The last emperor of Vietnam, who ascended the throne in 1926. Bao Dai proved to be an ineffective ruler and was unable to exercise any of his powers without the support of the French colonial regime. He abdicated in 1946, after the Viet Minh drove out the Japanese occupation forces and took control of the government. In 1949, the French reinstalled Bao Dai as the premier of “independent Vietnam” but left affairs of state to his pro-French appointees. Only one year after the Geneva Conference created a republic in South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem outmaneuvered Bao Dai and took power; Bao Dai then retired to France.
The special assistant for national security affairs under both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Bundy pressed for escalating the Vietnam War but after leaving his position in 1966 became critical of further escalation.
A U.S. Army lieutenant and the leader of the company of U.S. soldiers who killed several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians in the 1968My Lai Massacre.A 1971 court-martial sentenced Calley to a life prison term, but many Americans believed that he was a scapegoat for larger government atrocities, and he was paroled in 1974.
The 34th U.S. president, who popularized the domino theory that was later used to justify increased U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam.
A U.S. senator from Arkansas and a leading critic of the Vietnam War in the U.S. Congress. In 1966, Fulbright published the influential book The Arrogance of Power, which attacked President Lyndon B. Johnson and the U.S. war strategy. That year, Fulbright also chaired nationally televised hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that criticized the war.
The primary Vietnamese nationalist and Communist leader during the twentieth century, who resisted French, Japanese, and American influence in Vietnam. Born in poverty in French-occupied Annam, Ho traveled widely and spent considerable time in Paris, London, and New York, gaining exposure to Western ideas, including Communism. On his return to Vietnam, he founded the Indochina Communist Party in 1930 and the Viet Minh in 1941. From its founding to his death in 1969, Ho was president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, serving as the primary North Vietnamese leader throughout much of the Vietnam War.
The 36th U.S. president, who promised to honor his predecessor John F. Kennedy’s limited U.S. commitments in Vietnam but ended up escalating the war drastically after the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. Empowered by the resolution, Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965 to bomb North Vietnam into submission. When this failed, he sent more than 500,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam and ultimately converted the conflict into a protracted and bitter war.
A U.S. State Department analyst who first articulated the doctrine of containment in 1947, arguing that the United States could keep Communism from spreading simply by deterring Soviet expansion at critical points, mostly in Europe. The idea of containment became very influential and served as the basis of U.S. foreign policy for much of the Cold War.
The 35th U.S. president, whose decision to send U.S. “military advisors” into Vietnam in 1962 marked the first official U.S. involvement in the country. Although Kennedy and his administration backed the corrupt Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam, they ultimately decided to back a coup to overthrow Diem in November 1963. Just weeks later, Kennedy was assassinated, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became president.
A former political science professor who served as President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor and then as his secretary of state. The German-born Kissinger worked closely with Nixon to create and implement the policy of Vietnamization and personally engaged in negotiations with North Vietnamese emissary Le Duc Tho in 1972 to hammer out a cease-fire. Kissinger also assisted Nixon in using China and the Soviet Union to pressure North Vietnam to opt for a peace settlement.
A CIA operative based in Saigon beginning in 1953 who initiated some mostly failed psychological operations against Vietnamese Communists and spoke favorably about Ngo Dinh Diem to U.S. policy makers.
The primary leader of the North Vietnamese Communist Party after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1969.
A senior North Vietnamese diplomat who engaged in secret negotiations in Paris with U.S. emissary Henry A. Kissinger in 1972, leading to the cease-fire that ended official U.S. involvement in Vietnam in January 1973.
The secretary of defense under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, from 1961 to 1968. McNamara initially advocated increasing U.S. involvement in Vietnam but started to question U.S. policy by 1966. After growing disillusioned with the direction of the war, McNamara resigned his position following the Tet Offensive in early 1968.
The U.S.-backed leader of the South Vietnamese Republic of Vietnam from 1955 until 1963. Diem came from a family that was both Confucian and Catholic, and though his Christianity endeared him to many U.S. policy makers, it alienated him from South Vietnam’s Buddhist majority. Diem’s regime quickly became corrupt and autocratic, cracking down viciously on Buddhist leaders and ignoring the Geneva Conference’s promise of free elections in 1956. Increasingly paranoid, he gave his family members important positions of leadership in the government, which they abused. Although the United States continued to support Diem, this support ultimately waned, and Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were assassinated in 1963 as part of a U.S.-approved coup.
A brother of Ngo Dinh Diem who effectively became a warlord after Diem appointed him head of the Can Lao, the South Vietnamese secret police. Brutal, exploitative, and corrupt, Nhu earned the universal hatred of the South Vietnamese population. His sharp-tongued wife, Madame Nhu, who served as South Vietnam’s de facto first lady, was equally hated. Nhu’s excesses were largely responsible for the U.S.-backed coup of November 1963 in which both Diem and Nhu were assassinated.
The wife of Ngo Dinh Nhu and de facto first lady of the corrupt South Vietnamese government under Ngo Dinh Diem. Madame Nhu was a hated figure and public relations disaster, a sort of Vietnamese Marie-Antoinette who cared nothing for the struggles of Vietnamese peasants and displayed an extravagant fondness for all things French, despite the fact that the French were the hated former colonial masters of Vietnam. After a Buddhist monk publicly burned himself to death in 1963 in protest of the Diem regime, Madame Nhu derided the incident as a “barbecuing” and stated that she would provide gasoline and matches for the next monk who wanted to follow suit. She was abroad when a U.S.-backed coup toppled Diem and her husband in November 1963 and stayed away from Vietnam thereafter.
The 37th U.S. president, who orchestrated the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in the early 1970s. First elected in 1968, Nixon claimed amid the rising din of antiwar protests that a “silent majority” of Americans still supported the war. Nonetheless, he engaged in a policy of Vietnamization to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam and hand over military authority to the South Vietnamese. Meanwhile, Nixon covertly expanded the scope of the war by secretly authorizing illegal military actions in Cambodia and Laos. By 1972, he and his national security advisor, Henry A. Kissinger, were pursuing secret negotiations with North Vietnam and engaging in diplomacy with both China and the Soviet Union in order to pressure North Vietnam into a cease-fire. Although Nixon was reelected in a landslide in 1972, his administration became dogged with scandals ranging from Watergate to the Pentagon Papers to the public revelation of the U.S. military actions in Cambodia. Despite his skilled diplomacy and success at removing U.S. troops from Vietnam, he resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment over the scandals.
Ho Chi Minh’s leading general and the primary commander of Vietnamese Communist forces from the earliest days of the Viet Minh. A former lawyer and history teacher, Giap proved his military brilliance at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, in which he defeated the French to end the First Indochina War and give Vietnam more leverage at the Geneva Conference bargaining table. Giap remained involved in the North Vietnamese military throughout the ensuing struggle with the United States.
A U.S. Army general who in 1964 became the commander of the MACV, the corps of U.S. “military advisors” in Vietnam. As the war escalated and the United States sent troops, Westmoreland continually pushed for more U.S. ground forces in Vietnam and instituted search-and-destroy missions, as he believed that a war of attrition would result in a victory for the United States. His direction gave U.S. troops definitive goals but also tended to put them in far greater danger than ever before, and his request for an additional 200,000 troops after the 1968Tet Offensive shocked the American public, who had been reassured that the United States was making substantial headway in the war.