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Viet Cong

the communist guerrillas in South Vietnam


the GI slang for the Viet Cong


the North Vietnamese Army, good jungle fighters but not really "guerrillas", regular Army troops


Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. This was the official name of the US advisory element that existed throughout the war. A soldier was either assigned to a US combat unit or he was assigned to MACV and then sent to a South Vietnamese Army unit as an advisor

Insurgency and counter-insurgency

Insurgency is a rebellion and an attempt to overthrow a government by its own people using guerrilla tactics. Attempts to counter this were called "counter-insurgency". Thus, a major characteristic of the Vietnam War was the counter-insurgency effort waged by S. Vietnam, the US, and allies.

Corps Tactical Zones

S. Vietnam was divided into four Corps Tactical Zones.

I Corps

the northern most zone. US forces here were mostly Marines.

II Corps

the Central Highlands. The area of some early battles and the place where the final attack by the N. Vietnam Army began

III Corps

the jungle area north of Saigon

IV Corps

the Delta area south of the Mekong River

Search and Destroy

This was the name of the strategy the US used in the first half of the war. It simply meant that US forces went into the jungle to search and find the enemy and then destroy them. The problem was that the enemy was very elusive and often simply retreated into Cambodia or Laos where US army elements were not allowed to go (except for one excursion in 1970).

Ho Chi Minh Trail

this was the trail network from N. Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia along which N. Vietnamese forces infiltrated southward and eventually into S. Vietnam. Most of their soldiers walked all the way and it took them on average 4 months to get into S. Vietnam.

Gulf of Tonkin Incident

A US destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin Bay off of Vietnam was fired on by a N. Vietnamese gunboat. This incident caused Congress to authorize President Johnson to use all forces he deemed necessary to deal with the "Vietnam situation". While not really a declaration of war, it was used by Johnson as authority to send major US forces into S. Vietnam and was the start of the major build up in 1965.

TET Offensive 1968

During the Vietnamese celebration of their New Year (Tet) in 1968, the Vietcong and N. Vietnamese Army forces launched their biggest offensive of the war to that time. It was supposed to completely defeat the US and S. Vietnamese forces. Because it came as a surprise when most of the people in the US had thought we were "winning" the war, it was a major psychological blow to the morale of the US public. After weeks of bloody fighting the N. Vietnamese retreated back into Cambodia and Laos and the local Vietcong guerrillas of S. Vietcong were decimated. However, the psychological damage had been done on the home-front. The major news commentator, Walter Cronkite, solemnly predicted that the Vietnam War was "un-winnable." From then on the anti-war movement grew in intensity.


When Nixon became president, he began to turn over the major fighting to the S. Vietnamese Army and gradually began pulling out US troops from Vietnam.


This was the process of trying to "pacify" the S. Vietnamese people in the towns and villages to get them to support the S. Vietnamese government instead of the shadow of Vietcong government. This was a joint effort by US and S. Vietnamese troops in which the object was to "win the hearts and minds" of the local populace. US troops didn't do too much of this in the early years of the war, but in the second half (after Tet Offensive) a lot more was done and it became very successful.


the South Vietnamese Army


aborigines mostly located in the Central Highlands. Trained and led by US Army Special Forces they were good fighters and loyal to the US. Although they were not very loyal to the S. Vietnamese, because the Vietnamese looked down on these very primitive aborigines.

Domino Theory

The theory that if South Vietnam fell to communism, then other countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malasia, and maybe all of southeast Asia would fall like dominos and come under communist domination.

Ho Chi Minh

Born in 1890. Communist leader of North Vietnam; he and his Viet Minh/Viet Cong allies fought French and American forces to a standstill in Vietnam, 1946-1973. Considered a nationalist by many, others viewed him as an agent of the Soviet Union and China.

Lyndon Johnson

president, 1963-1969; his escalation of the Vietnam War cost him political support and destroyed his presidency. He increased the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam from 16,000 in 1963 to 540,000 in 1968. After the Tet offensive, he decided to not seek reelection.

Richard Nixon

37th President of the United States (1969-1974) and the only president to resign the office. He initially escalated the Vietnam War, overseeing secret bombing campaigns, but soon withdrew American troops and successfully negotiated a ceasefire with North Vietnam, effectively ending American involvement in the war. Watergate Scandal.

Gerald Ford

the first president to be solely elected by a vote from Congress. He entered the office in August of 1974 when Nixon resigned. He pardoned Nixon of all crimes that he may have committed. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, in which Ford evacuated nerely 500,000 Americans and South Vietnamese from Vietnam. He closed the war.

Robert McNamara

President John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense who played a large role in regulating the Vietnam War and advising JFK on it. He was one of the president's closest advisors and shaped the army in new ways by modernizing it, making it more flexible, and pushing for new reforms in tactics against other countries during wartime. His role was a very significant one as he is largely credited with keeping the war going.

Dean Rusk

The American Secretary of State during the Vietnam War, dispatched tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to fight in Vietnam.

Vo Nguyen Giap

Hi Chi Minh's most trusted lieutenant, he led the Viet Minh in a victory over the French that concluded with the battle at Dien Bien Phu.

General William Westmoreland

- commander of the US forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968
- He developed the strategy of "Search and destroy" and measured success of the war by the number of enemy deaths.

General Creighton Abrams

General who replaced General Westmoreland as the commander of American forces in VN. He scrapped Westmoreland's strategy and introduced a strategy that integrated combat operations more closely with pacification.

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