• Home
  • History
  • Impact of the War in Indochina on Civilians in the period up to 1979

Impact of the War in Indochina on Civilians in the period up to 1979 Essay Example

  • Category:
  • Document type:
  • Level:
    High School
  • Page:
  • Words:

7Impact of the War in Indochina on civilians in the period up to 1979

Impact of the War in Indochina on Civilians in the period
up to 1979


The Indochina conflict had both long-term and short-term cultural, social, economic, human, and environmental impacts on the citizens of both Cambodia and Vietnam. Civilians in the two countries faced political oppression owing to American intervention which had negative impact on the elements of society in both Cambodia and Vietnam. The civilians were caught up in this war and most of them paid the ultimate price for it and some suffered adverse effects even to the present day. This paper explores the impact of the war on Indochina on civilians in the period up to 1979.


The war in Indochina had immediate as well as lasting social impact on the civilians in Cambodia and Vietnam. The Vietnamese society became rapidly westernized following the arrivals of the US. Commercial values as well as western materials gained supremacy. There was plenty influx of western goods like cars, music, fashion, and investment (Webb, 2010). There was also expansion of vices in the society like increase in prostitution as well as drug use. The huge importation of wealth from western world brought about the challenge of increase in corruption. More and more people moved to cities as they abandoned village life. The war had cultural impact on Vietnamese society (Tirman, 2011).  It led to the Americanization of cities of Vietnam as well as destruction of traditional village structures as people sought city life. The war in essence threatened the survival of traditional Vietnamese culture (Anderson, 2010). There were people who were moved from their ancestral homes like the peasants hence distracting their hitherto peaceful lives. The US presence came with some sort of all-pervasiveness that destroyed the cultural fibre of Vietnam.

The civilians were highly affected by the political oppression as a result of the South’s war against Communists. The war caused the Cambodian civilians four years of US immense bombing of camps and the trail, which was followed by the US invasion (Mollica et al, 2014). The American intervention resulted into the Lon Noi regime. This resulted into war against the Vietnamese. The resulting conflict as well as the growth of the Khmer Rouge resulted into immense misery since they ruled with a lot of bloodshed. The Indochina conflict had very adverse environmental impact on the civilians of Cambodia and Vietnam who depended on the landscape to offer the food resources needed by the nation (Downes, 2011).  The war caused destructive impact on the country’s landscape. There were forest regions which were destroyed by incessant and immense bombing. Dyke and irrigation systems were destroyed badly. The bombing left behind a landscape that was challenging to cultivate. The incessant use of defoliants and herbicides has resulted into huge swathes of South Vietnam a wasteland (Westing, 2011). The effect of unexploited land remains a big challenge to Indochina even the 21st century.

Defoliation had great impact on food production as well as the landscape in general. It was the US President Kennedy who permitted the use of defoliation in an operation christened Ranch Hand (Downes, 2011).  The main goal was to destroy vegetation hence denying guerillas the means of hiding in the vegetation from US forces. Anti-crop projects were combined with defoliation. In the year 1967, one million acres of land were subjected to US chemical bombardment. From 1962 to 1972 the US sprayed more than twenty million gallons of herbicides/defoliants in South Vietnam (Webb, 2010). The short-term target was destroying forests and crops. The medium-term target was to cause food shortage and compel people to migrate. While millions of peasants were compelled to flee into cities, they had to ensure slum conditions which became ideal grounds for dysentery and malaria breeding. The long-term impact was to render the entire area impossible for cultivation (Lind, 2013). Years following the war, millions of the Vietnam population suffered for ailments that can only be attributed to the impact of the US chemical warfare.

Economically the essence of dedicating the scarce resources of the country to a liberation war shifted expenditure from other important projects hence leading the country lagging behind economically. By the year 1970, the southern part faced high inflation as well as growth of the black market. In the aftermath of the war the economy was left in bad shape. Post-wars bans on trade imposed by the United States on trade as well as investment made things to be worse than before (Kocher, Pepinsky & Kalyvas, 2011). The effects of the bombing to a large extend decreased food output owing to low agricultural activities. Consequently, the food prices went up. The American firepower as well as bombing had immense effect on the capacity of South Vietnam to feed its people. The bombing charred forests, destroyed rice crops as well as left land challenging to cultivate (Palmer, 2014). There were cluster bombs that often remained ready to release their impact that is deadly. The vast part of the country became a no-go zone owing to huge assortments of shells and mines that were unexploded. Some still remain unexploded to the present time. A bomb that was set to target a dyke would make an area that was hitherto cultivatable to be submerged under sea water. In the beginning of 1960s, South Vietnam had the capacity to export rice but by the 1965 it was a net importer of rice following the impact of the war (Webb, 2010).

There was enormous loss of life approximately 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives. There were many people who were left incapacitated by the war. There those who lost limbs, some were badly wounded and were left nursing very painful injuries. There are some babies who were born with defects due to the effects of Agent Orange in the aftermath of the war (Singer, 2010).  The war veterans in Vietnam suffered from various cancers resulting from the defoliants. The savagery of the war did not spare anyone. The various assortments of the US weapons brought immense horror to the peasants. There was defoliation, bombing as missions were searched and destroyed (Tirman, 2011).  Ultimately the war brought the people of the South under the Northern Communist rule. Life in Cambodia and Vietnam in the aftermath of Communist victories in 1975 was bleak. There were many executions as thousands of people spent time in re-education camps. The war also resulted into the invasion of Vietnam in 1978 (Webb, 2010). In the north part of Vietnam houses, schools and hospitals were obliterated. Thousands of children were rendered permanently deaf due to Linebacker Two bombing campaigns ordered by Nixon in December of 1972. Many Cambodians and Vietnamese escaped their countries during the Communist rule and Australia took almost 250,000 Indochinese refugees (Downes, 2011). 


The civilians were caught up in the Indochina conflict that had adverse impacts on their lives and source of livelihood. The US navy and army used lethal force to subject the people to misery and suffering. The war had both short term and lasting impacts that continue to be witnessed even in the present times. Chemicals weapons used during the war had detrimental impact on the population. Years after the war ended, children are born with defects following the impact of the chemicals weapons used in the war. Defoliation destroyed landscapes and thousands of peasants were forced to flee to town where they ensured life of squalor in slum dwelling.


Anderson, D. L. (Ed.). (2010). The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. Columbia University Press.

Downes, A. B. (2011). Targeting civilians in war. Cornell University Press.

Kocher, M. A., Pepinsky, T. B., & Kalyvas, S. N. (2011). Aerial bombing and counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War. American Journal of Political Science55(2), 201-218.

Lind, M. (2013). Vietnam: The necessary war. Simon and Schuster.

Mollica, R. F., Brooks, R., Tor, S., Lopes-Cardozo, B., & Silove, D. (2014). The enduring mental health impact of mass violence: a community comparison study of Cambodian civilians living in Cambodia and Thailand. International Journal of Social Psychiatry60(1), 6-20.

Palmer Jr, G. B. (2014). The 25-Year War: America’s Military Role in Vietnam. University Press of Kentucky.

Singer, M. (2010). The war machine and global health: a critical medical anthropological examination of the human costs of armed conflict and the international violence industry. Rowman & Littlefield.

Tirman, J. (2011). The deaths of others: the fate of civilians in America’s wars. Oxford University Press.

Webb, K. (2010). Conflict in Indochina 1954-1979, Get Smart Education Pty Ltd, 2010.

Westing, A. H. (2011). Environmental consequences of the second Indochina war: a case study. In Warfare Ecology (pp. 11-17). Springer Netherlands.