10 Wars in Vietnam - Facts, Dates and Timeline

Vietnam has witnessed a series of wars since the beginning of the 20th century. Quite naturally, the battles have a distinctive perspective for people all around the world. For the Americans, the most historically significant one being the Vietnam War that was fought between the years 1965 and 1975 in which their army struggled to prevent the marching of the Communists into the South-Asian territory, and it had long-term consequences. As for the French, it was a decade-long conflict starting from 1945 and lasting till 1955, which they eventually ended up losing. Their goal was to secure the Asian pearl, a part of their colonial empire but they lost in a place known as Dien Bien Phu.

On the contrary, through the eyes of Vietnam, the wars that were fought stands as a struggle for national liberation. There were instances where they emerged out being victorious, and there was a tragedy for them as well. More than 30 years of war in the form of direct and indirect conflicts transformed itself into brutal destruction to Vietnam, costing over 3 million Vietnamese souls.

Here we aren't going to discuss which perspective was better than the other, but instead, we would focus on how these colonial, civil and cold war changed the demography of Vietnam as a country. Let's begin from where it all started.

1. Franco-Japanese Border War (1940)

Franco-Japanese Border War
French Indochina Territory

It all started during the Second World War when France was defeated and was occupied by Germany, Japan and Thailand attacked the French colonial forces in Vietnam and Indochina as joint forces. The Japanese forces made their way through the French Indochina territory with a plan to attack the Nationalist Chinese forces stationed in the border. When the French authorities in Hanoi - the capital of Vietnam - tried to interfere, Japanese aircrafts bombed the port city Haiphong as a result of which 800 French troops were killed while the Japanese navy landed at the port.

2. Franco-Thai Border War (1941)

Right after the Japanese troops managed to infiltrate the French Indochina territory, Thailand - a then ally of Japan, also launched attacks on the borders. However, the Thai were forced back by the French forces where nearly one-third of the Thai navy was wiped off the coast of the island of Kho Chang. After Japan managed to initiate a cease-fire, a written agreement was signed by France where they agreed to give portions of Cambodia and Laos to Thailand.

3. First Indochina War (1945-1954)

First Indo-China War
League of the Revolution and Independence of Vietnam

The Viet Minh meaning 'League of the Revolution and Independence of Vietnam' in the Vietnamese language was a resistance movement initiated and led by Vietnamese communists Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese forces in Vietnam to gain freedom from both Japan and France. Following that, the First Indochina War or the Vietminh Guerilla War was fought against the French where the Viet Minh emerged out victorious.

4. Second Indochina War (1956-1975)

Second Indo-China War
Second Indochina War

What is known to the world as the 'Vietnam War' was a region and international conflict, not only between the United States and the North and South Vietnam but also involved Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.

There were a series of conflicts that were a part of the Second Indochina War:

5. American-Vietnamese War (1956-1975)

American-Vietnamese War
American-Vietnamese War

To overthrow the American government of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese Community part and the Viet Cong of South Vietnam started a war against the United States. To hold the Saigon regime, US troops along with their other allies were sent as reinforcements. However in 1973, the last US troops left Vietnamese soils and later in 1975, the Saigon regime came under the command of North Vietnam. This is what is known as 'The American War' or 'The Vietnam War' to the United States and the rest of the world as well.

6. Laotian Civil War (1959-1975)

Large numbers of troops were sent from North Vietnam to Laos as reinforcements to help Lao the communist Pathet to fight against the Royal Laotian government backed by the United States. It was not until 1975 when the Pathet Lao came into power and continues to maintain a peaceful relationship with Hanoi.

Laotian Civil War
Troops in Laos

7. Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975)

Cambodia Civil War
Cambodia during the Civil War

North Vietnam also sent troops to aid the Communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to uproot the Cambodian government supported by the United States.  Before the Khmer Rouge war, the North Vietnamese Army had dominated their presence in Cambodia for years. After both the US-backed governments in South Vietnam and Cambodia fell, the two Communist parties got involved in warfare among themselves which led to the Third Indochina War.

8. Third Indochina War (1977-1991)

Third Indochina War
Third Indochina War

The conflict between the Communist government of Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia marked the beginning of the Third Indochina War. As Cambodia was an ally of China, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodian soils led to the Chinese attack on northern Vietnam.

9. Cambodia-Vietnamese War (1977-1991)

Cambodia-Vietnamese War
Cambodia- Vietnamese War

Before and during the wars against the US-backed governments in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Northern Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge joined forces and became allies by putting behind their ideological differences and historical enmity between their people. However, after the war when both these forces claimed power, the differences between them crept their way back and took a violent form soon. What started as low-scale border raids rapidly escalated into a full-fledged war by 1978. It began when Vietnam culminated a massive attack on Cambodia, and they occupied the nation in a matter of days. Although Vietnam started a new government based in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, they got involved in a far-fetched war with Khmer Rouge who returned to his guerrilla warfare origins in which they excelled tremendously. It was not until a decade when a friendly government was formed in Cambodia under the rule of Heng Samrin after the Vietnamese troops left.

10. Sino-Vietnam War (1979)

Sino-Vietnam War
Sino-Vietnam War

Similar to the Cambodia and Vietnam relations, the Hanoi regime in Vietnam had good relations with China during the war against the United States. But once when the dust settled, the historical and ideological difference led to the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. Following the Vietnamese attack on Cambodia, China also launched a large-scale invasion on their common border with Vietnam. The Vietnamese troops managed to defend the attack well, and that caused some severe damage to the Peoples' Liberation Army of China. This invasion lasted for a month after which China withdrew their forces having taught a lesson to the Vietnamese troops in Hanoi. As a result of this war, Hanoi moved closer to the Soviet Union, initially a rival of China and it also modernised the People's Liberation Army of China after having realised the fact that they didn't do very well against the small army of Vietnam. Furthermore, the Sino-Vietnam War sparked off the long-lasting border conflict between China and Vietnam from 1980 up to 1991.

Vietnam as a country underwent severe socio-political and economic unrest throughout the 20th century. Millions of lives were lost in the warfare between varies countries in powers and their allies. Even after its independence in 1945, Vietnam couldn't emerge as a peaceful and developing country for many years. The Vietnamese history is flooded with the darkest reign of these numerous wars and is of great importance in knowing about its origin as a country.

This post was published by Bibek Bardhan

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