South Vietnam

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Việt Nam Cộng Hòa
Coat of Arms
(In Detail) (Link)
Official language Vietnamese
Capital Saigon
Last President Duong Van Minh
Last Prime Minister Vu Van Mau
 - Total
 - % water

 - Total
 - Density

19,370,000 (1973 est.)
 - Declared
 - Recognised
 - Dissolved
From French rule
June 14, 1949
April 30, 1975
Currency Dong (gradually phased in to replace the Piastre)
Time zone UTC +7
National anthem Thanh niên Hành Khúc (Call to the Citizens)
Caution: These data are only applied to South Vietnam (1954-1976).

South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), Vietnamese Việt Nam Cộng Hòa from 1955, was a country that existed from 1954 to 1975 in the territory of Vietnam that lay south of the Demilitarized Zone while North Vietnam was situated to the north of the DMZ. The partition was made during the Geneva Conference (1954), after the Viet Minh fought successfully to end almost 100 years of French colonialism. The Republic was proclaimed in Saigon by Ngo Dinh Diem on October 22, 1955, after the Emperor Bao Dai was deposed.

The founding of South Vietnam was based on the support of the United States, and the history of the relationship is controversial. Despite its popular reputation for supporting democracy and elections, the U.S. and the Diem government agreed that elections mandated by the Geneva Conference (1954) should not occur, as Ho Chi Minh was highly popular and any other Vietnamese figure of the time would likely have lost. The dominant political rationale for supporting the South was claimed at the time to have been based in its anti-communist ideology, and a desire to limit the expansion of the North government, which had allied itself with the Soviet Union. Under circumstances that remain controversial to this day, conflict steadily escalated to become the Vietnam War. Following American troop withdrawal from the war in 1973, the South Vietnam government continued fighting the NLF and North Vietnam, until, overwhelmed by the opposition, it finally surrendered on April 30, 1975. The NLF took power and established the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam until the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was inaugurated on July 2, 1976.



History of Vietnam series
Map of Vietnam

Hồng Bàng | An Dương Vương

Triệu Dynasty (207 - 110 BC)
First Chinese domination (110 BC- 40 AD)
The Trung Sisters revolt (40 AD- 43 AD)
Second Chinese domination (43 - 544)
Lý Nam Đế (544 - 548)
Ly Thien Bao (548)
Triệu Việt Vương (548 - 570)
Posterior Hau Lý Nam Đế (571 - 602)
Third Chinese domination (602 - 906)
The Khuc family (906 - 923)
Ngô Dynasty (939 - 967)
Đinh Dynasty (968 - 980)
Anterior Lê Dynasty (980 - 1009)
Lý Dynasty (1009 - 1225)
Trần Dynasty (1225 - 1400)
Hồ Dynasty (1400 - 1406)
Fourth Chinese domination (1406-1417)
Posterior Trần Dynasty (1407 - 17)
Posterior Lê Dynasty (1418 - 1527)
Mạc Dynasty (1527 - 1600)
Lê-Mạc Period (1527 - 1599)
Lê Kings-Trịnh Lords (1600 - 1789)
Nguyễn Lords (1558 - 1775)
Tây Sơn Dynasty (1778 - 1802)
Nguyễn Dynasty (1802 - 1945)
Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1945-1976)
Republic of Vietnam(1955-1975)
Vietnam War
Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976- )

There is debate about how closely the South Vietnamese government was linked to the United States — many historians allege the South government to have been nothing more than an American-backed puppet government. But many others claim that it was genuine democracy or, at the least, a legitimate patriotic movement born from genuine concern for the Vietnamese people. Any point of view on the matter generally correspond closely to their views on the Vietnam War in general — supporters of US involvement often believe that South Vietnam was worth defending to preclude Communist expansion, and thus worthy of defence, while opponents often believe that South Vietnamese government was not worth defending based on its corruption or the expense of Vietnamese and American lives.

All of U.S. forces withdrew from South Vietnam in 1973, in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords signed with North Vietnam in 1973. However, following major victories by the Viet Cong guerrilas in the South, and taking advantage of the Southern government's lack of popular support and lack of American aid, North Vietnam broke the treaty in 1975 and invaded South Vietnam, quickly capturing the cities of Hue, Da Nang and Da Lat in central Vietnam, and advancing southwards very fast.

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) did mount a significant defense and even a counterattack, but they kept losing ground. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu requested aid from U.S. President Gerald Ford, but the U.S. Senate would not ratify another involvement in Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Thieu resigned on April 21, 1975, and fled to Taiwan. He nominated his Vice President Tran Van Huong as his successor. In one week, Tran Van Huong handed over the presidency to General Duong Van Minh.

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was unable to sustain the defense and quickly collapsed due to limited supplies and poor leadership. Acting President Duong Van Minh unconditionally surrendered the capital city of Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.


South Vietnam went through many political changes during its short life.

Initially, the nation was a constitutional monarchy, with Emperor Bao Dai as Head of State. The Vietnamese monarchy was unpopular however, largely because monarchical leaders were considered collaborators during French rule.

In 1955 a republican referendum, which was alleged to be rigged due to the active presence of pro-republican military forces at voting booths and the 98% vote in favour of the movement, abolished the monarchy and made Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem the country's first president. Despite successes in politics, economics, and social change in the first 5 years, Diem quickly became a dictatorial leader. The South Vietnamese military staged a coup and killed him in 1963. The military held a brief interim government until a civilian administration was installed in 1964.

In 1965 the feuding civilian government voluntarily resigned and handed power back to the nation's military, in the hope this would bring stability and unity to the nation. A joint assembly with represenatives of all the branches of the military decided to switch the nation's system of government to a parliamentary system with a strong Prime Minister and a figurehead President. There was a bicameral National Assembly consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Military rule initially failed to provide much stability however, as internal conflicts and political inexperience caused various factions of the army to launch coups and counter-coups against one another, making leadership very tumultuous. The situation stabilized when the reformist Nguyen Cao Ky became Prime Minister and helped fight corruption and political division through often heavy-handed means.

In 1967 the nation held its first elections. Following the elections the nation switched back to a presidential system. The military nominated Nguyen Van Thieu as their candidate, and he was elected with a plurality of the popular vote. Thieu quickly consolidated power much to the dismay of those who hoped for an era of more political openess. His 1971 re-election was boycotted by most opposition parties and widely regarded as corrupt, although he received an increase in popular support. Thieu ruled until the final days of the war, resigning in 1975. Duong Van Minh was the nation's last president and surrendered to the Communist forces a few days after assuming office.

South Vietnam was a member of the ACCT, Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), IMF, International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), Interpol, IOC, ITU, League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (LORCS), UNESCO and Universal Postal Union (UPU).


Main article: Army of the Republic of Vietnam

Total Armed Forces were over 1,000,000 in 1971, and U.S. Forces were 525,000 in 1968.


On October 26, 1956, the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem who then established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Early on, the focus of the army was the Communist guerrillas of the Viet Cong, a shadow government formed to oppose the Diem administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid ARVN (pronounced "arvin") in combating the Communist insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngo Dinh Nhu and later resurrected under another name was the "Strategic Hamlet Program" which was unsuccessful. ARVN and President Diem began to be criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush southern religious groups like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which Diem claimed were harboring Communist guerillas.

In 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup d'etat carried out by ARVN officers. In the confusion that followed Duong Van Minh took control, but was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam. During these years, the United States began taking full control of the war against the Communists and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption among the officer corps. Although the U.S. was highly critical of them, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S. armed and funded.

The value of the ARVN was highly questionable in this period. In 1963 at the Battle of Ap Bac some 1,400 ARVN troops were defeated by only 350 Viet Cong. The battle of Dong Xoai in 1965 was another humiliating ARVN defeat. Although they always outnumbered their Communist enemies, most were inexperienced, poorly trained and not motivated to fight hard for the generals and politicians behind them. Generals tended to be political appointees and corruption was rampant. Their relations with the civilian population was never good and relations with the U.S. military were often very cold.

Starting in 1969 President Richard M. Nixon started the process of "Vietnamization", pulling out American forces and leaving the ARVN to fight the war against the North Vietnamese People's Army. Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its pacification role to become the primary ground defense against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. From 1969-1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of a million soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in Cambodia and were executing 3x as many operations as they had during the American war period. However, the officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were often poorly trained, inept and the equipment continued to sub-standard as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology.

Relations with the public also remained poor as their only counter to Communist infiltration was to resurrect the "Strategic Hamlet" program, which the peasants resented. Disapproving Americans called this "barbed wire diplomacy". However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese army actually started to perform rather well and in 1970 was clearly winning the war against the Communists, though with continued American air support. The exhaustion of the North was becoming evident and the Paris talks gave some hope of a negotiated peace if not a victory.

The most crucial moment of truth for the ARVN came with General Vo Nguyen Giap's 1972 "Easter Offensive", which they code-named "Nguyen Hue" after the historic Vietnamese hero who defeated the Chinese in 1778. the first all out invasion of South Vietnam by the Communist North. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of tanks by the North Vietnamese. ARVN took heavy losses, but to the surprise of many, managed to hold on and stand their ground. The Communists took Quang Tri province and areas along the Lao and Khmer borders.

President Richard Nixon dispatched more bombers to provide air support for ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be overrun. In desperation, President Nguyen Van Thieu fired the incompetent General Giai and replaced him with ARVN's best commander, General Ngo Quang Truong. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together so that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) failed to take Hue. Finally, with considerable U.S. air and naval support, as well as some surprising determination by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN counter-attacked and ultimately succeeded in driving the NVA out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Quang Tri province near the DMZ.

By 1973 and 1974 the United States had almost completely retreated from Vietnam and ARVN was left to fight alone, though with massive technological support, having roughly 4x as many heavy weapons as their enemies. Nevertheless, American aid was gradually cut off.

In 1975, after the end of American involvement, the NVA again invaded the south. This time, the ARVN collapsed in a total panic. City after city fell to the Communists with ARVN soldiers joining the civilians trying to flee south. The North called this the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign". All resistance crumbled. General Cao Van Vien, ARVN chief of staff, ordered his men to fight to the death, then quickly fled the country. The ARVN tried to defend Xuan Loc, their last chance before Saigon. Even according to the Communists, these men fought very well, but it was not enough. Xuan Loc was taken and on April 30, 1975, initiated the Fall of Saigon the Communists captured the city, placing the Viet Cong flag over the Indepedence Palace. General Duong Van Minh, recently appointed president by Tran Van Huong, surrendered the city and government bringing the Republic of Vietnam and also the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to a final end.

Presidents of South Vietnam

Ngo Dinh Diem (1955–1963) Duong Van Minh (1963–1964, 1975) Nguyen Khanh (1964) Phan Khac Suu (1964–1965) Nguyen Van Thieu (1965–1975) Tran Van Huong (1975) Huynh Tan Phat (1975–1976)


Map of South Vietnam
Map of South Vietnam

South Vietnam's capital was Saigon which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City on May 1, 1975.

Besides, the country was divided into forty-four provinces (tỉnh, singular and plural):


The south was divided into coastal lowlands, Dai Truong Son (central mountains) with high plateaus, and the Mekong River Delta.


Vietnam’s economy evolved under the burden of military actions and political issues. In 1954, the nations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam had developed their own economic structure, reflecting different economic systems with different resources and trading partners. South Vietnam maintained a free-market economy as well established the first Airlines under Chief of State Emperor Bao Dai, named Air Vietnam. The reunification of Vietnam in 1976, led to the imposition of North Vietnam’s centrally planned economy into the South. Vietnam has built its market economy since 1995.


About 80% of population was Kinh, and 20% was Chinese, Montagnard, Khmer, Cham, Malay and others. (1970)


Principal religions were Buddhism, Roman Catholic, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, animists and others.

Vietnamese Culture

Cultural life was strongly flavored by that of China until French domination in the 19th century. At that time, the traditional culture began to acquire an overlay of western characteristics. Many families have three generations living under one roof.

  • It is traditional for a married couple to care for the man’s parents. Also, it is very important to have a son. If there is only one son, he and his wife must live with his parents. If there are no sons, one of the daughters may remain unmarried and care for her parents. To make decisions, children must ask their parents.
  • Vietnamese males and females are not allowed to date. They grew up in their families until age 18 to 20 and marry according to their parents' arrangements. Dating is believed to undermine traditions, encouraging sons and daughters to defy their parents' wishes and bringing shame to their families. Youths who have affections for one another may carry their relationship in secrecy, but eventually yield to their parents' wills. This may mean marrying a complete stranger or someone they do not like. Pleasing their parents is a social priority and doing otherwise would be a major dishonor. However, today Vietnamese males and females are free to date and get married to the one that they love.

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