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The Vietnam War Terms

Allied Powers

In World War II, the Allied powers were those countries, including Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and France (before its defeat in 1940), that opposed the Axis powers.

Axis Powers, Axis

In World War II, the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan formed the Axis powers.

In World War II, the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan formed the Axis powers.


A United States foreign policy during the Cold War that called for containing the expansion of communism and, more specifically, Soviet influence; the plan was originally devised by U.S. diplomat George Kennan.

An American policy that sought to halt the spread of Communism to countries which were not already Communist

Democratic Republic Of Vietnam, North Vietnam

North Vietnam, whose leaders waged a war for independence against the French and then the Americans; the Americans and South Vietnamese thought of them as Communists, but they initially sought independence more than any specific ideology. They became more communistic after the United States rejected their pleas for self-determination.


A federal law that requires people of a certain age to enlist in the military.

French Indochina

The term for the area of Southeast Asia—encompassing present-day Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam—that the French colonized from the 1860s onward until 1954.

Gook, Gooks

A derogatory and offensive slang term for an Asian person without regard to their country of origin, frequently employed by military personnel in Vietnam and at home. The word might be an alteration of a term, goo-goo, used by American soldiers to refer to Filipino natives during the war in the Philippines (circa 1899). It may also derive from a Korean suffix, kuk (pronounced "gook"), which means "person"; American G.I.s fighting in the Korean War during the 1950s may have picked up the term.

Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution, Tonkin Gulf Resolution

Passed by Congress in 1964 in reaction to poorly substantiated evidence of attacks on American battleships off the coast of North Vietnam. Also referred to as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, it gave President Lyndon B. Johnson unlimited authority to defend U.S. forces in Vietnam and, essentially, to wage war in Vietnam.

Insurgent, Insurgents, Insurgency

Any person who resists an established government regime, usually with force, may be considered an "insurgent," particularly by the state. Often insurgents consider themselves to be "rebels" or "revolutionaries" fighting against an authority they consider corrupt.

Korean War

A conflict sparked by the invasion of South Korea by Communist North Korea. The war against North Korea, fought largely by United States forces, began in 1950 and continued through 1953.

Pentagon Papers

Popular title for the documents that reveal the United States Defense Department's secret policies in Vietnam. A former Pentagon official, Daniel Ellsberg, leaked the Papers to the national press, and the New York Times published them in 1971.

Republic Of Vietnam, South Vietnam

The South Vietnamese government, a capitalistic and usually fiercely repressive government that stifled dissent by imprisoning or executing its critics. American-supported throughout the Vietnam War, though its leaders changed.

Tet Offensive

A North Vietnamese and Vietcong surprise attack on American forces during the Vietnamese New Year holiday in 1968; many Americans, alarmed by the brutal fighting and the high numbers of casualties on both sides, began to call for the U.S. to withdraw from the war.

A military offensive launched by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong in January 1968. South Vietnamese and American forces eventually repel the attack, but the strength of the offensive contradicts President Johnson’s promises that “peace is at hand.” American support for the war in Vietnam decreases.


Vietnamese guerrilla soldiers who opposed the anticommunist government of South Vietnam.

Viet Minh, League For The Independence Of Vietnam

The League for the Independence of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and his fellow Vietnamese nationalists organized the Viet Minh as a military league committed to the fight for Vietnamese self-rule. It was aided by both the Soviet Union and the United States during WWII, while it waged a guerilla campaign against Japanese occupation. In August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied powers and relinquished its holdings in Indochina. Ho Chi Minh became confident that he and the Viet Minh would at last gain control of the country. Instead, France tried to re-claim control over its old colony, and the Viet Minh resisted the French and the Americans who followed them.

War Powers Act

This act, passed in 1973, defines when a president must obtain Congressional authorization for the use of military troops. According to this law, the president must inform Congress when deploying troops into hostile areas. The president may use these troops as deployed for 60 days without Congressional authorization; they may remain longer only if Congress declares war or expressly authorizes a longer deployment. The troops may remain an additional thirty days if their safe removal requires this additional time. They must be removed immediately (even within the first 60 days) if the House of Representatives and the Senate pass a join resolution demanding immediate withdrawal.

Passed in 1973, this law required the president of the United States to seek congressional approval before sending troops abroad. The passage of the War Powers Act reflected growing opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War.


A Washington D.C. office and hotel building that became the popular name of a scandal that rocked the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1974. When the Watergate burglary and subsequent coverup authorized by the president was revealed, Richard Nixon at first stonewalled but ultimately resigned from the presidency under the threat of impeachment.

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