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Korean War
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s
Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. This invasion was
the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s
behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international
communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and
casualties mounted with nothing to show for them. Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to
fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider
war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean
War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. The
Korean peninsula is still divided today.

Contents
The Two Koreas
The Korean War and the Cold War
"No Substitute for Victory"?
The Korean War Reaches a Stalemate
Casualties of the Korean War

The Two Koreas


"If the best minds in the world had set out to find us the worst possible location in the world to fight this
damnable war," U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893-1971) once said, “the unanimous choice
would have been Korea.” The peninsula had landed in America's lap almost by accident. Since the
beginning of the 20th century, Korea had been a part of the Japanese empire, and after World War II it
fell to the Americans and the Soviets to decide what should be done with their enemy's mperial
possessions. In August 1945, two young aides at the State Department divided the Korean peninsula in
half along the 38th parallel. The Russians occupied the area north of the line and the United States
occupied the area to its south.

By the end of the decade, two new states had formed on the peninsula. In the south, the anti-communist
dictator Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) enjoyed the reluctant support of the American government; in the
north, the communist dictator Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) enjoyed the slightly more enthusiastic support of
the Soviets. Neither dictator was content to remain on his side of the 38th parallel, however, and border

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skirmishes were common. Nearly 10,000 North and South Korean soldiers were killed in battle before
the war even began.

The Korean War and the Cold War


Even so, the North Korean invasion came as an alarming surprise to American officials. As far as they
were concerned, this was not simply a border dispute between two unstable dictatorships on the other
side of the globe. Instead, many feared it was the first step in a communist campaign to take over the
world. For this reason, nonintervention was not considered an option by many top decision makers. (In
fact, in April 1950, a National Security Council report known as NSC-68 had recommended that the
United States use military force to “contain” communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be
occurring, “regardless of the intrinsic strategic or economic value of the lands in question.”)

“If we let Korea down,” President Harry Truman (1884-1972) said, “the Soviet[s] will keep right on
going and swallow up one [place] after another.” The fight on the Korean peninsula was a symbol of the
global struggle between east and west, good and evil. As the North Korean army pushed into Seoul, the
South Korean capital, the United States readied its troops for a war against communism itself.

At first, the war was a defensive one–a war to get the communists out of South Korea–and it went badly
for the Allies. The North Korean army was well-disciplined, well-trained and well-equipped; Rhee’s
forces, by contrast, were frightened, confused, and seemed inclined to flee the battlefield at any
provocation. Also, it was one of the hottest and driest summers on record, and desperately thirsty
American soldiers were often forced to drink water from rice paddies that had been fertilized with human
waste. As a result, dangerous intestinal diseases and other illnesses were a constant threat.

By the end of the summer, President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), the
commander in charge of the Asian theater, had decided on a new set of war aims. Now, for the Allies, the
Korean War was an offensive one: It was a war to “liberate” the North from the communists.

Initially, this new strategy was a success. An amphibious assault at Inchon pushed the North Koreans out
of Seoul and back to their side of the 38th parallel. But as American troops crossed the boundary and
headed north toward the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and Communist China, the Chinese
started to worry about protecting themselves from what they called “armed aggression against Chinese
territory.” Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) sent troops to North Korea and warned the United
States to keep away from the Yalu boundary unless it wanted full-scale war

"No Substitute for Victory"?


This was something that President Truman and his advisers decidedly did not want: They were sure that
such a war would lead to Soviet aggression in Europe, the deployment of atomic weapons and millions of
senseless deaths. To General MacArthur, however, anything short of this wider war represented
“appeasement,” an unacceptable knuckling under to the communists.

As President Truman looked for a way to prevent war with the Chinese, MacArthur did all he could to
provoke it. Finally, in March 1951, he sent a letter to Joseph Martin, a House Republican leader who
shared MacArthur’s support for declaring all-out war on China–and who could be counted upon to leak

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the letter to the press. “There is,” MacArthur wrote, “no substitute for victory” against international
communism.

For Truman, this letter was the last straw. On April 11, the president fired the general for insubordination.

The Korean War Reaches a Stalemate


In July 1951, President Truman and his new military commanders started peace talks at Panmunjom.
Still, the fighting continued along the 38th parallel as negotiations stalled. Both sides were willing to
accept a ceasefire that maintained the 38th parallel boundary, but they could not agree on whether
prisoners of war should be forcibly “repatriated.” (The Chinese and the North Koreans said yes; the
United States said no.) Finally, after more than two years of negotiations, the adversaries signed an
armistice on July 27, 1953. The agreement allowed the POWs to stay where they liked; drew a new
boundary near the 38th parallel that gave South Korea an extra 1,500 square miles of territory; and
created a 2-mile-wide “demilitarized zone” that still exists today.

Casualties of the Korean War


The Korean War was relatively short but exceptionally bloody. Nearly 5 million people died. More than
half of these–about 10 percent of Korea’s prewar population–were civilians. (This rate of civilian
casualties was higher than World War II’s and Vietnam’s.) Almost 40,000 Americans died in action in
Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded.

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Cuban Missile Crisis


During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense, 13-day
political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on
Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. In a TV address on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy
(1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval
blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to
neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this news, many people feared the world
was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev's (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising
not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Contents
Discovering the Missiles
A New Threat to the U.S.
Weighing the Options
Showdown at Sea
A Deal Ends the Standoff

Discovering the Missiles


After seizing power in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in 1959, leftist revolutionary leader Fidel
Castro (1926-) aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Under Castro, Cuba grew dependent on the
Soviets for military and economic aid. During this time, the U.S. and the Soviets (and their respective
allies) were engaged in the Cold War (1945-91), an ongoing series of largely political and economic
clashes.

The two superpowers plunged into one of their biggest Cold War confrontations after the pilot of an
American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba on October 14, 1962, photographed a
Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.

President Kennedy was briefed about the situation on October 16, and he immediately called together a
group of advisors and officials known as the executive committee, or ExCom. For nearly the next two
weeks, the president and his team wrestled with a diplomatic crisis of epic proportions, as did their
counterparts in the Soviet Union.

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A New Threat to the U.S.


For the American officials, the urgency of the situation stemmed from the fact that the nuclear-armed
Cuban missiles were being installed so close to the U.S. mainland--just 90 miles south of Florida. From
that launch point, they were capable of quickly reaching targets in the eastern U.S. If allowed to become
operational, the missiles would fundamentally alter the complexion of the nuclear rivalry between the
U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which up to that point had been dominated by
the Americans.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had gambled on sending the missiles to Cuba with the specific goal of
increasing his nation's nuclear strike capability. The Soviets had long felt uneasy about the number of
nuclear weapons that were targeted at them from sites in Western Europe and Turkey, and they saw the
deployment of missiles in Cuba as a way to level the playing field. Another key factor in the Soviet
missile scheme was the hostile relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. The Kennedy administration had
already launched one attack on the island--the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961--and Castro and
Khrushchev saw the missiles as a means of deterring further U.S. aggression.

Weighing the Options


From the outset of the crisis, Kennedy and ExCom determined that the presence of Soviet missiles in
Cuba was unacceptable. The challenge facing them was to orchestrate their removal without initiating a
wider conflict--and possibly a nuclear war. In deliberations that stretched on for nearly a week, they came
up with a variety of options, including a bombing attack on the missile sites and a full-scale invasion of
Cuba. But Kennedy ultimately decided on a more measured approach. First, he would employ the U.S.
Navy to establish a blockade, or quarantine, of the island to prevent the Soviets from delivering
additional missiles and military equipment. Second, he would deliver an ultimatum that the existing
missiles be removed.

In a television broadcast on October 22, 1962, the president notified Americans about the presence of the
missiles, explained his decision to enact the blockade and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use
military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this public
declaration, people around the globe nervously waited for the Soviet response. Some Americans, fearing
their country was on the brink of nuclear war, hoarded food and gas.

Showdown at Sea
A crucial moment in the unfolding crisis arrived on October 24, when Soviet ships bound for Cuba
neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade. An attempt by the Soviets to breach the blockade
would likely have sparked a military confrontation that could have quickly escalated to a nuclear
exchange. But the Soviet ships stopped short of the blockade.

Although the events at sea offered a positive sign that war could be averted, they did nothing to address
the problem of the missiles already in Cuba. The tense standoff between the superpowers continued
through the week, and on October 27, an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba, and
a U.S. invasion force was readied in Florida. (The 35-year-old pilot of the downed plane, Major Rudolf
Anderson, is considered the sole U.S. combat casualty of the Cuban missile crisis.) "I thought it was the

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last Saturday I would ever see," recalled U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (1916-2009), as
quoted by Martin Walker in "The Cold War." A similar sense of doom was felt by other key players on
both sides.

A Deal Ends the Standoff


Despite the enormous tension, Soviet and American leaders found a way out of the impasse. During the
crisis, the Americans and Soviets had exchanged letters and other communications, and on October 26,
Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange
for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The following day, the Soviet leader sent a letter
proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile
installations in Turkey.

Officially, the Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the first message and ignore the
second Khrushchev letter entirely. Privately, however, American officials also agreed to withdraw their
nation's missiles from Turkey. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925-68) personally delivered the
message to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, and on October 28, the crisis drew to a close.

Both the Americans and Soviets were sobered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, a direct
"hot line" communication link was installed between Washington and Moscow to help defuse similar
situations, and the superpowers signed two treaties related to nuclear weapons. The Cold War was far
from over, though. In fact, another legacy of the crisis was that it convinced the Soviets to increase their
investment in an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. from Soviet
territory.

How to Cite this Page:


Cuban Missile Crisis
APA Style
Cuban Missile Crisis. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 11:08, May 1, 2011, from http://www.history.com
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Harvard Style
Cuban Missile Crisis. [Internet]. 2011. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics
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“Cuban Missile Crisis,” The History Channel website, 2011, http://www.history.com/topics/cuban-missile-crisis [accessed
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Cuban Missile Crisis, http://www.history.com/topics/cuban-missile-crisis (last visited May 1, 2011).

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Vietnam War
The Vietnam War, which lasted longer than any other military conflict in American history, grew out of
the U.S. government’s Cold War-era policy to prevent the spread of communism at home and abroad.
The United States began sending financial aid and military advisors to South Vietnam in the 1950s,
hoping to thwart a takeover by the communist North Vietnamese, led by Ho Chi Minh. As troop levels
and casualties escalated throughout the 1960s, the war became increasingly unpopular at home, inciting
large-scale protests, profoundly affecting popular culture and fomenting mutual distrust between the
public and its leaders. The United States began withdrawing its troops in 1973, and in 1975 the South
Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces. More than 58,000 American soldiers had
perished.

The Vietnam War, the nation's longest, cost fifty-eight thousand American lives. Only the Civil War and
the two world wars were deadlier for Americans. During the decade of direct U.S. military participation
in Vietnam beginning in 1964, the U.S. Treasury spent over $140 billion on the war, enough money to
fund urban renewal projects in every major American city. Despite these enormous costs and their
accompanying public and private trauma for the American people, the United States failed, for the first
time in its history, to achieve its stated war aims. The goal was to preserve a separate, independent,
noncommunist government in South Vietnam, but after April 1975, the communist Democratic Republic
of Vietnam (drv) ruled the entire nation.

The initial reasons for U.S. involvement in Vietnam seemed logical and compelling to American leaders.
Following its success in World War II, the United States faced the future with a sense of moral rectitude
and material confidence. From Washington's perspective, the principal threat to U.S. security and world
peace was monolithic, dictatorial communism emanating from the Soviet Union. Any communist
anywhere, at home or abroad, was, by definition, an enemy of the United States. Drawing an analogy
with the unsuccessful appeasement of fascist dictators before World War II, the Truman administration
believed that any sign of communist aggression must be met quickly and forcefully by the United States
and its allies. This reactive policy was known as containment.

In Vietnam the target of containment was Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh front he had created in 1941.
Ho and his chief lieutenants were communists with long-standing connections to the Soviet Union. They
were also ardent Vietnamese nationalists who fought first to rid their country of the Japanese and then,
after 1945, to prevent France from reestablishing its former colonial mastery over Vietnam and the rest of
Indochina. Harry S. Truman and other American leaders, having no sympathy for French colonialism,
favored Vietnamese independence. But expanding communist control of Eastern Europe and the triumph

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of the communists in China's civil war made France's war against Ho seem an anticommunist rather than
a colonialist effort. When France agreed to a quasi-independent Vietnam under Emperor Bao Dai as an
alternative to Ho's drv, the United States decided to support the French position.

The American conception of Vietnam as a cold war battleground largely ignored the struggle for social
justice and national sovereignty occurring within the country. American attention focused primarily on
Europe and on Asia beyond Vietnam. Aid to France in Indochina was a quid pro quo for French
cooperation with America's plans for the defense of Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization. After China became a communist state in 1949, the stability of Japan became of paramount
importance to Washington, and Japanese development required access to the markets and raw materials
of Southeast Asia. The outbreak of war in Korea in 1950 served primarily to confirm Washington's belief
that communist aggression posed a great danger to Asia. And subsequent charges that Truman had "lost"
China and had settled for a stalemate in Korea caused succeeding presidents to fear the domestic political
consequences if they "lost" Vietnam. This apprehension, an overestimation of American power, and an
underestimation of Vietnamese communist strength locked all administrations from 1950 through the
1960s into a firm anticommunist stand in Vietnam.

Because American policymakers failed to appreciate the amount of effort that would be required to exert
influence on Vietnam's political and social structure, the course of American policy led to a steady
escalation of U.S. involvement. President Dwight D. Eisenhower increased the level of aid to the French
but continued to avoid military intervention, even when the French experienced a devastating defeat at
Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954. Following that battle, an international conference at Geneva,
Switzerland, arranged a cease-fire and provided for a North-South partition of Vietnam until elections
could be held. The United States was not a party to the Geneva Agreements and began to foster the
creation of a Vietnamese regime in South Vietnam to rival that of Ho in the North. Eisenhower
enunciated the "domino theory," which held that, if the communists succeeded in controlling Vietnam,
they would progressively dominate all of Southeast Asia. With support from Washington, South
Vietnam's autocratic president Ngo Dinh Diem, who deposed Bao Dai in October 1955, resisted holding
an election on the reunification of Vietnam. Despite over $1 billion of U.S. aid between 1955 and 1961,
the South Vietnamese economy languished and internal security deteriorated. Nation building was failing
in the South, and, in 1960, communist cadres created the National Liberation Front (nlf), or Vietcong as
its enemies called it, to challenge the Diem regime.

President John F. Kennedy concurred with his predecessor's domino theory and also believed that the
credibility of U.S. anticommunist commitments around the world was imperiled in 1961. Consequently,
by 1963 he had tripled American aid to South Vietnam and expanded the number of military advisers
there from less than seven hundred to more than sixteen thousand. But the Diem government still failed
to show economic or political progress. Buddhist priests, spiritual leaders of the majority of Vietnamese,
staged dramatic protests, including self-immolation, against the dictatorship of the Catholic Diem. Ngo
Dinh Nhu, Diem's brother, led a brutal suppression of the Buddhist resistance. Finally, after receiving
assurances of noninterference from U.S. officials, South Vietnamese military officers conducted a coup
that ended with the murders of Diem and Nhu. Whether these gruesome developments would have led
Kennedy to redirect or decrease U.S. involvement in Vietnam is unknown, since Kennedy himself was

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assassinated three weeks later.

Diem's death left a leadership vacuum in South Vietnam, and the survival of the Saigon regime was in
jeopardy. With a presidential election approaching, Lyndon B. Johnson did not want to be saddled with
the charge of having lost South Vietnam. On the other hand, an expansion of U.S. responsibility for the
war against the Vietcong and North Vietnam would divert resources from Johnson's ambitious and
expensive domestic program, the Great Society. A larger war in Vietnam also raised the risk of a military
clash with China. Using as a provocation alleged North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. Navy vessels in the
Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, Johnson authorized limited bombing raids on North Vietnam and secured
a resolution from Congress allowing him to use military forces in Vietnam. These actions helped Johnson
win the November election, but they did not dissuade the Vietcong from its relentless pressure against the
Saigon government.

By July 1965, Johnson faced the choice of being the first president to lose a war or of converting the
Vietnam War into a massive, U.S.-directed military effort. He chose a middle course that vastly escalated
U.S. involvement but that stopped short of an all-out application of American power. Troop levels
immediately jumped beyond 300,000, and by 1968 the number exceeded 500,000. Supporting these
ground troops was a tremendous air bombardment of North Vietnam that by 1967 surpassed the total
tonnage dropped on Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II.

Gen. William Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, pursued an attrition strategy designed to
inflict such heavy losses on the enemy that its will to continue would be broken. By late 1967, his
headquarters was claiming that the crossover point had been reached and that enemy strength was being
destroyed faster than it could be replenished. But the communists' Tet offensive launched in January
1968 quickly extinguished the "light at the end of the tunnel." The Vietcong struck throughout South
Vietnam, including a penetration of the U.S. embassy compound in Saigon. American and South
Vietnamese forces eventually repulsed the offensive and inflicted heavy losses on the Vietcong, but the
fighting had exposed the reality that a quick end of the war was not in sight.

Following the Tet offensive, American leaders began a slow and agonizing reduction of U.S.
involvement. Johnson limited the bombing, began peace talks with Hanoi and the nlf, and withdrew as a
candidate for reelection. His successor, Richard M. Nixon, announced a program of Vietnamization,
which basically represented a return to the Eisenhower and Kennedy policies of helping Vietnamese
forces fight the war. Nixon gradually reduced U.S. ground troops in Vietnam, but he increased the
bombing; the tonnage dropped after 1969 exceeded the already prodigious levels reached by Johnson.
Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply
routes along Vietnam's borders. He traveled to Moscow and Beijing for talks and sent his aide Henry A.
Kissinger to Paris for secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese. In January 1973, the United States
and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Agreement, which provided for the withdrawal of all
remaining U.S. forces from Vietnam, the return of U.S. prisoners of war, and a cease-fire. The American
troops and pows came home, but the war continued. Nixon termed it "peace with honor," since a separate
government remained in Saigon, but Kissinger acknowledged that the arrangement provided primarily
for a "decent interval" between U.S. withdrawal and the collapse of the South. In April 1975, North

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Vietnamese troops and tanks converged on Saigon, and the war was over.

Why did the United States lose the war? Some postmortems singled out media criticism of the war and
antiwar activism in America as undermining the will of the U.S. government to continue fighting. Others
cited the restrictions placed by civilian politicians on the military's operations or, conversely, blamed U.S.
military chiefs for not providing civilian leaders with a sound strategy for victory. These so-called win
arguments assume that victory was possible, but they overlook the flawed reasons for U.S. involvement
in Vietnam. Washington had sought to contain international communism, but this global strategic concern
masked the reality that the appeal of the communists in Vietnam derived from local economic, social, and
historical conditions. The U.S. response to Vietnamese communism was essentially to apply a military
solution to an internal political problem. America's infliction of enormous destruction on Vietnam served
only to discredit politically the Vietnamese that the United States sought to assist. Furthermore, U.S.
leaders underestimated the tenacity of the enemy. For the Vietnamese communists, the struggle was a
total war for their own and their cause's survival. For the United States, it was a limited war. Despite U.S.
concern about global credibility, Vietnam was a peripheral theater of the cold war. For many Americans,
the ultimate issue in Vietnam was not a question of winning or losing. Rather, they came to believe that
the rising level of expenditure of lives and dollars was unacceptable in pursuit of a marginal national
objective.

The rhetoric of U.S. leaders after World War II about the superiority of American values, the dangers of
appeasement, and the challenge of godless communism recognized no limit to U.S. ability to meet the
test of global leadership. In reality, neither the United States nor any other nation had the power to
guarantee alone the freedom and security of peoples of the world. The Vietnam War taught Americans a
humbling lesson about the limits of power.

The domestic consequences of the war were equally profound. From Truman through Nixon, the war
demonstrated the increasing dominance of the presidency within the federal government. Congress
essentially defaulted to the "imperial presidency" in the conduct of foreign affairs. Vietnam also
destroyed credibility within the American political process. The public came to distrust its leaders, and
many officials distrusted the public. In May 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen killed four Kent State
University students during a protest over U.S. troops invading Cambodia. Many Americans were
outraged while others defended the Ohio authorities. As this tragic example reveals, the war rent the
fabric of trust that traditionally clothed the American polity. Vietnam figured prominently in inflation,
unfulfilled Great Society programs, and the generation gap. The Vietnam War brought an end to the
domestic consensus that had sustained U.S. cold war policies since World War II and that had formed the
basis for the federal government's authority since the sweeping expansion of that authority under
Franklin D. Roosevelt.

George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, 2nd ed. (1986);
Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (1983).

DAVID L. ANDERSON

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The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright ©
1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

How to Cite this Page:


Vietnam War
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Vietnam War. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 11:09, May 1, 2011, from http://www.history.com/topics
/vietnam-war.

Harvard Style
Vietnam War. [Internet]. 2011. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war
[Accessed 1 May 2011].

MLA Style
“Vietnam War.” 2011. The History Channel website. May 1 2011, 11:09 http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war.

MHRA Style
“Vietnam War,” The History Channel website, 2011, http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war [accessed May 1, 2011].

Chicago Style
“Vietnam War,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war (accessed May 1, 2011).

CBE/CSE Style
Vietnam War [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2011 [cited 2011 May 1] Available from: http://www.history.com
/topics/vietnam-war.

Bluebook Style
Vietnam War, http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war (last visited May 1, 2011).

AMA Style
Vietnam War. The History Channel website. 2011. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war. Accessed
May 1, 2011.

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Afghan War — History.com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts http://www.history.com/topics/print/afghan-war

Afghan War
in the history of Afghanistan, the internal conflict (1978–92) between anticommunist Muslim guerrillas
and the Afghan communist government (aided in 1979–89 by Soviet troops). More broadly, the term also
encompasses military activity within Afghanistan since 1992 involving domestic and foreign forces.

The roots of the war lay in the overthrow of the centrist government of President Mohammad Daud Khan
in April 1978 by left-wing military officers led by Nur Mohammad Taraki. Power was thereafter shared
by two Marxist-Leninist political groups, the People's (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party,
which had earlier emerged from a single organization, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and
had reunited in an uneasy coalition shortly before the coup. The new government, which had little
popular support, forged close ties with the Soviet Union, launched ruthless purges of all domestic
opposition, and began extensive land and social reforms that were bitterly resented by the devoutly
Muslim and largely anticommunist population. Insurgencies arose against the government among both
tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the mujahideen (Arabic: mujahidun,
“those who engage in jihad”)—were Islamic in orientation. These uprisings, along with internal fighting
and coups within the government between the People's and Banner factions, prompted the Soviets to
invade the country in December 1979, sending in some 30,000 troops and toppling the short-lived
presidency of People's leader Hafizullah Amin. The aim of the Soviet operation was to prop up their new
but faltering client state, now headed by Banner leader Babrak Karmal, but the mujahideen rebellion
grew in response, spreading to all parts of the country. The Soviets initially left the suppression of the
rebellion to the Afghan army, but the latter was beset by mass desertions and remained largely ineffective
throughout the war.

The Afghan War quickly settled down into a stalemate, with about 100,000 Soviet troops controlling the
cities, larger towns, and major garrisons and the mujahideen moving with relative freedom throughout
the countryside. Soviet troops tried to crush the insurgency by various tactics, but the guerrillas generally
eluded their attacks. The Soviets then attempted to eliminate the mujahideen's civilian support by
bombing and depopulating the rural areas. These tactics sparked a massive flight from the countryside;
by 1982 some 2.8 million Afghans had sought asylum in Pakistan, and another 1.5 million had fled to
Iran. The mujahideen were eventually able to neutralize Soviet air power through the use of
shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles supplied by the Soviet Union's Cold War adversary, the United States.

The mujahideen were fragmented politically into a handful of independent groups, and their military
efforts remained uncoordinated throughout the war. The quality of their arms and combat organization
gradually improved, however, owing to experience and to the large quantity of arms and other war

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Afghan War — History.com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts http://www.history.com/topics/print/afghan-war

matériel shipped to the rebels, via Pakistan, by the United States and other countries and by sympathetic
Muslims from throughout the world. In addition, an indeterminate number of Muslim volunteers
—popularly termed “Afghan-Arabs,” regardless of their ethnicity—traveled from all parts of the world to
join the opposition.

The war in Afghanistan became a quagmire for what by the late 1980s was a disintegrating Soviet Union.
(The Soviets suffered some 15,000 dead and many more injured.) In 1988 the United States, Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union signed an agreement by which the latter would withdraw its troops
(completed in 1989), and Afghanistan returned to nonaligned status. In April 1992 various rebel groups,
together with newly rebellious government troops, stormed the besieged capital of Kabul and overthrew
the communist president, Mohammad Najibullah, who had succeeded Karmal in 1986.

A transitional government, sponsored by various rebel factions, proclaimed an Islamic republic, but
jubilation was short-lived. President Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Islamic Society (Jam'iyyat-e
Eslami), a major mujahideen group, refused to leave office in accordance with the power-sharing
arrangement reached by the new government. Other mujahideen groups, particularly the Islamic Party
(Hezb-e Eslami), led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, surrounded Kabul and began to barrage the city with
artillery and rockets. These attacks continued intermittently over the next several years as the countryside
outside Kabul slipped into chaos. Partly as a response, the Taliban (Persian: “Students”), a puritanical
Islamic group led by a former mujahideen commander, Mohammad Omar, emerged in the fall of 1994
and systematically seized control of the country, occupying Kabul in 1996. The Taliban—augmented by
volunteers from various Islamic extremist groups sheltering in Afghanistan, many of whom were
Afghan-Arab holdovers from the earlier conflict—soon controlled all but a small portion of northern
Afghanistan, which was held by a loose coalition of mujahideen forces known as the Northern Alliance.
Fighting continued at a stalemate until 2001, when the Taliban refused demands by the U.S. government
to extradite Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden, the leader of an Islamic extremist group, al-Qa'idah,
which had close ties with the Taliban and was accused of having launched terrorist attacks against the
United States, including a group of devastating strikes on September 11. Subsequently, U.S. special
operations forces, allied with Northern Alliance fighters, launched a series of military operations in
Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power by early December.

Afghanistan has never conducted a full census, and it is thus difficult to gauge the number of casualties
suffered in the country since the outbreak of fighting. The best estimates available indicate that some 1.5
million Afghanis were killed before 1992—although the number killed during combat and the number
killed as an indirect result of the conflict remain unclear. The casualty rate after 1992 is even less precise.
Many thousands were killed as a direct result of factional fighting; hundreds or thousands of prisoners
and civilians were executed by tribal, ethnic, or religious rivals; and a large number of combatants—and
some noncombatants—were killed during the U.S. offensive. Moreover, tens of thousands died of
starvation or of a variety of diseases, many of which in less-troubled times could have been easily
treated, and hundreds of thousands were killed or injured by the numerous land mines in the country.
(Afghanistan was, by the end of the 20th century, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world,
and vast quantities of unexploded ordnance littered the countryside.) The number of Afghan refugees
living abroad fluctuated over the years with the fighting and reached a peak of some six million people in

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Afghan War — History.com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts http://www.history.com/topics/print/afghan-war

the late 1980s.

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How to Cite this Page:


Afghan War
APA Style
Afghan War. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 11:09, May 1, 2011, from http://www.history.com/topics
/afghan-war.

Harvard Style
Afghan War. [Internet]. 2011. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war
[Accessed 1 May 2011].

MLA Style
“Afghan War.” 2011. The History Channel website. May 1 2011, 11:09 http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war.

MHRA Style
“Afghan War,” The History Channel website, 2011, http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war [accessed May 1, 2011].

Chicago Style
“Afghan War,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war (accessed May 1, 2011).

CBE/CSE Style
Afghan War [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2011 [cited 2011 May 1] Available from: http://www.history.com
/topics/afghan-war.

Bluebook Style
Afghan War, http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war (last visited May 1, 2011).

AMA Style
Afghan War. The History Channel website. 2011. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/afghan-war. Accessed May
1, 2011.

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.


©1996-2011, A&E Television Networks, All Rights Reserved

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