So what caused the US to lose the Vietnam War?

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Paracelsus
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Jun 17 2017 12:47
So what caused the US to lose the Vietnam War?

For years, the trope that the US "won the Vietnam War on the ground but lost it on the editorial offices , TV newsrooms and college campuses of America" has become a cliche.
A book by H.R.McMaster, although published twenty years ago is STILL topical( McMaster is now Donald Trump's National Security Advisor and a graduate of the West Point Military Academy) "Dereliction of Duty, LBJ, the Joint Chiefs And the Lies That Led To Vietnam"( Harper Perennial 1997) explodes the myths beloved the "We wuz robbed" school of thought.
Far from being "stabbed in the back" by the antiwar movement and the media, the US defeat was arguably due to the own mistakes and blunders of successive US Administrations(most notoriously that of President Lyndon Baines Johnson along with his civilian and military advisors esp the JCS-Joint Chiefs Of Staff who were unable to put their parochial interests to one side and see"the big picture").
A nation at war, usually emphasizes "guns" as opposed to"butter" but LBJ tried to have his cake and eat it simultaneously- he thought he could have the "Great Society" and the Vietnam War simultaneously.
Also the degree of micromanagement of the Vietnam War from if not the White House then at least the Pentagon was noticeable. LBJ once joked that not even an outhouse could be bombed without his personal approval- and this claim would have lacked any point had it not contained at least a kernel of truth. Compare that FDR( Franklin D.Roosevelt) who after appointing theatre commanders such as McArthur and Nimitz in the Pacific and Eisenhower in the ETO(European Theatre Of Operations) wisely left them to run the war effort as they saw fit.

S. Artesian
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Jun 17 2017 14:54

US lost the war because it could not control the field of combat. Just that simple. To do that would have required the invasion and destruction of the north. Wars aren't won or lost in the press, college campuses, legislatures, or by the desire to expand social programs. Wars aren't won or lost anywhere but the field of battle.

Could the US have obliterated North Vietnam? Sure, in theory. In actuality, not with the Soviet Union in the picture. That's why the US lost.

Besides that, the Army of North Vietnam was one of the two or three best fighting infantry formations in history-- best organized, best commanded, and pretty well equipped.

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Khawaga
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Jun 17 2017 16:11

It is near impossible for any military to win a war against insurgents. As the accepted dictum is "the insurgent win by not losing" or "the counter-insurgent loses by not winning". Vietnam is a case in point; after the Tet offensive the Viet Cong was crushed militarily, but that meant nothing for the US. Because what happens in most counties with insurgencies? The more the invading military kills locals, the more they turn against them. And while the war is one of existence for the insurgents and civilians, it is a minor thing for the empire whose political will gets zapped in the end.

The only place where an empire has won against insurgents was the British in Indonesia, through an actual genocide because the guerrillas there were comprised almost only of one distinct ethic group.
Israel/Palestine is also an exception due to the close proximity of Israel to where they are fighting insurgents.

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Wars aren't won or lost in the press, college campuses, legislatures, or by the desire to expand social programs. Wars aren't won or lost anywhere but the field of battle.

While I agree with this statement, the goal of Giap (and Maoist guerilla warfare in general) is, because they knew they couldn't win militarily, to make it politically untenable for the empire to win, precisely by making the war so costly that it becomes difficult to defend the war domestically. But doing that requires that the insurgents do kill a lot of soldiers, destroy equipment and so on.

S. Artesian
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Jun 18 2017 03:16
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It is near impossible for any military to win a war against insurgents.

Not sure about that, K. The Spanish defeated the first two insurgencies in the Cuba. The British beat the Boer in South Africa. The US beat Aguinaldo's insurgency in the Philippines. Insurgents were defeated in the Greek civil war at the close of WW2, Tamil insurgency was defeated in Sri Lanka. FARC pretty well defeated in Colombia, etc. etc.

Yeah, after Tet, the NLF military wing was pretty depleted, but the NVA were not, and they took over the bulk of fighting, excepting maybe in what was called 4 Corps-- the area well south of Saigon.

Also in both the war against the French, and the war against the US, Giap was not conducting a guerrilla war. There were full infantry battles. You might be shock to know how much artillery, and armor, the NVA could run into the order of battle.

bastarx
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Jun 18 2017 04:31

The British defeated the Communist guerillas in Malaysia not Indonesia. To add to Artesian's list El Salvador and Guatemala defeated insurgencies in the 80s.

There are probably more I can't think of right now.

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Jun 18 2017 15:24

Thanks for those examples I'll have to look into them, though the ones that refer to insurgents in their own country do not count. The counter insurgency literature always makes exceptions for those; I probably didn't explain it properly, but I was mainly referring to various Empires' wars in far away places. And I was basing this argument on what the academic literature says.

How many of these insurgencies were won through outright genocide?

And yes, NVA was a regular army, but Giap was still the brain behind VC strategy. It was pretty remarkable how much artillery they got to Dien Bien Phu when they defeated the French.

petey
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Jun 18 2017 17:05

there was a (PBS?) documentary some years back, A Military History of the Vietnam War. an eye-opener for me at least.

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Jun 18 2017 22:19

I thought that "The American Was" by Jonathan Neale was a pretty good overview of the conflict.

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Khawaga
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Jun 19 2017 02:05

Yeah, IIRC his Trotskyism didn't get in the way of his analysis. Not bad for a SWPpie.

vicent
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Jun 19 2017 07:53

It seems as though Washington's suspicion of their own soldiers' loyalty was a big factor in their withdrawal; there are many good articles on libcom regarding this...

Also re: Khawaga, wasn't the South Vietnamese insurgency that the US was involved in primarily against the South Vietnamese state?

petey
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Jun 19 2017 14:39
petey wrote:
there was a (PBS?) documentary some years back, A Military History of the Vietnam War. an eye-opener for me at least.

may have been this
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlefield_(TV_series)

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Steven.
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Jun 20 2017 18:13

Yeah I would just add here that the unwillingness of American soldiers to fight was a significant factor as well. Not only were many troops extremely demotivated, but loads preferred to avoid fighting, get wasted on drugs, and a significant number were downright mutinous, and the killing of officers was pretty widespread. More info on the GI resistance to the war here: https://libcom.org/history/1961-1973-gi-resistance-in-the-vietnam-war

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Jun 20 2017 18:22
vicent wrote:
Also re: Khawaga, wasn't the South Vietnamese insurgency that the US was involved in primarily against the South Vietnamese state?

Yes, but the South Vietnamese state would have crumbled much much earlier if it hadn't been for the US. Indeed, the US even supported internal coups within South Vietnam to replace one dictator with another, and gradually took over the entire counter-insurgency effort.

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2017 22:01
Steven. wrote:
Yeah I would just add here that the unwillingness of American soldiers to fight was a significant factor as well. Not only were many troops extremely demotivated, but loads preferred to avoid fighting, get wasted on drugs, and a significant number were downright mutinous, and the killing of officers was pretty widespread. More info on the GI resistance to the war here: https://libcom.org/history/1961-1973-gi-resistance-in-the-vietnam-war

This is really exaggerated. There were some fraggings; not a lot. There were incidents when troops would disobey clearly stupid orders, like being told to take a cleared and used path in the jungle which you just knew was set for an ambush, rather than hack the bush, but that mostly came after 1970, when "Vietnamization" and force reductions were clearly going to happen, and then later the US Congress prohibited ground combat operations in Vietnam-- and guess what? Casualties increased. Among the Vietnamese.

Yes, drugs took a toll, but mostly among those not engaged in direct combat operations.

Look, all regular infantry troops would rather not fight; not fighting increases your odds of survival, but it's really a mis-statement to say US ground troops reluctance to fight was a reason the US lost the war in Vietnam. Simply not true. The mutinies, the fragging, the drug use were effects, not causes.

Famous supposed conversation between Kennedy and Diem:

Kennedy: " The problem in Vietnam, President Diem, is that your people would rather fuck than fight."

Diem: "And your people, Mr. President? Which would they rather do?"

Don't know if it's true, but it sure gave me a chuckle. I knew and still know what I'd rather do.

BTW, everything I've know about Giap and the NVA convinced me that they thought they could win militarily. They were right.

bastarx
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Jun 24 2017 06:50

Artesian, I've read somewhere that around 1000 officers and NCOs were killed by their own men, not an insignificant number given that total US deaths were ~58000.

Sike
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Jun 24 2017 08:12
bastarx wrote:
Artesian, I've read somewhere that around 1000 officers and NCOs were killed by their own men, not an insignificant number given that total US deaths were ~58000.

Cause and effect, meaning that could be argued that it was the military effectiveness of the North Vietnamese Stalinists that was the primary motive behind the insubordination and rebellion of US troops against the hierarchy within the US military. It must soon have become obvious to the troops in harms way that it was less risky to life and limb to stand up to the brass in the barracks then it was to allow themselves to be led afield where they would be facing the mines, booby traps, mortars and bullets of the NVA and Vietcong in a conflict that they had no personal stake in.

S. Artesian
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Jun 24 2017 16:30
bastarx wrote:
Artesian, I've read somewhere that around 1000 officers and NCOs were killed by their own men, not an insignificant number given that total US deaths were ~58000.

I've read figures that say "209." And I've read figures that say "600 known" and "1400 suspicious." I don't know what the real figure is. But these incidents, whatever the real number, take place in their vast majority after Tet 1968.

It was an effect of the US not being able to control the battlefield, not a cause.

I've also heard how "effective" the anti-war movement was in the US in undermining US military morale. In reality the anti-war movement gained in strength after Tet, after it was demonstrated that the US could not control the battlefield.

Was the anti-war "significant"? "Insignificant"? Not the issue, really, is it? How do you lose wars? On the battlefield. Against an enemy that can persist, withstand your assaults, and then respond with greater force.

That sums up what happened in Vietnam.