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The GED® Social Studies Test: What You Need to Know About the Vietnam Era

When, Where, and What Was the Vietnam Era?

The Vietnam Era refers to the time period roughly between 1961 and 1975, correlating to the Vietnam War. This period was most characterized by the Vietnam War, in which the United States assisted the South Vietnamese in resisting the spread of communism from North Vietnam. U.S. involvement in this conflict was highly controversial as the reasons for going to war were weak and the draft was instituted. Often, lower social classes were drafted since upper class men (who could afford to pay for college) were given education deferments.

What Life Was Like During This Time

Though the Civil Rights Movement was also happening during this time (mostly in the 60s), the Vietnam War dominated life during this period. The media played a significant role in shaping public opinion of the war. Televised images of war were broadcast on the evening news. News video and images of helicopters, wounded soldiers, and burning villages caused many to protest the war and the draft. The space race was another characteristic of this era. The U.S. was in competition with the Soviet Union to stay ahead in rocket and nuclear weapons technology.

Some Important People During This Era

  • Ho Chi Minh— communist leader of the Vietminh and the North Vietnamese (He was the face of the enemy for the U.S.)
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson— U.S. president during much of the war, responsible for several troop increases until 1968
  • President Richard Nixon— oversaw the process of Vietnamization (training the Vietnamese allies to take over) and withdrawal of U.S. troops
  • Senator William Fulbright— led the anti-war movement and was an outspoken critic of U.S. war strategy.

A Brief Chronology of the Vietnam Era

  • 1954— President Eisenhower outlined the domino theory, in which he said that if any Southeast Asian nation became communist, then a domino effect could happen and many other countries in the region would fall to communism.
  • 1964— U.S. entered the war after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The USS Maddox was allegedly attacked (not verified at the time), which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution gave the president the authority to take any necessary action in retaliation.
  • 1966— U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam reached 500,000.
  • 1968— The Tet Offensive began in which N. Vietnamese forces carried out bloody terrorist style attacks across over 100 locations in South Vietnam. The attack surprised U.S. forces, news footage shocked American citizens, and this is often seen as turning point of the war in favor of the communist North.
  • 1969-1972— The U.S. slowly withdrew troops from a peak of about 550,000 in 1969 to 69,000 by 1972.
  • 1973— Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, which ended American involvement in Vietnam.

Some Important Documents During This Time

  • Gulf of Tonkin Resolution— Passed by Congress in 1964, this resolution gave the president nearly unlimited power to combat communist aggression in the region. This was controversial because prior to this, the president needed authorization from Congress to use military force.
  • Paris Peace Accords— Signed in 1973, this agreement ended direct U.S. involvement in the war and temporarily stopped the fighting between North and South Vietnam.

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