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The Southeast Asia War: Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southeast Asia War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

French Legionnaire with US-provided tank, 1954. (U.S. Air Force photo)

French Legionnaire with US-provided tank, 1954. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Insurgent captured by French troops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Insurgent captured by French troops. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From 1950-1954, the USAF loaned transport and attack aircraft to the French air force in Indochina. The USAF also sent about 200 aircraft mechanics to help maintain them. This aircraft is in French markings. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From 1950-1954, the USAF loaned transport and attack aircraft to the French air force in Indochina. The USAF also sent about 200 aircraft mechanics to help maintain them. This aircraft is in French markings. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From 1950-1954, the USAF loaned transport and attack aircraft to the French air force in Indochina. The USAF also sent about 200 aircraft mechanics to help maintain them. The B-26s are in transit in the Philippines. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From 1950-1954, the USAF loaned transport and attack aircraft to the French air force in Indochina. The USAF also sent about 200 aircraft mechanics to help maintain them. The B-26s are in transit in the Philippines. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CIA-affiliated Civil Air Transport (CAT), forerunner of Air America, flew support missions for the French at Dien Bien Phu using C-119s, and elsewhere in Indochina with other aircraft like this C-46. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CIA-affiliated Civil Air Transport (CAT), forerunner of Air America, flew support missions for the French at Dien Bien Phu using C-119s, and elsewhere in Indochina with other aircraft like this C-46. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The distance from Dayton, OH, to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is about 8,226 miles—almost exactly a third of the way around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The distance from Dayton, OH, to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is about 8,226 miles—almost exactly a third of the way around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo)

French Indochina . (U.S. Air Force photo)
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French Indochina . (U.S. Air Force photo)

A product of the Cold War, the Southeast Asia War (1961-1973) began with communist attempts to overthrow non-communist governments in the region. United States participation in the Southeast Asia War resulted from the policy of "containment," which aimed to prevent communism from expanding beyond its early Cold War borders. The containment strategy seldom led to major combat, but as with the Korean War (1950-1953), the US committed large military forces to protect an allied, non-communist government.

The main U.S. goal in the Southeast Asia War was to protect South Vietnam -- initially from a local communist insurgency and later from conquest by communist North Vietnam. The U.S. also hoped to prevent the spread of communism to other nearby countries. Although popularly known as the Vietnam War, U.S. efforts included military action not only in South and North Vietnam, but also in neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

For many years in the early 20th century, the people of Southeast Asia struggled for independence from France. The U.S. gave France military assistance in fighting insurgents.

After the French defeat in 1954, Indochina was divided into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. A demilitarized zone formed the border between North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam, under Ho Chi Minh, became a communist nation. Concurrently, the U.S. sponsored the creation of the eight-nation Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to protect Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam from the spread of communism.

North Vietnam soon declared its intention to reunite with South Vietnam -- by military means if necessary. In 1959 it began supplying a terrorist campaign in South Vietnam carried out by southern Vietnamese communist Viet Cong guerillas. Later, North Vietnam also began supporting communist guerillas in Laos.

What started as a small U.S. program to train the South Vietnamese army in 1961 grew into a massive military effort. U.S. combat operations began in South Vietnam, and eventually spread to North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The increasing U.S. commitment aimed to combat local communist insurgents, North Vietnamese troops, and the flow of supplies supporting them.

Click on the following links to learn more about the Southeast Asia War.

Tonkin Gulf Resolution: Authority for War

Click here to return to the Southeast Asia War Gallery.

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