Vietnam gained full independence from France
in 1954 while dividing it into a western-supported state
in the south and a communist state in the north. During
the 1960s, the fighting intensified and the United
States became increasingly involved. When the war ended
in 1975, the Communist guerrilla and Hanoi were
victorious and all of Vietnam became a Communist state.
Several millions of people had been killed and the
destruction was great. In the 1980s, reforms were
launched that opened up the economy and contributed to
rapid growth and reduced poverty.
After World War II, the victorious forces agreed that
the area north of the 17th latitude (cutting through the
country just north of the city of Hué) in Vietnam would
continue to be occupied by nationalist Chinese troops,
who had been allies of the Western powers, while the
British would occupy the area south of it. With British
help, France regained its foothold in southern Vietnam.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Vietnam. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
For historical reasons, a Chinese occupation was
unthinkable for the Vietnamese. To get rid of the
Chinese, Communist leader Ho Chi Minh (see Older
history) agreed that the French were allowed to
return to the northern part of the country for five
years, against which Vietnam in return was recognized as
an independent state in the French Empire.
After general elections in January 1946, the
communist Viet Minh government was formed. Relations
with the French were tense and war broke out in
November. The conflict became one of the first
expressions of the Cold War, which set the Western
powers against the Soviet Union and its allies. The
Chinese Communists joined forces behind Viet Minh and
the United States supported the French.
The French empire is falling
Viet Minh had taken control of most of northern
Vietnam in 1953. Through the victory at the Dien Bien
Phu base in May 1954, Viet Minh ended the French Empire.
The so-called Indochina War had claimed around half a
million people's lives.
The day after the French capitulation, an
international conference on the future of Vietnam was
launched in Geneva. It was now decided that Vietnam
would be provisionally divided along the 17th latitude.
The Communists would rule in the north and a French
government in the south. General elections aimed at
reunification would be held in July 1956. For 300 days,
people would be allowed to move freely across the
border. Over 100,000 people moved north and upwards of a
million - most Catholics - to the south.
In the south, US-backed Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem took
power in October 1955, after which armed resistance
broke out. His regime developed into a dictatorship and
the promised election in 1956 was never carried out.
Resistance to the regime grew strongly among Buddhists,
while communists increased military pressure against
Diem. At the initiative of North Vietnam, the 1960
National Liberation Front (FNL) was formed in southern
Following the division of the country, two systems
emerged: in the south a private capitalist war economy,
backed by US dollars, in the north a socialist centrally
controlled planning economy based on heavy industry and
low-productivity collective agriculture.
Increased US presence
Under considerable resistance, the communists in the
north began to implement land reform and try to
eradicate the old landowner class. From 1960, the
emphasis was on gradually forming cooperatives in
agriculture. The small industry that existed had the
French destroyed at the 1954 retreat and a slow
reconstruction began with the help of the Soviet Union
The first US military had come to Vietnam in 1950 as
an adviser to the French. Faced with the threat of a
communist takeover of power in the South, US President
John Kennedy from 1961 increased the US presence. The
Diem regime began in 1962 to rally the rural population
in enclosed and guarded "strategic villages" to isolate
guerrillas, which quickly increased resistance. Through
his ruthless policies, Diem became uncomfortable even
for the United States and in 1963 he was assassinated in
a US-backed coup. After a few more military coups,
General Nguyen Van Thieu became president in 1965.
The war went bad for the South Vietnamese army and US
new president Lyndon Johnson wanted to send combat
allies in support, but Congress had opposed it. However,
after a North Vietnamese attack on two US warships in
the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, Congress gave Johnson
free hands. It was later revealed that the vessels were
located on North Vietnamese waters on espionage missions
and that the congressional resolution had been completed
for several months, pending submission at the
appropriate time. The events of 1964 are usually called
the Tonkin intermezzot.
The Têt offensive is fought back
The American force increased rapidly, and in March
1968 amounted to over half a million men. The war
hardened and North Vietnamese strengthened the FNL,
while Soviet and Chinese support for the guerrillas
increased. To isolate the FNL, the US began bombing
North Vietnam in 1965, which seriously brought Hanoi
into the war.
In South Vietnam, the United States tried to crush
the FNL by destroying guerrilla-controlled areas,
including through chemical warfare. Nevertheless, in
early 1968, FNL and North Vietnamese troops were able to
conquer a large number of cities across South Vietnam
during the têt offensive (so-called because it coincided
with the Vietnamese New Year, têt). The offensive was
fought back with huge losses for the FNL and the North
Vietnamese, who had misjudged the possibilities of a
popular rise in the cities.
But for the United States it was still clear that the
war would be difficult to win. The costs had become
unreasonable and the number of people falling was
greater than the home opinion could tolerate. Criticism
against US warfare had also increased both within and
outside the United States. Peace talks with North
Vietnam began in Paris and bombings in the north were
interrupted. In the south, the war continued as before,
protests in the United States increased and Johnson
chose not to stand for re-election in 1968.
During the next US president Richard Nixon, the
number of US soldiers was reduced; the war was
"Vietnamized". The peace talks in Paris were extended to
a conference with participation also by South Vietnam
and the FNL. But at the same time, the war spread to
Cambodia and Laos, when the United States made
unsuccessful attempts to bomb the North Vietnamese
supply lines to the south along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail"
through mountains and jungle.
North Vietnam wins the war
North Vietnam began a new offensive in the spring of
1972. The United States responded by re-launching
bombings in the north and mining North Vietnamese ports.
The bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong Christmas 1972 shook
world opinion, but for the United States they had the
intended effect: North Vietnam was forced into a peace
treaty signed in Paris in January 1973.
The US Army left Vietnam - after losing 58,000 men -
but the war continued on a smaller scale until North
Vietnam went on the offensive in January 1975. With the
US out of the picture, South Vietnam lay wide open and
the Saigon army fled in panic. Province after province
was conquered, often without battle. President Thieu
fled the country on April 21 and just over a week later
Saigon was taken. The city was later renamed Ho Chi Minh
Data on the number of Vietnamese who died in the
Vietnam War, from the mid-1950s to 1975, fall apart, but
estimates are between 2.5 million and 5 million.
After the Communist takeover, soldiers and civil
servants from the old regime were sent to "retraining
camps", in many cases too long.
Elections to an all-Vietnamese parliament were held
in April 1976, and on July 2 of that year, the country
was reunited when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was
Hundreds of thousands of boat refugees
Following the reunification, northern Vietnam was
given responsibility for the heavy industry, while the
south would mainly take care of the food supply and
light industry. The industries that existed in the south
were largely nationalized and agriculture was
collectivized from 1977 to 1978.
In the north, distrust was great against the
population in the south. Thousands of party activists
were sent south to lead the transition to socialism.
Relatives of the former regime officials got rid of
their homes, and lost the right to work and education.
Even today, former officials of the Saigon government
are forced to rely on trampling cyclo (a form of bicycle
taxi) or selling tickets.
The nationalization of the economy continued and in
the spring of 1978 private trade in the south was
banned. It mainly affected the Chinese in the big
cities, which until then had dominated the business
world. At least 400,000 Vietnamese, most of Chinese
origin, fled the country, often in overloaded boats.
Later, the UN succeeded in persuading the new regime to
allow a further at least 350,000 people to leave the
country more safely.
After the war, Vietnam had brought the hostile Red
Khmer regime to a neighbor in Cambodia. After more than
a year of screenings at the border, Vietnamese forces
invaded Cambodia (then called Kampuchea) and installed a
The Red Khmer had China's most important ally. The
Vietnamese invasion, the persecution of Chinese in
Vietnam and Vietnam's increasingly close relations with
the Soviet Union led to a tense relationship between
Vietnam and China. After a series of incidents at the
border, northern Vietnam was invaded by Chinese forces
in February 1979. A month-long war with tens of
thousands dead was followed by an uncertain ceasefire,
which forced Vietnam to hold large military forces in
the area for years.
Doi moi introductory
Despite extensive support from the Soviet-run
cooperation organization Comecon, the economic
development in Vietnam was disastrous. Several bad
harvests contributed to this, as did the costs -
economically and politically - for the invasion of
Cambodia. With an inefficient, oversized and
increasingly corrupt bureaucracy, there was a shortage
of most things: goods, educated staff and capital.
In the early 1980s, a US-led boycott had isolated
Vietnam from the western world and driven the country's
economy to the bottom. A cautious reform effort was
initiated at the party congress in 1982, when supply
problems had become acute. The investment in heavy
industry was curbed in favor of the production of food
and other basic commodities. Attempts were also made to
reduce the crippling bureaucracy in the administration.
The failure of the centralized planning economy caused
the system to be loosened up from within. Out in the
provinces, privately grown food began to be sold in a
free market. The government plans were restructured in
the direction of consumer goods.
Increasing price increases - inflation was up over
700 percent in 1986 - helped to accelerate reforms. The
reform line, called doi moi (renewal), was reinforced by
the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, which was
characterized by internal criticism of inefficiency and
corruption. The economy was liberalized according to
Chinese pattern. The currency was written down, lending
tightened and subsidies abolished, which reduced
inflation. A new generation of political leaders took
over and cautious political reforms were introduced,
such as fewer ministries and increased local
Worried about the highlands
But the collapse of the Eastern European Communist
regimes in the late 1980s shook the Vietnamese party
leadership. The tone was sharpened against political
During the last years of the 1990s, there were many
signs that there were different opinions within the
party leadership. Obviously, there was uncertainty
within the party about how far the reforms could be
allowed to go. While private enterprise was released and
agricultural land was in practice privatized, the party
said no to most political reforms.
In the spring of 2001, severe unrest erupted when
mountain residents from various minority people in the
central highlands protested that Vietnamese were moving
in from the overpopulated coastal areas and harvesting
large amounts of forest to plant coffee plantations. The
Vietnamese government deployed soldiers, riot police and
helicopters to quell the unrest.
Many feared that conservative groups within the party
leadership would take the turmoil as a pretext to curb
all political reforms. But instead, the reformist forces
advanced their positions at the Ninth Party Congress in
In 2004, it was again unrest in the central
highlands. Christian groups from the minority people
gathered up to 30,000 people for demonstrations, which
were brutally defeated. The area was closed to foreign
journalists and no reliable information on the number of
casualties is available. Many of the insurgents fled to
Reform friends against conservatives
For a couple of years thereafter - in conjunction
with negotiations on membership in the World Trade
Organization (WTO) - the regime met demands from abroad
for better respect for human rights and efforts against
the severe corruption. Relief was introduced in the
control of religious groups and the media got free hands
to report bribery.
At the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party in 2006,
three people who were all considered to be the
reform-friendly faction were appointed to the three top
posts: the party's secretary general, president and
The contradictions between reform-friendly and
conservative politicians became clear during the global
economic crisis of 2008–2009, when the conservatives
openly criticized the government because it had a hard
time curbing market forces and inflation at the
beginning of the crisis.
Even at the eleventh party congress in 2011, the
members welcomed a gradual economic opening, but without
political reform. The reform-minded Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dung was elected for a new five-year term,
while the presidential post went to the conservative
Truong Tan Sang. New secretary general of the party
became Nguyen Phu Trong, also he conservative. The fact
that a number of people with strong ties to the security
apparatus and the military received key positions was
interpreted as a reaction to China's growing role in the
In 2012, the government increasingly acknowledged
that financial neglect and corruption were major
problems. Prime Minister Nguyen was subjected to intense
criticism within the party that corruption in
state-owned enterprises had increased since he came to
power in 2006. In several notable cases, high-ranking
people were sentenced to long prison terms or to death
for financial crime.