South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam (
Saigon (renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976), before becoming a republic in 1955. South Vietnam was bordered by North Vietnam (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. Its sovereignty was recognized by the United States and 87 other nations, though it failed to gain admission into the United Nations as a result of a Soviet veto in 1957. It was succeeded by the Republic of South Vietnam in 1975. In 1976, the Republic of South Vietnam and North Vietnam merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (Việt Cộng), armed and supported by North Vietnam, with backing mainly from China and the Soviet Union. Larger escalation of the insurgency occurred in 1965 with American intervention and the introduction of regular forces of Marines, followed by Army units to supplement the cadre of military advisors guiding the Southern armed forces. A regular bombing campaign over North Vietnam was conducted by offshore US 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 US soldiers in South Vietnam. What started as a guerrilla war eventually turned into a more conventional fight as the balance of power became equalized. An even larger, armored invasion from the North commenced during the Easter Offensive
following US ground-forces withdrawal, and had nearly overrun some major northern cities until beaten back.
The official name of the South Vietnamese state was the "Republic of Vietnam" (Vietnamese: Việt Nam Cộng hòa; French: République du Viêt Nam). The North was known as the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam".
Việt Nam (Vietnamese pronunciation:
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
French Indochina War
began on 19 December 1946, with the French regaining control of Hanoi and many other cities.
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 Việt Minh agreed at the
Việt Cộng front, was founded in 1954 to provide leadership for this group.
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 credited 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.: 239 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 and were increasingly sidelined by the United States, completely withdrew from Vietnam by April 1956.
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: "The elections were not held. South Vietnam, which had not signed the Geneva Accords, did not believe the Communists in North Vietnam would allow a fair election. In January 1957, the ICC agreed with this perception, reporting that neither South nor North Vietnam had honored the armistice agreement. With the French gone, a return to the traditional power struggle between north and south had begun again."
In October 1956 Diệm, with US prodding, launched a land reform program restricting rice farm sizes to a maximum of 247 acres per landowner with the excess land to be sold to landless peasants. More than 1.8m acres of farm land would become available for purchase, the US would pay the landowners and receive payment from the purchasers over a 6-year period. Land reform was regarded by the US as a crucial step to build support for the nascent South Vietnamese government and undermine communist propaganda.: 14
The North Vietnamese Communist Party approved a "people's war" on the South at a session in January 1959 and this decision was confirmed by the Politburo in March.
Ho Chi Minh Trail, at this time a six-month mountain trek through Laos. About 500 of the "regroupees" of 1954 were sent south on the trail during its first year of operation.
Diệm attempted to stabilise South Vietnam by defending against Việt Cộng activities. He launched an anti-communist denunciation campaign (To Cong) against the Việt Cộng. He acted against criminal factions by launching military campaigns against three powerful main sects; the
organised crime syndicate whose military strength combined amounted to approximately 350,000 fighters.
By 1960 the land reform process had stalled. Diệm had never truly supported reform because many of his biggest supporters were the country's largest landowners. While the US threatened to cut aid unless land reform and other changes were made, Diệm correctly assessed that the US was bluffing.: 16
Throughout this period, the level of US aid and political support increased. In spite of this, a 1961
The Pentagon Papers
Many feel that [Diem] is unable to rally the people in the fight against the Communists because of his reliance on virtual one-man rule, his tolerance of corruption extending even to his immediate entourage, and his refusal to relax a rigid system of public controls.
The Diệm government lost support among the populace, and from the
raid Buddhist temples across the country, leaving a death toll estimated to be in the hundreds. Diệm was overthrown in a coup on 1 November 1963 with the tacit approval of the US.[citation needed
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 1965, the latter resulting in Air Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ becoming prime minister and General 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. The Senate election took place on 2 September 1967. The Presidential election took place on 3 September 1967, Thiệu was elected president with 34% of the vote in a widely criticised poll. The Parliamentary election took place on 22 October 1967.
On 31 January 1968, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng broke the traditional truce accompanying the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. The 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 and began negotiations with the North Vietnamese to end the war. Thiệu used the aftermath of the Tet Offensive to sideline Kỳ, his chief rival.
On 26 March 1970 the government began to implement the Land-to-the-Tiller program of land reform with the US providing US$339m of the program's US$441m cost. Individual landholdings were limited to 15 hectares.
US and South Vietnamese forces launched a series of attacks on PAVN/VC bases in Cambodia in April–July 1970. South Vietnam launched an invasion of North Vietnamese bases in Laos in February/March 1971 and were defeated by the PAVN in what was widely regarded as a setback for Vietnamization.
North Vietnam launched a conventional invasion of South Vietnam in late March 1972 which was only finally repulsed by October with massive US air support.
In accordance with the Paris Peace Accords signed on 27 January 1973, US military forces withdrew from South Vietnam at the end of March 1973 while PAVN forces in the South were permitted to remain in place.
North Vietnamese leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favour their side, but as Saigon began to roll back the Việt Cộng, 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
, about 60 mi (97 km) north of Saigon.
On 15 March 1973, US President
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 and imposed restrictions on fuel and munition usage. After two clashes that left 55 South Vietnamese soldiers dead, President Thiệu announced on 4 January 1974 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. Also in January 1974 China attacked South Vietnamese forces in the Paracel Islands
taking control of the islands.
In August 1974, Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the
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 December 1974, the PAVN launched an invasion at Phuoc Long to test two things: South Vietnamese combat strength and political will and whether the US would respond militarily. With no US military assistance forthcoming the ARVN were unable to hold and the PAVN successfully captured many of the districts around the provincial capital of Phuoc Long weakening ARVN resistance in stronghold areas. President Thiệu later abandoned Phuoc Long in early January 1975. As a result, Phuoc Long was the first provincial capital to fall to the PAVN.
In 1975, the PAVN launched an
Ho Chi Minh Campaign. The South Vietnamese unsuccessfully attempted a defence and counterattack but had few reserve forces, as well as a shortage of spare parts and ammunition. As a consequence, Thiệu ordered a withdrawal of key army units from the Central Highlands, which exacerbated an already perilous military situation and undermined the confidence of the ARVN soldiers in their leadership. The retreat became a rout exacerbated by poor planning and conflicting orders from Thiệu. PAVN forces also attacked south and from sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia capturing Huế and Da Nang
and advanced southwards. As the military situation deteriorated, ARVN troops started deserting. By early April, South Vietnam had lost almost 3/5th of the country.
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 Kỳ from retirement as a military commander, but resisted calls to name his old rival prime minister.
Morale was low in South Vietnam as the PAVN advanced. A last-ditch defense was made by the ARVN 18th Division at the Battle of Xuân Lộc from 9–21 April. Thiệu resigned on 21 April 1975, and fled to Taiwan. He nominated his Vice President Trần Văn Hương as his successor. After only one week in office, the South Vietnamese national assembly voted to hand over the presidency to General Dương Văn 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 forces captured Saigon. Minh unconditionally surrendered 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
helicopters being jettisoned over the side of the carriers, to provide more room on the ship's deck for more evacuees to land.
South Vietnam went through many political changes during its short life. Initially, former Emperor
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
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 Khánhdeposed 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. 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
Buddhist monk Thích Trí Quang attempted an uprising in Quang's hometown of Da Nang.: 273 The uprising was unsuccessful and Ky's repressive stance towards the nation's Buddhist population continued.
In 1967, the
upper House (Thượng Nghị Viện) and South Vietnam held its first elections under the new 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 on 21 April 1975. Vice-president Trần Văn Hương assumed power for a week, but on 27 April the Parliament and Senate voted to transfer power to Dương Văn Minh
who was the nation's last president and who unconditionally surrendered to the Communist forces on 30 April 1975.
The South Vietnamese government was regularly accused of holding a large number of political prisoners, the exact number of which was a source of contention. Amnesty International, in a report in 1973, estimated the 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.
1946–1947 Autonomous Republic of Cochinchina (Chính phủ Cộng hoà Nam Kỳ tự trị). The creation of this republic, during the First Indochina War (1946–1954), allowed France to evade a promise to recognise Vietnam as independent. The government was renamed in 1947 Provisional Government of Southern Vietnam, overtly stating its aim to reunite the whole country.
1948–1949 Provisional Central Government of Vietnam (Chính phủ lâm thời Quốc gia Việt Nam). This "pre-Vietnam" government prepared for a unified Vietnamese state, but the country's full reunification was delayed for a year because of the problems posed by Cochinchina's legal status.
Bảo Đại (1949–1955). Abdicated as emperor (constitutional monarch) in 1945 following surrender of Imperial Japanese occupying forces at the end of World War II, later serving as head of state to 1955.
1955–1975 Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Cộng Hòa). Fought in the Vietnam War (or Second Indochina War; 1959–1975) against the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi.
Ngô Đình Diệm
(1955–1963). Once highly lauded by America, he was ousted and assassinated in a US-backed coup in November 1963.
In 1963–1965, there were numerous coups and short-lived governments, several of which were headed by Dương Văn Minh or Nguyễn Khánh.
Nguyễn Cao Kỳ
was the top leader of the last of the military regimes in 1965–1967 before a US-backed civilian government was instituted, following a new constitution and elections in 1967, with Thieu elected president.
The Republic of Vietnam Military Forces (RVNMF; Vietnamese: Quân lực Việt Nam Cộng hòa – QLVNCH), was formally established on 30 December 1955. Created out from ex-French Union Army colonial Indochinese auxiliary units (French: Supplétifs), gathered earlier in July 1951 into the French-led Vietnamese National Army – VNA (Vietnamese: Quân Đội Quốc Gia Việt Nam – QĐQGVN), Armée Nationale Vietnamiènne (ANV) in French, the armed forces of the new state consisted in the mid-1950s of ground, air, and naval branches of service, respectively:
Their roles were defined as follows: to protect the sovereignty of the free Vietnamese nation and that of the Republic; to maintain the political and social order and the rule of law by providing internal security; to defend the newly independent Republic of Vietnam from external (and internal) threats; and ultimately, to help reunify Vietnam.
The French ceased training the QLVNCH in 1956 and training passed to American advisers who progressively restructured the military along US military lines.: 254–5
The country was divided from north to south into four corps tactical zones: I Corps, II Corps, III Corps, IV Corps and the Capital Military District in and around Saigon.
At the time of signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the South Vietnamese government fielded the fourth largest military force in the world as a result of the American
Enhance and Enhance Plus programs with approximately one and one-half million troops in uniform. The lack of sufficient training and dependence on the U.S. for spare parts, fuel, and ammunition caused maintenance and logistical problems. The impact of the 1973 oil crisis, a faltering economy, inflation and reduced US aid led to a steady decline in South Vietnamese military expenditure and effectiveness.: 28 
Radio Vietnam broadcast hours cards, denoting times and frequencies of radio broadcasts in 1960 and 1962. Address: 3 Phan Dinh Phung St., Saigon
1974 English language Voice of Vietnam (Radio Vietnam) foreign service broadcast from Saigon
There were four AM and one FM radio stations, all of them owned by government (VTVN), named Radio Vietnam [vi]. 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. 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 a 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:
-TV (Truyền hình Việt Nam-TV) on Channel 9, featuring Vietnamese-language shows, news, and special announcements from Saigon. This entirely Vietnamese language channel catered to the Vietnamese populace.
Throughout its history South Vietnam had many reforms enacted that affected the organisation of its administrative divisions.
On 24 October 1956 President
Ngô Đình Diệm enacted a reform of the administrative divisions system of the Republic of Vietnam in the form of Decree 147a/NV. This decree divided the region of Trung phần into Trung nguyên Trung phần (the Central Midlands) and Cao nguyên Trung phần (the Central Highlands).
The offices appointed representative and assistant representative of the central government were created for the region of Trung phần, the main representative had an office in Buôn Ma Thuột, while the assistant had an office in Huế.
1963 United States-backed coup d'état that outsted Ngô the Central Government's Representatives in the Trung phần region were gradually replaced by the control of the Tactical zone's Commanders (Tư lệnh Vùng Chiến thuật), which replaced a civil administration with a military one. However, following the 1967 Senate election the military administration was replaced back with civilian administrators.
On 1 January 1969, during the presidency of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, Act 001/69 became effective which abolished the offices of government's representative and assistant government's representative, this was later followed on 12 May 1969 with Decree 544 – NĐ/ThT/QTCS which completely abolished the civil administration in Trung nguyên Trung phần in favour of the Tư lệnh Vùng Chiến thuật.
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, China, Taiwan] and Western Australia.
Apart from the mainland, the Republic of Vietnam also administered parts of the
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.
Vietnamese was the official language and was spoken by the majority of the population. Despite the end of French colonial rule, the French language 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 of South Vietnam spoke French.: 280–4 With US involvement in the Vietnam War, English was also later introduced to the armed forces and became a secondary diplomatic language. Languages spoken by minority groups included Chinese, Khmer, Cham, and other languages spoken by Montagnard groups.
Starting from 1955, the South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm carried out an assimilation policy towards indigenous peoples (Montagnard) of the Central Highlands and the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam until the late 1980s.
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.
International Relations of the Republic of Vietnam
During its existence, South Vietnam had diplomatic relations with Australia, Brazil, Cambodia (until 1963 and then from 1970), Canada, the Taiwan, France, Indonesia (until 1964), Iran, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Vatican and West Germany.
Relationship with the United States
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.
^Wright, Sue. Language Education and Foreign Relations in Vietnam, Routledge, 2010, p. 235
^Prugh, George S. (1991) [first printed 1975]. Law at War: Vietnam 1964–1973(PDF). Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army. pp. 61–63. Archived(PDF) from the original on 1 November 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
^Duncanson, Dennis J. Government and Revolution in Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. tr 223: "In the circumstances prevailing in 1955 and 1956 – anarchy of the Sects and of the retiring Việt Minh in the South, terror campaign of the land reform and resultant peasant uprising round Vinh in the North – it was only to be expected that voters would vote, out of fear of reprisals, in favour of the authorities under whom they found themselves; that the ICC had no hope of ensuring a truly free election at that time has been admitted since by the chief sponsor of the Final Declaration, Lord Avon."
^Nguyễn Tuấn Cường (September 2014). Reestablishment of Human Nature and Social Morality: A Study of the Anniversary of Confucius' Birthday in South Vietnam 1955–1975. International Conference in Commemorating 2565th Anniversary of Confucius' Birthday.
^Nguyễn Tuấn Cường (November 2014). Nationalism, Decolonization, and Tradition: The Promotion of Confucianism in South Vietnam 1955–1975 and the Role of Nguyễn Đăng Thục. Sixth "Engaging with Vietnam – An Interdisciplinary Dialogue" Conference (Frontiers and Peripheries: Vietnam Deconstructed and Reconnected).
^"A Foreign Policy of Independence and Peace". Vietnam Bulletin. Vol XI No 1 January 1974. pp 4–5