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North and South Vietnam have had different ethnic origins, with North Vietnam (Vietnamese Kingdom) originally populated by ethnic Chinese, and South Vietnam (Champa Kingdom) populated by Polynesian settlers from Indonesia and Malaysia. Generational crisis wars in 1471 and 1545 finally ended the Champa Kingdom in the south, and also drove out the Chinese Army from the north. However, the country remained partitioned, with the Nguyen family controlling the South, and the Trinh family controlling the North.
The greatest and most celebrated military event in Vietnamese history is the Tay-Son Rebellion, 1771-1790. It was started by three brothers, led by legendary hero Quang Trung. They first defeated the Nguyen regime in the south, then defeated the Trinh in the north, and repelled an invading Siamese force.
The most significant battle of the Tay-Son Rebellion crisis war was its explosive climax in 1789. Quang Trung led his troops in a brilliant battle against a much larger Chinese army and repelled them. Quang Trung is a military hero who had reunited Vietnam, for the first time in 200 years, repelled the Siamese and saved his country from Chinese domination.
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, a country's crisis wars occur roughly every 70-90 years, and midway between two crisis wars is a "generational awakening era." This is a time of social upheaval, but also a time of spiritual development. Throughout history, great ideas and religions are born during Awakening eras, and are either actualized or extinguished during Crisis eras.
Vietnam's Awakening era that followed the Tay-Son rebellion changed the country enormously. During the 1800s, under Emperor Tu-Duc, cultural development blossomed, making it the high point of literary culture in Vietnamese history. Thanks to the French, Christianity bloomed, with hundreds of thousands of Catholic conversions from Confucianism and Buddhism.
However, things changed rapidly in 1857, when Tu-Duc executed a Spanish Bishop. France responded by capturing Saigon, leading Tu-Duc to start relentlessly suppressing Christianity, sanctioning thousands of executions. This led to the next crisis war, the French conquest of Indochina in 1865-1885.
Under the French, the Catholic Church flourished, opening missions, schools and hospitals all over the country.
Vietnam's next Awakening era featured riots and demonstrations directed at the French colonialists, and the rise of Ho Chi Minh. Ho took part in the founding of the French Communist Party in 1920, and formed the Revolutionary Youth League in Vietnam in 1925. Ho led numerous anti-colonial uprisings in the following decades, and during WW II, Ho formed the Viet Minh political / relief organization, for people starving to death thanks to confiscation of goods by the occupying Japanese.
After WW II, Ho Chi Minh led the effort to drive the French from Vietnam, and succeeded with human wave assaults against a large French encampment at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
With the French gone, Vietnam was once again partitioned into North and South. Ho controlled the North, with support from the Soviet Union and China, and over half a million Catholics migrated from the North to the South. America feared that South Vietnam would also fall under Communist control.
This was the time when America had fought two world wars, and was desperately fearful of a third one on the horizon, this time with the Communists. It was considered essential to stop Communism before it could become too threatening, and so America endeavored to stop Communism from spreading from North to South Vietnam. American began providing advisors in the 1950s, growing to full-scale armed intervention in the 1960s. The North-South crisis civil war finally ended in 1974, with the Hanoi's victory.
After that, Hanoi conducted a reign of terror. There were mass executions, as political, religious, economic and press freedoms were brutally repressed.
But now, 30 years later, Vietnam is well into a yet one more Awakening era. This time it's the Communists of the North who are the occupiers, and the people of the South are becoming restive. weary of the lack of religious, economic and press freedoms.