The Vietnam War was one of the most complicated political situations in recent history. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the basic situation, so I will include here a few interesting facts that I found in my amateur studies of it.
Of all the countries that had been European colonies but were subsequently conquered by the Japanese in the WWII period, Vietnam, or French Indochina, was the only one not granted independence by the United States of America. As a contrast, The Phillippines, or the Dutch East Indies, was made sovereign. Vietnam was returned to French rule.
The Geneva Convention divided up Vietnam into North and South Vietnam and gave provisions for French withdrawl. France almost immediatley got involved in another colonial independence war in North Africa.
Erroneously or not, Communism was viewed in this time as a vast worldwide conspiracy that radiated from Moscow. Chairman Mao in China, the Pathet Lao in Laos, the Vietcong and Fidel Castro were all looked upon as being united against us under Russia. It seems goofy in retrospect, considering that the Soviets and the PRC were bitter enemies from the time of my birth until the collapse of the USSR.
A pattern becomes clear in US policy and execution over the course of the war: A general or diplomat will observe an opportunity to accomplish something, but whatever action they might take is more-or-less gutted by some other member or branch of the Government. For example: There was a massive bombing campaign conducted against North Vietnam during the middle and late stages of the war, but the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong and the Chinese border zone were strictly off-limits to avoid provoking China or the Soviet Union. North Vietnam caught on to this real quick. In this way, the bombing campaign was reduced to marginal effect at best. This is especially characteristic of President Lyndon Johnson's policies.
From the point in time of the Geneva Conventions to the fall of Saigon to Communist forces, there was never a comprehensive, effective native government in the South. The strongest leader South Vietnam produced during the course of the war was Ngo Dinh Diem, who was by any account a prejudicial, corrupt and indecisive leader. South Vietnam endured invasion and insurgency from North Vietnam, a civil war, a Buddhist uprising and a student's uprising. This was one of the factors that created the biggest political and military tar baby of all time.
Approximately fifty percent of all American casualties, KIA and wounded included, were not from bullets or mortars, but from booby traps. After a few large-scale battles, combat forensics teams determined that about one-third to one-half of American soldiers had died with a jammed M-16.