Why the United States Lost the Vietnam War
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Why the United States Lost the Vietnam War
Using your textbook as a reference, please write an essay regarding the United
States’ loss in the Vietnam War. Use the following accounts to provide insight into the
loss of the war. You should include direct quotes from this assignment and should be
three pages in length.
• The assignment must be a minimum of 750 words. I will deduct ten points for
every 50 words below the limit.
• Assignment should be properly formatted with a heading.
• You should cite your sources with footnotes. (There are guides in Canvas). You will
be citing this document, not the original source material.
Source: Ho Chi Minh, leader of North Vietnam, before the Franco-Vietminh War, late 1940s
You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will
lose, and I will win.
Source: Ho Chi Minh upon declaring Vietnamese independence (later rescinded by the French), 1945
We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights, among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Source: Ngo Din Diem, leader of South Vietnam, before deposing the French supported Vietnamese
Emperor, Bao Dai
A sacred respect is due the person of the sovereign…He is the mediator between the
people and heaven as he celebrates the national cult.
Source: Robert McNamara, American Secretary of Defence, 1962
Every quantitative measure we have shows we’re winning the war.
Source: George Ball, Undersecretary of State, “Cutting our Losses in South Viet-Nam” Department of
State, S/S Files: Lot 70 D 48, Memos to the President on VN Feb. 1965- Apr. 1966. Top Secret.
In a secret paper sent to Johnson’s foreign policy advisors, Undersecretary of
State George Ball concluded his analysis of US options in Vietnam as follows:
The position taken in this memorandum does not suggest that the United States should
abdicate leadership in the cold war. But any prudent military commander carefully
selects the terrain on which to stand and fight, and no great captain has ever been
blamed for a successful tactical withdrawal.
From our point of view, the terrain in South Viet-Nam could not be worse. Jungles and
rice paddies are not designed for modern arms and, from a military point of view, this is
clearly what General de Gaulle described to me as a “rotten country”.
Politically, South Viet-Nam is a lost cause. The country is bled white from twenty years
of war and the people are sick of it. The Viet Cong–as is shown by the Rand Corporation
Motivation and Morale Study–are deeply committed.
Hanoi has a Government and a purpose and a discipline. The “government” in Saigon is a
travesty. In a very real sense, South Viet-Nam is a country with an army and no
In my view, a deep commitment of United States forces in a land war in South Viet-Nam
would be a catastrophic error. If ever there was an occasion for a tactical withdrawal,this
Source: Lyndon Johnson
I don’t want loyalty. I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high
noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.
Source: American army officer, Genera Long
We had to burn the village in order to save it.
Source: McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, in a 1965 memo summarizing the
arguments of those in the Johnson administration who opposed the war
For 10 years, every step we have taken has been based on a previous failure. All we
have done has failed and caused us to take another step, which failed. As we get further
into the bag, we get deeply bruised. Also, we have made excessive claims we haven’t
been able to realize…
We are about to fight a war we can’t fight and win, the country we are trying to help is
quitting. The failure on our own to fully realize what guerrilla war is like. We are sending
conventional troops to do an unconventional job. How long — how much. Can we take
casualties over five years — aren’t we talking about a military solution when the solution
is political. Why can’t we interdict better — why are our bombings so fruitless — why
can’t we blockade the coast — why can’t we improve our intelligence — why can’t we
find the VC?”
Source: Walt Rostow, presidential advisor, and State Department Policy Planner, 1967
No, you don’t understand, victory is very near. I’ll show you the charts. The charts are
Source: Walter Cronkite, CBS News, upon hearing of the Tet Offensive, Feb 1, 1968
What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning the war.
President Richard Nixon, Oct. 1969
I’m not going to be the first American president to lose a war.
Source: Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Vietnam: A History, by
We should have fought in the north, where everyone was the enemy, where you didn’t
have to worry whether or not you were shooting friendly civilians. In the south we had
to cope with women concealing grenades in their brassiers, or in their babys diapers. I
remember two of our marines being killed by a youngster who they were teaching to
play volleyball. But Lyndon Johnson didn’t want to overthrow the North Vietnamese
government. Well, the only reason to go to war is to overthrow a government you don’t
Source: Konrad Kellen, the RAND Corporation
Stephen T. Hosmer, Konrad Kellen, and Brian M. Jenkins, The Fall of South Vietnam: Statements by
Vietnamese Military and Civilian Leaders, New York: Crane, Russak, 1980
Short of being physically destroyed… [the Communists of Vietnam] collapse,
surrender, or disintegration was, to put it bizarrely, simply not within their capabilities.
Source: William Ehrhart, a former marine
Whenever you turned around, you’d be taking it in the solar plexus. Then the
enemy would disappear, and you’d end up taking out your frustrations on the
civilians. The way we operated, any Vietnamese seen running away from
Americans was a Vietcong suspect, and we could shoot. It was standard operating
procedure. One day I shot a woman in a rice field because she was running ö just
running away from the Americans. And I killed her. Fifty- five or sixty years old,
unarmed, and at the time, I didn’t even think twice about it.
Source: North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, upon accepting the surrender of the government of
South Vietnam, 1975
All Vietnamese are the victors, and only the American imperialists have been
vanquished. If you love the nation and the people [of Vietnam], consider today a happy
Source: Marshall McLuhan, 1975
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was
lost in the living rooms of America–not on the battlefields of Vietnam.
Why the United States Lost the Vietnam War
Between 1945 to 1975, the United States of America was fighting its longest war; World War II. The war lasted thirty years and over 58,000 Americans had died during the war whereby most believe that America should not have indulged in it. Historians have critically analyzed why the US lost the war in Vietnam. This essay highlights what led to the defeat in Vietnam.
One of the reasons the Americans failed to win the war in Vietnam was the fact that they had underestimated the preparedness of the Communists who were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to defend their cause. Ho Chi Minh, a Communist leader, had warned that, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose, and I win.” This warning was first directed to the French but they decided to disregard it and this resulted in their defeat. However, the US failed to learn the lesson from the disaster the French experienced and instead progressed with the notion that they were invincible.
The plan forged by the US army was that they would apply attrition whereby they would kill many of the enemy troops so that the Communist leadership would yield. However, this failed to be successful because despite the huge numbers that died due to the attacks from the American military, the Communists did not surrender to them.
The American military was inadequately prepared for the terrain in Vietnam. Therefore, the environment was too complicated and mysterious for them to comprehend. As a result, the Vietnam Communists had an advantage over them and they were also to apply various tactics to ambush American troops and hide within the complex terrain. Ho Chi Minh stated that, “We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Communists did not only take advantage of the jungle environment but they also used American bombs against them; this led to a large number of deaths in the American troops. Hence, even though the American military managed to kill many Vietnamese Communists, the diverse landscape in Vietnam detrimentally influence the level of destruction the Americans could cause from far distances, through ship or plane.
The US government failed to adopt a relevant strategy of attack and this led to the proficient and successful attacks by the Vietnamese Communists. Walt Rostow stated that, “No, you don’t understand, victory is very near. I’ll show you the charts. The charts are very good.” Despite the assurance depicted in this statement, the US implemented the wrong strategy during the Vietnam War because they lacked preparation and joined a was where they were unable to differentiate friend from enemy. This denied them the opportunity to continuously push against the Communist enemies.
The American military also failed to form a cohesive relationship with the local governments and this undermined their efforts towards preventing the takeover by the Communists in South Vietnam. Furthermore, the Vietnamese Communists were getting support from the USSR and Communist China indirectly because it was meant to assist North Vietnam in the war. Therefore, they had access to massive amounts of weapons and ammunition as a result. The North Vietnamese Colonel, Bui Tin said that, “All Vietnamese are the victors, and only the American imperialists have been vanquished. If you love the nation and the people [of Vietnam], consider today a happy day.”  This statement was made after the South Vietnam government surrendered to North Vietnam and it shows that Vietnam as a whole led to the defeat of the US military during the war because of their lack of support and collaboration with them.
The US media had a large impact in the military losing the war. The warn was not only reported through magazines and newspapers, but also through television where the perceptions of the war widely differed as a result. Some of the footage from the war was portrayed in a wrong context and this portrayed the US soldiers negatively. At the same time particular photos were symbolic of how the American military participated in the Vietnam war. Marshall McLuhan stated that, “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America—not on the battlefields of Vietnam.” Some journalists reported false information about the war especially after the Tet Offensive. Such inaccurate stories led Americans to believe that they lost the battle. Furthermore, the negative reporting of the Vietnam war demoralized most Americans and this made protests more prominent. Even though the media reports of the conflict may have not resulted in the Us loss of the war, it immensely contributed towards the lack of support and the inhumane reception that most soldiers encountered once they returned from the war.
Ho Chi Minh, leader of North Vietnam, before the Franco-Vietminh War, late 1940s
Ho Chi Minh upon declaring Vietnamese independence (later rescinded by the French), 1945
Walt Rostow, presidential advisor, and State Department Policy Planner, 1967
North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, upon accepting the surrender of the government of South Vietnam, 1975
Marshall McLuhan, 1975
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