The Vietnam War, fought in south-east Asia from 1959 to 1975, was one of the conflicts of the Cold War between the Western democracies and the Communist Bloc. In 1971, Nick Knight was working in Vietnam as a medic with the Red Cross.
In the flashback to the episode "Can't Run, Can't Hide", Nick is on his way to the village of Bin Loc when he is stopped by a U.S. Army patrol. They allow him to pass in order to vaccinate the children living in Bin Loc; however, he then has to take shelter for the day. Underground, he discovers himself sharing quarters with his master, LaCroix, who has returned to Vietnam to check on plantations that he had owned when the country was a French colony.
While Nick and LaCroix seek shelter, the patrol decides to search the village for Viet Cong. The situation escalates, and the soldiers murder the villagers. Trapped underground by the sun, there is nothing Nick can do but listen to the shooting overhead. At dark, he searches for survivors, finding only corpses. However LaCroix does locate one living man, a Viet Cong soldier named Tran, whom he decides to bring across.
Years later, a recluse is murdered in Toronto. Investigating the case, Nick realizes that the man had been a member of the army patrol who had murdered the people of Bin Loc. Only one survivor remains. Tran has taken vengeance on all the others.
Vietnam was colonized by France in the middle to late nineteenth century. During World War II, Japan expelled the French and occupied the country; after the war, France attempted to re-establish its colonial rule, if not directly, then by backing a puppet state.
In January 1950, the communist nations—led by the People's Republic of China—recognized the communist Việt Minh as the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with its capital in Hà Nội (Hanoi). Non-Communist nations promptly recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, with its capital in Saigon.
Chinese military advisors began assisting the Việt Minh in July 1950, transforming them from a guerrilla force into a regular army. In September, the U.S. created a Military Assistance and Advisory Group to provide aid to the French and advise on strategy. However, France declined an American offer of nuclear weapons to break the Vietnamese siege. Ultimately, they were roundly defeated in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, which ended on 7 May 1954.
At the subsequent Geneva Conference, the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Việt Minh that ended France's colonial presence in Vietnam. Independence was granted to Cambodia and Laos, and Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th parallel into two states until such time as it could be unified after internationally supervised free elections.
As only France and the Việt Minh had signed the agreement, the South Vietnamese government refused to abide by its terms. It feared that the leader of the Việt Minh, Hồ Chí Minh, would win the election and establish Communism in the whole of Vietnam. Instead, on 22 October 1955, Ngô Ðình Diệm—who had been selected as Premier by Emperor Bảo Đại—deposed the Emperor and declared himself President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The United States began to provide military and economic aid, training South Vietnamese personnel, and sending U.S. advisors to assist the new government.
Ngô Đình Diệm ran a nepotistic and authoritarian regime. Elections were routinely rigged; and Diệm discriminated in favour of minority Roman Catholics, resulting in protests from the Buddhist community. On 1 November 1963, there was a coup d'état; and Ngô Đình Diệm was killed. Following the coup, South Vietnam entered a period of extreme political instability, as one military government toppled another in quick succession. Increasingly, each new regime was viewed as a puppet of the Americans.
North Vietnam and the Viet CongEdit
In December 1956, Hanoi authorized communists in South Vietnam to begin a low level insurgency. Four hundred government officials were assassinated in 1957 alone, and the violence gradually increased. In January 1959, a secret resolution authorized the southern communists to begin large-scale operations against the South Vietnamese military. North Vietnam supplied additional troops and supplies. The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (commonly referred to by the Americans as the Viet Cong) were the South Vietnamese communist insurgency. Lightly armed, they largely fought a guerrilla war. The North Vietnamese Army engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large-sized units into battle.
With the increasing political instability in South Vietnam after the coup in 1963, Hanoi increased its support for the guerrillas, scoring some significant military victories.
American Involvement in VietnamEdit
The United States entered the war as part of their wider strategy of containing the expansion of communist influence during the Cold War.
Initially, the American policy toward the situation in Vietnam rested on the assumption that the South Vietnamese forces must ultimately defeat the guerrillas on their own. However, because of bad leadership, corruption, and political interference, the quality of the South Vietnamese military remained poor. The frequency of guerrilla attacks rose as the insurgency gathered steam. American military assistance steadily increased. By 1963, there were 16,000 American military personnel in South Vietnam.
Escalation of InvolvementEdit
With the ever worsening situation in Vietnam, the Americans finally turned to a more active role. On 2 March 1965, they began a bombing campaign, which ultimately lasted three years. This was intended to force North Vietnam to cease its support for the guerrilla fighters in the south. The objective was never reached.
Marines were initially dispatched to Vietnam in a defensive role: to protect the U.S. Air Force bases conducting the bombing campaign. However, in the face of continuing communist victories, the U.S. military advocated sidelining the South Vietnamese army and expanding the American role to include aggressive action against the Viet Cong. The change in policy was approved by President Johnson.
Initially, U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly supported the deployment, based on the premise that Vietnam was part of a global struggle against communism, and in the assumption of swift victory. Indeed, in November 1967 (during a public relations drive to bolster support for the war), the American military leader, General Westmoreland, gave a speech before the National Press Club in which he said that a point in the war had been reached "where the end comes into view".
In January 1968, the communist forces broke the truce that had traditionally accompanied the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday, and launched a surprise offensive in the hope of sparking a national uprising. Over a hundred cities were attacked, with assaults on General Westmoreland's headquarters and the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese were initially taken aback by the scale of the urban offensive, they responded quickly and effectively. But the offensive had another, unintended consequence. The American media, which had been largely supportive of the apparently successful U.S. efforts, rounded on the Johnson administration for what was seen as a credibility gap. As a result, despite the military success of U.S. forces in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive turned into a political failure. Indeed, it ended the career of President Johnson.
His successor, President Nixon, appealed to the "silent majority" of Americans to support the war. But the anti-war movement in the United States was gaining strength.
My Lai MassacreEdit
During the Tet Offensive of January 1968, attacks were carried out in Quảng Ngãi Province by the 48th Battalion of the NLF (or Viet Cong). As the American forces gained the upper hand and the Viet Cong retreated, U.S. military intelligence postulated that the 48th Battalion had taken refuge in the village of Sơn Mỹ.
U.S. forces planned a major offensive against those hamlets of Sơn Mỹ that were suspected of harbouring them—in particular, Mỹ Lai and My Khe. On 16 March 1968, they were attacked by Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division (the Americal Division).
They found no enemy fighters in the village. Nevertheless, many soldiers suspected there were indeed troops there, hiding underground in the homes of their elderly parents or their wives. They therefore went in shooting at a "suspected enemy position". After the first civilians were killed and wounded by the indiscriminate fire, the soldiers soon began attacking anything that moved, humans and animals alike, with firearms, grenades and bayonets. The scale of the massacre only spiraled as it progressed, the brutality increasing with each killing.
Ultimately, they raped and killed some 347 to 504 people, all of them civilians, some of them children and infants. Many of the victims were sexually abused, beaten, tortured, or maimed. Some of the bodies were found mutilated.
When the incident became public knowledge in 1969, it prompted widespread outrage around the world. The massacre also reduced U.S. support at home for the Vietnam War. Yet, of the twenty six soldiers initially charged with criminal offences for their actions at My Lai, only one was convicted; and he served only three years of his life sentence.
End of the WarEdit
In 1970, military incursions were made into Cambodia to attack communist bases and buy time for South Vietnam. The invasion of Cambodia sparked public protests; and, during a protest at Kent State University in Ohio, four students were killed by National Guardsmen. The reaction to the incident by the Nixon administration was seen as callous and indifferent. As peace protests spread across the United States, disillusionment also grew in the ranks of the soldiers in Vietnam. Drug use increased, race relations grew tense, and the number of soldiers disobeying officers rose.
The gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops continued. The last remaining ground troops were withdrawn in August 1972, though the air offensive continued until 15 January 1973. Peace Accords were signed in Paris on 27 January 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Despite the peace treaty, fighting continued. In April 1975, North Vietnam captured Saigon. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.