After France withdrew its troops from Indochina in 1954, its former colony was partitioned by the Geneva Accords into North and South until elections could be held to determine the leadership of a united Vietnam. Fearing that Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969)—leader of the North who with the Viet Minh had defeated French troops at Dien Bien Phu—would succeed in uniting the nation as a communist state, the United States supported the South. Over the next decade, US military support for the South escalated, culminating in 1964 air strikes over North Vietnam and the deployment of ground troops the following year. Although the conflict was never officially declared as a war, it was represented and fought as such. By 1975, when the last remaining Americans were airlifted from Saigon, the United States had used in Vietnam over twice the amount of military force that it expended in World War II in both the European and Asian theaters; despite its efforts, North and South Vietnam were united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.
Through advanced firepower and chemical weaponry deployed during more than a decade of military involvement in the region, the United States and its allies succeeded in transforming Vietnam's political, economic, and social realities. But this transformation was not the one envisioned by US political leaders; nor was it the one communicated to the American people when they embarked upon military action in the area. A conflict that had a lasting effect on both the American culture and the Vietnamese culture, the Vietnam War as portrayed in US cinema bears witness to the difficulty the government had in promoting the cause of this war during the conflict and its problematic status in US popular culture for decades to come. Ultimately, the Vietnam War demonstrated both the terrible power and the limitations of America's political aims and national ideology as they were deployed by military action and promoted by the fantasy-making apparatus of cinema.