The Vietnam War lasted for 20 years and led to millions of civilian and military casualties.
The Vietnam War lasted for 20 years and led to millions of civilian and military casualties.

The United States and its allies fought North Vietnam and its supporters between 1955 and 1975 in the conflict known as the Vietnam War. The war emerged as a battle between Western capitalist countries and Eastern Communist countries, and it stretched across several countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The war involved the Viet Cong and Viet Minh, two related but separate organizations.

Viet Minh

The Viet Minh -- which means "League for Vietnamese Independence" -- was a political coalition formed in 1941. The coalition's project was to achieve independence for Vietnam from France, which then included Vietnam as part of its empire. During World War II, Japan came to occupy Vietnam, and the Viet Minh then opposed Japanese occupation of Vietnamese territory during the war. When the war ended and France reoccupied the country, the Viet Minh returned its attention to gaining formal independence from France.

End of the Viet Minh

The Viet Minh was instrumental in Vietnamese resistance to French occupation and the Indochinese War fought between Vietnam and France. At the end of the war, a peace agreement signed in Geneva, led to the temporary division of Vietnam into North and South. During this process, the Viet Minh were placed in charged of North Vietnam. The organization's leaders soon began an attempt to root out counter-revolutionaries in their territory, which cost them their popularity. The organization soon disbanded because of a lack of support, replaced in 1960 by the Viet Cong -- which had already existed for several years.

Viet Cong

The Viet Cong -- also known as the National Liberation Front -- was primarily an army organization based in Southern Vietnam and parts of Cambodia. The Viet Cong was formed in 1954 and lasted until 1976, when it was disbanded. While the organization also had political leadership, it was primarily concerned with military action and comprised the forces that fought against the United States and its allies during the Vietnam War.

North Vietnamese Army

The Viet Cong operated in the South of Vietnam, fighting against the pro-American southern government, with support from the North Vietnamese Army. The North Vietnamese Army -- also known as the Vietnam People's Army or the People's Army of Vietnam -- was the official armed forces of the communist government of North Vietnam. Today, the armed forces in Vietnam are still known as the Vietnam People's Army and comprise several forces such as an air force and the navy.