Why Did The U.S.Lose The War In Vietnam Essay

Outcome of the Vietnam war

On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam as part of the Paris Peace Accords. On April 30, 1975, as acting President General Duong Van Minh and his cabinet surrendered to the Communist forces unconditionally in the Independence Palace, Saigon, the Vietnam War which had lasted for nearly 20 years eventually came to an end.

Who won the Vietnam war?

Objectively, North Vietnam – the communists – who achieved their goals of reuniting and gaining independence for the whole Vietnam won the war whereas South Vietnam under the U.S. support lost the war.

Did the U.S. lose the Vietnam war?

In order to know whether the U.S. lost the Vietnam war or not, it’s wise to go back and see why the Vietnam war started in the first place. Domino theory or containment was usually used as a  justification for the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The fact is the U.S. failed to stop the spread of Communism throughout Vietnam which led to its spread to Laos and Cambodia in 1975. However, it is arguable that the effects of the war in Korea and Vietnam that the U.S. had involved in did help the rest of South-East Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore stay free of communism.

Military-wise, the U.S. arguably never lost any major battles. However, it could not stand the constantly increasing loss of American lives and the economic burden the war carried on its people and was eventually forced to leave Vietnam before the war ended. Without its direct support, South Vietnam surrendered to the North Communists and disappeared from the world map not long later.

In short, in the picture of Vietnam, the U.S. failed to defend South Vietnam against the North Communists and probably lost the war politically rather than militarily as Vietnam was far from the war of major battles. In the bigger picture of containment, the U.S. did achieve their initial goals to a certain extent.

But who actually won the Vietnam war?

After all, it is noticeable that every party participated in the war suffered heavy losses. North Vietnam suffered approximately 1.1 million military deaths while South Vietnam had around 230,000, together with an estimated 2 million Vietnamese civilians deaths on both sides. As for the U.S., around 58,000 American forces were killed in action while more than 2,000 went missing during the war. The adverse effects of the war was even felt in the U.S. Some $140 billion (equivalent to around $950 billion in 2011 dollars) were spent. Its role and support for South Vietnam in the war carried a heavy burden on the country’s human and economic resources. Moreover, there were massive countrywide protests against the war wherein a few students lost their lives… At the end of the day, these losses, together with many war crimes such as massacres, rapes make one wonder if the war was really worth fighting. Who actually won the Vietnam War?

Why Did The U.s. Lose The War In Vietnam?



by Dr. Arthur Bernstein
The U.S. did not necessarily lose the war in Vietnam as much as they failed to win this war. They did not overthrow communism which was the aim as presented to the public and so ‘pulling out’ or ‘not winning’ are equated with losing the war, which technically is not true. They US used the argument of the 'domino' effect to create a cause to go to war in Vietnam and they believed that if South Vietnam fell to communism, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand then Burma and India would soon follow suit. President Johnson said "If you let a bully come into your garden, the next day he'll be in your porch, and the day after that he'll rape your wife." The reasons for America not winning the war are numerous but nevertheless they can be divided into distinct categories: army tactics, terrain, the war at home and the relative strength of the north.
The Vietnam war was the first war to have full media coverage and so the general U.S. public were able to witness at first hand, what was occurring on the front line. This played a massive role in the war and it appeared that the U.S. was not only fighting a war in Vietnam but a war back home as they lost the support of the public through the TV coverage of the war. Seeing their own troops dying on the front line led to numerous public outrages and there were large student and veteran demonstrations in Washington as a result. Examples include November 2nd 1965 where Quaker Norman Morrison set himself on fire outside the pentagon and this was a deliberate mimic of the Buddhist protests which were occurring in Vietnam at the same time. Whilst civil rights leader Martin Luther King spoke out against the war and led a march of 5,000 against the war in 1967, in Chicago. Also the U.S. did not have the support of many countries whilst going to war; Australia remained their only allies in the war, whilst their previous allies in World War, Britain, remained neutral. These protests and the media coverage did not help with the general moral for the war
The Vietcong whom the Americans where fighting against fought a guerrilla war, in which they attacked in small groups of 3-10 troops ambushing American vehicles and the like. They also had the ability to retreat in the jungle which consequently lured US troops into the numerous booby traps that had been left for them. This unfamiliar terrain and the young inexperienced troops, with an average age of 19 (in comparison to 27 for the World Wars), and the harsh climate all contributed to the US losing the war in Vietnam. The fact that the Southern Vietnamese also lost faith in the American troops did not help in the Americans attempt to defeat the Vietcong. The Vietcong mingled with ordinary peasants, wearing the same clothing as the Southern Vietnamese, thus it proved a challenge for US troops to distinguish between the Vietcong and the ordinary innocent Vietnamese. Often, the innocents were killed as a result and this played a role in inflating soldiers' figures of the body count of the Vietcong. Supplied with 220,000 guns, 114million bullets, 4,500 artillery pieces & 1.8 million artillery shells annually by China as well as over 3000 Soviet Military experts in DRV, including pilots who took part in combat missions against the US, helped the Vietcong in matching the US for firepower. Also they utilised the Ho Chi Minh trail which ran through Loas and Cambodia. which was well organised with 50,000 people working to keep it open, repair bomb damage and supply those who were travelling on it with a camp site every 9 miles. It constantly needed to be re-routed after bombing however it enabled the Vietcong to match the US for troops and for resources available on the front line. The communist Vietcong also tried their best to avoid US troops and fight the ARVN as much as possible, however when they did target US troops their main tactic was to 'hang onto the belts' of the Americans and stay close enough to them that the Americans could not use their artillery backup without harming their own troops. Unlike the US troops, the Vietcong were also able to endure hardship with little food and disease in various tunnel complexes, which were eventually cleared out by the US with gases and explosives.
The US tactics were clearly not suited to the war they were fighting. In fact, they were trying to use superior firepower and mobility using B-52 bombers dropping 8 million tons of explosives as well as napalm which sticks to the skin and burns. This hi-tech war only had the effect of demoralising the innocent Vietnamese who became victims of the US's firepower and it had little impact of destroying military targets or other North Vietnamese infrastructure as only 12% of North Vietnam was industrialised, as a result many schools and hospitals were destroyed in the process. Search and destroy patrols went out looking for the Vietcong. However these patrols were extremely visible, and therefore easy to ambush, and many US troops became demoralised as they thought they were being used for 'bait'. This eventually led to catastrophes such as "zippo raids" to burn villages, and the unprovoked massacre of peaceful villagers like at My Lai in 1968. Atrocities like this undermined the US moral authority for continuing the war.
58,000 US troops were lost to the war in Vietnam and as soon as President Nixon came into power the process of Vietnamisation began where US troops were pulled out of Vietnam but financial aid was given to the ARVN. It was the way in which the media portrayed the war (for example the Tet offencive was depicted as an US loss) in the living rooms of thousands of US citizens which eventually played an important part in the withdrawal from the war. The fact that the US were not accustomed to the guerrilla style tactics employed by the Vietnamese and the wrong attitude of having 'superior firepower' also played a major part in the eventual withdrawal of the US from Vietnam.
After the war South Vietnam eventually fell to communism and the 'domino' theory was disproved as a result, because no countries followed suit. The Vietnamese had to fight against Cambodia and China before securing Independence and Vietnam was ruined by this warfare, with infrastructure destroyed, millions of lives lost and its agricultural farmland polluted by the US's chemicals. As for the Americans, they lost their status of being a defender for freedom with the news of atrocities such as My Lai as well as having to give up President Johnsons' great society programme of social reform. There was also a general loss of confidence in warfare, with over 700,000 veterans suffering physiological after effects and America abandoning the Truman Doctrine.

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