flawed in terms of its legitimacy to govern the Vietnamese people because it was either the creation of some foreign power or dependent on foreign support. From the early 1930s to 1955, the playboy emperor, Bao Dai, occupied the role of puppet for whichever outside power was paying the bills. Diem, dependent on US economic and military aid, which was used to suppress revolutionaries and Buddhist religious leaders alike, also failed to gain the support of most Vietnamese. The succession of generals who followed Diem included General Thieu during 1967–1975; he had previously served in the French colonial army. The coercive capability of the antirevolutionary state fluctuated over time. On paper it was high at the time of the victorious communist offensive in 1975. Saigon had 1 million soldiers and outnumbered its adversaries in the south by about three to one. But South Vietnam’s army was riddled with corruption. After US combat troops departed in 1973, the South Vietnamese economy went into decline, deprived of US service members shopping for goods, bars, drugs, and prostitutes. Urban unemployment rose to 40 percent. Many Saigon officers embezzled army funds and even charged tolls for other military units to cross through areas they controlled. By 1975 the large majority of enlisted soldiers were not earning enough to support their families, and morale was low (Karnow 1983; Kolko 1985; Turley 1986). Deprived of US support, the Saigon government and military could not withstand the onslaught of highly motivated revolutionary forces
    • James DeFronzo, Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements, p. 162
  • There were some in South Vietnam who wished to force Communist rule on their own people. But their progress was slight. Their hope of success was dim. Then, little more than six years ago, North Vietnam decided on conquest. And from that day to this, soldiers and supplies have moved from North to South in a swelling stream that is swallowing the remnants of revolution in aggression. As the assault mounted, our choice gradually became clear. We could leave, abandoning South Vietnam to its attackers and to certain conquest, or we could stay and fight beside the people of South Vietnam.
  • I would like to talk representing all those veterans and say that several months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It's impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit -- the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. But they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in the fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
  • The enemy has advertised an offensive as they have advertised no other offensive in Vietnam. I am sure that you are aware of the many stories that have been written and continue to be written about the possible enemy offensive in South Vietnam. Always at this time of year there is an increase as far as the enemy's activity is concerned, and that has been an historical fact throughout the entire Vietnam military situation. There has been an increase in enemy activity in this particular period. On my return from Vietnam in November, I had the opportunity to brief many of you in this room, and I made the point at that time that the enemy during the dry period would be able to stage what I referred to as two or three spectaculars with the kind of forces which they had in being. But I had confidence, and General Abrams had confidence in the capability of the South Vietnamese military forces to handle their combat and security responsibilities during this period. They have the capability, they have the equipment, they have the training through this Vietnamization program to do this job. There is one thing, of course, that no one can assure as far as any military force, and that is the will and the desire, but I believe that with the training, with the equipment, with this program, that they will be successful in almost every one of these cases. These spectaculars will, of course, receive a lot of attention. I do not guarantee that the South Vietnamese will win every battle, but 75 percent or more of those battles they will win, and I think that is very good for any military force.
    • Melvin Laird, Statement on Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Vietnam, (January 1972), Historic Documents of 1972. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
  • If you went to the C.I.A. and said "How is the situation today in South Vietnam?" I think they would say it's worse. You see it in the desertion rate, you see it in the morale. You see it in the difficulty to recruit people. You see it in the gradual loss of population control. Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they've gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not public, there are facts available that find their way in the press. If we're going to stay in there, if we're going to go up the escalating chain, we're going to have to educate the people, Mr. President. We haven't done so yet. I'm not sure now is exactly the right time.
    • Robert McNamara in conversation taped by President Lyndon B. Johnson, on June 9, 1964, from The Fog of War (2003)
  • I’m sure the ease with which bare-footed Vietcong marched into Saigon in 1975 now strengthens Pyongyang’s conviction that the “Yankee colony” will not last long after the colonisers pull out. In South Korea, meanwhile, conservatives are now loudly invoking the story of South Vietnam’s demise. They say, “There too you had a richer, freer state, and it fell only a few years after US troops pulled out. Let’s not make the same mistake”. They point worriedly to President Moon Jae-in’s own remark that he felt “delight” when predictions of US defeat in Vietnam came true.
  • The South Vietnamese are fighting courageously and well in their self-defense. They are inflicting very heavy casualties on the invading force, which has not gained the easy victory some predicted for it 3 weeks ago. Our air strikes have been essential in protecting our own remaining forces and in assisting the South Vietnamese in their efforts to protect their homes and their country from a Communist takeover. General Abrams predicts in this report that there will be several more weeks of very hard fighting. Some battles will be lost, he says; others will be won by the South Vietnamese. But his conclusion is that if we continue to provide air and sea support, the enemy will fail in its desperate gamble to impose a Communist regime in South Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese will then have demonstrated their ability to defend themselves on the ground against future enemy attacks.
    • Richard Nixon, April 26, 1972, as quoted in Historic Documents of 1972. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
  • Mr. Diem was a devout Catholic. He returned to a shattered country, with little support outside of a political party operated by his own family. He was profoundly suspicious of many elements of the population.
    In this situation, hundreds of thousands of Catholic refugees were a boon to him. He quickly resettled them—one of the foremost achievements of his regime—and he gave them special privileges. This special relationship was to sharpen feelings of religious discontent in the country. Mr. Diem, a Catholic from the central region, distrusted Vietnamese from the southern part of the country and was suspicious of Buddhists.
  • This is a struggle for survival of the South Vietnamese people against the Communists. This is also a struggle for the peace and stability of the whole world, a struggle led by the free world. This is something to which I think we must say yes or no, something toward which we must have a definite attitude. If we are indecisive, then we had better stop making useless sacrifices.
  • Political instability is manifesting itself in Africa as a chronic symptom of the underdevelopment of political life within the imperialist context. Military coups have followed one after the other, usually meaning nothing to the mass of the people, and sometimes representing a reactionary reversal of the efforts at national liberation. This trend was well exemplified in Latin American history, so that its appearance in neo-colonial South Vietnam or in neo-colonial Africa is not at all surprising. If economic power is centered outside national African boundaries, then political and military power in any real sense is also centered outside until, and unless, the masses of peasants and workers are mobilized to offer an alternative to the system of sham political independence.
  • The enemy had achieved in South Vietnam neither military nor psychological victory. For the South Vietnamese the Tet offensive served as a unifying catalyst, a Pearl Harbor. Had it been the same for the American people, had President Johnson discerned the same support behind him that Thieu did behind him, and had he acted with forcefulness, the enemy could have been induced to engage in serious and meaningful negotiations. Unfortunately, the enemy scored in the United States the psychological victory that eluded him in Vietnam, so influencing President Johnson and his civilian advisors that they ignored the maxim that when the enemy is hurting, you don't diminish the pressure, you increase it.
  • As any television viewer or newspaper reader could discern the end in South Vietnam, in April 1975, came with incredible suddenness, amid scenes of unmitigated misery and shame. Utter defeat, panic, and rout have produced similar demoralizing tableaux through the centuries; yet to those of us who had worked so hard and long to try to keep it from ending that way, who had been so markedly conscious of the deaths and wounds of thousands of Americans and the soldiers of other countries, who had so long stood in awe of the stamina of the South Vietnamese soldier and civilian under the mantle of hardship, it was depressingly sad that so much misery should be a part of it. So immense had been the sacrifices made through so many long years that the South Vietnamese deserved an end- if it had to come to that- with more dignity to it.
  • Forced in January 1973 by American pressure to to accept a cease-fire agreement that left well over 100,000 North Vietnamese troops inside South Vietnam and free access for tens of thousands more, South Vietnamese leaders surely had reason to believe that if their enemy seriously violated the agreement, the United States would interfere. Yet that was not to be. In the face of that grave psychological blow for the South Vietnamese, it required no military genius to assure South Vietnam's eventual military defeat.
  • Dating from the days of the Geneva Accords of 1954, the refugees always flowed south, not north, and even those Americans who long maintained that the refugees were not fleeing the enemy but American shelling and bombing would have to admit that even after American shelling and bombing stopped, the flow was still always southward. So it was until the final deplorable end. How could anyone genuinely believe that the South Vietnamese people had no desire to forestall the march of totalitarianism, to maintain their freedom- however imperfect- when for years upon years they bore incredible hardships and their soldiers fought with courage and determination to do just that? They carried on the fight under a government that many Americans labeled unrepresentative, repressive, and corrupt. No people could have pursued such a grim defensive fight for so long without a deep underlying yearning for freedom.