Conflict and tension in Asia, 1950 - 1975

Timeline of events

Conflict and tension in Asia, 1950-1975: supporting resources

  • Student resources
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    Part one: Conflict in Korea
    Part two: Escalation of conflict in Vietnam
    Part three: The ending of conflict in Vietnam

    Every topic comprises:
    . comprehensive and thoughtfully laid out set of notes
    . a varied range of exercises and worksheets
    . recommended media
    . primary evidence: stories of the wars

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  • Films & Documentaries

    Numerous films portray the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
    Below are some of our recommendations.
    Be beware that some content my be inappropriate for your class. Be check before showing.
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  • YouTube

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    Check out the YouTube channel:
    GCSE History for selected recommended viewings.

  • FREE posters

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Part One: Conflict in Korea

  • The causes of the Korean War

    Why was the USA involved?

    Before 1950 USA was not very interested in Korea.

    BUT in 1950:
    USA policy of Containment: stop communism spreading around the world

    USA ideas in NSC 68 which said USA needed more arms & it should ‘roll back’ communism.

    USA believed in Domino Theory. If South Korea were to become communist it would spread to other countries for example Japan.

    USA supported the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee as an anti-communist.
    Pre 1950
    Why was the USSR involved?

    Before 1950 USSR was not very interested in Korea.

    BUT in 1949:
    NATO was formed and Stalin was worried, plus USA was helping Japan.

    Stalin thought USA was being ‘aggressive’ in Asia and trying ti influence the region.

    Stalin and the USSR supported the communist leader

    When Kim Il-Sung leader of North Korea told Stalin he wanted to invade the South, Stalin thought it a good idea as it would cause the USA problems

    USSR gave North Korea weapons and advice, but never sent Russian soldiers
    Pre 1950
    North and South Korea

    Both the leaders in North and South Korea saw themselves as the rightful leader of a united Korea.

    There were a number of incidents on the border between North and South and tension remained high from 1948-50.

    Kim Il-Sung visited Stalin in 1949 to get his support to invade the South and unite Korea. Stalin was not sure at the time, but a year later gave his support as the USA had pulled its troops out of South Korea, the USSR was now its own atomic bombs to match the USA and China was now a communist country.

    Stalin supported North Korea with military equipment but would not send Soviet soldiers.
    Pre 1950
    UN Election Commission
    The United Nations in 1947, with General Assembly Resolution 112 established a commission to oversee elections in Korea with the aim to unite Korea.
    North Korea refused entry to the UN.

    After elections in the South UN General Assembly Resolution 148 stated that Korea should be united and the Soviet Union and the USA pull out of Korea.

    UN military observers
    As clashes on the border grew UN monitors were sent to the border to observe and try to prevent further incidents.
    UN recognition of South Korea
    UN General Assembly Resolution 293 (Oct. 1949) legally recognised the South Korean elections and therefore the government led by Syngnam Rhee.
    North Korea refused to accept the UN resolution and said it will ‘drive out the United Nations’.

    The Soviet Union boycotts the United Nations
    When the communists took over China, the Security Council refused to acknowledge the new government and continued to support the Republic of China (Taiwan) as the legitimate government. the Soviet Union stormed out of the United Nations and refused to attend Security Council meetings whilst the Republic of China was recognised.
    This UN boycott meant the Soviet Union was not part of the Security Council when North Korea invaded the South.

  • The development of the Korean war
    Invasion of the South

    The North Korean People’s Army invaded across the 38th parallel with 75,000 troops.

    This was a civil war - North v South, but it quickly became a ‘proxy’ war between the two superpowers: USA v USSR.
    25th June 1950
    UN action over the invasion by North Korea
    The United Nations Security Council met on 25th June, 1950, in response to North Korea’s invasion.

    They issued UN Security Resolution 82:
    The resolution condemned the "armed attack on the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea", while calling for "the immediate cessation of hostilities" and for "the authorities in North Korea to withdraw forthwith their armed forces to the 38th parallel".

    The vote was 9 - 0. Under normal circumstances the USSR would have vetoed the resolution, but the Soviet Union was boycotting the United Nations Security Council.

    Votes: USA, UK, France, China + Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Yugoslavia, Norway
    Soviet Union (absent)
    25th June 1950
    Phase One

    On 25 June 1950, the North Koreans attacked.   They were very successful. The North Korean People's Army (NKPA) easily defeated the Republic of Korea's army (the ROKs).
    They captured most of South Korea.
    The USA was shocked and alarmed.
    On 27 June they persuaded the United Nations to pass a resolution supporting South Korea.
    The USA sent troops to Korea as part of the UN force to help the South Korean Army at Pusan. 
    June-September 1950
    Phase Two

    On 15 September, the US General MacArthur led a UN amphibious landing at Inchon (near Seoul) behind the NKPA . Out of the 300,000 UN troops, 260,000 were Americans.
    In danger of being cut off, the NKPA had to retreat.   The Americans drove them back and recaptured South Korea. 125,000 NKPA prisoners were taken.
    On 7 October 1950 MacArthur invaded North Korea. He advanced as far as the Chinese border. He boasted that the Americans would be 'home by Christmas'.
    September - November 1950
    Phase Three

    The Americans landed more troops.  They used bombers.  
    The Chinese admitted to losing 390,000 men dead - UN sources put the figure at up to a million Chinese and half a million North Koreans dead.The US drove the Chinese back, but 54,000 American soldiers died doing so.
    MacArthur reached the 38
    th parallel in March 1951.

    He threatened to invade China.
    November 1950 - February 1951
    Phase Four

    Now the Chinese were alarmed.
    On 25 November, 200,000 Chinese troops ('People's Volunteers') attacked MacArthur. They had modern weapons supplied by Russia, and a fanatical hatred of the Americans.  
    Then, on 31 December, half a million more Chinese troops entered the war and attacked the Americans.   They drove the Americans back (using 'human wave tactics'). They recaptured North Korea, and advanced into South Korea.
    February - March 1951
    Phase Five

    Truman told MacArthur to stop and not step foot in China.
    As a result General MacArthur was sacked by President Truman, when he publicly criticised his order.  
    In 1953, Eisenhower, a General in World War II, became American president. 
    He criticised Truman’s approach to the war. He visited Korea and as a result initiated peace talks that began in July 1951.

    At the same time Americans hinted at the possible use of atomic bombs if China did not stop fighting in Korea. In addition, he got the South Koreans to drop some of their demands to secure a truce.
    March 1951 - June 1953
  • The end of the Korean War
    Peace and an armistice

    The Chinese & Koreans agreed to an armistice, which was signed on 27 July 1953 by them and the United Nations led by the USA.
    This was temporary until a peaceful settlement could be reached.

    As part of the armistice the following was agreed:
    . stop all fighting
    . POWs could decide where to go - North or South
    . a new border was agreed and a demilitarisation zone
    . establishment of a Military Armistice Commission (MAC) to ensure the truce held
    27th July 1953
    . 30,000 US troops were killed
    . USA thought the war was a success because South Korea did not become communist (Truman Doctrine)
    Post 1953
    . North Korea seen as the ‘aggressor’
    . Over 750,000 North Korean & Chinese soldiers and civilians died
    . About 70,000 South Korean soldiers were killed
    . Over 500,000 South Korean civilians died in the war
    . Up to 80% of Korean industry was destroyed
    . Many North Koreans were made homeless

    Post 1953
    United Nations
    . 4,500 United Nations troops from other countries were killed
    . United Nations showed it could be decisive and strong (though largely because the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN)
    . Some people saw the USA controlling the UN
    Post 1953
    International Relations
    . relations between the superpowers declined
    . the Cold War spread from Europe to Asia
    . USSR set-up the Warsaw Pact in Europe
    . China announced itself onto the world stage, showing it was willing to stand up to the USA
    . SEATO - South Asian Treaty Organisation (similar to NATO)
    . The Arms Race intensified after the Korean War
    Post 1953

Part Two: Escalation of conflict in Vietnam

  • The end of French colonial rule

    First Indochina War


    . French colony since C19th called IndoChina.
    . Rebellion in 1930s crushed by the French army.
    . WWII, 1940 French surrendered to Germans.
    . Japan (Germany’s allies) take over Vietnam from French.
    . WWII, anti-Japan resistance movement (Viet Minh) led by Ho Chi Minh, who wanted an end to colonial rule.
    . WWII, 1945 Allies victory meant France wanted Vietnam back, even though Ho Chi Minh had declared an independent Vietnam.
    . 1946 war broke out between Viet Minh & the French. Ho Chi Minh was a communist but kept quiet so not to upset USA.
    The USA was against colonialism.
    . 1949, Mao’s communist takeover in China meant support for the Viet Minh
    . 1950 USA now saw Ho Chi Minh as a communist enemy & friends with China. They gave $500 million pa to the French as part of their policy of containment.
    . French controlled the cities & the Viet Minh the countryside.
    . Viet Minh guerrilla tactics meant the French pulled out after defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
    . 1954 Peace Conference, Geneva Settlement
    saw Vietnam divided into North & South (along 17th parallel) until elections were held which the USA did not want as they feared a communist victory.
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    1939 before WWII, Vietnam was part of French Empire:
    French Indo China
    (Vietnam, Cambodia + Laos)
    Indo China had:
    . rice, corn, coal & rubber

    1940 France was defeated by Germany in WWII
    1941 France agreed that Japan could take resources from its colony as it was fighting China
    Consequences: Vietnamese starved as the Japanese took rice - up to 2.5 million died
    The Vietminh formed
    1941 Ho Chi Minh + Nguyen Vo Giap (communists) set up the
    League for the Independence of Vietnam a nationalist movement
    Aim: to establish an independent Vietnam (free from foreign rule e.g. France + Japan)
    Vietminh was based in South China, but got help from the USA (training & equipment).
    They the attacked French & Japanese using guerrilla tactics.
    1945 Japanese takeover
    They took control from the French, but in August surrendered to the USA in WWII & had to withdraw from all countries inc.Vietnam

    1945 Who to rule Vietnam?
    Vietminh quickly took over from French & Japanese:
    Sept. Ho Chi Minh announced Vietnam to be independent
    USA believed people should rule themselves - not colonial countries

    First Indochina War

    French return to Vietnam

    French return to Vietnam
    1945: Dec. 50,000 French troops took control of the south of Vietnam.
    French commander Leclerc said he had won by March 1946

    Vietminh guerrilla
    fighters disappeared
    when the French arrived
    & took back control when
    they left an area.

    Negotiations 1946
    Vietminh ‘controlled’ the North & the French the south. Ho went to Paris but no agreement only a ceasefire.
    French launch attack
    1946: Nov. French troops attacked the Vietminh in the north inc. Hanoi
    The Vietminh hide in the
    jungles - there was
    little fighting.

    1950 Cold War
    Korean War,
    Truman Doctrine meant
    USA supporting French fight communists e.g. Vietminh & Ho

    USA send supplies to French to defeat Vietminh
    . Communist took over in China in 1949 led by Mao Zedong
    . Mao supplied Vietminh with military equipment
    . USA scared communist would spread through Asia (domino theory)
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    First Indochina War

    French defeat and consequences

    Vietminh success
    1950: Giap had 100.000 well armed soldiers
    French 100,000 soldiers + 300,000 Vietnamese BUT cover huge area

    Vietminh guerrilla tactics
    Hiding in the jungles they could hit the French whenever they wanted.

    Giap tried a big attacks in 1950
    & 1951 but lost heavily against well defended French positions.

    Turning point: Dien Bien Phu
    Giap was determined to win a ‘big battle’. He choose Dien Bien Phu which defended one way into Laos.
    He had 60,000 men + 200 artillery guns. He tunnelled close to the French position. For several weeks the Vietminh attacked, until the French surrendered as they could not supply the base.
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    USA not help the French
    1954: France asked for US troops, but US had just fought in Korea so was not interested in another war.

    Geneva Agreement
    May 1954: France,UK, USA, China, Vietnam & USSR
    . After DBP France had had enough.
    1. Vietnam divided into North & South
    North = Ho Chi Minh
    South = Ngo Dinh Diem
    2. Elections to be held July 1956

    Diem refused to accept the agreement & USA said they would support him (containment)
  • The US involvement

    USA involvement in the 1950s

    Already involvement

    USA had supported France since the end WWII.

    Given $500 million per year to help France inc. equipment

    After 1954, helped South Vietnam with money, equipment & military advisors.

    USA counter the support that North Vietnam was getting from USSR & China.

    Committed to supporting the South Vietnam government at Geneva Settlement. Backed unpopular leader Ngo Diem with $1.6 billion in 1950s.
    Truman Doctrine

    Policy of containment said USA to support anti-communists.

    Presidents Eisenhower in the 1950s and Kennedy after 1960 believed in the Domino Theory. If Vietnam became communist then other countries would follow: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, India etc
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    Kennedy Years: military build up

    1960 - 1963: Kennedy increased military advisors
    from 900 to 11,000

    1963: Vietcong take over 40% of S.Vietnamese countryside

    1963: President Johnson sends more help to stop Vietcong
    Johnson not a ‘war monger’ but not want to be seen as soft on communism
    Defence Sec. McNamara believed war was winnable

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  • Johnson's War

    The Johnson Years

    President Johnson's aims

    Public aim:
    . defeat communism (containment)
    . support democracy (S.Vietnam)

    Private aims:
    . save face for US and not be first President to lose a war

    . many in US not care about democracy in Vietnam
    . US supporting a corrupt S. Vietnam government

    President Johnson's methods

    . Support democracy but alien to Vietnamese
    . Support educational, medical & social programmes

    . Use bombing to win the war
    . Destroy VC supply routes

    . bombing made Vietnamese more determined
    . Chemical attacks turned US people against the war

    Public opinion

    . Support democracy
    . Support educational, medical & social programmes

    . Use bombing to win the war (save us lives)

    . Bombing killed civilians
    . Chemical attacks turned US people against the war

    US military tactics


    Operation Rolling Thunder (Feb. 1965 - 1972)
    . Targets:
    . industrial & military targets
    (initially approved by President)
    . then town & cities
    . then in Laos & Cambodia
    (Ho Chi Minh Trail)
    . reduced number of soldiers needed
    . dropped more bombs than on Germany & Japan in WWII
    . damaged NV ability to fight the war
    . attacked Vietcong targets in South
    . 14,000 US bombers shot down
    . failed to stop the communists
    . Killing civilians (women & children) turned many in USA against the war

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    Chemical weapons

    Agent Orange & Napalm
    . It was a sort of ‘weedkiller’
    . Used to destroy the jungles, so the Vietcong had
    no hiding place
    Destroyed thousands of sq km of jungle
    . Burned & killed thousands of guerrilla fighters & civilians
    . Shocking pictures of women & children burned by chemical weapons turned public opinion against the war
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    Search and destory

    Search & destroy
    . Bombing was not winning the war
    . USA built strong bases in the south &
    launched attacks via helicopters
    . Result:
    . Some successes against Vietcong
    . Pointless attacks based on poor information
    . Vietcong often ‘vanished’ before attacks
    . Many civilians killed during attacks
    . Turned many peasants against the USA/South Vietnamese
    . My Lai Massacre turned US public opinion against the war
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    Problems for Johnson

    Problems in South Vietnam 1966-67
    Loss of McNamara 1967
    Public Opinion

    Government was corrupt & unpopular
    VC spies in the government and military
    Many South Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh

    McNamara (Defence Sec.) with JFK then Johnson
    McNamara responsible for military policy & tactics
    McNamara changed from saying easily winnable,
    to the war being unwinnable
    Replaced by Clark (advisor & friend of Johnson)

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    Members of Congress start criticising Johnson’s policies
    Buddhist nun sets herself on fire in protest in Vietnam
    Martin Luther King & other church leaders join
    anti-war protests
    Tax increases to pay for war, leads to more demonstrations
    Media turn against the war

    The Johnson Years

    Tet offensive
    Defence Secretary Clark
    Financial costs

    North Vietnamese VC attacked multiple targets in the South
    Attacked during Tet holiday surprising everyone
    Attacks were unsuccessful & the VC lost 60,000 soldiers

    BUT: US shocked by size of attack, confidence shaken
    US intelligence failed & 10,000 US/South troops killed
    People in USA shocked by what their saw
    US media showed it as a failure for the USA
    Realised USA did not have a plan to win in Vietnam
    (policy of not losing to save face)
    By March 1968 Clark was telling President Johnson the war was unwinnable
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    Great Society spending cut as military spending increased
    Deficit: from $1.6 billion (1963) to $25.3 billion (1968)
    Inflation increased + people not want to pay increase in tax to pay for war

    Public opinion
    TV coverage: bombing & chemical attacks turned people against war
    Mai Lai incident shocked people around the world
    Opinion: win the war or get out

    President Johnson
    TV coverage
    Public Opinion

    Johnson’s health suffered
    Advisors started looking at peace options
    Bombing stopped whilst peace talks held
    BUT: Peace difficult as North Vietnamese not want
    to compromise
    Johnson in a weak negotiating position
    TV coverage: bombing & chemical attacks turned people against war
    Mai Lai incident shocked people around the world
    Opinion: win the war or get out
    TV coverage: bombing & chemical attacks turned people against war
    Mai Lai incident shocked people around the world
    Opinion: win the war or get out

    The My Lai Massacre 1968 - 1970
    Event: Unit of soldiers (Charlie Company) on a ‘search & destroy mission’.
    Attacked what they thought was a Vietcong stronghold.
    After 3 / 4 hours 300-400 civilians were dead inc. women & children.
    There were no Vietcong & only 3 weapons found.
    Official report: only 20 civilians killed, the rest were Vietcong.
    The soldiers were praised for their actions.
    The letter: Soldier Ridenhour who knew many soldiers at
    My Lai wrote a letter to politicians & officials in Washington
    saying what really happened there.
    Life Magazine: published photos of the massacre.
    Investigation: Lieutenant Calley was charged with murder and others were also charged, but the army made Calley solely responsible & said he was not acting on orders. Calley was sentenced to 20 years hard labour. (He was released after 3 years).
    The events of My Lai shocked the US people.
    The Peace Movement
    Peace movement: no longer hippies & students but ordinary middle class people who wanted an end to the ‘pointless’ war.

    My Lai Massacre: after the incident came to light
    over 500,000 people protested against in the war in
    Washington DC. The largest protest ever in the USA.

    Politics: to be pro-war was political suicide for
    most politicians. Nixon was very anti-communist
    but had to be against the war or at least
    pro peace to get elected in 1968

Part Three: The ending of conflict in Vietnam

  • Nixon's war
    The Nixon Years

    Negotiations: ‘Peace with Honour’
    May 1968: USA wanted a South Vietnam, the
    communists wanted a united Vietnam.
    USA wanted free elections in the south but North Vietnam
    did not trust the elections would be fair.
    Kissinger (USA) & Le Duc Tho (North Vietnam) agreed:
    . US troops withdraw after ceasefire
    . Prisoners of war released
    . Elections in the south
    Paris Peace Agreement - 27 January 1972
    Nixon ordered bombing to be increased.
    He hoped this would put pressure on the communists as
    peace negotiations continued.
    When talks broke down in Dec 1972, Nixon ordered a
    massive bombing campaign.
    In 11 days more bombs were dropped than in the previous 2 years.
    The North restarted negotiations and the Paris Peace Agreement was signed on 27 January 1973
    US invasion of Cambodia
    The US was unable to cut off the supply lines as the communists used trials & bases in Laos & Cambodia.
    Nixon ordered the invasion of Viet Cong bases in Cambodia
  • Opposition to war
  • The end of the war

    End of the war
    Nixon started replacing US soldiers
    with Vietnamese soldiers AVRN.
    Between 1969 - 71 400,000 troops were
    withdrawn from Vietnam.

    AVRN were no match for communist fighters.
    USSR & China relations
    USSR & China relations in 1969 were so bad some feared there
    would be a war between the two.

    As a result both countries tried to improve
    their relations with the USA.
    1970: Nixon & USSR began talks about limiting nuclear arms (SALT) & asked USSR to pressure North Vietnam to end the war.
    1972: Nixon was invited to visit China & he asked China to pressure North Vietnam to end the war
    The end …..
    Fighting restarted in 1973, AVRN held for a while but low morale & poor leadership meant that by ……
    April 1975, communist forces entered Saigon - hundreds of thousands of S. Vietnamese were executed.
    People watched on TV as 6000 Americans fled, helicopters lifting people off the Embassy roof.
    War started in 1941 against the Japanese was now over & Saigon renamed as Ho Chi Minh City.

    Consequences for Vietnam

    Many peasants left the countryside & lived in shanty towns: poverty, prostitution & drugs
    Refugees = 5 million
    Corruption in the South was rife
    Black market in US goods
    USA banned trade with Vietnam
    Food shortages were common
    ‘Boat people’: 1970s saw 1 million Vietnamese try to leave the country
    Took 20 years to recover to pre-war levels
    Chemical warfare:
    Huge areas of forest & agricultural land destroyed
    Food shortages as a result
    Water supply poisoned
    Mines & unexploded bombs were everywhere
    and continued to kill people t=years after the war
    Vietnam unified under communism
    Communism spread to Cambodia & Laos
    South Vietnamese victimised after the war, thousands executed & ‘re-educated’

    US foreign policy: end of containment
    Propaganda disaster for the USA
    Use of bombing, chemical warfare lost US support
    Nixon ended the ‘Truman Doctrine’
    US abandoned policy of containment
    Military intervention less likely after Vietnam
    Looked to talk with USSR & China: Detente
    President Johnson destroyed by the war - even though vast majority supported the war at the start
    Pro-war became political liability
    Nixon anti-communist but had to pursue peace
    Politicians more isolationist
    58,000 died in the war
    Divided the nation:
    Student demonstrations
    Draft dodgers
    Many veterans became anti-war protestors
    drug addicts & suffered post traumatic stress
    (est. at 800,000)
    Others who handled Agent Orange suffered cancer
    TV war: pictures of the horrors of war on the news every evening
    USA lost confidence in their country
    Military industrial production increased,
    consumer goods decreased
    USA had budget deficits which caused inflation
    Interest rates rose
    Value of the dollar fell
    Govt. spending was reduced on social programmes in Johnson’s ‘Great Society’