In 1954, North and South Vietnam received their official borders at a conference called the 1954 Geneva Accords. Ngo Dinh Diem pushed international powers to formally recognize the Republic of Vietnam. Like many power brokers before him in the treacherous intrigues that skeined through French Indo China in the aftermath of the defeat of the French at Diem Bien Phu, Diem lost the support of the United States and he and his brother ended up one night at the business end of a knife and a revolver in the back of an armored personnel carrier on November 2nd 1963.
Diem and his cruel sister in law Ngo Dinh Nhu were casting callbacks to the role of hated native aristocrat. Diem became what he decried in many ways. He cruelly repressed Buddhists, Communists and tribes people like the Montagnards. Yet he dressed in Western garb, drove fancy French Citroens and hid money. He was nothing like a Vietnamese who lived in the country and grew rice for a living. Diem had also been cruel to captured Viet Cong. In between 1960 and 1961, almost 18,000 Viet Cong had been executed. Anyone who reads history sees that this only creates more enemies and more motivated enemies. But we had rolled the dice and was our man, even is hated.
In many ways, the power vacuum was inevitable and the instability a given. No one in South Vietnam could really form a cohesive central government while the US occupied the country with over half a million men in virtual control of the country. The North Vietnamese were the first to stabilize he country in April of 1975 after the last vestiges of the US occupation escaped on the skids of helicopters.
So a war that involved Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon now involved Johnson. Three weeks after Diem was assassinated so was Kennedy. By 1964, we had 24,000 men in Vietnam, still coyly calling many of them “advisors”. This was a war that would consume the energy of an entire generation of Americans and kill over two million Vietnamese and wound over three million. The wound in the America was shared by the NATO alliance. It wasn’t just a US operation that had failed. It was a British and an Australian and a South Korean and a New Zealand operation. SEATO was in question. Many nations failed to stop an aggressive and imperialist Communism from overtaking lands in the their own backyards despite the difference in technology and monetary resources. Even though the Vietnam war spawned precision munitions, and advanced missile tracking technology, it also demonstrated the essential impotence a foreign military has against a determined local resistance. It was a win for the Soviet Union and Communist China to help bring down thousands of US aircraft. Russia made itself felt in advances in surface to air missile technology gave the Russians weapons like the SAM 2 and the SAM 6 missiles that took a huge toll on US air inventory. Russia fielded world-class aircraft like the MIG 17, the MIG 19 and the MIG 21. We would return that favor of supplying arms to our enemies during the Afghanistan War where Stinger missiles helped make the Soviet occupation too expensive.
In many ways this was the promise of the arms race for manufacturers. China and the Soviet Union competed to send more arms to the North Vietnamese. In fact when the US had only 60 military men under arms in country, the North Vietnamese sent “advisors” to the Pathel Lao, an indigenous anti- French insurgent front now actively watching the Americans. This set off a tit for tat that for many years manifested itself in subterfuge as the US tried to penetrate Communist intelligence sources and visa versa.