During Vietnam War we have witnesses several leaders from all the parties involved into the War. It would be quite impossible to focus on all the leaders of this period due to the limitations of this assignment. However, I will focus on few top level leaders, their roles and how they played crucial role in Vietnam War.
Ho Chi Minh: Growing up under the influence of his father who happens to be a hard line Nationalist, Ho Chi Minh left his country for France at early age. Learning about different culture and politics Ho eventually returned Vietnam in 1941 and actively got involved with the independence movement. Following the August Revolution in 1945 by Viet Minh, he became the Chairman of the Provisional Government. He ultimately declares the Independence of Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Regardless of this political affiliation with Communism, he supported United States during World War II with an intent to get help for their own independence. After WWII, Ho actively seek help of the U.S. but failed to gain trust from the Washington because of his close affiliation with Communism. However, Soviet Union and China later on helped him to fight back against the French and U.S eventually.
His intention to unify Vietnam was turned down because of Geneva Accord that ultimately made him the leader of North Vietnam, a communist led single party state. During 1950s, his political oppositions were suppressed and prosecuted caused a large number of deaths within the state.
He played key role behind the “Land Reform” in North Vietnam which ultimately cost many lives of Landlords. Even though later on his party regretted their action but that didn’t change their political image as a communist party. On his active participation People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong(NLF of VC) was formed that led the guerilla war against the U.S. backed South Vietnam.He died in 1969, at the height of the War, thus he couldn’t see his independent Vietnam as he dreamt of. Undoubtedly one of the most prominent and influential figure who played key role behind the declaration of Independence of Vietnam.
Ngo Dinh Diem: Born in a well-educated family, Diem served Vietnam’s last emperor Bao Dai. His family converted to Catholicism as one of the earliest convert in Vietnam. Like Ho’s father, Diem’s father was a Nationalist. Interestingly, Ho and Diem both went to the same school but unlike Ho, Diem proved to be more successful in academic education. However, the only similarity between Ho and Diem is that they both were Nationalist with different political affiliation. Diem was hard line anticommunism support which later on became clearer with his military prosecution towards Communist sympathizers in the South.
After the Geneva Accords, Diem became the Prime Minister of South Vietnam and eventually became the President of South Vietnam replacing Bao Dai totally. During his tenure, he perused to re-build his state with nationalist sentiment and also co-operated with U.S. in many occasions. Even though his version of nation building remained to be fundamentally different from U.S. versions of nation building concept. He openly appreciated American help to build South Vietnam but it remained counterproductive against his ideology.
He played key role behind the huge North Vietnamese migration to the South, especially Catholics. Being the President of a Buddhist dominant nation he prosecuted Buddhist monks which eventually angered many South Vietnamese. Corruption, Autocratic nature and distributing power among his family members eventually led to a military coup and he got assassinated.
Leaders from the United States: It would be unfair to talk about any given individual from the United States. From Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy to Henry Kissinger, they all played their role as the President of the U.S. and continued their support for the U.S. troops in Vietnam. Their policy as to stop communism from spreading all over Asia remained same regardless of their political affiliations. However, Robert McNamara as a Defense secretary attracted more attention of mine than any other key figure during Vietnam War.
His role during Kennedy’s administration to support to increase American involvement in Vietnam, and on the other hand during Johnson’s tenure he urged to the President for peaceful solution remained questionable. His statistical analysis and metrics as a way to measure the effective of the War in terms “Body Counts” gave him more of a War Monger label later on. He tried to improve his image after leaving the office which eventually failed to restore anything.