In October 1965, a strange object was dropped from a combat plane. This was the era of the Vietnam War and the strange object landed somewhere in Vietnam. Now, the object in question was not a bomb or a missile. It was an old toilet and the fighter pilots who dropped it had plans to use it as an insane weapon of war. However, his plan did not quite work for a number of reasons. Now, why would fighter pilots take the trouble to load an old toilet on the plane and fly it all the way to Vietnam? What difference would this particular toilet make to the war effort? Before discussing these points, it is perfectly in order to look at the factors that led to this war.
Vietnam during the Colonial Era
The French colonized present day Vietnam and for close to one hundred years, this place was under French colonial rule. Vietnam was still under colonial rule when World War II broke out in 1939. The Japanese who were allies of Nazi Germany invaded Vietnam. The French Colonial masters could not protect the Vietnamese from the Japanese onslaught because they were busy fighting the Germans in France and in some of the oversea colonies of France. However, after the defeat of Germany, Japan and Italy in 1945, the French colonials attempted to seize power in Vietnam again. This did not go down well with the Vietnamese at all. They were tired of French colonial rule and wanted a free Vietnam.
The Viet Minh and the Independence Struggle
The Viet Minh was a military resistance movement formed in 1943 to fight against the Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II. This organization was led by General Vo Nguyen Giap initially and later by Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh had considerable support from communist Soviet Union and communist China. They were tough fighters and they liberated large swathes of Japanese occupied Vietnam. After the defeat of the Japanese, Viet Minh leaders seized Hanoi and declared independence from France. However, the French colonials did not recognize the independent regime. French forces invaded the country and this led to the first Indo-China War.
The End of French Colonial Rule
The First Indochina War lasted from 1946 to 1954. The Vietnamese were united in their desire to drive the French forces out of Vietnam for good. Supported by China and Soviet Union, the Vietnamese routed the French forces. In 1954, the French were defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The French colonials lost and Vietnam became an independent nation.
From Independence War to Ideological War
Ideological differences between North Vietnam and South Vietnam led to another war and this time, American soldiers got involved in the war. How and why did the Americans get involved in a war thousands of miles from home? More to the point, what did the USA stand to gain from this war?
Combating Russian Dominance in Asia
During World War II, the Americans and the Russians were united in the war against Nazi Germany. However, after defeating Adolf Hitler’s forces, the former collaborators found themselves on opposing sides of the Cold War. The USA were not comfortable with the growing influence of communist Soviet Union and China in Asia. Another factor was that the US had allies in the region who needed protection by the US military. In the case of Vietnam, the country was split into two opposing factions. North Vietnam was a communist country supported by Soviet Union and China. On the other hand, South Vietnam was a capitalist democracy so America supported it.
From Military Support to “Boots on the Ground”
Initially, the American government provided training, equipment and logistics to the southern Vietnamese forces. However, in 1964, North Vietnamese forces attacked two US Naval vessels. This forced American government to send in ground forces supported by air strikes into Vietnamese territory.
A Costly war
The American involvement in Vietnam was a costly war for the US. Clearly, the crushing defeat of the French forces by the Viet Minh was not a fluke. Backed by Soviet and Chinese forces, the Viet Cong gave a good account of themselves in battle. It was after a particularly bloody battle that some air force officers decided to transform an old toilet to an insane weapon of war.
The Toilet Bomb
A wing man and a Lieutenant Commander came up with the plan to smuggle the old toilet into a warplane. Once on board, the plan was to fill the toilet with bombs and drop in on the Viet Cong. Apparently, the plan did not quite work. The toilet was filled with bombs and dropped over the Mekong Delta. However, the bombs did not explode.
The Vietnam War was bloody and expensive to all the parties that took part in it. The unexploded toilet bomb, napalm and Agent Orange were just some of the terrible realities of this costly war.