The French took over Vietnam in the 19th Century a piece at a time. In 1859, the French captured Saigon. By 1883, they controlled North and Central Vietnam, forcing consolidation of Vietnam under a French protectorate. To build infrastructure, such as railway from Hanoi to Saigon, roads and bridges, the French heavily taxed the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese resented French rule and began organizing to fight for their independence. Ho Chi Minh organized the Revolutionary Youth League in 1925 outside of Vietnam in China, later becoming the Vietnamese Communist Party (Viet Minh). During World War 2, the Germans and Japanese were Axis partners. The Japanese pressed Vichy France to allow them to occupy French Indochina. The Japanese allowed the French administration to continue to run French Indochina.
The Vietnamese fought the Japanese and by 1945 controlled part of North Vietnam. When Japan surrendered on August 15,1945, the Viet Minh took control of most of Vietnam. On September 2,1945, Ho Chi Minh declared that Vietnam was an independent nation. However, at the Potsdam Conference, the Japanese south of the 16th parallel surrendered to the British. The Japanese north of the 16th parallel surrendered to the Nationalist Chinese. The French soon replaced the British in the south. In the north, Ho Chi Minh signed a treaty with the French to allow them to replace the Chinese in the north for five years. As a quid pro, the French agreed to recognize Vietnam as a “free state.” By 1946, Ho Chi Minh recognized that the treacherous French had no intention of leaving Vietnam or honoring their treaty.
Therefore, the Viet Minh fought an eight-year guerilla war against the French. In 1954, the Viet Minh surrounded the French at Dien Bien Phu for a fifty-seven-day siege. The French surrendered to the Viet Minh, recognizing they could not win the war. A Geneva Conference was held to end the war. There was an agreement reached where Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel. Elections would be held by July 20, 1956 to decide what leadership would lead a united Vietnam. However, no elections were ever held due to the treachery of the South Vietnamese, the United States and other European governments. The United States had been providing weapons and funding to the French to keep them fighting the Viet Minh. When the French withdrew, the United States foolishly replaced the French as a military backstop for the corrupt South Vietnamese government. While the Viet Minh were primarily nationalist soldiers, the United States’ treachery forced Ho Chi Minh to seek support from Red China and the Soviet Union in order to create an independent Vietnam.
President Kennedy escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam through the MAAG program, increasing U.S. military advisors from a thousand in 1959 to 16,000 in 1963. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the United States’ commitment to the corrupt South Vietnamese government. He wasted no time escalating after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where a U.S. destroyer was allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese fast attack boats. The result was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, giving President Johnson broad authority to increase U.S. military presence in Vietnam on August 10, 1964. He ordered the deployment of combat units, raising the U.S. troop level to 184,000. After Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon B. Johnson was inaugurated on January 30, 1965. On February 12, 1965, Johnson sent 160 U.S. planes to attack North Vietnam. On March 8,1965, U.S. Marines landed in Danang, SVN to protect its U.S. airfield.
The Vietnam War in “The Wars among the Paines”
On June 12, 1964, Thomas Paine Jr. of Waterford, PA graduated from Cornell University, while also receiving his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon his completion of Cornell’s ROTC program. He was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for Officer Orientation Training. He was assigned to the newly reformed First Air Cavalry (Mobile) and was shipped to Pleiku, SVN on a troop ship in August 1965. Thomas’s story can be found throughout the Cornell chapters 15 through 25. His brother, Robert Treat Paine II’s path to Vietnam and its results can be found in chapters 29 through 42.