After World War 2 Ho Chi Minh led an uprising against the French rulers
of Vietnam. This ended with a defeat for the French in 1954.
At the peace talks which followed the decision made was to temporarily split
Vietnam into North (ruled by Ho Chi Minh) and South. Elections were supposed
to follow to see what the people wanted.
However, Eisenhower prevented the elections because it was clear the majority
would support Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam would become Communist.
The Americans supported Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of South Vietnam. They knew
he was unpopular with his own people. His government was corrupt. He came
from the landlord class. This class treated the peasants badly and did not
respect their Buddhist religion. However, the Americans did not have anyone
else to support.
In 1963 Diem was assassinated and replaced by some of South Vietnam's military
leaders. This new government was also corrupt. However, the Americans still
supported it because the military commanders were anti-Communist.
In 1965 even President Johnson admitted that a lot of South Vietnamese supported
Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Cong had a lot of support among the peasants because
they supported land reform which would take land from the landlords and give
it to the peasants.
However, Johnson was also right in pointing out that any South Vietnamese
who did not support Ho or the Viet Cong faced intimidation and violence.