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The Vietnam War On The Americans Reputation History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

War is an inevitable concept within American history. A nation that in some way or form has risen as an ally to many, and gained a reputation for being amongst, if not, the most powerful nation in the world, based on a series of victories both internally and externally, significantly as a key figure throughout the Cold War (1947-1989). The loss of the Vietnam War (1956-1973) is a black mark on America’s reputation and indeed history. There are a series of contributing factors to Americas downfall which include implemented strategies and tactics from both opposing sides, political and economic factors, the TET offensive and of course the American anti-war movement. Each factor inevitably played a role and adds to the list of reasons as to why America lost the Vietnam War.

The effective strategies and tactics implemented by the communist forces namely the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and Vietcong can be seen as a significant factor to the communist victory in 1975 Vietnam. These tactics and strategies employed by the South Vietnamese and US forces ultimately impacted strongly on the civilians in Vietnam and lead to the rise of anti-war movements in the USA. Mao Zedong’s “Golden Rules” seemingly formed the basis for communist attacks by the Vietnamese. It entitled that “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue” (FOOTNOTE). This made communist forces a very strong and able fighting force, as they were both militarily and politically strong. Politically they were able to persuade civilians through nationalism and the promise of land reforms.

Guerrilla warfare was the main tactics employed by the communist forces to achieve their main aims. It proved very successfully prior to 1960 in defeating both the French and Japanese as they adopted guerrilla warfare to “textbook perfection” (FOOTNOTE). Similarly guerrilla warfare favoured communist forces namely the Vietcong and the NLF (National Liberation Front) as the jungle like terrain of Vietnam was much suited to guerrilla warfare and they had the support from majority of the peasantry who were essentially the “eyes and ears” (FOOTNOTE) of the communist forces. Guerrilla warfare was also adopted in response to the military might and the sophisticated weaponry of the US and ARVN (Army of The republic of Vietnam). Tactics implored to combat this included a 300 kilometre intricate network of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong and the NLF which housed food and weapon supplies, hospitals and protection from American artillery barrages and air strikes (FOOTNOTE). General Giap believed the way to victory was by gradually wearing down the enemy “the way to win is by small defeats, one after the other until the coup de grace” (FOOTNOTE).

The result of guerrilla warfare was very successful, particularly in demoralising the enemy, as there was a constant threat of an ambush or stumbling upon the many mines and traps planted by the communist forces which accounted for 10% of American casualties (FOOTNOTE). Essentially it was the view that “one guerrilla killed is equal to two main force killed.” (FOOTNOTE)

In comparison to the Vietcong, the US and ARVN had no effective strategies implemented to combat the communist forces guerrilla tactics, and in comparison to the American infantry, communist forces namely the Viet Cong were well trained in political indoctrination for the villages and gaining their support, as civilian support would ultimately prove essential for victory (FOOTNOTE).

Another contributing factor as to why the Americans lost in Vietnam can be seen in contrast to the communist forces. Both the USA and the South Vietnamese forces implemented ineffective tactics and strategies which consequently contributed to the communist victory. Many historians such as David Chandler believed that the United States could have never won as French President Charles de Gaulle in 1962 predicted, “step by step, is sucked into a bottomless military and political quagmire” (FOOTNOTE). The escalation of “advisors” from 1962-1964 to 100,000, and after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 American troop’s numbers increased and where engaged in military operation (FOOTNOTE). This gradual build of troops historian Stanley Karnow believed is another reason for the communist victory, as they should of began with a full-scale commitment as a gradual build up allowed the North to expand and the South to deteriorate (FOOTNOTE).

The American and South Vietnamese forces relied heavily on their advance weaponry and conventional military tactics instead through political and social means as historian High Higgins states “Americans sought to achieve ‘liberation’ by means of destruction.”(FOOTNOTE) Tactics employed include “Search and Destroy” which aimed at surrounding and attacking suspected villages which had potential for harbouring Vietcong (FOOTNOTE). Many of the villages were attacked even without Vietcong infiltration, leading to the increasing peasant support for the communist forces. Other tactics employed include many bombing operations including “Barrel Roll” and “Rolling Thunder”, with use of napalm, defoliants and herbicides such as “Agent Orange” were used in the belief of removing significant amounts of jungle to make the Vietcong easier to spot, these operations destroyed over 1/3 of the Vietnamese jungles (FOOTNOTE).

These many tactics used by the US and South Vietnamese led to many civilian casualties thus increasing support for the communist forces. There was an alleged 1.3 million civilian casualties as a result from both US forces as well as communist forces with many of these casualties due to the ineffective US strategies including the bombing operations having much effect on peaceful villages (FOOTNOTE). It is the massacre at My Lai highlights in which 450 men, women and children were killed, which highlights the low morale and frustration of the American soldiers resulting in a media and anti war movement backlash (FOOTNOTE). The ineffectiveness led to greater civilian support for the communist forces, which was vital for a communist victory.

The US and South Vietnamese forces failed to develop a democratic and reformed government in the south in opposition to the North. America backing the Diem regime during the escalation of the war, a dictatorship that features oppression, repression, censoring, corruption and nepotism created much dissent from the civilians and boosted support for the communist forces. The Strategic Hamlet programme (1962) which removed peasants from their lands and was militarily enforced, created resentment towards the US and South Vietnamese governments (FOOTNOTE). There were also easily infiltrated by the Viet Cong, thus creating more support for the communist forces.

Under Nixon’s introduction to the policy of “Vietnamisation” in 1969 began the start of US troop withdrawal and leaving the responsibility of the war to the South Vietnamese ARVN, which highlights another ineffective tactic amounting to the victory of the communist forces. The US still provided financial and military support, but the ARVN were much dependant on the US forces and without them were unable to defend South Vietnam. They were poorly trained and lacked military logistics and intelligence. Vietnamisation left an inadequate South Vietnam to defend itself against the North, leading to the inevitable Communist victory on April 30, 1975.

TET is the Buddhist New Year and an informal recognised truce was usually held (FOOTNOTE). Beginning 1968, January 31st, North Vietnams military leader Vo Nguyen Giap’s plan was to simultaneously attack all targets, but this had failed. But it did not diminish intensity of a campaign that nearly defeated South Vietnam. Six major cities in South Vietnam were attacked, for nearly a week Saigon was in flames and the US embassy was temporarily occupied by the Vietcong. The TET offensive was a military victory for the US/ARVN forces. All battles won by US and the casualty rates were in favour of the US at this point after massive US bombing missions decimated North Vietnamese positions.

The primary focus of the news in the US was the heroic struggle of the American soldiers to defeat communist menace in the south; the US population was led to believe they were winning the war. The US continued to claim their forces were pushing back the NVA into Laos and Cambodia. But as the conflict intensified, many news reporters clashed with military authorities in Saigon. The idea of US success was crushed by TET Offensive in 1968, the world saw Saigon in flames and the US embassy occupied (FOOTNOTE). Viewers began to question war effort. Hanoi’s military losses converted into a media victory as anti-war demonstrations accelerated in US.

Hanoi lost the TET offensive because it was not a quick victory, troops were overextended and under supplied, the South Vietnamese stood their ground and didn’t retreat, the US air power provided crucial support and no uprise of the people took place. Even though the North lost the battle during the TET Offensive, it was effective in diminishing the will of the US, which was another significant contributing factor.

The origins of anti-war movements in the USA can be traced to the commencement of President Johnson’s massive bombing campaign (Operation Rolling Thunder 1965-68) on North Vietnam and the introduction of conscription (FOOTNOTE). On university campuses groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the War Resisters League began to spring up, questioning why their peers were fighting without a cause and being killed on the other side of the world. They refused to fight, and avoided the draft by changing their name or moving to Canada. 13 000 young men were convicted for draft avoidance and fined up to $10 000 or sentenced to 12 months hard labour (FOOTNOTE). Others who were conscripted showed their dissatisfaction with the war by wearing peace symbols and refusing to obey orders. The media coverage of the war once more instrumental in communicating the horrors of the conflict to a public who had been consuming optimistic propaganda they received from the government.

Protest activities included rallies, marches, draft-card burning, teach-ins, and speeches to name a few. By 1967 there was a bitter change in America’s attitude to the war. In New York 100 000 anti-war protesters congregated and many more did the same in San Francisco, while urban riots occurred in Detroit (FOOTNOTE). An anti-military backlash meant that soldiers returning from war were considered ‘baby-killers’, not heroes like their fathers had been in WWII. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was formed.

It was inevitable that the US and RoV were to be defeated in the Second Indochina war. What attributed to this defeat were not only the strengths of the North’s strategy of guerrilla warfare and the vital success of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in supplying the troops. The strategy of the US and the South was hopeless in all senses for this type of war. Their use of conventional techniques and Pacification programs in the end pushed the people to believe they are in fact the enemy. The fact that the North has an emotional cause appealing to the whole of the people and the all-round inappropriate strategy of the south and US it was inevitable from the stat that the South would be defeated.

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