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Why the USA Lost the Vietnam War

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Published: Fri, 29 Sep 2017

For the first time ever, the American army looked weak in front of its people and the world. In January of 1973, the United States of America agreed to withdraw all troops from Vietnamese ground. Many people at the time, considered withdrawing the army from enemy territory, losing the war, however, many Americans opposed American presence in the war and pushed their leaders towards withdrawing the troops.[1] Many things influenced the US to withdraw their troops, primarily the opposition to the war at home, but also the American army’s tactics and the American troops’ morale, which is strongly connected to the war’s opposition.

The United States had a tough job in Vietnam, but also fought a war at home. A war against the war. Opposition to the war, in the United States, was extremely large. Civil rights movement all over the country, and anti-war protests pushed and pulled the government during the war days. In 1970, following President Nixon’s move into Cambodia, many universities had protests against the war. During one of these protests, in the university of Kent State, four students were shot dead by the National Guard. This incident only, sparked more protests throughout the country.[2] During the war there was a conscription movement, where people of conscription age who were not studying or working had to sign their names to be drawled. However many of the people who were conscripted were poor or African-American and never had the chance to study or work. Martin Luther King, a black preacher and a leader in the civil-rights movement, spoke up against conscription, or as it was called at the time, the ‘draft’; They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China.”[3] John Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam war, soon after his serving time joined and became the spokesman of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The current United States Secretary of State said; “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”[4] There were many people who opposed the war in Vietnam, including many soldiers.

Due to the fact that lots of soldiers were in Vietnam against their will, many soldiers were against the war itself. This was one of the greatest influences on the soldiers’ morale, during the war. The soldiers deployed in Vietnam, in the beginning of the war, were among the best in history. However that changed as soldiers started to question the real reason to be fighting, the conscription also stirred many conflicts at home and inside the army. Due to discontent within the army, soldiers turned to drugs as a form of mental relief. The use of Heroin and Marijuana were common sight in an army suffering from boredom, lack of discipline and low self-esteem; more than 200 men died from drug abuse. ‘Fragging’ was another big issue within the army. Fragging is the act of murdering your commander, 42 soldiers and 15 marines died from fragging. [5] Many soldiers in Vietnam were fighting in the war against their own will, this was because of conscription. Conscription, or the ‘draft’ as it was known, forced many people to join the army, and fight in Vietnam. Mostly poor people were drafted, therefore there were many black people in the army, since at the time Africa-American population didn’t have the chance to study or work to avoid the draft.[6] This created many racial tensions within troops and units. The ineffectiveness of the army’s tactics also frustrated many soldiers during Vietnam.

Even though the United States had arguably the most well trained troops at the time, the tactics used by the US army were ineffective against the Viet Cong. The army had the most advanced technology, while the North Vietnamese only received guns and ammunition from China. However the North Vietnamese had the upper hand when it came to tactics. They knew the terrain and used guerilla tactics, small scale actions against a much larger and more powerful enemy. America fought a hi-tech war, many helicopters and tanks, as well as air strike, supported American soldiers.[7] Because the North Vietnamese used guerilla tactics they were able to avoid many of the United States’ attempts at attacking. Their bases were in jungles, invisible to aircrafts, and when they went on missions they stayed very close to the Americans so their enemy wasn’t able to call in airstrike. Vietcong and North Vietnamese commanders and higher positions, had the luxury of living underground. Although tunnels were small and uncomfortable, they were away from the battlefield assessing options. The United States’ main strategy at finding North Vietnamese bases, was search and destroy. Search and destroy is a counter-guerilla strategy where a unit is assigned the mission of searching and destroying enemy or enemy base, hence the name search and destroy.[8] However many North Vietnamese spies and officials hid within villages, this frustrated units and soldiers burned whole villages in order to tell commanders that the mission was successful. These events of burning villages were named zippo-raids, and led to many debates inside the US on whether what the army was doing in Vietnam, was unethical. In addition to controversy, the struggle of finding proper tactics also brought discontent to the army, resulting in poor morale.

In the early 1970’s, many people questioned the true purpose of the war, soldiers struggled through their missions, and the army failed to have successful tactics against the poorly-trained North Vietnamese. This ultimately led to the end of the war, after there were many in-house movements against the war, racial tensions within the army and the country were never higher, soldiers suffered and struggled through missions, and US’ commanders failed to even grasp an effective strategy against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong powers. In January of 1973, the United States of America was no longer part of the Vietnamese conflict.

Works Cited

Brown, Robert. 2009. Guerilla Warfare. November 27. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://school.eb.co.uk/levels/advanced/article/110197.

Karnow, Stanley. 1983. Vietnam A History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Kerry, John. 1971. “Anti-War Speech.” April 22. Accessed November 11, 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yixdveuf0GQ.

King, Martin. 1967. “Martin Luthor King Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle.” 4 April 1967 Beyond Vietnam. New York, April 4.

Michaels, Jim. 2013. In the 1970s, the U.S. military struggled with morale. July 04. Accessed November 10, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/nation/2013/07/03/afghanistan-advisers-george-lepre-haynes-vietnam-conrad-crane/2484665/.

Schutts, Jeff. 2011. The Tet Offensive and the Media. Accessed November 10, 2014. http://www.historyandtheheadlines.abc-clio.com/ContentPages/ContentPage.aspx?entryId=1199250&currentSection=1194544.

Spector, Ronald. 2014. Vietnam War. Accessed November 05, 2014. http://school.eb.co.uk/levels/high/article/75317#.

2012. The War in Vietnam; Vietcong and American tactics. March 2. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/vietnam/thewarinvietnamrev1.shtml.


[1] Spector, Ronald. 2014. Vietnam War. Accessed November 05, 2014. http://school.eb.co.uk/levels/high/article/75317#.

[2] Karnow, Stanley. 1983. Vietnam A History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

[3] King, Martin. 1967. “Martin Luthor King Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle.” 4 April 1967 Beyond Vietnam. New York, April 4.

[4] Kerry, John. 1971. “Anti-War Speech.” April 22. Accessed November 11, 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yixdveuf0GQ.

[5] Michaels, Jim. 2013. In the 1970s, the U.S. military struggled with morale. July 04. Accessed November 10, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/nation/2013/07/03/afghanistan-advisers-george-lepre-haynes-vietnam-conrad-crane/2484665/.

[6] Karnow, Stanley. 1983. Vietnam A History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

[7] 2012. The War in Vietnam; Vietcong and American tactics. March 2. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/vietnam/thewarinvietnamrev1.shtml.

[8] Brown, Robert. 2009. Guerilla Warfare. November 27. Accessed November 21, 2014. http://school.eb.co.uk/levels/advanced/article/110197.


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