Republic of Vietnam
Việt Nam Cộng Hòa (Vietnamese)
Motto: "Tổ Quốc - Danh Dự - Trách Nhiệm"
(English: "Fatherland – Honor – Duty")
Anthem: "Tiếng Gọi Công Dân"
(English: "Call to the Citizens")
and largest city
|Recognised national languages||French|
|Ngô Đình Diệm|
|Nguyễn Văn Thiệu|
|Trần Văn Hương|
|Dương Văn Minh|
• 1963–1964 (first)
|Nguyễn Ngọc Thơ|
• 1975 (last)
|Vũ Văn Mẫu|
|26 October 1955|
|2 November 1963|
|27 January 1973|
|30 April 1975|
|173,809 km2 (67,108 sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+8 (Saigon Standard Time (SST))|
|Today part of||Vietnam|
|History of Vietnam|
South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, Vietnamese: Việt Nam Cộng Hòa; French: République du Viêt Nam), was a country that existed from 1955 to 1975, the period when the southern portion of Vietnam was a member of the Western Bloc during part of the Cold War. It received international recognition in 1949 as the "State of Vietnam" (a self-governing entity in the French Empire), which was a constitutional monarchy (1949–1955). This became the "Republic of Vietnam" in 1955. Its capital was Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). South Vietnam was bordered by North Vietnam to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast.
The Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed on 26 October 1955, with Ngô Đình Diệm as its first president, after having briefly served as premier under Emperor Bao Dai who was exiled. Its sovereignty was recognized by the United States and 87 other nations. It had membership in several special committees of the United Nations, but its application for full membership was rejected in 1957 because of a Soviet veto (neither South nor North Vietnam were members of the UN during the Vietnam War, but the united Vietnam became a member state in 1977). South Vietnam's origins can be traced to the French colony of Cochinchina, which consisted of the southern third of Vietnam which was Cochinchina [Nam Kỳ], a subdivision of French Indochina, and the southern half of Central Vietnam or Annam [Trung Kỳ] which was a French protectorate. After the Second World War, the anti-Japanese Viet Minh guerrilla forces, led by Ho Chi Minh, proclaimed the establishment of a Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi in September 1945, issuing a Declaration of Independence modeled on the U.S. one from 1776.
In 1949, anti-communist Vietnamese politicians formed a rival government in Saigon led by former emperor Bảo Đại. Bảo Đại was deposed by Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm in 1955, who proclaimed himself president after a referendum. Diệm was killed in a military coup led by general Dương Văn Minh in 1963, and a series of short-lived military governments followed. General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu then led the country after a U.S.-encouraged civilian presidential election from 1967 until 1975. The beginnings of the Vietnam War occurred in 1959 with an uprising by the newly organized National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (Viet Cong), armed and supported by the northern Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with other assistance rendered by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact communist satellites, along with neighboring People's Republic of China and North Korea. Larger escalation of the insurgency occurred in 1965 with the landing of United States regular forces of Marines, followed by Army units to supplement the cadre of military advisors guiding ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) southern forces. A regular bombing campaign over North Vietnam was conducted by offshore U.S. Navy airplanes, warships, and aircraft carriers joined by Air Force squadrons through 1966 and 1967. Fighting peaked up to that point during the Tet Offensive of February 1968, when there were over a million South Vietnamese soldiers and 500,000 U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam. Later on the war turned into a more conventional fight as the balance of power became equalized. An even larger, armored invasion commenced during the Easter Offensive following US ground-forces withdrawal, and had nearly overran some major northern cities until beaten back.
Despite a truce agreement under the Paris Peace Accords, concluded in January 1973, after a torturous five years of on and off negotiations, fighting continued almost immediately afterwards. The North Vietnamese regular army and Viet Cong launched a major second combined-arms invasion in 1975, termed the Spring Offensive. Communist forces overran Saigon on 30 April 1975, marking the end of the Republic of Vietnam. On July 2, 1976, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The official name of the South Vietnamese state was Việt Nam Cộng hòa (Republic of Vietnam) and the French name was referred to as République du Viêt Nam. The North was known as the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam".
Việt Nam (Vietnamese pronunciation: [vjə̀tnam]) was the name adopted by Emperor Gia Long in 1804. It is a variation of "Nam Việt" (南越, Southern Việt), a name used in ancient times. In 1839, Emperor Minh Mạng renamed the country Đại Nam ("Great South"). In 1945, the nation's official name was changed back to "Vietnam". The name is also sometimes rendered as "Viet Nam" in English. The term "South Vietnam" became common usage in 1954, when the Geneva Conference provisionally partitioned Vietnam into communist and non-communist parts.
Other names of this state were commonly used during its existence such as Free Vietnam and the Government of Viet Nam (GVN).
Before World War II, the southern third of Vietnam was the concession (nhượng địa) of Cochinchina, which was administered as part of French Indochina. A French governor-general (toàn quyền) in Hanoi administered all the five parts of Indochina (Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina, Laos, and Cambodia.) while Cochinchina (Nam Kỳ) was under a French governor (thống đốc), but the difference from the other parts was that most indegenous intellensia and wealthy were naturalized French (Tourane of Đà Nẵng in the central third of Vietnam also enjoyed this privilege because this city was a concession too.) The northern third of Vietnam (then the colony (thuộc địa) of Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ) was under a French resident general (thống sứ). Between Tonkin in the north and Cochinchina in the south was the protectorate (xứ bảo hộ) of Annam (Trung Kỳ), under a French resident superior (khâm sứ). A Vietnamese emperor, Bảo Đại, residing in Huế, was the nominal ruler of Annam and Tonkin, which had parallel French and Vietnamese systems of administration, but his influence was less in Tonkin than in Annam. Cochinchina had been annexed by France in 1862 and even elected a deputy to the French National Assembly. It was more "evolved", and French interests were stronger than in other parts of Indochina, notably in the form of French-owned rubber plantations. During World War II, Indochina was administered by Vichy France and occupied by Japan. Japanese troops overthrew the French administration on 9 March 1945, Emperor Bảo Đại proclaimed Vietnam independent. When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Emperor Bảo Đại abdicated, and Viet Minh leader Hồ Chí Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in Hanoi and the DRV controlled almost the entire country of Vietnam. In June 1946, France declared Cochinchina a republic, separate from the northern and central parts. A victorious Chinese communist army arrived in Vietnam's northern part of parallel 17. Hồ purged non-communist politicians from the DRV. The French Indochina War began on 19 December 1946, with the French regaining control of Hanoi and many other cities.
The State of Vietnam was created through co-operation between anti-communist Vietnamese and the French government on 14 June 1949. Former emperor Bảo Đại accepted the position of chief of state (quốc trưởng). This was known as the "Bảo Đại Solution". The colonial struggle in Vietnam became part of the global Cold War. In 1950, China, the Soviet Union and other communist nations recognised the DRV while the United States and other non-communist states recognised the Bảo Đại government.
In July 1954, France and the Viet Minh (later the Viet Cong) agreed at the Geneva Conference that the State of Vietnam would rule the territory south of the 17th parallel, pending unification on the basis of supervised elections in 1956. At the time of the conference, it was expected that the South would continue to be a French dependency. However, South Vietnamese Premier Ngô Đình Diệm, who preferred American sponsorship to French, rejected the agreement. When Vietnam was divided, 800,000 to 1 million North Vietnamese, mainly (but not exclusively) Roman Catholics, sailed south as part of Operation Passage to Freedom due to a fear of religious persecution in the North.
In July 1955, Diệm announced in a broadcast that South Vietnam would not participate in the elections specified in the Geneva accords. As Saigon's delegation did not sign the Geneva accords, it was not bound by it. He also said the communist government in the North created conditions that made a fair election impossible in that region. This view was supported by the International Control Committee, in the circumstances prevailing in 1955 and 1956 – anarchy of the Sects and of the retiring Viet Minh in the South, the 1956 campaign of terror from Hanoi's land reform and resultant peasant uprising around Vinh in the North.
Diệm held a referendum on 23 October 1955 to determine the future of the country. He asked voters to approve a republic, thus removing Bảo Đại as head of state. The poll was supervised by his younger brother, Ngô Đình Nhu. Diệm was cred with 98 percent of the votes. In many districts, there were more votes to remove Bảo Đại than there were registered voters (e.g., in Saigon, 133% of the registered population reportedly voted to remove Bảo Đại). His American advisors had recommended a more modest winning margin of "60 to 70 percent". Diệm, however, viewed the election as a test of authority. On 26 October 1955, Diệm declared himself the president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Vietnam. The French, who needed troops to fight in Algeria, completely withdrew from Vietnam by April 1956.
Diệm attempted to stabilise South Vietnam by defending against Viet Cong activities. He launched an anti-communist denunciation campaign (To Cong) against remnants of the communist Viet Cong. He acted against criminal factions by launching military campaigns against three powerful main sects; the Cao Đài, Hòa Hảo and the Bình Xuyên organised crime syndicate whose military strength combined amounted to approximately 350,000 soldiers.
Throughout this period, the level of US aid and political support increased. In spite of this, a 1961 US intelligence estimate reported that "one-half of the entire rural region south and southwest of Saigon, as well as some areas to the north, are under considerable Communist control. Some of these areas are in effect denied to all government authority not immediately backed by substantial armed force. The Viet Cong’s strength encircles Saigon and has recently begun to move closer in the city."  The report, later excerpted in The Pentagon Papers, continued:
The Diệm government lost support among the populace, and from the Kennedy administration, due to its repression of Buddhists and military defeats by the Viet Cong. Notably, the Huế Phật Đản shootings of 8 May 1963 led to the Buddhist crisis, provoking widespread protests and civil resistance. Diệm was overthrown in a coup on 1 November 1963 with the tacit approval of the US.
Diệm's removal and assassination set off a period of political instability and declining legitimacy of the Saigon government. General Dương Văn Minh became president, but he was ousted in January 1964 by General Nguyễn Khánh. Phan Khắc Sửu was named head of state, but power remained with a junta of generals led by Khánh, which soon fell to infighting. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 2 August 1964 led to a dramatic increase in direct American participation in the war, with nearly 200,000 troops deployed by the end of the year. Khánh sought to capitalize on the crisis with the Vũng Tàu Charter, a new constitution that would have curtailed civil liberties and concentrated his power, but was forced to back down in the face of widespread protests and strikes. Coup attempts followed in September and February, the latter resulting in Air Marshall Nguyễn Cao Kỳ becoming prime minister and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu becoming nominal head of state.
Kỳ and Thieu functioned in those roles until 1967, bringing much-desired stability to the government. They imposed censorship and suspended civil liberties, and intensified anticommunist efforts. Under pressure from the US, they held elections for president and the legislature in 1967, Thiệu being elected president with 34% of the vote in a widely criticised poll.
On 31 January 1968, the NVA and the Viet Cong broke the traditional truce accompanying the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. The so-called Tet Offensive failed to spark a national uprising, and was militarily disastrous. By bringing the war to South Vietnam's cities, however, and by demonstrating the continued strength of communist forces, it marked a turning point in US support for the government in South Vietnam. The new administration of Richard Nixon introduced a policy of Vietnamization to reduce US combat involvement. Thiệu used the aftermath of the Tet Offensive to sideline Kỳ, his chief rival, and ran for re-election unopposed in 1971.
In accordance with the Paris Peace Accords signed with North Vietnam on 27 January 1973, US military forces withdrew from South Vietnam. North Vietnam was allowed to continue supplying communist troops in the South, but only to the extent of replacing materials that were consumed.
The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favour their side. But as Saigon began to roll back the Viet Cong, they found it necessary to adopt a new strategy, hammered out at a series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà. As the Viet Cong's top commander, Trà participated in several of these meetings. A plan to improve logistics was prepared so that the North Vietnamese Army would be able to launch a massive invasion of the South, projected for 1976, before Saigon's army could be fully trained. A gas pipeline would be built from North Vietnam to Viet Cong headquarters in Lộc Ninh, about 60 miles (97 km) north of Saigon.
On 15 March 1973, US President Richard Nixon implied that the US would intervene militarily if the communist side violated the ceasefire. Public reaction was unfavorable, and on 4 June 1973 the US Senate passed the Case–Church Amendment to prohibit such intervention. The oil price shock of October 1973 caused significant damage to the South Vietnamese economy. A spokesman for Thiệu admitted in a TV interview that the government was being "overwhelmed" by the inflation caused by the oil shock, while an American businessman living in Saigon stated after the oil shock that attempting to make money in South Vietnam was "like making love to a corpse". One consequence of the inflation was the South Vietnamese government had increasing difficulty in paying its soldiers. The Viet Cong resumed offensive operations, and by January 1974 it had recaptured the territory that it had lost earlier. After two clashes that left 55 South Vietnamese soldiers dead, President Thieu announced on 4 January that the war had restarted and that the Paris Peace Accord was no longer in effect. There were over 25,000 South Vietnamese casualties during the ceasefire period.
In August 1974, Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal, and the US Congress voted to reduce assistance to South Vietnam from $1 billion a year to $700 million. By this time, the Ho Chi Minh trail, once an arduous mountain trek, had been upgraded into a drivable highway with gasoline stations.
In 1975, the communists of North Vietnam launched an offensive in the South, which became known as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam unsuccessfully attempted a defence and a counterattack. It had few remaining operational tanks and artillery pieces, as well as a shortage of spare parts, and ammunition. The NVA had a vastly greater supply of new equipment and ammunition. As a consequence, South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu was forced to withdraw key army units from the Central Highlands, which exacerbated an already-perilous military situation and undercut the confidence of the ARVN soldiers in their leadership.
The retreat became a rout. The cities of Huế, Da Nang and Da Lat in central Vietnam quickly fell, and the North Vietnamese advanced southwards. As the military situation deteriorated, ARVN troops started deserting.
Thiệu requested aid from US President Gerald Ford, but the US Senate would not release extra money to provide aid to South Vietnam, and had already passed laws to prevent further involvement in Vietnam. In desperation, Thiệu recalled Nguyễn Cao Kỳ from retirement as a military commander, but resisted calls to name his old rival prime minister.
Nguyễn Văn Thiệu resigned on 21 April 1975, and fled to Taiwan. He nominated his Vice President Trần Văn Hương as his successor. A last-ditch defense was made by the ARVN 18th Division at the Battle of Xuân Lộc led by Major General Lê Minh Đảo. After only one week in office, Trần Văn Hương handed over the presidency to General Dương Văn Minh ("Big Minh"). Minh was seen as a more conciliatory figure toward the North, and it was hoped he might be able to negotiate a more favourable settlement to end the war. The North, however, was not interested in negotiations, and its tanks rolled into Saigon largely unopposed which led to the Fall of Saigon. Acting President Minh unconditionally surrendered the capital city of Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam to North Vietnam on 30 April 1975.
During the hours leading up to the surrender, the United States undertook a massive evacuation of its embassy in Saigon, Operation Frequent Wind. The evacuees included US government personnel as well as high-ranking members of the ARVN and other South Vietnamese who were seen as potential targets for persecution by the Communists. Many of the evacuees were taken directly by helicopter to multiple aircraft carriers waiting off the coast. An iconic image of the evacuation is the widely seen footage of empty Huey helicopters being jettisoned over the side of the carriers, to provide more room on the ship's deck for more evacuees to land. The evacuation was forced to stop by the US Navy. All the Marines and diplomats were evacuated, but thousands of South Vietnamese citizens waited in vain at the US embassy compound, and one block away at the former USAID and CIA office space in the Pittman Apartment House on 22 Gia Long Street atop the roof for helicopters that never came.
The Geneva Accords promised elections in 1956 to determine a national government for a united Vietnam. In 1957, independent observers from India, Poland, and Canada representing the International Control Commission (ICC) stated that fair, unbiased elections were not possible, reporting that neither South nor North Vietnam had honored the armistice agreement.
After promising not to do so during the 1964 election campaign, in 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to send in much larger numbers of combat troops, and conflict steadily escalated. The NLF ceased to be an effective fighting organization after the Tet Offensive in 1968 and the war was largely taken over by regular army units of North Vietnam. Following American withdrawal from the war in 1973, the South Vietnamese government continued fighting until its unconditional surrender to the Viet Cong on 30 April 1975, the day of the surrender of Saigon. North Vietnam controlled South Vietnam under military occupation, while the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, which had been proclaimed in June 1969 by the NLF, became the nominal government. The North Vietnamese quickly moved to marginalise non-communist members of the PRG and integrate South Vietnam into the communist North. The unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was declared on 2 July 1976. The Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam in Washington donated 527 reels of South Vietnamese-produced film to the Library of Congress during the embassy's closure following the Fall of Saigon, which are in the Library to this day.
South Vietnam went through many political changes during its short life. Initially, former Emperor Bảo Đại served as Head of State. He was unpopular however, largely because monarchical leaders were considered collaborators during French rule and because he had spent his reign absent in France.
In 1955, Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm held a referendum to decide whether the State of Vietnam would remain a monarchy or become a republic. This referendum was blatantly rigged in favour of a republic. Not only did an implausible 98% vote in favour of deposing Bảo Đại, but over 380,000 more votes were cast than the total number of registered voters; in Saigon, for instance, Diệm was cred with 133% of the vote. Diệm proclaimed himself the president of the newly formed Republic of Vietnam. Despite successes in politics, economics and social change in the first 5 years, Diệm quickly became a dictatorial leader. With the support of the United States government and the CIA, ARVN officers led by General Dương Văn Minh staged a coup and killed him in 1963. The military held a brief interim military government until General Nguyễn Khánh deposed Minh in a January 1964 coup. Until late 1965, multiple coups and changes of government occurred, with some civilians being allowed to give a semblance of civil rule overseen by a military junta.
In 1965, the feuding civilian government voluntarily resigned and handed power back to the nation's military, in the hope this would bring stability and unity to the nation. An elected constituent assembly including representatives of all the branches of the military decided to switch the nation's system of government to a Semi-Presidential system. There was a bicameral National Assembly consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives, which came into being in 1967. Military rule initially failed to provide much stability however, as internal conflicts and political inexperience caused various factions of the army to launch coups and counter-coups against one another, making leadership very tumultuous. The situation within the ranks of the military stabilised in mid-1965 when the Republic of Vietnam Air Force chief Nguyễn Cao Kỳ became Prime Minister, with General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu as the figurehead chief of state. As Prime Minister, Kỳ consolidated control of the South Vietnamese government and ruled the country with an iron fist.
In June 1965, Kỳ's influence over the ruling military government was solidified when he forced civilian prime minister Phan Huy Quát from power. Often praising aspects of Western culture in public, Ky was supported by the United States and its allied nations, though doubts began to circulate among Western officials by 1966 on whether or not Ky could maintain stability in South Vietnam. A repressive leader, Ky was greatly despised by his fellow countrymen. In early 1966, protesters influenced by popular Buddhist monk Thích Trí Quang attempted an uprising in Quang's hometown of Da Nang. The uprising was unsuccessful and Ky's repressive stance towards the nation's Buddhist population continued.
In 1967, South Vietnam held its first elections under the new system. Following the elections, however, it switched back to a presidential system. The military nominated Nguyễn Văn Thiệu as their candidate, and he was elected with a plurality of the popular vote. Thieu quickly consolidated power much to the dismay of those who hoped for an era of more political openness. He was re-elected unopposed in 1971, receiving a suspiciously high 94% of the vote on an 87% turn-out. Thieu ruled until the final days of the war, resigning in April 1975. Dương Văn Minh was the nation's last president and unconditionally surrendered to the Communist forces a few days after assuming office.
South Vietnam was formerly a member of ACCT, Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), IMF, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), Interpol, IOC, ITU, League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (LORCS), UNESCO and Universal Postal Union (UPU).
The South Vietnamese government was regularly accused of holding large quantity of political prisoners, of which the exact number was a source of contention. Amnesty International, in a report in 1973, gave the estimation of number of South Vietnam's civilian prisoners ranging from 35,257 (as confirmed by Saigon) to 200,000 or more. Among them, approximately 22,000–41,000 were accounted "communist" political prisoners. Robert F. Turner disputed the figure of 200,000, claiming the actual number to be "at the worst [...] a few hundred or so."
Following the surrender of Saigon to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces on 30 April 1975, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam officially became the government of South Vietnam. Democratic Republic of Vietnam and Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam were merged to become the current Socialist Republic of Vietnam through the 1976 election, which was held on 25 April 1976.
On 26 October 1956, the military was reorganised by the administration of President Ngô Đình Diệm who established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN, pronounced "arvin"). Early on, the focus of the army was combating the guerrilla fighters of the Viet Cong, or National Liberation Front, an insurgent movement supplied by North Vietnam. The United States, under President Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid ARVN in combating the Viet Cong. ARVN and President Diệm began to be criticised by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush southern religious groups like the Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which Diệm claimed were harbouring Communist guerrillas.
In 1963, Ngô Đình Diệm was assassinated in a coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers led by Dương Văn Minh ('Big Minh'), supported by the CIA. In the confusion that followed Big Minh took power, but was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam in a period of intense political instability. During these years, the United States began taking full control of the war against the NLF and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption among the officer corps. Although the US was highly critical of them, the ARVN continued to be entirely US armed and funded.
The ability of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to effectively root out the Viet Cong counterinsurgency is questionable in this period. In 1963, at the Battle of Ap Bac, some 1,400 ARVN troops alongside 10 US-piloted Piasecki H-21 and 5 US-piloted Bell UH-1 Iroquois were defeated by 350 Viet Cong guerrillas, more than 83 were KIA, 5 helicopters downed and 10 damaged. This would be pivotal as it demonstrated the ability of the Viet Cong to counter helicopter assault with concentrated small-arms, recoil-less rifle and RPG fire. The Battle of Dong Xoai in 1965 was considered another defeat, as the Viet Cong captured an area and ambushed a force deployed to recapture it before melting away when reinforcements arrived. These two tactics would form a basis for Viet Cong strategy during the America intervention. Generals had also tended to be political appointees and corruption was rampant.
Starting in 1969, President Nixon started the process of so-called "Vietnamization", withdrawing American forces and leaving the ARVN to fight the war against the North Vietnamese. Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its counter-insurgency role to become the primary ground defense against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. From 1969 to 1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of a million soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in Cambodia and were executing 3 times as many operations as they had during the American war period. However, the officer corps was still the biggest problem, and after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the ARVN lacked necessary military supplies and weapons as a result of a cutback of US financial aid and assistance.
Relations with the public also remained poor as their only counter to Viet Cong organising was to resurrect the Strategic Hamlet Program, which many peasants resented. However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese army actually started to perform rather well, and in 1970 was winning the war against the Communists, though with continued American air support. The exhaustion of the North was becoming evident, and the Paris talks gave some hope of a negotiated peace, if not a victory for the North Vietnamese. Since 1973, the war shifted in favour of the Viet Cong, who were better equipped, funded and aided by their communist allies, the USSR and the China, than the South was by the Americans.
The most crucial moment of truth for the ARVN came with General Võ Nguyên Giáp's 1972 Easter Offensive, the first all-out invasion of South Vietnam by the communists. It was code-named Nguyễn Huệ after the Vietnamese emperor who defeated the Chinese in 1789. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of tanks by the North Vietnamese. ARVN took heavy losses, but to the surprise of many, managed to hold their ground.
US President Nixon dispatched more bombers to provide air support for ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be overrun. In desperation, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu fired the incompetent General Hoàng Xuân Lãm and replaced him with ARVN's best commander, General Ngô Quang Trưởng. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together so that the North Vietnamese army failed to take Huế. Finally, largely as a result of US air and naval support, as well as determination by ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted.
After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, all US armed forces withdrew from South Vietnam and theoretically the war officially ended, however clashes between ARVN and Viet Cong forces continued.
In 1975, the North Vietnamese again invaded the South. Lacking US air support, the ARVN could not hold them back. City after city fell to the Communists with ARVN soldiers joining the civilians trying to flee south. The North called this the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign". All resistance crumbled. Faced with few viable options, the South tried to form a coalition government that would be palatable to the Communists, one that favoured negotiated peace and neutrality. The new coalition government was headed by General Dương Văn Minh (Big Minh), one of the organisers of the coup in November 1963, with the full support of the CIA and President Kennedy, that killed President Ngô Đình Diệm. General Cao Văn Viên, then Colonel and Commander of the Airborne Brigade, had been captured and held by the Big Minh faction and threatened with execution unless he ordered his troops to join the coup. He refused and was held captive until the end of the coup and was released only because of his close friendship with one of the coup leaders.
Because the new coalition government would be headed by Big Minh, General Vien immediately submitted his resignation to then President of South Vietnam Trần Văn Hương, who succeeded President Thieu as President. President Huong, knowing the 1963 coup history, granted General Vien's resignation request, (Vien had submitted his resignation to President Thieu many times and had always been turned down). General Vien then escaped to the US as a civilian once his resignation was effective and formalised.
The situation in South Vietnam further deteriorated. The ARVN tried to defend Xuân Lộc, their last line of defence before Saigon. The ARVN forces were greatly outnumbered by the advancing North Vietnamese army. Xuân Lộc was taken and on 30 April 1975, initiated the Fall of Saigon. The North Vietnamese army captured the city, placing the Viet Cong flag over the Independence Palace. General Dương Văn Minh, recently appointed president by Trần Văn Hương, unconditionally surrendered the city and government bringing the Republic of Vietnam and also the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to an end.
There were four AM and one FM radio stations, all of them owned by government (VTVN), named Radio Vietnam. One of them was designated as a nationwide civilian broadcast, another was for military service and the other two stations included a French language broadcast station and foreign language station broadcasting in Chinese, English, Khmer and Thai. Radio Vietnam started its operation in 1955 under then president Ngo Dinh Diem, and ceased operation on 30 April 1975, with the broadcast of surrender by Duong Van Minh during the Fall of Saigon. The radio stations across the former South were later reused by the communist regime to broadcast their state-run radio service.
Television was introduced to South Vietnam on 7 February 1966 with black-and-white FCC system. Covering major cities in South Vietnam, started with a one-hour broadcast per day then increased to six hours in the evening during the 1970s. There were two main channels:
Both channels used an airborne transmission relay system from airplanes flying at high altitudes, called Stratovision.
Writing in The Christian Science Monitor in 1970, Dan Sutherland remarked: "Under its new press law, South Vietnam now has one of the freest presses in Southeast Asia, and the daily paper with the biggest circulation here happens to be sharply critical of President Thieu ... since the new press law was promulgated nine months ago, the government has not been able to close down Tin Sang or any other newspaper among the more than 30 now being published in Saigon."
Before surrendering, the South was divided into forty-four provinces (tỉnh, singular and plural).
The South was divided into coastal lowlands, the mountainous Central Highlands (Cao-nguyen Trung-phan) and the Mekong Delta. South Vietnam's time zone was one hour ahead of North Vietnam, belonging to the UTC+8 time zone with the same time as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Mainland China, Taiwan and Western Australia.
Apart from the mainland, the Republic of Vietnam also administered parts of the Paracels and Spratly Islands. China seized control of the Paracels in 1974 after the South Vietnam navy attempted an assault on PRC-held islands.
South Vietnam maintained a capitalist free-market economy with ties to the West. It established an airline under the Head of State Bảo Đại named Air Vietnam. The economy was greatly assisted by American aid and the presence of large numbers of Americans in the country between 1961 and 1973. Electrical production increased fourteen-fold between 1954 and 1973 while industrial output increase by an average of 6.9 percent annually. During the same period, rice output increased by 203 percent and the number of students in university increased from 2,000 to 90,000. US aid peaked at $2.3 billion in 1973, but dropped to $1.1 billion in 1974. Inflation rose to 200 percent as the country suffered economic shock due the decrease of American aid as well as the oil price shock of October 1973. The unification of Vietnam in 1976 was followed by the imposition of North Vietnam's centrally planned economy in the South. The country made no significant economic progress for the next twenty years. After the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet aid, the leadership of Vietnam accepted the need for change. Their occupation armies were withdrawn from Laos and Cambodia. Afterward, the country introduced economic reforms that created a market economy in the mid-1990s. The government remains a collective dictatorship under the close control of the Communist Party.
A 2017 study in the journal Diplomatic History found that South Vietnamese economic planners sought to model the South Vietnamese economy on Taiwan and South Korea, which were perceived as successful examples of how to modernize developing economies.
The Vietnamese language was the primary official language and was spoken by the majority of the population. Despite the end of French colonial rule, the French language still maintained a strong presence in South Vietnam where it was used in administration, education (especially at the secondary and higher levels), trade and diplomacy. The ruling elite population of South Vietnam was known to speak French as its primary language. With US involvement in the Vietnam War, the English language was also later introduced to the armed forces and became a secondary diplomatic language. Languages spoken by minority groups included Chinese, Khmer and other languages spoken by Montagnard groups.
Cultural life was strongly influenced by China until French domination in the 18th century. At that time, the traditional culture began to acquire an overlay of Western characteristics. Many families had three generations living under one roof. The emerging South Vietnamese middle class and youth in the 1960s became increasingly more westernised, and followed American cultural and social trends, especially in music, fashion and social attitudes in major cities like Saigon.
State of Việt Nam
| Republic of Việt Nam
Provisional Revolutionary Government
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