Comparing Wars in Korean & Vietnam
The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953, during which communist North Korea (supported by China and the Soviet Union) fought anticommunist South Korea (supported by the US).
The war began when the North Korean army invaded across the 38th parallel, the line of division between North Korea and South Korea that had been set after the Japanese occupiers were defeated in World War 2.
Under President Truman, the US joined the war to defend South Korea in accordance with the Truman Doctrine. The United Nations also provided support but the US provided 90% of the troops.
After early North Korean success, US forces pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel. When American forces crossed into North Korea, China to send aid to North Korea.
American and South Korean forces were then pushed back before regaining ground.
President Truman did not want to involve the Chinese, fearing a full-scale war, and began peace talks with the North Koreans in July of 1951.
Peace talks concluded in an armistice signed in July of 1953, which suspended hostilities, reinforced Korea’s division at the 38th parallel, and created a 4,000 kilometer-wide demilitarized zone.
Almost five million people had died in the war, with more than 2.7 million Korean civilian casualties and more than 30,000 American casualties.
The Vietnam War began slowly in 1954 and finally ended in 1975, two years after Nixon ordered the withdrawal of US troops.
Vietnam had been colonized by the French since 1887. Like Korea, Vietnam had also been occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. After their defeat, the Japanese withdrew from Vietnam with the Soviet Union occupying the north and US in the South.
Ho Chi Minh, a communist political leader, quickly gained control in North Vietnam, while French-backed Emperor Bao Dai retreated to the South. Both sides signed a treaty in Geneva, splitting Vietnam along the 17th parallel, with Ho controlling the North and Bao controlling the South.
Despite the agreement, armed Vietnamese communists, known as the Viet Cong, began attacking the South.
The US was worried about a domino effect, believing that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, the others would easily follow. Thus, under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the US sent more troops to support South Vietnam amidst Viet Cong attacks.
In August of 1964, the North Vietnamese attacked two US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the US retaliated by bombing North Vietnam and sending more troops to be stationed there.
Unlike the Korean War, which did not get much media attention in the US, the Vietnam War received greater coverage. The military draft sent more young men into the army and the war grew unpopular.
Anti-war protests began in the US, pushing President Johnson to begin peace talks to end the war.
After the 1968 election, President Nixon took over the peace talks and began focusing his attention on “Vietnamization”, which meant withdrawing US troops and providing South Vietnam with the resources needed to continue the war without the US.
In January of 1973, peace talks between the US and North Vietnam concluded with America's complete withdrawal from the war.
Two years later, South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam, and Vietnam was unified under communist control. As a result of the war, there were approximately two million Vietnamese casualties and almost 60,000 American casualties.