Why was the Vietnam War lost?

Brother of my wife spent 2 years in Afghanistan (Kabul, Kandagar) and I'm well aware about realities from the first hands. So I don't need to read such stupid books.
There are many parallels between wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. However, just now Vietnam is peaceful, fast developing country, while Afghanistan is in permanent state of war. Current war in Afghanistan in the longest war in US history. What do you think Washington should do? Maybe just to quit the country?
The stupidity of any particular book can only be taken in the context in which it is read. The plain fact is that Russia’s interest in Afghanistan is not just a communist concept. We had troops in the NW frontier to defend our interests in India before then. Afghanistan’s problem is: it’s in the way
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
It was lost after the Frogs decided to recolonise post 1945.

No outside country was ever going to over come the will of the Viet Minh once they had declared autonomy.
I’d say lost before as the French had no business being there!
 
Picking up on two earlier comments:

Because of the Cold War, the US worried about escalation in the event of a Soviet or Chinese merchant ship being sunk, therefore Haiphong harbour was not closed until Linebacker II in late 1972. Was any consideration given to stopping shipping the old fashioned way - by intercepting and boarding? This could only have been considered an act of war against a belligerent - ie the North.

Could have tried, but Russian and Chinese merchant ships had teeth and you'd have had to fight your way aboard.
 
I've read a lot about the French war in Indochina (1946-54) and, stripping politics away from the story, it seems that the war was lost militarily to what became the North Vietnamese for a number of reasons. Basically, the French could not control the countryside in northern Indochina. French outposts - in particular those which controlled the Indochinese / Chinese border [an area which later in the war became the main source of supplies for the Viet Minh] - could not be re-supplied save for at great expense in terms of lost lives and material, because the French could not control the roads (this was a question of manpower). There were not enough aircraft in theatre to maintain aerial re-supply.

Importantly, the French couldn't force the Viet Minh to fight a conventional war. Dien Bien Phu was an attempt to bring the Viet Minh to battle, where they could be attacked from the air, and from a secure base for artillery, but the French planning assumptions were wrong for a number of reasons. The French lost the battle and their belief in victory.

As the war progressed, the French-controlled areas in northern Indochina became limited to large towns and coastal cities, on the Eastern side of northern Indochina. By 1954 - after Dien Bien Phu - the French lacked the military resources to regain control over the rural areas of northern Indochina. It could have been done with a greater commitment of resources but the cost would have outweighed the gains. Northern Indochina was lost to them. A ceasefire and partition followed the French acceptance that they could not regain control.

I've read about the Vietnam War but haven't obtained the same sense of clarity about what went wrong for the US and ARVN. Some of the books I've read make the US superiority in some areas seem such that a US defeat is hard to understand. Is it possible, from Arrsers more familiar with the subject than I am, to set out the basic military reasons for the failure of the US and ARVN to defend South Vietnam? Thank you.
If you'll forgive me, you seem to be making the same mistakes as the french and US governemts and senior military commanders: that is to assume 'winning' to be a military function, when clearly it ain't.

Charlie Von Clausewitz had it thus "War is simply the continuation of politics with the admixture of other means", and there was no way that Europe or America could finesse anything politically that was ever going to look to the Vietnamese to be remotely better than what was being offered (albeit with a substantial measure of dishonesty) by General Secretary Lê Duẩn, since in effect the Western offer was nothing more than continuing colonial servitude/maintenance of an unpopular status quo, under a puppet government made up of shysters.

So - using just one of Charlie Von C's "Trinities" - People, Army, and Government - the peoples of America/France, and therefore their Armies, were never invested sufficiently in Vietnam to enable their Governments to fight over the place forever.

By contrast, the Vietnamese had nowhere else to go, and didn't need to win battles to defeat the colonialists: they just needed to fight long and hard enough to make it impossible for their enemy governments to sustain public support for their own efforts, knowing that they could count on the unequivocal emotional commitment of a sufficient part of the Vietnamese population as long as they were understood to be fighting for independence from colonialism, and freedom from government by moneygrubbing self-seekers and carpetbaggers.

In the absence that kind of popular support, no democratically-elected government has any realistic possibility of attaining its war aims (indeed, it isn't a given that a dictatorship can survive if the war(s) it chooses to fight are killing their nation's sons at a rate that becomes unacceptable to their mothers and fathers).
 
Last edited:
The Americans were so close to winning the war but they didn't know it. The Americans believed that operation Rolling Thunder wasn't having the desired effect they thought it would have, they were wrong.

In his memoirs the North Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp wrote that the North was only days away from complete surrender and that they couldn't believe their luck when the Americans called a halt to the bombing.
Have another Clausewitz Trinity on me:

(1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war's element of subordination to rational policy
 
much of South Korea got the opportunity to try communism for a while and after it went away again/was pushed over the 38th parallel they had enough experience to decide they'd rather not give it another whirl.
By contrast, the experience of people of South Vietnam - vassals and serfs both under under French rule and later under a series of greedy and incompetent US-backed local boys - appears to have done nothing to endow a sufficient majority of South Vietnamese with that same aversion to communist dictatorship.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
Do any Arrsers have any insights into how US and ARVN tactics and operational doctrine got Vietnam wrong (if it did)?
That's a red herring: given unattainable political goals, and unrealistic expectaitions of what is attainable solely by military force, there's no possibility of any tactics bieing 'good' . . .
 
Last edited:
That's a red herring: given unattainable political goals, and unrealistic expectaitions of what was attainable by military force, there's no possibility of any tactics bieing 'good' . . .
Indeed, given the previous quote

“You never beat us when we were face to face”

“That may be true, but it is also irrelevant”
 
Do any Arrsers have any insights into how US and ARVN tactics and operational doctrine got Vietnam wrong (if it did)?

On another note, I have read accounts of US security being compromised by VM agents either in the ARVN or Vietnamese government, with the result that - for example - a planned helicopter insertion of troops in VC territory would find the landing zone heavily defended. Was the lack of security a major issue/large in scale?
From my own experience of ‘outside areas’ there:

The Americans consistently got two things wrong:

1. They never really understood the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Efforts to defoliate it, block it or interdict it never really worked. The two main attempts to hold the ground (the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and the Lam Son offensive) were desultory efforts.

2. They were convinced that there was a Viet Cong headquarters in Cambodia, of the sort of size that they would use. The ‘Menu’ bombings were an attempt to destroy an headquarters that didn’t exist. Bombing a neutral country to hit the military of a third party* was something they had to cover up, and the bombing coordinates were faked as to make it appear the bombs were being dropped in Vietnam.



* that would never happen today of course
 
Which sort of falls into the same trap as the original domino theory. The Chinese occupied Vietnam for a thousand years. The Viets hate them. Hence all the ethnic Chinese in Saigon doing a runner as ‘boat people’.

If they’d gone anywhere it would have been Lao and Cambodia. As indeed they did with the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
so no Viets fled only ethnic Chinese, weird
 
Have another Clausewitz Trinity on me:

(1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war's element of subordination to rational policy
Thank you, your generosity knows no bounds.
 
so no Viets fled only ethnic Chinese, weird
Not really. I didn’t say ‘no’ Viets left.

You have to take the history of SE Asia into account.

The Chinese filled the same economic niche that the Jews did in mediaeval Europe. They were the trading class. As has been mentioned on here about Indonesia, this didn’t always endear them to the majority population. Something similar happened with the ‘Thai Chinese’ about the same time, but even today, many of the urban elites in Phnom Penh and Bangkok preserve their Chinese heritage, even if they have - now - lost the language.

So although the Chinese merchant population in Vietnam were assimilated in that they spoke Vietnamese, they also maintained their cultural identity.

At the time, and before I understood this, I couldn’t understand why so many ‘boat people’ went to Hong Kong...

Of course the Chinese weren’t the only ones to flee. But many of the political class left using different means. If you look at those images of Hueys being pushed off aircraft carriers, many of them have ARVN markings.
 

Yokel

LE
Could have tried, but Russian and Chinese merchant ships had teeth and you'd have had to fight your way aboard.
Nichols mentioned that many of them had guns aboard for anti aircraft use, but whilst they may have been willing to fire a few 37mm rounds at passing task force 77 aircraft, surely fighting a cruiser or destroyer or fighting the boarding party was another thing?

Moscow would not have wanted a fight.
 
That's a red herring: given unattainable political goals, and unrealistic expectaitions of what is attainable solely by military force, there's no possibility of any tactics bieing 'good' . . .
I disagree there (having conceded your earlier point). In Indochina, the constraints upon the French military were of supply/material/manpower. In terms of how the French commanders used what they had, there were few provisos applied. The supply/material, etc situation improved from the early 50s onwards. The lack of resources shaped decision-making but it can be argued that errors such as placing a base at Dien Bien Phu were not based upon concerns about resources but upon a flawed approach to the problem posed by the VM. If anything, the base at DBP was enabled by increasing French resources. It was a military error, not a political error.
In terms of the US in Vietnam, I of course accept that there were clear political constraints on the US military. Within those constraints, some approaches - sweeping but not holding territory - seem unsound even if they are explicable.
 
By contrast, the experience of people of South Vietnam - vassals and serfs both under under French rule and later under a series of greedy and incompetent US-backed local boys - appears to have done nothing to endow a sufficient majority of South Vietnamese with that same aversion to communist dictatorship.
Interestingly there was real discontent with the types of government South Korea offered its people before 1950 however the war seemed to change the negativity around this (even if only shifting it to apathy). Whether this was the fairly common phenomenon of a county becoming unified when faced by an aggressor (possibly not really applicable in a civil war...) or down to large swathes of the South Koreans getting the opportunity to observe just how c***ish the communists were im not educated enough to guess.
 
I always liked this docu..about McNamara and Vietnam...he certainly was a numbers guy.


Go to 57:51 for the relevant parts.
 

Latest Threads

Top