The conflict, of course, began when the French decided to release their colonial claims to Vietnam. The French army was driven from Vietnam in 1954, resulting in the Geneva Peace Accords. This created a temporary partition of Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel, until 1956, when nationwide elections would be held. While the Communist powers in the Soviet Union and China did want the entire nation of Vietnam to become Communist, they predicted that the 1956 election would accomplish their aims without bringing the United States into the conflict (The Wars for Vietnam: 1945 to 1975).
Rather than initiate another conflict similar to Korea, the American government began a concerted effort to win the political minds of those living to the south of the Communist zone. A major part of this effort was the creation of SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). Initially, the American efforts were successful: the 1956 elections brought Ngo Dinh Diem, a firm opponent of Communism, to power in South Vietnam. However, Diem claimed that the North Vietnamese were preparing to take the southern half of Vietnam by force, and the Americans began aiding his military maneuvers against the northern half in 1957.
Diem used a variety of brutal internal measures in South Vietnam to quell the Communist insurgency, including Law 10/59, which permitted authorities to hold anyone who was suspected of being a Communist indefinitely, without bringing charges. Over time, Diem became increasingly autocratic, which made him an increasingly difficult leader for the United States to support. In response, the Communist insurgency began to increase the amount of violence in its protests (The Wars for Vietnam: 1945 to 1975).
The National Liberation Front was the official organization for those in South Vietnam who wanted to overthrow Diem's government. Created on December 20, 1960, the NLF had only one requirement for membership: applicants had to be opposed to Diem's rule. While the American government scorned the NLF as a mere puppet of the North Vietnamese Communist government, giving it the slur "Viet Cong," there are many who were inside and outside the NLF who claimed that the majority of its members were not Communists - thus showing how unpopular Diem had actually become. President Kennedy's policy toward Diem was neither full assistance nor full rejection: the United States supplied advisers and equipment to the South Vietnamese government, but did not commit a large-scale complement of troops to assist Diem's military in its conflict against the NLF (The Wars for Vietnam: 1945 to 1975).
This level of assistance was not sufficient to keep the South Vietnamese government stable. After Diem's brother led raids on the Buddhist pagodas throughout the country, claiming that the priests were harboring Communists, there were protests throughout the country, including one in Saigon where a Buddhist priest set himself on fire. The Americans gave some of Diem's general support for a coup, and so on November 1, 1963, Diem and his brother were captured and later killed. On November 22, however, President Kennedy was assassinated, bringing Vice President Lyndon Johnson into the role of Chief Executive (The Wars for Vie