The Vietnam War consumed a fair portion of national attention during the 1960s. Prior to American military involvement in 1965, many people had never heard of this Asian nation. Embroiled in a battle to halt the spread of communism around the world, the United States attempted to salvage democracy in the region. Vietnamese nationalists, headed by Ho Chi Minh, wanted to achieve unity among the people and rid Vietnam of foreign control. These objectives contrasted with the American agenda, pushing Vietnamese nationalists increasingly toward communism.

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh headed the Vietnamese communist movement throughout the 1960s. Minh became an adherent of socialism while in France in 1911. He organized the first Communist Party in Vietnam in 1930. This group changed its name to the Viet Minh in 1941, during World War II. Their hope was that the end of World War II would lead to a Vietnam free from colonial rule. Instead, the French retook control at the conclusion of the hostilities. The Viet Minh would begin fighting the French and, later, the Americans in the 1960s. Ho Chi Minh, with the military support of Communist China, would lead the protracted war against foreign presences in Vietnam until his death in 1969.

Dien Bien Phu

The defeat of French colonial forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 was a turning point for Vietnamese communists. Their belief that the victory would result in independence proved mistaken. Instead, the United Nations split Vietnam into two countries, North and South. In the North, the communists received control, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam remained non-communist, with a succession of governments reflecting the desires of the United States. According to the conditions of the Geneva Treaty ending French rule, national elections would take place by July 1956. The elections never transpired.

Communists North and South

The communists wanted above all to reunite Vietnam. In December 1960, the National Liberation Front formed in Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, as an umbrella revolutionary organization that included communists and others wanting to remove the American-backed regime from South Vietnam. The Communist Party also had a degree of influence in the South. In 1960, when the South Vietnamese government increased its persecution of communists, the party decided to forgo politics for violent revolution.

Viet Cong

The Viet Cong, or VC, were insurgents residing in South Vietnam. Their weapons were largely Russian AK-47 machine guns produced and supplied by the Chinese government. To get supplies to South Vietnam, the communists used the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an intricate network of paths and bunkers crossing through Cambodia and Laos. Because the Viet Cong were guerrilla soldiers, they blended in with the population, making it difficult for the South Vietnam government to recognize them.