"'You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,' said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. 'That may be so,' he replied, 'but it is also irrelevant.'"World War I aside, the Indochinesenote Wars of the 20th century were the most controversial and divisive conflicts that the Anglosphere has ever been a part of, and are a close third behind Algeria and World War One in the Francosphere. The first war was fought between the armed forces of the newly-minted Fourth French Republic and the guerrilla forces of several Indochinese nationalist and socialist groups. Post-independence, the second war was fought by the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, several Southeast-Asian countries and the forces of South Vietnam to prop up the latter's dictatorship as a bulwark against communism. Against them were arrayed the Soviet- and somewhat Chinese-backed (with some assistance from Cuba and North Korea it's complicated) forces of the communist dictatorship of North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (better known as the Viet Cong) a communist guerrilla force operating in South Vietnam. The third Indochinese war was a series of conflicts from the late 1970s to the end of the Cold War, including a war between Vietnam and anti-Vietnamese factions in Cambodia, and a short "punitive war" started by China against Vietnam followed by a decade-long border skirmish. But first, some simplified background details.
— Colonel Harry G. Summers Jr. and Colonel Tu, April 1975, described in the book On Strategy.
open/close all folders
Following the Sino-French War of 1884-5, which ended in a decisive French victory, Vietnam was no longer a tributary of the Empire of the Qing, and soon integrated into France's Asian colony of Indochine. The Kingdom of Siam was preserved as a neutral buffer state between Indochine and the British Raj, which had extended into modern-day Burma, though both sides shaved off ever-increasing strips of Siamese territory as desired. Dissatisfaction with French rule was long and hardly unjustified the Third- (later Fourth) Republic and its entrepreneurs proved rather more interested in developing the region's economic potential (mines, rubber and tropical hardwood plantations, and general agricultural products) than educating the locals or providing healthcare and other public works for them. While ostensibly there for the Viet people's benefit and with more than a bit of truth to that given the aforementioned developments and the fact that the French were more pragmatic and dog-petting than the usual occupiers, a lot of people didn't buy it. Chinese occupation and warfare had dominated Vietnam for nearly a millennium on and off and had imprinted on Vietnamese culture, which meant that huge swaths of the Vietnamese population had a tradition of going Occupiers out of Our Country at the slightest opportunity and even more were prepared to support them. All things considered including the half a dozen or so armed rebellions it's probably a slight miracle that total war did not come sooner. That's probably because the French were better at playing both the PR game and the "stomp resistance flat" game than the Chinese had managed. After about a decade or so following the conquest they were even able to maintain some degree of domestic harmony in spite of the obvious tensions and what they did, to the point where a major Vietnamese nationalist made a point of complaining that other Viet nationalists were more focused on triumphs over Cambodia, Siam, and China while being buddy with the French. However, this didn't mean that the Viets had become happy being a non-voting colony of France; it just meant that most were happier to try and fix it peacefully and were leaning towards some sort of negotiated self-rule in Indochina. On top of this, a ton of small revolts still peppered colonial history throughout the "quiet" 1900's; they just didn't go anywhere. However, the tipping point probably came when a romantic and nationalist revival sprung up around the turn of the century, and increasing exposure to Western education and ideals collided and mixed. Suddenly huge swaths of the traditionally independent, traditionally militant Viet society started to imagine what their modern Vietnam would be like, and when France tried to keep things under control according to the same-old-same-old, things started turning into a ticking time bomb. As early as the end of World War I, a formal request was made for self-government by the Indochinese after participating in "The War to End All Wars" for the causes of democracy, liberty, and self-determination (mostly as colonial workers at home and in the Western Front). Ironically, it was during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations that a young Vietnamese waiter approached United States President Woodrow Wilson to ask for help in negotiating with the French on behalf of Vietnam and the rest of French Indochina. Wilson due to a combination of racism and having bigger fish to fry that entailed complex negotiations with the French, not to mention the British and the Japanese refused. The Viet's name was Ho Chi Minh, who went away from the meeting much disillusioned and went to study in Moscow. He ended up spending several years as a lecturer on socialist ideology at Canton's Whampoa Military Academy under Academy Director Chiang what's-his-name. There he helped lead a cadre of Vietnamese expatriates who shared his views on effecting political change in his homeland by means of direct action. When France surrendered to Nazi Germany, Indochina was occupied by the Japanese military as part of their 'blockade' strategy for cutting the Kuomintang off from critically-needed sources of arms and equipment from the outside world. The USA used the occupation of Indochina as a pretext for embargoing Japan in the hope that this would bring Japan to the negotiating table but anyhow, the amazingly successful Japanese offensive into South-East Asia which followed launched to seize strategic resources that the embargo had denied them was a catalyst for nationalism in the region and worldwide, since it conclusively proved that a)The European Colonial Powers could be defeated in decisive battles by non-Europeans, and b)Non-European powers could be bastards too, if not even bigger ones. When the Japanese realized that they were losing the war, they went about fostering nationalism and training militia and guerrilla forces in earnest throughout occupied Asia partly as a final 'screw you' to the Allies, but also because they genuinely believed in pan-Asian anti-European solidarity on some level. This all came to a head when the French puppet regime which had nominally continued to run Indochina up 'til that point were ousted on March 11, 1945. The Việt Minh, a party of Vietnamese Marxist-Nationalists, modelled off and led by people associated with the early Kuomintang of China, had successfully played the French and Japanese off against each other and the various opposition groups against themselves (up to and including selling one of the early leaders of the Anti-French resistance out to the French) before seizing the day and trying to take both major powers out while trying to bring the other resistance groups under its wing. The day the War formally ended September 2, 1945 they declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, an independent and sovereign nation with its capital at Hanoi. Of course, the French were not to be so quickly denied. Sino-Anglo-Indian forces had just months before broken the three-year deadlock in Burma, and were at that time marching into (formerly Japanese-Allied) Siam. When the Japanese surrendered, the Anglo-Indian army pressed on into Indochina and aided French forces in restoring French control by the end of the month. France recognized the prevailing mood could not be denied entirely and created a French-associated government in Saigon the "State of Vietnam" to rival the Việt Minh and their contemporaries. The State of Vietnam was led by former emperor Bảo Đại, who had abdicated his throne August 25, 1945.note For a while, an uneasy peace punctuated by low level fighting endured while talks were conducted between the two sides. However, despite conceding that Vietnam would have autonomy within the Indochinese Union and French Union (a political association akin to The British Commonwealth), the French promptly demonstrated exactly what they really thought of said agreement by declaring the independence of Cochin China (the southern third of Vietnam) and launching an offensive to secure the rest of Indochina. The story of the First Indochina War (December 19, 1946 - August 1, 1954) was one of ever-escalating and intensifying conflict. When the Chinese Communists won their Civil War against the Nationalist Kuomintang on the Chinese mainland in 1950 , they too committed forces (off the books) to supplement the USSR's (covert) aid to the Việt Minh. The Việt Minh were not the only ones stirring up trouble, either; several large left-wing nationalist groups (Pathet Lao, Khmer Issarak, United Issarak Front) entered the fight alongside the Việt Minh, alongside many smaller groups. Initially the French States of Indochina held their own, but increasingly they had to be propped up by direct intervention from France's government and military. The result was a bloody, brutal war that led to an exhausted France faced with an ambivalent NATO and United States whose anti-Communist streaks stopped far short of directly intervening to support the government withdrawing from Indochina after the bloody last stand at Dien Bien Phu.
After the 1954 Geneva Accords, Vietnam was partitioned into two countries: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the State of Vietnam (South Vietnam), which became the Republic of Vietnam after a 1955 referendum that threw Bảo Đại (already back in France) out of power and replaced him with his prime minister Ngô Đình Diệm that referendum was marred by claims of widespread electoral fraud, with the Communists accusing the Saigon government of cooking the books to retain power and partition the country, and the Saigon government justifying partition because of Communist subversion attempts.note As a result, the referendum was eventually scrapped, and open war broke out almost instantly thereafter. The United States replaced the French as political/military backing for the South Vietnamese regime after the French withdrawal (they had bigger problems closer to home), while the North Vietnamese regime was backed by the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and North Korea. However, Chinese support soon dropped off after the Sino-Soviet pact went bad in 1960 and got worse (to the point that a war between the USSR and PRC certainly looked possible if not likely). With North Vietnam choosing the Soviet camp, relations between Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung soured over, among other things, their differing interpretations of Socialist Ideology. Relations in the South were dominated by the South Vietnam President Ngô Đình Diệm's increasingly repressive dictatorship and the rise of the Viet Cong (officially the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, which was largely a Southern auxiliary of the PVA). Which led to which (if either) is the subject of much controversy, but they would both go on to terrorize South Vietnam in the latter half of the Fifties. On November 2, 1963, the corrupt and increasingly unpopular President Ngô was overthrown and assassinated with the approval of the CIA.
The Giants Step In
American involvement was initially in the form of equipment, money and "advisors", but by the 1960s, these "advisors" were many thousands. Foreign countries began actively fighting on both sides of the conflict (most on the side of South Vietnam). American ships were supposedly attacked by North Vietnamese ones in 1964note , and so President Lyndon Johnson ordered a massive military presence in Vietnam to "protect the freedom" of South-East Asia and curtail the advance of Communism. In strictly legal terms, the United States didn't enter a war, as Congress never wrote a declaration of war; the entire conflict was essentially an executive order. If you go into any U.S.-government-funded library, you'll likely have to search under "Vietnam Conflict". The Korean Conflict and the Overseas Contingency Operation are likewise not officially wars (although Korea at least was authorized by the UN). The United States COIN (counter-insurgency) methods left much to be desired initially. Despite drawing heavily on French treatises on Revolutionary Warfare written by Indochina-War veterans and implemented in The North African Crisis of 1954-62, the 'lessons learned' from the French were arguably rather skewed. While they French had effectively destroyed the FLN-insurgency in the period c.1957-61 with their twin strategies of Quadrillage (garrisons) and Destruction ('search & destroy' missions and economic development programs), the brutal methods used in the Destruction missions effectively soured the French Communist Party and most of the French political left on the war. Worse, the Destruction strategy actually had two aspects and this was somewhat Lost in Translation: Destruction (of the insurgency) was the less important part, with Re-Construction doctrine being the part that French commanders lamented as being critically un-funded and thus claimed was the chief cause of the insurgency's continued survival until the peace of 1962. The overwhelming focus of the US military's involvement, chiefly in the 1966-7 period, was thus "search and destroy" missions. This would involve forces entering hostile territory, destroying an enemy force, then leaving. However, these missions usually involved destroying houses and rice paddies (people's only means of avoiding death in a subsistence-agriculture economy), causing a considerable number of civilian deaths that were not balanced out (in the locals' minds) by a proportional campaign of re-construction and economic development. The resulting destruction made the US forces unpopular. Many neutrals and even friendlies switched sides to the NLF. The US forces eventually realized that French unwillingness to properly fund their 'Re-Construction' doctrine had actually allowed the FLN to survive in Algeria, and so promoted their own program of "winning hearts and minds" through crash-development programs but the damage had already been done. It is important to remember that the USA was not just involved in a counter-insurgency operation in Vietnam, but also a conventional war, particularly in the air. The North Vietnamese had access to a number of Soviet-built aircraft, including the Mach 2 capable MiG-21 "Fishbed". While the aircraft were not as capable as the US ones, a number of factors evened things somewhat. Firstly, the US rules of engagement limited them to firing only at targets identified first, removing the long-range advantage of the US aircraft. The -21 was very good in a dogfight and the other North Vietnamese aircraft weren't that bad. Secondly, US air combat training was poor until the creation of Red Flag and TOPGUN, direct results of this war. Pilots had no experience of combat against types different from their own and were making bad mistakes in their early sorties. Red Flag, on discovering that if you got through 10 missions, you'd probably get through the rest alive, aimed to give pilots "the ten" in the form of as-close-to-reality-as-possible training missions. Thirdly, the USA had decided that missiles were the way of the future and decided to remove cannons from their aircraft. They were swiftly put back in, in the form of machine-gun pods until internal machine guns were re-introduced. Fourthly, there was the S-75/SA-2 "Guideline" (see above). This Soviet-built surface-to-air missile led to early missions being aborted by its very presence, tying up aircraft on jamming missions and reducing bomb loads to fit countermeasures. Even still, it claimed a fair number of aircraft, as did conventional AA guns. The US was fighting the air war in order to keep the skies clear for their bombers, which dropped 6 million tons of explosives, more than 5 times the amount used in World War II. Another factor was that the IFF of American airplanes were extremely unreliable, making beyond-visual-range missile launches risky for other American planes. Although the Vietnam War is primarily portrayed as an "American conflict", and occupies a unique place in American culture and national memory, the USA and Vietnamese were not the only participants: South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand also fought in support of Saigon. Notably, and despite enormous pressure from the US, British prime minister Harold Wilson refused to countenance UK involvement for a number of reasons the British had already spent years putting down a similar communist uprising in Malaya, the War was deeply unpopular in the UK, Wilson himself was bitterly opposed, Britain couldn't afford it, and the general (and ultimately accurate) opinion of the UK's Defence Staff was that the war could not be won. For the other side, the Soviet Union provided arms, training, materiel and (allegedly) covert special operations troops. China provided anti-aircraft troops and logistical support, such as engineering battalions. North Korea sent over 200 pilots, two fighter squadrons, and an anti-air battalion to defend Hanoi, and Cuba sent some lovely torture technicians. Amusingly, as Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated, the latter soon stopped sending arms shipments to Vietnam by rail because the Chinese had started pinching it for themselves.
Opposition At Home
Back in the United States, the population was becoming increasingly unhappy with the conduct of the war, and even the war itself. The war was broadcast, uncensored, on US TV every night. It generally looked bad. The military would trumpet the "body count" (the number of insurgents they had killed), but these figures were subject to manipulation by both sides. As the war's popularity declined, the nub of the issue came to be national service, a.k.a. 'The Draft'. Selective Service (to give it its proper title), done on a lottery system, had been around in the past Elvis Presley was famously drafted for two years in the 1950s. The draft became increasingly wide-ranging and undiscriminating note as U.S. involvement in Vietnam deepened; the U.S., after all, not only needed to send forces to Vietnam, but at the same time maintain considerable standing armies worldwide to deter Soviet aggression (for instance, for a good part of the war the bulk of high-quality American draftees weren't sent to Vietnam, but to Germany). The draft, however, had some exemptions. You would not be drafted if you were in college. Since most poor people couldn't afford college,note you can guess how that went over. This was changed toward the end of the war, but not before a number of now-powerful people (Bill Clinton among them) took advantage. Being married meant you were not drafted, although that rule was quickly changed so that you needed to have a child to avoid going. Congress effectively ended conscription in 1972, though men are still required to register for it just in case it's ever reinstated. There were also many who protested the war because they wanted the North Vietnamese to win and were communist sympathizers if not communists themselves this was back when the United States had a Left wing.note This included groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Weathermen Underground, the former also often chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. NLF is gonna win" during their Anti-War protests, which are in reference to the leader of the North Vietnamese (the communists) and the Viet Cong/National Liberation Front, respectively. In any case, this meant that poor Americans were being sent off to South-East Asia for a cause many of them didn't understand. Some within the country thought the US was just as bad as, if not worse than, the Soviet Union. The latter had in living memory helped Communist Hungary to suppress a revolution (in 1956) and invaded Czechoslovakia (in 1968) to topple its socialistically-unorthodox government, doing so in much the same way that the US had been intervening in Latin America as per the Monroe Doctrine for the better part of a century.note A large-scale anti-war movement came to the fore, one that engaged in civil disobedience, sit-ins, and peace rallies. There were also violent demonstrations, such as the activities of The Weather Underground (some of the more radical elements received covert support from the KGB). Many burned their draft cards in public. Many others fled to Canada (Gerald Ford offered conditional amnesty to draft dodgers in 1974. Jimmy Carter would later issue a blanket pardon). One of the most infamous events on the 'home-front' was the Kent State Shootings On May 4th 1970, following a few days of various student demonstrations and civil unrest, the US National Guard (an army reservist citizen-soldier branch) opened fire on a crowd of protesters at Kent State University in Ohio for reasons we're still not sure of. It is known that the Guardsmen had gone without sleep for over 48 hours, and the protesters, while unarmed, were not entirely peaceful. Four people were killed and nine wounded. It is worth noting that two of the four killed were not part of the protest but were merely innocent passersby (in a tragic case of irony, one was also in the Reserve Officer Training Corps trying to avoid being tardy for his next class). Jane Fonda, a major anti-war activist, went to North Vietnam in 1972 and was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun, an act she later apologized for. It forever demolished her pin-up girl image, although according to her: "[T]he truth is that my career, far from being destroyed after the war, flourished with a vigor it had not previously enjoyed." Fonda received two Oscars during the 1970s, along with the undying hatred of millions of Americans. This venom led to a (false) rumour that Jane Fonda also delivered a letter that an American prisoner entrusted to her to give to his American superiors into the waiting hands of the prison camp commander, which inevitably made conditions far worse for the soldier and his fellow prisoners. To this day, at the U.S. Naval Academy, when a plebe shouts out "Goodnight, Jane Fonda!", the entire company will reply "Goodnight, bitch!" The majority of those who were sent to Indochina were volunteers of one shade or another, not draftees, and the war was not entirely responsible for the draft it had actually never been rescinded following World War II and the Pentagon used it as a way to make manpower ends meet when faced with the "long night" of Soviet supremacy following 1954 and especially 1956. Most draftees were sent abroad to places other than Vietnam both because it got to a point that the military viewed them as unreliable liabilities and the fact that the manpower crunch was that severe. However, the draft remained a dark symbol and a rallying cry against the war, partly due to the still-recent memory of World War II and Korea. Thanks to massive advances in technology, live reports were sent home for the first time, giving a more complete view of warfare and horrifying the populace as they became aware of the atrocities and violence necessary in combat. The War Is Glorious mentality, so common in newsreels during the previous two wars, faded from the minds of much of the populace, leading to several iconic photographs [of varying accuracy] of these scenes.
Despite winning a few battles, the US-led coalition never seemed to make much progress in the war. As the war dragged on and graphic new reports appeared on TV, the war grew increasingly unpopular among Americans at home. The last straw for the American populace was also, ironically, a decisive battle that led to American victory the North's Tet Offensive, which, thanks to reporting from Walter Cronkite giving American viewers a look at the guerrilla fighting close-up, allegedly made it seem as though the Americans lost the battle in a bloodbath (in reality it resulted in the Viet Cong being wiped out as an independent force; from that point on, nearly all forces the US faced were North Vietnamese). In later (1990s) US military thought, the Tet Offensive came to be seen as the ultimate proof that the idea that wars were always decided purely on the battlefield was wrong: although the US won every major engagement of the Tet Offensivenote , they lost the war. This is because the US forces were subject to public opinion, and the public opinion was that the Tet Offensive demonstrated the fundamentally unwinnable nature of the war. This was not the North Vietnamese intention with the offensive, but they were pleasantly surprised by the results. As an aside, at this point in the war, massive political changes were happening on both sides Lyndon Johnson was replaced as president by Richard Nixon as the old Democratic Party (which had held effective power almost continuously since 1933) tore itself apart; meanwhile in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh had left his leadership role due to declining health and died in 1969. Seeing the need for a peace treaty but wanting to have the upper-hand during the negotiations, Nixon ordered an intensification of the bombing campaign (the height of which being 1972's Operation Linebacker II against the major cities; he also authorized bombings in Cambodia and Laos both of which were moderate monarchies that would fall to communist revolutions a few years later [see below for details on the former]). However, ultra-modern Soviet anti-air weaponry "somehow" found its way into the hands of North Vietnamese forces, who used it to whittle away at the USA's supposedly-untouchable Air Force. More importantly, however, the bombing had little effect, as the USA had totally misread the effect of strategic bombing from World War II they mistakenly believed that strategic bombing would be a way to reduce enemy morale, when in fact the bombing of Germany and Japan proved that it bolsters enemy morale by increasing civilian/popular hatred for the bombers. What it was good for was destroying the industry and infrastructure of the enemy neither of which were really used by the Vietnamese Communist Party and its forces, as they imported all their weapons from overseas and their guerrillas had no use for a functional railway network. Today the Vietnamese Communist Party calls the failed bombing campaign "Dien Bien Phu in the air", claiming that Vietnam managed to 'crush the opposing army's best and proud war-machine and lead the war to an end with the peace treaty' but in reality, it was simply (like the ground-war) a stalemate as the USA continued trying to use the methods of a regular/conventional/total war to win an unconventional/partisan/guerrilla war. This has been likened to trying to use a sledgehammer to fix a watch. In the end, the US resigned their ambition to achieve anything from the war ("peace in honor") and American forces unconditionally withdrew ("retreating in shame") as the South Vietnamese government would be left alone to bolster its forces. The drawdown of the U.S. military did not immediately lead to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, as the U.S. was committed to continued support of its allies in Saigon. Substantial quantities of military and economic aid still flowed in and the USAF stood ready to provide air support if necessary. The continued weight of the U.S. in Vietnam was demonstrated when the North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive with conventional arms in March 1972, termed the Easter Offensive. While the North Vietnamese were able to capture and retain a substantial chunk of South Vietnamese territory, they suffered very heavy losses, including most of their armor and artillery, under weight of U.S. air attacks and relatively competent defense conducted by ARVN forces. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973, theoretically bringing the conflict to closure, but with no real practical impact. While no major military activities took place for nearly two years afterwards, that was due more to lack of the means to wage them, as PAVN was busy replenishing its lost equipment and the South lacked the will and, after summer of 1973, the resources, to do much. However, continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam remained unpopular among the American public and the June 1973 passage of the Case-Church amendment cut off all funding for U.S. activities in Southeast Asia, including the aid to South Vietnam. This not only precluded U.S. airstrikes against potential North Vietnamese offensives in the future, but rendered much of the US-supplied equipment of the South Vietnamese military inoperable. Small scale conflict continued throughout 1973 and 1974, until the final act of the Vietnamese phase of the war began at the end of 1974. The final North Vietnamese offensive, popularly termed the Ho Chih Minh Offensive, began in December, 1974 after the PAVN replenished its stocks of tanks and artillery. The North Vietnamese leadership had planned only to capture additional territory from which to launch the real final offensive on Saigon in 1976, but the South Vietnamese army collapsed far more rapidly than they had expected, allowing for a march on Saigon itself a full year ahead of schedule. The war ended on April 30, 1975 with the PAVN rolling into Saigon, forming the new South Vietnamese government, which unified with North Vietnam the following year. Who "won" the war and if the USA "lost" it, who is responsible for the loss has been a touchy topic for decades. The blunting of the 1972 Easter Offensive showed that ARVN with effective support from US, could perform fairly adequately and that, if the Case-Church amendment had not deprived them of the support, they could have held on longer. However, even in 1972, despite being far more numerous and much better equipped than their Northern counterparts, not even mentioning massive US air support, South Vietnamese military still wound up losing a substantial chunk of strategic territory. The North Vietnamese general staff planned the Ho Chih Minh offensive with the expectation that U.S. would resume its support of the South Vietnamese and that they would encounter both heavy US air raids and reasonably competent defense by ARVN, and anticipated another round of offensives would be needed to finish off South Vietnam. The absence of both allowed them to win the war a few years earlier than expected, but it is unlikely that continuation of U.S. support would have prevented the fall of South Vietnam much longer. Nevertheless, some people believe that America had effectively won the war by early 1970s, feeling that the bombing raids issued by Nixon had actually sealed the coffin on North Vietnam; many of these people feel that the only reason the South Vietnamese lost and were overwhelmed was because certain members of Congress stabbed the American military in the back deliberately holding back relief aid efforts to the South Vietnamese. No evidence supports these claims of deliberate sabotage, but they remain a politically-powerful myth among certain segments of the population to this day.
Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge overthrew Lon Nol's government in neighboring Cambodia on April 17, 1975. Despite both Vietnam and Cambodianote being communist countries, they soon had a falling-out due to unresolved disputes over maritime borders and refugees fleeing into Vietnam from Pol Pot's genocide. The year 1977 saw some border clashes between the two countries; the Khmer Rouge massacred hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in a cross-border attack on September 24th, and Vietnam responded with an offensive into Cambodia's eastern regions in December. The Third Indochina War began on December 1978 when Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia, which deposed the Khmer Rouge and set up a puppet government called the People's Republic of Kampuchea. The war lasted throughout the 1980s as anti-Vietnamese factions (including the Khmer Rouge) in Cambodia carried on fighting a bitter guerrilla war, with the Vietnamese Army launching large offensives to destroy guerrilla camps in western Cambodia and across the border into Thailand; the latter would bring Vietnamese forces into battle against the Thai Army. The Cold War continued to have a significant influence in the region; Vietnam signed a security treaty with the Soviet Union in 1978 while China secretly supported the Khmer Rouge with military aid. After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, both China and the USA would support Thailand and the anti-Vietnamese Cambodian factions. China would carry out a punitive attack of its own "to teach a lesson to Vietnam" on February 1979, starting the short Sino-Vietnamese War. During the three weeks of intense fighting, China deployed over 250,000 men and managed to occupy three provincial capitals before withdrawing in March. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. In any case, the war was something of a draw - both sides claimed victory, but the Chinese had taken heavy numbers of casualties in the process as the military had been severely weakened due to Mao's Cultural Revolution years earlier. The Sino-Vietnamese War was fought for reasons which are still somewhat unclear - both countries haven't exactly been very forthright about the matter as both countries want to avoid harming current relations. What is known is that China was unhappy with Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. Why the Chinese leadership thought that a limited war wherein they would sustain heavy casualties - in what would only be the first and most difficult phase of a proper war in which they would almost certainly go on to break the back of Vietnamese resistance - is anyone's guess. To most outsiders, it seemed that China had ended up as the worst-off after the war, as they failed to force Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia. More recently, historians pointed out that the purpose of the war was for Deng Xiaoping to demonstrate that the Soviet Union was incapable of militarily supporting Vietnam in case of an attack; to show that China was capable as an ally of the United States; and to use the Sino-Vietnamese War experience as a "lessons learned" platform for the Chinese military leadership to reform the armed forces. In addition, after reunification, many members of the large ethnic Chinese community in Vietnam were subject to harsh treatment and many were effectively expelled (they made up a disproportionate fraction of the "Boat People" leaving communist Vietnam in late 1970s) and the Chinese government may have also been displeased at the treatment of "their" people in addition to the geostrategic reasons above. After the 1979 war a constant conflict occurred along the Sino-Vietnamese border through the 1980s; the biggest clashes since 1979 occurred in 1981 in Lang Son and the Yunnan-Ha Tuyen border; in 1984 at Friendship Pass in Lang Son and at Laoshan/Vi Xuyen; and in 1987 in Laoshan/Vi Xuyen again. The fighting consisted of sporadic artillery duels, squad-level raids, and division-sized assaults to seize hills on both sides of the border; both sides' outposts and trenches were often only a few yards away from each other. In 1988, several islands in the South China Sea were secured for China after a naval battle there. As China and Vietnam began to normalize relations by the end of the 1980s, Chinese forces withdrew from their border positions beginning in 1989 and the last combat troops left the border zone in 1992. The Third Indochina War ended in the late 1980s as the end of the Cold War allowed the belligerents to settle on a peace agreement, which led to the establishment of a United Nations nation-building mission in the early 1990s to found a new Cambodian state.
Note that these are estimates; the civilian death-figures are largely based off of demographic estimates, seeing as nobody at the time bothered with the expense of a population-census. They may well be under-estimates. Vietnamese 'wounded' are only listed when dead; no Vietnamese fighting force had the money for pensions, so when a soldier on either side was too wounded to serve anymore they were simply discharged and left to fend for themselves. Contrast France and the USA, which had (meagre) state pensions for those of their personnel who had been too badly wounded to be useful to them. First Indochinese War Vietmin: c.175-500k dead. France: 75,581 dead, 64,127 wounded. French Indochina: 18,714 dead. Total Viet: c.195-520k dead Second Indochinese War North Vietnam (inc. Viet Cong): c.60k civilian and c.400k-1.1kk military dead & missing. South Vietnam: c.200k-400k civilian and c.171k-220k military dead & missing. Total Viet: c.260k-460k civilian and c.571k-1.32m military dead and missing, for a total of c.831k-1.72m dead and missing. USA: 58,220 dead, 303,644 wounded. South Korea: 5,099 dead, 10,962 wounded, 4 missing. PRC: 1,466 dead, 4200 wounded. Australia: 500 dead, 3,129 wounded. Thailand: 351 dead, 1,358 wounded. New Zealand: 37 dead, 187 wounded. USSR: 16 dead. Third Indochinese/Sino-Vietnamese War PRC: ~26k military deadnote , ~20k military wounded Vietnam: c.10k civilian dead, military dead unknown.
The War in Anglo Culture
It was a very popular area for war films from the late '70s to the early '90s. American films may show the war from an exclusively American perspective (or at least an exclusively Hollywood perspective). Many American films are opposed to the war, with John Wayne's The Green Berets being the only real exception. Expect a bunch of drugged-up draftees (which wasn't actually the case for everyone, since 2/3s of the American soldiers were volunteers, including three future major party US presidential nominees ) who will shoot anyone who looks Southeast Asian, whether they are the enemy, their own side, or civilians. Also expect an emphasis on U.S. dead and wounded, even though a minimum of some 260k-460k civilians were killed versus only 58,000 U.S. soldiers. Expect incompetent officers, stuffed-up academy cadets being "fragged" (killed with grenades) by their own soldiers, various wanton atrocities, and even Catch-22 explanations about "having to destroy the village in order to save it". According to Hollywood, Vietnam Veterans tend to be oldnote , grizzled, and broken from their experience. But in reality, things are more complicated. Many people believed they were doing their patriotic duty to stop the Communist MenaceTM, especially in the early years of the war. It wasn't until 1968 that public opinion, or at least media opinion, started turning against the war in large numbers, although the majority of civilians nonetheless felt that regardless of whether they liked it, they should vote for the war to continue. It is worth noting that Baby Boomers (who were getting drafted) were actually among the groups most likely to support the war, especially if they were White. The least likely American to support the war would have been an old poor Black woman from the inner city. National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam insurgents (known as Vietcong a derogatory term meaning "Vietnamese Communist", VC, Victor Charlie, or just Charlie) and NVA soldiers don't feature very much, except as sources of weapons fire, evil torturers, punji trap layers, or occasionally corpses. But of course, all of these are reversed in their war movies when produced in Vietnam itself, given rather iron-fisted censorship that would not cop well to voicing the complaints the South and other non-Communist Vietnamese had. Expect much use of napalm, because it smells like the victory the Americans allegedly never got. It's worth noting, however, the North Vietnamese forces never won a major battle themselves in the Tet Offensive, a military campaign by the Viet Cong, the VC actually took so many losses they played no further major part in the war. Their secret is in part that no matter what the Americans threw at them, the North Vietnamese took the blows willingly as part of the price to pay for the cause and just kept coming; they wanted to win more than the Americans wanted them to lose. This is the only way insurgencies are ever resolved. This is also the first American war (the French first used them to great effect in Algeria) to feature helicopters as a weapon and primary transport in Korea they were very small, and limited to recon and light medical evacuation. The UH-1 Huey, with both side doors open, flying low over the canopy of a jungle with a grizzled soldier manning the door gun is one of the war's most enduring images.note Someone will use the word "klick" at some point, meaning a kilometer.note Finally, most importantly, and probably most accurately, there is the music. The Hollywood-Approved SoundtrackTM to the Vietnam War (and probably anything relating to the social culture of The '60s) is Creedence Clearwater Revival. "Fortunate Son" from Willy and the Poor Boys is the most popular, but "Who'll Stop the Rain", "Run Through the Jungle", "Have You Ever Seen The Rain", and "Suzie Q" will also show up. One has to wonder what CCR's legacy would be without Vietnam-Era films. The Rolling Stones and The Doors will also occasionally play if a studio can afford it. In terms of other songs, expect Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth"note and Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" from Electric Ladyland to play somewhere. If it's a protest movie, also expect "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash (And Young), Garfunkel, Oates, and Cher. The song is about four students that were killed by the National Guard during an anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus of Kent State in Ohio (mentioned several paragraphs above), and is the go-to song to highlight how divisive the war was back in America. On the other hand, if you see choppers, expect "Ride of the Valkyries", because you're probably watching Apocalypse Now or something making a homage to it. To the popular mind, The '60s or anything about it was the war, the Hippies, the Civil Rights Movement, and The Beatles or protest song-based Psychedelic Rock. Remember that. Because this was both an insurgency and a conventional war, you can also set air combat stories here. Dogfights between the F-4 Phantom II, the MiG-17 and the MiG-21 feature heavily here, along with other planes like the AC-47 Spooky, A-1 Skyraider, F-105 Thunderchief, B-52 Stratofortress, and lots and lots of helicopters, with the war also seeing major use of the S-25/SA-2 "Guideline" SAM (although the bulk of shoot-downs were due to conventional AAA fire). If the work involves secret operations, expect to become familiar with MAC-V SOG (Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, Special Operations Group, later Studies and Observations Group) and Project Phoenix (an assassination campaign aimed at killing civilians that supported the NVA). Both were black ops run by the CIA, and kept very secret since the Phoenix Program was illegal in international law, and the Studies and Observations Group really didn't just study and observe. The Vietnam War has also provided the backstory for a number of other works of fiction, including The A-Team, Airwolf, Magnum, P.I., Rambo, Taxi Driver, The Bourne Series and Jon Sable, Freelance. Leo McGarry in The West Wing was a Vietnam vet. In fact, any grizzled action hero during The '80s has a fair chance of being a Vietnam veteran it became such a common source of angst that some movie reviewers took to abbreviating it to "Vietvet". Also, it should be assumed that when it's mentioned that a character served in the military on active duty between August 2, 1964 (the Gulf of Tonkin incident) and May 15, 1975 (the Mayaguez incident) that he is is a Vietnam vet.Compare Holiday in Cambodia. Important Note: As if you couldn't tell by this article, this war and its outcome is still a very strong point of contention in the USA more than 40 years later, even among people who weren't even alive at the time! Along with The Civil Rights Movement, hippies, the 'Watergate Scandal', and all the lingering cultural debates of The '60s and The '70s, it was/is one of the key controversies in modern American politics. Communists, socialists, anarchists and modern liberals as well as most libertarians, "paleoconservatives", and many moderate right-wingers still consider the war a senseless waste of human life and point to the 'My Lai Massacre', President-for-life Diem's dictatorial rule, and 'Operation Phoenix' as evidence that there wasn't much difference between the "good guys" and the Dirty Communists. By stark contrast, the USA's conservatives, nationalists, and old-style liberals continue to believe that the USA and France before them would have won if not for the (left-wing) public's "betrayal" of the country's military forces, that the Banana Republic of South Vietnam was still A Lighter Shade of Grey than its Communist counterpart, and contend that more people died because the USA left than were killed by the USA's troops or by its enemies during the war note and would have been killed if the war had continued. To cut a long story short, there's not enough evidence to decisively rule whether things would have gotten better if the USA had continued trying to kill all the rebels and suspected-socialists in Indochina for another year, or five years, or decade(s). What is known is that it was fought between a corrupt kleptocratic dictatorship and a brutal Stalinist-Communist dictatorship that cost between 882,000 and 1.8 million people their lives, and left another 2 million maimed or crippled. After all this was, with good reasonsnote , the Anglosphere's most unpopular war. Be on alert, the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement regulations apply in the non-YMMV discussion-sectors. For Vietnam the country, click here.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- The Sankei Newspaper comic strip version of Astro Boy had a Time Travel plot that involved Astro being captured by arms dealers who tried to sell him to one or more of the participants in the war. After he escapes he tries to save a small village from being bombed by the US military. This is probably the darkest storyline in Astro's long career & possibly one of the darkest in Osamu Tezuka's as well. Not only was this one of the few times Astro actually kills humans beings, blowing up several tanks & bombers, but it's all in vain, as more show up the next day & kill everybody anyway, with Astro running out of energy & sinking to the bottom of the Mekong river, where he remains until The '90s.
- Dutch from Black Lagoon is a Vietnam veteran. Also, Yellow Flag, the Bad-Guy Bar the cast go to was built by South Vietnamese refugees.
- Evidence points to Dutch lying about being in Vietnam. He claims to have participated in an operation that his supposed division never saw action in, and he doesn't understand codes and slang that any Vietnam vet would pick up on instantly.
- The Vietnam War features into the backstories of several characters in Blood+. David and Akihiro Okamura both had parents in the jungle, while Saya, Haji and Karl fought one another there.
- The original Blood: The Last Vampire was actually set immediately before the war on an American base in Japan.
- The manga Cat Shit One, a.k.a. Apocalypse Meow; The Vietnam War WITH FUNNY ANIMALS!!
- In the original Cyborg 009 manga, the protagonists attempted to stop their enemy, the evil Black Ghost organization's War for Fun and Profit plans to escalating the war in order to sell advanced weapons & mass-produced Super Soldier versions of the titular character to both sides. In the newer anime, settled several decades later in time, this was changed to the fictional country in Darkest Africa that was the homeland of 008.
- The relatively obscure manga series Dien Bien Phu (named after the decisive battle in the war of independence) is set in the Vietnam War. While focusing on Americans (with the main character being a Japanese-American photographer), it also includes Vietnamese civilians and insurgents, including a mysterious but deadly hot fighter chick.
- In Area 88, Mickey Simon is a US Navy fighter pilot who'd fought in Vietnam and joined up for the Aslan Foreign Legion air force because he couldn't adjust to civilian life. A Vietnamese pilot named Nguyen also appears in the OVA, along with one of Mickey's former comrades.
- Two major characters in Banana Fish are Vietnam veterans, and the post-war chaos figures in the backstory.
- Appropriately for a story about American politics, the war forms an important part of the backstory of Senator Yamaoka and several other characters in Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President.
- The The Punisher MAX miniseries Born shows Frank Castle's decision to become the Punisher during the end of the Vietnam War.
- Captain Atom was the leader of an American special ops unit in the Vietnam War before the experiment that gave him his powers.
- Before joining G.I. Joe, Snake-Eyes, Stalker and Storm Shadow served in the same LRRP during the war. Two other members of their unit were killed and the last one, Wade Collins, was left for dead and taken prisoner by the Vietnamese. After the end of the war, Wade couldn't find any job and eventually joined Cobra as a Crimson Guardsman.
- The war is used as a plot device in one story of Hellblazer called "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".
- Iron Man's original Super Hero Origin story involved Tony Stark being injured and captured in Vietnam, while demonstrating a new weapons system developed for the Americans to use in the war.
- Jon Sable, Freelance: Jon served in Vietnam (as a clerk/typist) before the events that led to him becoming a mercenary. One story arc involved him returning to Vietnam in search of missing POWs.
- In Ms. Tree, Mike Sr., Roger and Dan's brother Victor all served in the same unit in Vietnam. In "To Live and Die and Vietnam", Michael, Roger and Dan travel to Vietnam in search of Victor's remains.
- Marvel had The 'Nam, a series that was originally intended to be a seven year Myth Arc of soldiers trying to do their duty through the major years of the United States' involvement in Vietnam.
- Frank Castle aka The Punisher was a Vietnam veteran with the special forces before he became a vigilante. Mentioned often in the MAX-series, as well as in the above mentioned mini series Born, marking one of the turning points for Castle.
- Flynn "Flyin'" Ryan from Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool was taken prisoner in the Vietnam war. He sports a scarred "R" in his forehead from an act of unified defiance when he and his fellow prisoners were ordered to make an anti-American propaganda video.
- In the background of the Watchmen comic, the Vietnam War ended with a decisive American victory. This was due to the godlike super-being Doctor Manhattan showing up at the request of Richard Nixon and transmuting all the jungles into poison gas, forcing the insurgents to surrender or face complete genocide.
- '68 by Image Comics, about a Zombie Apocalypse during the war.
- The Boys: The Vietnam War plays a minor role in showing just how incompetent Vought American gets. They always had more political clout than actual skill, resulting in American troops being issued a Shur Fine Gun so bad it wasn't expected to see military action. After a US defeat, the soldiers' disembodied heads were all found impaled on the worthless guns.
- Nuke is a minor Marvel Comics villain who was created as a knock-off/successor to Captain America, in hopes that he'd helped win the Vietnam War. He turned out to be a barely controllable, insanely patriotic killing machine. His Evil Counterpart status gets pushed up a notch in Ultimate Marvel, where he's explicitly referred to as "The Captain America of the Vietnam War", in contrast to the original being "Captain America of World War II".
- While the war was going on, Shotgun Harker and Chicken took on Victor Charlie on behalf of Charlton Comics.
- Across the Universe
- Air America
- Apocalypse Now - possibly the Trope Codifier
- The Big Lebowski, although not a war movie and actually set during the first Gulf War, makes the legacy of 'Nam definitely felt throughout the film, mostly by unstable veteran Walter and his frequent, often out-of-place, references.
- Casualties of War
- The Deer Hunter
- Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder
- Flight of the Intruder
- Full Metal Jacket
- Good Morning, Vietnam
- Hamburger Hill
- Hearts and Minds - a scathing documentary look at America's conduct in Vietnam, made shortly before the war ended.
- Operation: Dumbo Drop
- Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy:
- Strike Commando
- We Were Soldiers
- X-Men: Days of Future Past explores an Alternate History involving mutants. The 1973 segment is set during the tail end of the Vietnam War, which includes a scene of American troops withdrawing from Saigon, and the main protagonists attempt to prevent an assassination just before the start of the Paris Peace Accords (which formally ended the USA's involvement in the conflict).
- John Woo's Heroes Shed No Tears and Bullet In The Head
- The Boys in Company C, notable for featuring R. Lee Ermey in an early Drill Sergeant Nasty role.
- The Hanoi Hilton
- A Bright Shining Lie, adapted from Neil Sheehan's nonfiction book
- Who'll Stop the Rain aka Dog Soldiers
- Part of Forrest Gump
- Portions of American Gangster
- The obscure The Walking Dead film, now overshadowed by an unrelated series of the same name, portrays a mostly-black platoon in a search-and-rescue mission gone sour.
- The film-within-a-film Tropic Thunder features a cast of dim-witted actors (including Robert Downey, Jr. as a very dedicated white actor who plays a black character via surgery), which is The Film of the Book. However, the author never went to Vietnam.
- First Blood Part II, which is about John Rambo going back into Vietnam to rescue American POW-MIAs who had been left behind.
- Uncommon Valor and the Chuck Norris film Missing in Action had similar plots to the above.
- The Odd Angry Shot about Australian soldiers in Vietnam.
- The John Wayne movie The Green Berets. Its unabashedly pro-war tone and such technical and narrative goofs as having the sun set in the East in the final scene make this an example of 'Nam Narm for many.
- The film Coming Home deals with an injured Vietnam vet's attempts to re-enter civilian life after the war.
- Big Wednesday involves the attempts of a close-knit group of California surfers to avoid fighting in the war.
- The Killing Fields deals with the Cambodian civil war that erupted in the wake of the Vietnam conflict.
- Originally intended to be mentioned in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Bond was warned that if he was caught scuba-diving in Vietnamese waters, he could provoke another war with Vietnam - 'only this time, we might win.' The US military requested the line be censored from the film.
- Taking Woodstock (referenced many times)
- Referenced in Three Seasons: one of the characters is a former GI who comes back to Vietnam looking for the daughter he had with a local prostitute during his tour of duty.
- The War, starring Kevin Costner.
- At the end of American Graffiti the Where Are They Now stated that Terry became missing in action in Vietnam. In More American Graffiti it is revealed he faked his own death and went AWOL.
- R-Point, a 2004 South Korean horror film, centering on a squad of South Korean troops in the war. Acting on an ominous radio message, they are sent to search for a missing platoon on an abandoned island that turns out to be cursed and haunted by several ghosts. However, the main ghost only really shows up during the ending and for most of the movie, the stress and trauma endured by each soldier drives them mad instead.
- For the Boys (1991) was the saga of a singing-and-dancing comedy team (played by Bette Midler and James Caan) whose partnership originated in USO shows in World War II. During this war, they perform at a base where her son is one of the soldiers. Right after she wins over the jeering, rowdy crowd with "In My Life", the enemy attacks with an airstrike and admist the carnage, her son dies in her arms. Since her partner was partially responsible for inspiring him to join the Army in the first place, she blames him for the tragedy, and the climax (set in what was then the present) hinges on whether or not they can reconcile in time for a televised reunion.
- The Fog of War provides first-person commentary on the Conflict from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who along with Presidents Johnson and Nixon was seen by anti-war protesters as a face of The Establishment. Among other things, he states that the U.S. saw themselves as liberators, saving South Vietnam from Communism. The Vietnamese saw the U.S. as another in a long line of invaders. According to McNamara, it was only years after the war's conclusion that he finally learned from a senior Vietnamese commander just how determined North Vietnam was to win at all costs.
- The Wolf Creek franchise concerns Mick Taylor, a racist, psychopathic Aussie serial killer who hunts the Outback to prey on unsuspecting victims. In the first movie, he proudly states that he learnt the "Head On A Stick" torture method in Vietnam. Two prequel novels were written about his early days; the second of which addresses his time in the conflict in his early 20s. Unlike many portrayals of the war, this depiction differs as sort of a black satire/faux endorsement, as he used his service both as a safe and discrete method to vent his murderous (and rapist) tendencies, and an educational environment in which to "perfect the craft" while learning from a master, his similarly unhinged sergeant. And so we see how he came up with torturing techniques and found a greater understanding of booby traps from the indigenous population.
- The Sapphires follows an Australian Girl Group touring Vietnam and entertaining the troops.
- 84 Charlie MoPic.
- The Iron Triangle, based on the diary of an unknown Viet Cong soldier. It was widely advertised as the very first American-made film told from both sides of the war.
- Universal Soldier starts with Luc and Scott killing each other during the war in 1969 before being turned into UniSols. Likewise, Day of Reckoning featured many Vietnam War weapons and uniforms, being used by the renegade UniSols.
- President James Marshall from Air Force One is a veteran of the war, fighting in it as a helicopter pilot.
- Uwe Boll's Tunnel Rats. Arguably his only good movie, considering his filmography...
- The Siege Of Firebase Gloria, notable for starring R. Lee Ermey in a non-Drill Sergeant Nasty role and for being told from both sides of the war.
- Purple Hearts starring Ken Wahl and Cheryl Ladd as a Navy surgeon and a Navy nurse who become lovers while serving in Vietnam.
- Hearts and Minds, Peter Davis' Oscar-winning 1974 documentary.
- Girl, Interrupted is set during the era, and Jared Leto's character is drafted. He tries to get Susanna to go to Canada with him, but she refuses.
- Go Tell The Spartans, Burt Lancaster's character leads U.S. advisers in attached to an ARVN unit and Popular Force troops in 1964 Vietnam and their mission is to help them create a defensible outpost in Muc Wa.
- Skull Island is set as the war enters its final stages in the 1970s, with many of the soldiers assisting the explorers having PTSD from their time in Vietnam. Interestingly, Skull Island itself resembles Vietnam's jungle and mountain environments in a way.
- Get On Up has a lengthy scene where James Brown flies to Vietnam to entertain troops and almost gets shots down as he heads to his concert venue.
- Five Years To Freedom is an autobiography written by James N. Rowe. He was held as a POW by the Vietcong for half a decade.
- George R.R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag features a main character who was anti-Vietnam, and got married to avoid the draft. One of his friends was less lucky.
- Robert Mason's autobiography Chickenhawk tells of his time as a UH-1 pilot in Vietnam.
- Run Between the Raindrops (aka Citadel) a novel by Vietnam veteran turned Hollywood actor/advisor Dale Dye, and inspired by his own experiences in the Battle for Hue.
- Just about anything written by Tim O'Brien, but most notably The Things They Carried. It's a memoir of his time in the Vietnam War, and discusses the realities and sentiments of his platoon.
- The Executioner. Vigilante Mack Bolan was a Vietnam veteran (the series of action novels was started in 1969) and later Gold Eagle publications had origin stories set during that era.
- In Country, a Bobbie Ann Mason novel later adapted to film.
- Over The Wall, a children's book by John H. Ritter in which overwhelming Vietnam guilt haunts every major character in the book. There's also an incest plot involving the loose cannon main character and his Soapbox Sadie cousin, in case the book might have seemed too juvenile for its audience.
- The Quiet American is about Vietnam before direct American intervention and was published in 1955.
- Interestingly there were two film adaptations. The first was made in 1958 and changed the story significantly to make the titular American a hero. It was considered pro-American propaganda in the prelude to the later war. The 2002 remake is a much more faithful adaptation of the novel.
- In the novel (and film) Firefox, Michael Gant is a Vietnam veteran hired by British intelligence (with US help) to steal a Soviet superfighter. He suffers from flashbacks. At really inconvenient moments.
- The Forever War: Vietnam. In space.
- The author (Joe Haldeman) also wrote a fictionalized version of his time in Vietnam War Year.
- The eponymous story in Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis covered the college protest angle of Vietnam, while "Blind Willie" and "Why We're In Vietnam" covered two soldiers' lives after the war.
- Flight of the Intruder, also adapted as a film, involving A-6 Intruder strike fighters.
- Forgotten Honor, by Eric Poole, is the biography of Sgt. Leslie Sabo, who was killed on Mother's Day 1970 and recommended for the Medal of Honor, after which the Army lost his paperwork for 30 years.
- Several of Tom Clancy's characters in the Jack Ryan series are explicitly stated to have backgrounds involving the war.
- John Clark's background is detailed in Without Remorse. He was a member of 3rd SOG, a SEAL before they were public, and participated in the Phoenix Program. Includes the Clancy staple Strawman Political liberal in the form of an America-hating drug addict who got a government job just to have secrets to sell to the Soviets.
- Roger Durling, the president after Fowler's breakdown at the end of The Sum of All Fears, served in the 101st Airborne Division during the war. When discussing the war with Japan in Debt of Honor, he dryly notes that letting the other side set the rules, when it seemed like Japan's position was unassailable, didn't work out so well in Vietnam.
- We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, the inspiration for the Randall Wallace-Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers, and the follow-on We Are Soldiers Still; both were co-authored by Harold Moore, the most well-known American commander in the battle depicted, and Joe Galloway, a reporter who covered the fighting from the thick of the action.
- Some Kind Of Hero James Kirkwood's tragicomic novel about a Vietnam veteran and his time as a P.O.W. and his adventures after his release. Good book.
- In The Guardians, Jake Hawkins fought in the war and died there, though he was murdered by a nosferatu enjoying the chaos of war.
- The John le Carrι novel "The Honourable Schoolboy" is set in the closing weeks of the war.
- "Devil's Guard," by George Robert Elford, is about a former Waffen SS (he fought guerrillas) and his old Nazi buddies fighting in the French Foreign Legion.
- Ellen Emerson White's The Road Home, while officially classified as a young adult novel, is a darkly compelling fictitious account of a young woman who decides the serve in Vietnam as an Army nurse - and the physical and mental aftermath of coming to terms with her year there.
- Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins is about Suzanne's childhood in the States while her dad was in Vietnam. It's a picture book for four-year-olds.
- The Graham Greene novel (and subsequent films) The Quiet American.
- Nayan Chanda's book Brother Enemy covers realpolitik in Indochina after the fall of Saigon up to 1986.
- Mentioned in The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.
World: You be America, alien invaders, and we'll be Vietnam.Others: Yeah, okay, right.
- Former United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Philip Caputo was deployed in the early years of the war, describing his experiences in vivid, eloquent detail in his non-fictional account A Rumor Of War.
- Michael Connelly's main protagonist, LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, was a tunnel rat in the war and played into the themes of darkness and light that were prevalent for his character. This background also played a significant role in The Black Echo, in which the victim was a fellow tunnel rat who was involved in a plot to tunnel under bank vaults and rip off the safety deposit boxes.
- Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds spends a sizable chunk of the book on General Olds' time as a Wing Commander in the war, in addition to his time spent flying in World War II. For his part, he reflects on the fact that the younger pilots had little to no training or experience in air to air combat before coming to Vietnam, unlike the older pilots who fought in World War II or The Korean War. He also mentions how one of his first actions on arriving in Vietnam was to inadvertently start a Bar Brawl in the Officer's Club. He was that kind of guy.
- The Scream : Jake is a Vietnam vet, and a few flashback scenes are set during his time in the jungle.
Live Action TV
- The A-Team was one of the first shows to use Vietnam as a backstory, and possibly the first one to present it in a positive light.
- In Quantum Leap, Al was a POW in Vietnam. Also, one episode had Sam leap into the body of one of his brother's squadmates and save his life during the war.
- In fact, Sam's actions during this episode led directly to Al's capture (and in turn the formation of much of Al's character when his wife moved on after presuming Al was dead.) The series finale redeems matters when Sam is able to contact Al's wife and inform her that Al was safe and would return home, thus saving their marriage and resulting in a completely different Al—from lecherous old man to devoted father of four daughters.
- MacGyver: the main character Angus MacGyver served in a bomb disposal unit in Vietnam.
- The TV series Call of Duty, China Beach and Tour of Duty. The latter was quite well-liked because of its realistic view of the war (at least at the beginning), and was pretty popular in Europe and Latin America as well.
- In Airwolf, Vietnam vet Stringfellow Hawke refused to return the helicopter to the F.I.R.M. until his MIA brother was found.
- Lexx's characteristically Dadaist take involved unexplained time travel, countless golf puns, a sexy aerobics lesson, and a trip upriver to eat the Pope.
- Detective Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice is a Vietnam vet. It's also hinted that his boss Lt. Castillo served in Cambodia with the DEA. Castillo also served in Vietnam.
- A major element in Magnum, P.I..
- Glenn Corbett played Vietnam vet Linc Case on Route 66 in 1963. He also played a Vietnam vet as guest star on a 1965 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
- "In Praise of Pip," a fifth season episode of the original The Twilight Zone. Notable for possibly being the first television program to mention a Vietnam casuality. Originally it was supposed to be Laos, but the show's fact-checkers pointed out that hostilities in Laos had recently ceased, suggesting South Vietnam instead. Which led to the following speech (from a bookie who has received word his son was severely wounded in action):
"He's dying. Pip is dying. In a place called South Vietnam. There isn't even supposed to be a war there, but he's dying. My boy is dying... It is to laugh. I swear to God it is to laugh."
- "The Road Less Traveled," from the 1980s incarnation of the show, is about a draft-dodger who meets an Alternate History version of himself, who went to Vietnam and lost his legs.
- Blue Heelers used Vietnam as part of the back story for Tom and several episodes revolve around the conflict.
- While the 1999 miniseries "The Sixties" focuses on many events of that decade, a large portion of the plot revolves around Jerry O'Connell's character joining the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam, and coming back a rather Shell-Shocked Veteran.
- Law & Order's Captain Cragen and Lennie Briscoe are both mentioned as veterans of the war.
- In the pilot of Angel, Angel mentions fighting in fourteen wars but not Vietnam as "They never declared it".
- Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue fought in the war, as did his actor Dennis Franz. He didn't speak of it often but did become enraged at a fellow officer who lied about serving.
- Stu Gharty in Homicide: Life on the Street fought in Vietnam and was somewhat traumatized by it. One episode had detectives investigating a case, based on a true story, of two men killing each other in an argument over which was more important, the Air Force or the Marine Corps. It is later revealed that both were too young to have served.
- John Winchester of Supernatural dropped out of high school and joined the Marines, fighting in Vietnam.
- Lieutenant John Stillman on Cold Case dropped out of high school to join the Navy and served in Vietnam as a river rat.
- Mad Men takes place during the Sixties. Joan Holloway Harris's husband, a doctor, joins the Army Medical Corps and is sent to Vietnam at the end of the fourth season(set in 1965). In the sixth season premiere while vacationing with Megan in Hawaii, Don meets a soldier on leave who asks him to give away his bride at a small wedding ceremony on the beach. Don accidentally switches lighters with him.
- Stan Rizzo's cousin is in the navy and is killed over in Vietnam.
- Glen Bishop, who was 9 when the series started and was set in 1960, in the final season set in 1970 is 18, enlists and is to going to Vietnam.
- Stan Rizzo's cousin is in the navy and is killed over in Vietnam.
- The patriarchs of Modern Family, Parenthood, and Blue Bloods are all Vietnam veterans.
- On Stargate SG-1, Colonel O'Neill, General Hammond, and General Landry are all Vietnam veterans.
- The Wonder Years takes place in the late Sixties and features in many episodes. Waynes friend Wart, joins the Army and is sent out. Returning a Shell-Shocked Veteran.
- And, of course, during the Pilot, Winnie's brother is killed.
- JAG: Harmon Rabb's dad was a Naval aviator who was shot down and went MIA during the war. Harm's quest to find out his father's final fate makes up an important part of his character arc for the first part of the show. In addition, a number of older characters including Captain "CAG" Boone and Rear Admiral Chegwidden served in Vietnam (the former as an aviator alongside Harm's dad, and the latter as a Navy SEAL.)
- Officer John Baker on CHiPs is a Vietnam veteran, as his actor Larry Wilcox.
- Court clerk Mac Robinson on Night Court served in Vietnam.
- Luke Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard, fought in Vietnam as a Force Recon Marine.
- Gerald McRaney played Vietnam vet Rick Simon on Simon & Simon. His character Major McGillis on Major Dad also fought in Vietnam. Earlier, McRaney played a heroin addicted Vietnam vet in an episode of the original Hawaii Five-O.
- Barney Miller: In the episode titled "Agent Orange", it's revealed that Detective Wojciehowicz fought in the war when he books a fellow vet for a liquor store robbery and learns about suspect's illnesses as a result of being exposed to the chemicals while he was over there.
- On Chico And The Man, Chico is a veteran of the war.
- On an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, we learn disc jockey Venus Flytrap served in Vietnam and deserted after a fellow soldier committed suicide. Since he had only three weeks left on his tour of duty, all of them stateside, when he turned himself in, he was given a general discharge and served out his remaining month peeling potatoes.
- Tony Banta (Tony Danza) on Taxi is a Vietnam vet.
- Sons of Anarchy, the titular motorcycle club was founded in 1967 by two former US paratroopers who returned home from Vietnam.
- On the second season of Fargo set in 1979 several characters either served in or were affected by the Vietnam War. Minnesota state trooper Lou Solverson was a Navy officer and served on a river patrol boat and was at the fall of Saigon in 1975. Hanzee Dent, the Native American enforcer for the Gerhardt crime family served three tours of duty as a "tunnel rat" and received a bronze star and a purple heart. Peggy Blumquist's high school sweetheart was killed in Vietnam and she married his friend Ed.
- Mitch Buchannon on Baywatch fought in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL.
- Both Fireman Roy DeSoto and Fireman Chet Kelly on Emergency! are Vietnam vets.
- Ranger Cordell Walker on Walker, Texas Ranger fought in Vietnam.
- Dr. Gonzo Gates on Trapper John M.D. served as a doctor at a field hospital in Vietnam.
- Gabe Kotter on Welcome Back, Kotter served in Vietnam.
- Officer Parker Williams on In the Heat of the Night is a Vietnam vet.
- A major debate between Wick and Finn on Good Girls Revolt is whether, or how much (and from what angle), to cover the war in News of the Week. It also greatly influences several characters lives, including Naomis, Marybeths, and Noahs.
- The sheer wealth of Vietnam War protest songs should have its own page. In fact, many entire genres were borne from the musical protest climate of the late '60s, the most evident being the revival of folk music and the creation Heavy Metal and, later and indirectly, punk.
And it's one, two, three, what are we fightin' for?Don't ask me, I don't give a damnNext stop is Vietnam
- Of those, though, the "Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish deserves special mention for its Lyrical Dissonance and for being one of the iconic songs of Woodstock (though not quite as much so as Hendrix's rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner mentioned below).
- Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon".
- The song and video of Alice in Chains' "Rooster", inspired by Jerry Cantrell's father having served in Vietnam.
- German Thrash Metal act Sodom derived lots of inspiration from its mainman's Tom Angelripper's fascination with the Vietnam conflict. As a German teenager in the 70s Tom was quite used to the sight of US military personnel (stationed in German NATO bases), in the songs and albums devoted to the topic the band manages to denounce the many horrors of the conflict while also expressing understanding and a kind of human piety for the soldiers having to navigate that hell. The album Agent Orange is the best-selling German thrash metal platter ever.
- Their 2001 album M-16 is another take on the subject.
- "Big Time in the Jungle" by Old Crow Medicine Show is the story of a young man from Eutaw, Alabama who gets duped into volunteering to serve in Vietnam. He dies, apparently from friendly fire.
- Sabaton Sabatons songs "Purple Heart" and "Into the fire" are about the horrors of the Vietnam war.
- Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, which despite some Misaimed Fandom is quite ironic with the whole "born in the USA" thing.
- Jimi Hendrix's song "Machine Gun" is about the war, although it's more about the horrific nature of war in general.
- His iconic cover of "The Star Spangled Banner" is also recognized as an anti Vietnam message as well, since the song features heavily manipulated feedback and guitar noise that horrifically evokes the sounds of an air raid.
- Although it's originally a Bob Dylan song, Hendrix's cover of "All Along The Watchtower" is pretty ubiquitously known as the theme song to Vietnam.
- Orange Crush by R.E.M. Probably.
- Australian rock group Cold Chisel's "Khe Sanh", which is about a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD.
- "Wild Irish Rose" by George Jones is a about a homeless, alcoholic Vietnam vet.
- Also by The Possum: "50,000 Names" is about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
- "More Than A Name On The Wall" by The Statler Brothers.
- "Still in Saigon", by the Charlie Daniels Band, is about a Vietnam veteran finding he can't truly go back home.
- "19," Paul Hardcastle's lone hit single from 1985, was a remix of narration and interviews from a documentary about Vietnam. The title comes from one sample stating that the average age of a soldier was 19, compared to 26 in WW2. This is slightly inaccurate, as the average age in the Vietnam War was closer to 22, but this is still very youngnote .
- "Sam Stone (The Great Society Conflict Veteran's Blues)" by John Prine.
- The Elton John song, "Daniel" is about an shellshocked American Vietnam War soldier who returns home, is hailed as a hero, but who really wants to be left alone. The final verse, which explained the situation more clearly, was left off by Elton during the song's recording as he felt it made the song too long, leaving the context of the song very vague. It was lyricist Bernie Taupin's only statement about the war.
- Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story (no relation to the film), by Jedi Mind Tricks and R.A. The Rugged Man.
- Alice's Restaurant ends its long, rambling anecdotal story with a message about the absurdity of the draft and how a young Arlo Guthrie was able to avoid it.
- Kenny Rogers' Ruby, about a seriously disabled vet whose reward for his "patriotic chore" in "that crazy Asian war" is to come home, paraplegic and utterly dependent, to a wife who cannot cope, who drugs hi up in the evening to go out and pretend she's single; the undertone is that he knows she'll help his end along to be rid of her burden. A startlingly bitter song in the politically conservative Country and Western genre.
- Even The Monkees got into the act, though quite subtly: "Last Train to Clarksville" is a sly reference to Clarksdale, Tennessee, which happens to be one of the towns nearest to an Army basic training camp, and was a frequent meeting place for soldiers and their girlfriends just before they shipped out.
- Ghost from True Capitalist Radio is a Vietnam veteran. He is by all indications is a Shell-Shocked Veteran and absolutely refuses to talk about his experiences there. After Ghost ranted about Obama lifting the arms embargo on the country, trolls started to use Vietnam War as a trolling tactic against Ghost. Trolls would make fun of Vietnam veterans, splice Ghost's voice so that he would sound like a Sociopathic Soldier and claim that Ghost lost his legs during the war. Vietnam soon proved to be an extremely rage inducing subject to Ghost, sometimes even driving him into genuine sounding PTSD attacks during the show and causing him to Rage Quit serval times.
- The ridiculously lethal RPG Recon is set in the Vietnam War, and is a great way for a group to play a really, really short game, because nobody will be left alive by the third encounter.
- The Catachan Jungle Fighters of Warhammer 40,000 are equal parts Rambo, Predator and Crazy Survivalist. Their homeworld is basically how the jungles of Vietnam would have seemed to newcomers and then turned Up to Eleven (Vietnam presumably doesn't have man-eating plants or thirty meter-long scorpion-centipedes).
- As if the real war weren't horrific enough, the Call Of Cthulu supplement Delta Green adds Eldritch Abominations to the mix.
- Generally, the video game industry has largely ignored Vietnam as a source of setting for its games, instead opting for either World War II or the modern/post-modern era. This is perhaps largely due to the fact that with World War II, so many fronts and so many militaries were involved, and it's generally seen as a noble war; in modern settings, there is more creative leeway and an enemy most gamers can recognize - terrorists or rogue nations. With Vietnam, the common theme is that there was no clear victor, no front, and the war was filled with too much Nightmare Fuel for any practical shooter.
- Battlefield Vietnam is a team-based First-Person Shooter set in Vietnam. It brought some important things to the combat model established in the WWII-set Battlefield 1942, notably the rise of the helicopter, boat combat on inland waterways, jet aircraft, and jungle fighting. Competitive Balance concerns kept it from accurately simulating asymmetric warfare. Despite not having very high sales numbers, the industry smelled a trend, and a wave of Follow the Leader games set in 'Nam arrived, most of them shovelware; but, unlike the endless parade of WWII shooters, this trend fizzled rather shortly afterwards when everyone remembered that almost no one actually liked this war. It is fondly remembered for the ability to blast period appropriate music whenever you were in a vehicle. If you hopped into a helicopter, you could start playing "Ride of the Valkyries" and other players could hear you coming.
- The Vietcong series of First Person Shooters, quite notorious for its high difficulty, managed to capture the atmosphere of Vietnam War. The games are notable for quite realistic portrayal of hardened soldiers and their environment as well as for including less popular themes, such as supporting the Montagnard tribes and urban combat during the Tet Offensive. With helicopters, plethora of military tropes and music from the '60s added for good measure.
- Shellshock: 'Nam 67 portrayed several elements of the war, from torture and butchery to going into towns and visiting hookers.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops is set during the '60s, with the Vietnam war being a major part of the story and has missions that take place during the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive, as well as a Death from Above segment over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Being Call of Duty, it manages to capture a good bit of the feel of the panic of Vietnam, but the chapter is quickly finished.
- The first expansion for Magicka is Magicka: Vietnam. Since Magicka is a humorous send-up of the high-fantasy genre, the expansion's tagline of "You didn't see this coming, did you?" is pretty accurate.
- Red Alert 3: Paradox, being the deconstructive Game Mod that it is, has the Vietnam War in its Cold War setting.
- Despite his various back stories being retconned (just trust us, too long to list here), one constant fact that stays true throughout the Metal Gear series is that Big Boss served in the Vietnam War, for three different parts of the US Army, no less. Big Boss's involvement in Vietnam started first as part of a top secret mission in the early 1960s which isn't given much detail on what it was about, then as a Military Adviser assessing the progress of the war in its early days, and then as an actual commander in the field. In addition, during the Big Boss section of the Metal Gear Solid saga (ie, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker), there were references to Vietnam throughout the story, namely in regards to weapons of the era and the war's relationship to the Quagmire of the Cold War as a whole. Peace Walker also implies that several of the soldiers within the Peace Sentinels had just gotten out of Vietnam, and some of their statements (when recruited into the Militaires Sans Frontieres) imply that they only served the Peace Sentinels/the MSF because they had nowhere else to go thanks in part to their being told down by the people.
- Several minor characters have their backstories involving the war as well: Gray Fox (although his story has been retconned), Night Fright and Predator.
- NAM-1975, Neo-Geo's launch title. The players must rescue Dr. R. Muckly from Vietcong troops (armed with super tanks, laser weaponry, and giant mechas), only to learn that he's a Mad Scientist trying to Take Over the World and ultimately fight him as the final boss.
- Kuma\War: WWII/Vietnam: Takes place in both, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Like the '68 and Shellshock 2 examples above, the Half-Life mod Heart of Evil is Apocalypse Now with zombies.
- Operation Vietnam for the Nintendo DS. Like NAM-1975 above, this game has a healthy dose of Rule of Cool and Soviet Superscience, with the bosses being hi-tech, anachronistic NVA vehicles.
- Lost Patrol, an Action RPG which is probably the closest we can get to a Vietnam War movie simulator.
- The Rush'n Attack sequel MIA: Missing in Action takes place during the war.
- Men Of Valor, from the same company who made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
- The Steel Panthers series covers the conflicts fairly extensively, with the additional distinction that Steel Panthers: World At War focuses on the little-covered First war.
- The computer based board game NAM 1965-75, released in 1991, lets the player control US forces and their allies on a strategic level.
- Conflict: Vietnam, a squad-based tactical shooter from the Conflict series featuring a 4-men squad of GIs, like Vietcong it features the Tet Offensive & interaction with the Montagnards, as well as period-appropriate music & M50 Ontos, a rarely-touched-upon light tank destroyer with six 106mm recoilless rifles.
- Men of War: Vietnam, a real-time tactics which in a rare move, has a Viet Cong campaign & plays on speculations of Soviet covert operations by featuring two Soviet special forces operators in it.
- The Vietnam War is actually presented as an example of the Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things: Commander Badass went back in time to that time period twice: Once to win the war for America, and again to prevent himself from doing that because winning the war caused the Rambo movies to not exist... and that's just too bizarre a world to contemplate.
- In The Simpsons, Principal Skinner is a Vietnam veteran.
- In South Park, Stan's uncle Jimbo Kearns and his friend Ned are Vietnam veterans. Although, the story they tell the boys involves there being waterslides and rollercoasters at their base camp and the two of them wiping out the entire Viet Cong army.
- In the American Dad! episode "In Country...Club", Stan has his son Steve join him in participating in a Vietnam War reenactment at the local golf club. Steve then gets post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards. Roger also mentioned the war with Stan saying, paraphrased, "I was in the Viet Cong, did I ever tell you about that? We won."
- Hey Arnold!:
- In the Christmas Episode, Arnold notes that his neighbor Mr. Hyunh seems kind of sad, and asks him about it. Mr. Hyunh tells Arnold about how his village was attacked, and soldiers were airlifting civilians to safety, but they could only take one villager with them. He gave up his then two-year-old daughter Mai. Arnold then sets out to find Mai and reunite her with her father as his Christmas present to Mr. Hyunh.
- In the episode, "Veteran's Day", Gerald's dad, Martin, served the Vietnam War as a clerk and never experienced actual combat. However, he did save the life of a private who was injured in combat. Twenty years later, the private thanked Martin for his heroic deeds.
- The Happy Tree Friends character Flippy is a Shell-Shocked Veteran who fought in this war, flipping out (hence his name) and killing others around him whenever he recalls flashbacks of his war days.
- It's hinted that Glenn Quagmire on Family Guy served in Vietnam as a Navy pilot during the waning days of the war.
- General Gum on King of the Hill served as a Royal Lao Army general during the secret war in Laos.