The Vietnam war might best be seen as part of the cold war and anti-colonial battles which convulsed south-east Asia in the period after second world war. After the defeat of Vietnam’s French colonisers by the Viet Minh forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the country was split into a communist-ruled North and a capitalist south. The south was supported by the United States. The Americans feared that – in the wake of the Chinese revolution – the fall of south Vietnam would lead to a communist takeover of all countries in south-east Asia (the ‘domino theory’).
American interference in Vietnam led to armed conflict with the communist-ruled North throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The war extended to neighbouring countries. The war ended in 1975 when American troops were expelled from the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon. Around 50,000 American soldiers had died; Vietnamese dead are estimated at one million.