Vietnam War

1959-1975 conflict in Vietnam
The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. ~ Muhammad Ali
Soldiers laying down covering fire with an M60 machine gun - Vietnam 1966
A map of the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The Vietnam War, also known as the American War (by the Vietnamese) or the Second Indochina War, was a Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from approximately 1 November 1955 (accounts differ) to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.

This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam (also known as the North Vietnamese Army) engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 800,000 to 3.1 million. Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict.

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  • Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.


  • We cannot remain silent on Viet Nam. We should remember that whatever victory there may be possible, it will have a racial stigma…. It will always be the case of a predominantly white power killing an Asian nation. We are interested in peace, not just for Christians but for the whole of humanity.
    • Eugene Carson Blake, remarks at a World Council of Churches meeting, Geneva, Switzerland (February 12, 1966); reported in The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C. (February 13, 1966), p. A–5.


  • The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction – all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured. It is not pleasant to say such words, but candor permits no less.
    • Noam Chomsky, in American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Introduction.


  • I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, "What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail".
  • With 450,000 U.S. troops now in Vietnam, it is time that Congress decided whether or not to declare a state of war exists with North Vietnam. Previous congressional resolutions of support provide only limited authority. Although Congress may decide that the previously approved resolution on Vietnam given President Johnson is sufficient, the issue of a declaration of war should at least be put before the Congress for decision.
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarks to Republican congressmen, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 15, 1967), published in a paraphrased form in The Washington Post (July 22, 1967), p. 1.


  • The Communist leaders in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi must fully understand that the United States considers the freedom of South Viet Nam vital to our interests. And they must know that we are not bluffing in our determination to defend those interests.
    • Gerald R. Ford, "U.S. Foreign Policy: New Myths and Old Realities", address to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. (July 21, 1965); in Michael V. Doyle, ed., Gerald R. Ford, Selected Speeches (1973), p. 199.


  • Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.
    • Michael Herr, in Dispatches (1977), "Colleagues", section 3.


  • In Asia we face an ambitious and aggressive China, but we have the will and we have the strength to help our Asian friends resist that ambition. Sometimes our folks get a little impatient. Sometimes they rattle their rockets some, and they bluff about their bombs. But we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
    • Lyndon B. Johnson, remarks at Akron University, Akron, Ohio (October 21, 1964); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, book 2, p. 1390–91.


  • It must be very hard for Americans to fully understand the significance of the Hiroshima bombings to the Japanese. The closest parallel in American history of that lasting fissure in the national psyche resulting from a military defeat would be the Vietnam War. Americans still have not healed those wounds, and perhaps it is presumptuous to expect that the Japanese would be any different.
    • David Kalat (2010), A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, McFarland, p. 214
  • I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Viet-Nam, against the Communists.
    • John F. Kennedy, televised interview with Walter Cronkite (September 2, 1963); in The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 652.
  • The war the soldiers tried to stop.
    • John Kerry, commenting on how Vietnam would be known to future generations, at rally of antiwar demonstrators, west front of the Capitol (April 24, 1971), as reported by The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. (April 26, 1971), p. A–7.
  • As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers [...] I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy" [...] Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.


  • Look at Vietnam, look at Lebanon. Whenever soldiers start coming home in body bags, Americans panic and retreat. Such a country needs only to be confronted with two or three sharp blows, then it will flee in panic, as it always has.
  • In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Donald Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.
  • All we are saying is give peace a chance.
    • John Lennon, song "Give Peace a Chance" (1969); common chant in rallies against the Vietnam War.


  • It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.
    • Attributed to an unnamed United States major, referring to the bombing of Ben Tre, South Vietnam; reported by AP correspondent Peter Arnett, "Major Describes Move", New York Times (February 8, 1968), p. 14.
    • Often misquoted as: In order to save the village, we had to destroy it.
      • John McGuffin, Internment (1973), Anvil Books, page 26 (early misquote); Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006), ISBN 978-0-312-34004-9.


  • But also out here in this dreary, difficult war, I think history will record that this may have been one of America's finest hours, because we took a difficult task and we succeeded.
    • Richard Nixon, remarks to American troops of the First Infantry Division, Di An, Vietnam (July 30, 1969); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, p. 588.
  • Tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.
    • Richard Nixon, Appeal to the nation (3 November 1969) for support in the Vietnam War, as reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 730.


  • I have been among the officers who have said that a large land war in Asia is the last thing we should undertake. Most of us, when we use that term, are thinking about getting into a land war against Red China. That's the only power in Asia which would require us to use forces in very large numbers. I was slow in joining with those who recommended the introduction of ground forces in South Vietnam. But it became perfectly clear that because of the rate of infiltration from North Vietnam to South Vietnam something had to be done.
    • General Maxwell Davenport Taylor, interview, "Top Authority Looks at Vietnam War and Its Future", U.S. News & World Report (February 21, 1966), p. 42.

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