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In a referendum on the future of the State of Vietnam on 23 October 1955, Diệm rigged the poll supervised by his brother Ngô Đình Nhu and was credited with 98.2 percent of the vote, including 133% in Saigon. Historian Luu Doan Huynh notes that "Diệm represented narrow and extremist nationalism coupled with autocracy and nepotism." The majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist, and were alarmed by actions such as Diệm's dedication of the country to the Virgin Mary.

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. Beginning in the summer of 1955, Diệm launched the "Denounce the Communists" campaign, during which communists and other anti-government elements were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or executed.

The following month the United States and Great Britain recognized the French-backed State of Vietnam in Saigon, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, as the legitimate Vietnamese government. Vietnam was temporarily partitioned at the 17th parallel, and under the terms of the Geneva Accords, civilians were to be given the opportunity to move freely between the two provisional states for a 300-day period.

Elections throughout the country were to be held in 1956 to establish a unified government.

In December 1960, the National Liberation Front (NLF, a.k.a.

the Viet Cong) was formally created with the intent of uniting all anti-GVN activists, including non-communists.

The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region, while the People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in more conventional warfare, at times committing large units to battle. and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations, involving ground forces, artillery, and airstrikes. The North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam. government viewed its involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam. involvement escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which a U. destroyer clashed with North Vietnamese fast attack craft, which was followed by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the U. When the Japanese invaded during World War II, the Viet Minh opposed them with support from the USA, Russia and China.

As the war continued, the military actions of the Viet Cong decreased as the role and engagement of the NVA grew. They viewed the conflict as a colonial war and a continuation of the First Indochina War against forces from France and later on the United States. This was part of the domino theory of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism. They received some Japanese arms when Japan surrendered.

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Operations crossed international borders: bordering areas of Laos and Cambodia were used by North Vietnam as supply routes and were heavily bombed by U. forces as American involvement in the war peaked in 1968, the same year that the communist side launched the Tet Offensive. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Army in April 1975 marked the end of the war, and North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.

President Eisenhower pledged his continued support, and a parade was held in Diệm's honor in New York City.

Although Diệm was publicly praised, in private Secretary of State John Foster Dulles conceded that Diệm had been selected because there were no better alternatives.

By the 1950s, the conflict had become entwined with the Cold War. The defeat marked the end of French military involvement in Indochina.

In January 1950, the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, based in Hanoi, as the legitimate government of Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference, the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Viet Minh, and independence was granted to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Incidents of political violence began to occur in mid-1957, but the government "did not construe it as a campaign, considering the disorders too diffuse to warrant committing major GVN [Government of Vietnam] resources." By early 1959, however, Diệm had come to regard the (increasingly frequent) disorders as an organized campaign and implemented Law 10/59, which made political violence punishable by death and property confiscation.

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