The United States soon began bombing targets in North Vietnam, although no war was ever declared. When air strikes failed to force Ho to abandon the war, the United States committed more and more troops to the conflict. By 1969, more than 500,000 American troops were serving in Vietnam. Meantime, the Soviet Union and China sent aid—but no troops—to help North Vietnam.

Guerrilla Warfare

Like the French before them, American forces faced a guerrilla war. Many rebels in South Vietnam were local peasants who knew the countryside. They often found safe haven among villagers who resented the foreign troops and bombings that destroyed their homes and crops. American forces were hard put to tell whether villagers were rebels or innocent civilians.

Supplies for the guerrillas came from North Vietnam, along a series of trails, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These trails wound through the rainforests of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. In an effort to stop the flow of supplies, the United States sent bombers and ground troops across the border into these nations, widening the war in Southeast Asia.

The Tet Offensive

Even with massive American help, South Vietnam could not defeat the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies. In January 1968, communist forces launched the Tet Offensive, a series of attacks by the Viet Cong on cities across the south. North Vietnamese forces assaulted an American marine base. The attacks were unexpected because they took place during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

During bloody fighting, the communists lost many troops and were unable to hold any cities against the American counterattacks. Still, the Tet Offensive marked a turning point in American public opinion. Up to then, Americans believed that the war was winnable. Tet shook public confidence in the war and its leaders.

The Vietnam War Ends

In the United States, the bombing of North Vietnam and increasing American casualties helped inflame anti-war opinion. Growing numbers of American troops were prisoners of war (POWs) or missing in action (MIAs). Many opponents called the Vietnam War a quagmire, or swamp, in which the United States was trapped without the possibility of victory.

A map shows the Tet Offensive, during January and February of 1968.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

The Tet Offensive was a series of attacks by communist guerrillas on South Vietnamese cities. Through which countries did the Ho Chi Minh Trail pass on the way to South Vietnam?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments