Why was the Vietnam War lost?

Mike Barton

War Hero
I have pointed out elsewhere that the US had no need to even fight in Vietnam post 1965 as the war had already been won. The war being to prevent the fall of SE Asia to communism via the so-called "Domino Theory".

The stated reason for fighting the North Vietnamese was that the US needed to prevent the spread of Communism and by buttressing South Vietnam the US could prevent the fall of all the other states, ie Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and then the monster domino at the end; Indonesia with its vast territory, huge mineral and natural resources reserves, control of the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian oceans and 100 million or more population. Lose Indonesia and you have lost the war, the Reds dominate almost all of Asia.

Certainly that's how it looked in 1965, the two jaws of the crocodile were about to snap shut, in the north in Vietnam in the south Indonesia where it appeared it was all over bar the shouting and Sukarno was about to go Communist. But it didn't happen, the Indonesian Army inflicted the most catastrophic defeat on the Communists in 1965, effectively wiping out hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of Communists and Communist sympathisers in a matter of months. Indonesia, the big domino, was saved, with Indonesia secure, so was Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, the important bits of SE Asia.

If the Americans had been paying attention they would have recognized they had won, there was no longer any need to fight a pointless war in Vietnam. If South Vietnam fell (as it did eventually) it wouldn't actually matter, the rest of the dominos were solidly in place.

From 1965 onward the war was a pointless exercise.
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
Probably one reason the French took such a hard line in Algeria shortly afterwards.
I think so, plus a feeling (similar to that reported by posters here about US attitudes to Vietnam) that the French hadn't been beaten in Indochina on a man vs man level, but by numbers and a lack of political will in Paris.
I think that argument was reinforced by what happened in Algeria, but I know only the basics of what happened there.
 
One can only think the US was guilty of a certain amount of hypocrisy in the whole bad business. What did they do after their rebellion against the British succeeded? They called it the Revolutionary War, and they still do. If it had failed, it would still be known as the American Rebellion.

However when another country decided to become a united nation under one system of government (which had been one of the ideals of the American Revolution, by the way) all one heard or still hears is, "Ah, but that was different, see?"
 
as noted before, the Americans were fighting nationalists.
which was of course why they were on the nationalists side in China in the 30's supporting Chiang. They were not Mao's favourite people. The distinction between Nationalism and Communism is somehwat tenuous since communists sometimes pretend to be both. And my point to carrots is that no way would there have been a"democratic" institution acceptable to the politicians of the time
following domino effect in the region.Of course it was unacceptable for Washington.
And that risk is still there. The emphasis has just shifted slightly to China
 
I think so, plus a feeling (similar to that reported by posters here about US attitudes to Vietnam) that the French hadn't been beaten in Indochina on a man vs man level, but by numbers and a lack of political will in Paris.
I think that argument was reinforced by what happened in Algeria, but I know only the basics of what happened there.
I was but a nipper in Benghazi when that was going on but I have heard it said that the principle problem in Algeria was difference between colonial and Gaullist thinking in respect of the officer class in France. Something that goes back to the 19th Century in the first place.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
I have pointed out elsewhere that the US had no need to even fight in Vietnam post 1965 as the war had already been won. The war being to prevent the fall of SE Asia to communism via the so-called "Domino Theory".

The stated reason for fighting the North Vietnamese was that the US needed to prevent the spread of Communism and by buttressing South Vietnam the US could prevent the fall of all the other states, ie Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and then the monster domino at the end; Indonesia with its vast territory, huge mineral and natural resources reserves, control of the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian oceans and 100 million or more population. Lose Indonesia and you have lost the war, the Reds dominate almost all of Asia.

Certainly that's how it looked in 1965, the two jaws of the crocodile were about to snap shut, in the north in Vietnam in the south Indonesia where it appeared it was all over bar the shouting and Sukarno was about to go Communist. But it didn't happen, the Indonesian Army inflicted the most catastrophic defeat on the Communists in 1965, effectively wiping out hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of Communists and Communist sympathisers in a matter of months. Indonesia, the big domino, was saved, with Indonesia secure, so was Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, the important bits of SE Asia.

If the Americans had been paying attention they would have recognized they had won, there was no longer any need to fight a pointless war in Vietnam. If South Vietnam fell (as it did eventually) it wouldn't actually matter, the rest of the dominos were solidly in place.

From 1965 onward the war was a pointless exercise.
In 1966, being at a school run by Americans, it was made abundantly clear to me that the Domino Effect was the reason American troops were in Vietnam.
 

Yokel

LE
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.

I am also sure I read somewhere that the capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea meant that a planned amphibious landing north of the DMZ had to be cancelled for fear of compromise. The Pueblo was seized on Moscow's orders to try to exploit Crypto they had been given by the USN traitor Johnny Walker.
 
In 1966, being at a school run by Americans, it was made abundantly clear to me that the Domino Effect was the reason American troops were in Vietnam.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there was a 20 year counter insurgency program in NE Thailand against the Chinese-supported Communist Party of Thailand (CPT).

According to the memoirs of the Thai general who was the architect of the Thai COIN strategy, it only came to a halt after a deal that the Chinese would stop supporting the CPT if the Thai recognised the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge.

I’ve never been able to triangulate this with another source, but it does add some flesh to the ‘domino’ idea.

IIRC the main problem with the Domino Theory was that it largely relied on the assumption that there would be cooperation between the Soviets and the Chinese. A very out of date idea even by 1965.

This was evident when the Soviet backed Vietnamese threw out the Chinese backed Khmer Rouge in 1979, only to have the Chinese invade Vietnam in turn.
 
As I understand it, the war was basically lost in Washington. As you say, the US had overwhelming superiority in many areas. What it lacked was the political will to annihilate the enemy, in part because of the body count on the US side. In a late-60s/early-70s political climate of the hippies, ”make love not war”, prolonging the likes of Op Linebacker with basically round-the-clock B-52 squadrons dropping thousands of tons of ordnance on the VC was politically difficult. Militarily, in a war of attrition, the VC was like ISIS in Syria today. Just didn’t have enough strength in depth to resist the spanking. But the spanking stopped too soon.

Added to that, the VC were fighting for their own land, so had a superior motivation. US troops were fighting in some foreign shithole and lots of them were killed, captured or wounded. No political backing for that kind of thing.

Basically Washington didn’t have the balls to win.
To expand on the point about the VC fighting for their own land;

Pre-1941 the area had been colonised, often in a quite brutal manner, for generations.

WW2 showed the locals that Europeans weren't some kind of master race, as the colonial powers were humiliated militarily and then in deliberate propaganda by the Japanese.

I think that's definitely a factor, and the converse -French and American indifference to civilian casualties because of attitudes towards non-whites and towards "Communists" probably played a part.

I realise that we're looking back from a time where racial thi king is grotesquely over emphasised but I'm sure there's something in this.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there was a 20 year counter insurgency program in NE Thailand against the Chinese-supported Communist Party of Thailand (CPT).

According to the memoirs of the Thai general who was the architect of the Thai COIN strategy, it only came to a halt after a deal that the Chinese would stop supporting the CPT if the Thai recognised the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge.

I’ve never been able to triangulate this with another source, but it does add some flesh to the ‘domino’ idea.

IIRC the main problem with the Domino Theory was that it largely relied on the assumption that there would be cooperation between the Soviets and the Chinese. A very out of date idea even by 1965.

This was evident when the Soviet backed Vietnamese threw out the Chinese backed Khmer Rouge in 1979, only to have the Chinese invade Vietnam in turn.
Reminded also of something, probably on the 50th anniversary of the Korean War that Uncle Joe was sat quite happily with beer and popcorn while his two biggest threats, the USA and China kicked lumps out of each other in a proxy war half a world from Moscow, hoping they'd bleed each other dry and leaving him, Stalin, king of the hill.
 

slick

LE
One of the best reads on the Vietnam conflict which explained a lot to me was "To Bear any Burden" by Al Santoli. Its a series of interviews of some of the conflicts participants, both military and civilian. Beginning at the end of the French involvement all the way through to the refugee problem in the 1970s. It`s a bit of a rollercoaster which can leave one feeling quite depressed at the end.
 
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The point was it was to prevent further incursions of Communism and whichever way you slice it that is still the US’s policy in relation China and North Korea.
The outcome shows it was a bad policy. Whichever way you slice it, South Vietnam is now part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The operation is never a success if the patient dies.
 
There is a big difference between nationalists that are ready to fight and die and ones that are ready to surrender.
Also there is profound difference between WW2 and the war in Vietnam.
Japan attacked the USA and Germany itself unleashed the war.
By contrast Vietnam didn't attack the USA ... though there was so called Tonkin incident
that was used as a justification of in fact American aggression.
Well USUALLY when you are attacked you have the right to fight back.... and US forces landed by invitation to SOUTH Vietnam, Not North Vietnam the agressor
 
Apparently over 2 Million fled in boats and overland because the North was NOT the government they wanted. tens of thousand of others were sent to reeducation camps
They fled the Communists. I was very clear to say that the US should have supported a government that enjoyed popular support rather than the one they did.

Thinking in purely binary terms was the very reason all of Vietnam is run by Communists now.
 
The point was it was to prevent further incursions of Communism and whichever way you slice it that is still the US’s policy in relation China and North Korea.
And yet the current policy towards Taiwan is to treat it like a bit of a bad smell.
 
To expand on the point about the VC fighting for their own land;

Pre-1941 the area had been colonised, often in a quite brutal manner, for generations.

WW2 showed the locals that Europeans weren't some kind of master race, as the colonial powers were humiliated militarily and then in deliberate propaganda by the Japanese.

I think that's definitely a factor, and the converse -French and American indifference to civilian casualties because of attitudes towards non-whites and towards "Communists" probably played a part.

I realise that we're looking back from a time where racial thi king is grotesquely over emphasised but I'm sure there's something in this.
I'd like to give that an informative too. The Japanese were very keen to undermine the colonial Raj and the Indians don't like to be reminded of it. INA wasn't it?
 
The outcome shows it was a bad policy. Whichever way you slice it, South Vietnam is now part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The operation is never a success if the patient dies.
So we can expect further conflict as China tries to emulate the Japanese Co-prosperity zone whether people like it or not, and tries to Isolate America. Isn't that bad policy as well. They don't really want a FTA with America anymore than the Europeans want one with us. Russia certainly has no interest. Interestingly it could be argued that Europe has given it up because they think it can't be had.
 
So we can expect further conflict as China tries to emulate the Japanese Co-prosperity zone whether people like it or not, and tries to Isolate America.
To the best of my knowledge, the PRC has never inserted itself directly into a civil war and tried to impose the government if its choice without reference to the wishes of the population.

The US could have achieved it's aim of keeping the Communists out of South Vietnam simply by paying more attention to the wishes of the South Vietnamese population than to their own.
 

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