In 1975, the Vietnam War finally came to an end after more than 20 years of intermittent conflict – with the finale being the fall of Saigon on April 30.
It was a war notably different to all others in recorded history, fought savagely on the military front but also amid intense political campaigns across the western world, becoming a vortex that dragged in much of a generation in the United States, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Australia.
It was also a television war with updates produced daily and beamed into the lounge rooms of the people of the western world, who were alternately fascinated, appalled and frightened by the carnage on parade.
Generally regarded as a proxy war, it involved the anti Communist regime of South Vietnam, supported by the United Sates and its allies, pitted against North Vietnam that was heavily backed by the Communist countries of the Soviet Union and China.
Roots of the conflict went back to the 1950’s when France was defeated by the Communist Viet Minh forces in 1954 at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, ending the regime of the old French Indo – China.
The Communists, through the formation of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army began infiltrating south, and the United States decided to ramp up its intervention policy in response. The West generally adhered to the doctrine of “the Domino Theory” that held if the communists were not stopped in South Vietnam they would eventually take over Southeast Asia, perhaps even Australia.
There was an immense imbalance of military power involved; the US and its allies had a virtually unlimited supply of modern weaponry, and total control of the skies. However the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese conducted a highly effective guerrilla warfare campaign and were well supported, at least covertly, by the Soviet Union and China.
Conscription was introduced in both Australia and the United States to supply the necessary troop numbers and this resulted in a rising civil resistance to the war in both countries.
After years of savage fighting and the mass air bombings of North Vietnam, including the capital city of Hanoi, the US and its allied forces had not achieved victory, despite the expenditure of billions of dollars and the loss of thousands of troops. This, coupled with the rising domestic resistance to the war, reduced the political motivation to continue and a series of negotiations began between the protagonists.
An accord was struck between North and South Vietnam in January 1973, allowing an honourable exit for the West, whose intervention had lasted for more than twenty years, considerably longer than the First and Second World Wars combined.
However the North Vietnamese then resumed their offensive in 1974, rapidly rolling southwards, with Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam, falling to the communists on 30 April 1975. This is now recognised as the official end to the Vietnam War.
Image: South Vietnamese civilians fleeing Saigon on 29 April 1975, the day before the city fell to the communist forces. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.