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Did US loose the Vietnam War?

Updated: 8/18/2023
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12y ago

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Technically America never declared war on anyone in Vietnam, it was a "police action", so America technically never fought a war in the first place. De jure though, it was a defeat as, despite not losing a single battle and inflicting far greater casualties than suffered, the US failed in its political objectives, namely the defense of South Vietnam.

South Vietnam lost the Vietnam War not the US. The Vietnam War was a civil war in which the US was a third party. North and South Vietnam had been at war with each other before the US entered the conflict and were at war with each other after the US left the conflict. To say the US lost the Vietnam War would be like saying the Soviet Union won the Vietnam War instead of saying North Vietnam won the Vietnam War. It was not our war to win or lose. The US should not be blamed for South Vietnam's shortcomings and lack of will. The US can give all the money and weapons to the South as it wants to, but the South has to have the will and desire to win and they did not have that. Therefore the loss is theirs, not ours.

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It is widely considered that "America lost the Vietnam war." But (as previously explained) saying that America lost the war is a misstatement. It was misunderstood at the time of the war.

North Vietnam had indeed signed a peace agreement with the United States to leave South Vietnam and maintain a demilitarized zone, much as had been done in Korea. The North signed this agreement, waited until the United States had pulled almost all troops out of South Vietnam, and then attacked, and easily overtook the South. Did we win? We won on honesty and integrity, both of which the North Vietnamese failed to display once the power of the United States had left.

Although the US committed enormous resources and defeated the communists in tactical engagements time and again, there was a lack of will to do the things that have to be done to win a war: Go on the offensive, advance into enemy territory, seize the military initiative, and so forth. In Korea, the US advanced all the way through North Korea to China at one point, although it was later forced back. The communists worried that the US might do this again, so they had an incentive to keep the truce. In Vietnam, treaties were signed, but the fighting went on. Eventually, US public opinion tired of an endless, defensive war. Congress ordered an end to direct US military involvement in August 1973. US financial aid to South Vietnam was cut off in August 1974 and Saigon fell to the communists in April 1975.

History of US InvolvementAlthough many wars are fought over strategically important territory, this was not the case in Vietnam. US policymakers felt that if the US pulled out of Vietnam, Moscow would shift its resources to another conflict. The prestige of the U.S. was at stake, the loss of which might result in a "domino effect" of communist takeovers across southeast Asia. Fighting simultaneous wars in Vietnam and the Middle East seems to have overtaxed Moscow's resources, forcing a withdrawal of Russian combat troops from Egypt in 1972.

Peace treaties for Vietnam were signed in 1954 and 1973. But the communists weren't motivated to follow either one because they weren't worried that the US would ever advance across the 17th parallel into North Vietnam. This is because the US was following a strategic doctrine called "containment." The idea of containment developed from a misreading of the Korean War. It was believed that China invaded Korea in 1950 because US forces had crossed the 38th parallel into North Korea. In fact, Mao publicly announced his intention to intervene on Oct. 1, 1950 in response to the Inchon landing, a week before US forces crossed into North Korea. In the 1964 US presidential election, President Johnson defended containment and argued that Goldwater's focus on victory would lead to nuclear war.

The Vietnamese communists suffered devastating loses in the Tet offensive of 1968. But instead of pressing its advantage against a weakened enemy, the US began to withdraw its forces, a policy called "Vietnamization." This again reflected the influence of containment doctrine. As the war dragged on without result, it gradually lost public support. Polls show a steady, gradual decline in support, and no dramatic shift in response to Tet or any other episode.

In the 1972 presidential election, Democrat George McGovern ran on slogan, "Come home America." Although Nixon was easily reelected, McGovern's campaign made Vietnam an intensely partisan issue. It became difficult for Democrats in the US Congress to support continued US military involvement. A U.S. defeat would humiliate Nixon, a Republican.

After a peace treaty was signed in January 1973, South Vietnam made major advances. Hanoi returned POWs and for a time almost everything the US had fought for was achieved. But in March 1973, Congressional leaders told Nixon that they would not support further US military involvement even if the communist side resumed its aggression. Nixon concluded that Vietnam was a lost cause, although the military situation was otherwise favorable at this point.

The threats made in March became law when Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment, which ended direct US military involvement in Vietnam as of August 1973. The end of the US bombing campaign led to a vast increase in the weapons and supplies sent down the Ho Chi Minh trail. The oil shock in October 1973 hit the South Vietnamese economy hard and increased costs for the South Vietnamese military. In the 1973-74 dry season, Saigon lost the territory it had gained in the previous dry season. Instead of increasing US financial aid to compensate for the increased costs, Congress voted to cut aid in August 1974, leaving South Vietnam to fend for itself. Because the aid cutoff happened in the midst of Watergate, the scandal is sometimes blamed for the defeat in Vietnam. The aid cut off revived the hopes of the Soviets, who then poured resources into North Vietnam. From a strictly military point of view, the decisive battle of the war was Phuoc Long in January 1975. After this defeat, South Vietnamese morale collapsed and Saigon fell on April 30, 1975.

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12y ago
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10y ago

Did the US Lose in Vietnam?

Here are some various opinions on why (and whether) the US lost the war in Vietnam:

  • The United States pulled out of the Vietnam War. We did not lose it. Technically, we were not at war, we were advisors but the Congressional approval to fight in Vietnam was not given. If anyone lost it was the people of Laos and Cambodia who came under Communist rule after the war.
  • Lack of interest. No one was that interested in stopping the Communists aggression in the Far East. And as the war went on, the cost in blood and treasure seemed extreme and fruitless. So we didn't lose, we just withdrew. When the draft was ended, it made the war more tolerable, but then high profile stories of war crimes and napalming made the war unpopular.
  • The only reason the US lost was because we withdrew from there. The US won every battle but the North Vietnamese were willing to sacrifice many more lives than the US.
  • They lost because the politicians did not let the military do their job. They made decisions that should have been made by generals. Politicians should not make tactical decisions.
  • The people of South Vietnam did not want to fight that war and the US didn't want to fight the war for them without their help.
  • Failures by the US - 1) The US troops completely underestimated the VC, who were skilled jungle fighters, and also had mass peasant support. 2) The American tactic 'search and destroy' increased VC support. As one soldier said "If they weren't VC before we got there, they sure as hell were by the time we left." 3) The supply line (Ho Chi Minh Trail) was never shut down by the Americans thus allowing the VC to send and receive supplies. 4) American public support waned after the atrocities of 'My Lai' and disasters of the 'Tet offensive' came to light, and American body bags continued to arrive home. Protesting became rife and the public voice became hard for the government to ignore. 5) Guerrilla warfare was brutal, and morale became increasingly low from about 1969. 6) The VC's great defensive system the 'Cu Chi' tunnel was not shut down , allowing the VC to take cover during the 'Air War' which could potentially have been very successful for the Americans. 7) The Media played a massive role in the war, before media intervention many Americans had felt alienated from a war that was so far from home. The media changed this, changing at the same time the general public's view on war.
  • There are several reasons as to why we didn't win the war. There is truth in most of the answers given. True, we alienated a lot of the Vietnamese because of atrocities, but we weren't the ones that were going into villages and disemboweling the leaders or raping their women or taking a machete to babies. The VC did that. Yes, there were some unfortunate incidents like My Lai, but that is one incident compared to thousands of atrocities that the enemy soldiers did. Second, the US Military was extremely handicapped by both the war planners and the US media. In order to make bombing runs, we had to contact a war planner back in the States to get permission to make a bombing run. Then we were not allowed to bomb anything close to a civilian area no matter how strategically important it was, because we were humane enough to not want to injure more North Vietnamese civilians. Were the North Vietnamese that concerned about not hurting anyone? Absolutely not. They had no compassion whatsoever. They placed no value whatsoever on human life. Sometimes when they would attack to try to overrun our bases, the first wave of soldiers' purpose was to die on top the barbed wire perimeter so that their fellow comrades could walk over their bodies and enter the compound. They were so fanatical they would fight until the last man was dead. As far as the Vietcong being a skilled fighting force that is a crock. They were poor, not very well trained, deluded people who were virtually eliminated after they made a massive attempt in 1968 to take over the country. They were temporarily successful but once the US military got to work, end of story. We literally slaughtered them. Then there is the US media who were probably the biggest traitors to the US cause and have a lot of our young men and women's blood on their hands. It seems so strange that when we would announce to the media that we were going to make a bombing run to a certain location that when the bombers would get there that the enemy soldiers would be gone. And the media also helped to stir up the anti-war movement back home thus being an ally of our own enemy. Right before we decided to pull out of the war we had the North close to surrendering. But you won't hear that from the news media. We had killed close to a million enemy soldiers.
  • The US did not lose the war. The Paris accords were signed and all but 1,500 US troops were gone from Vietnam when Saigon fell. The reason Saigon fell was also the fact that the South Vietnamese Army was not willing to stand and fight for their own country.
  • America didn't lose the war in terms of politics. The Paris Agreement states that the US won as troops were still in Vietnam at the time. In terms of casualties and deaths, however, it was pretty equal going.
  • US efforts to hold and occupy ground were dismal failures; as emphasized by the failures at Dak To and throughout the Central Highlands in 1967, in the A Shau Valley throughout the War and at Khe San after May 1968, to hold ground against opposition. US forces, while moderately effective in some limited tactical actions to take ground or occupy an area of operations, were invariably outmaneuvered strategically and forced to withdraw when continued action proved the occupation had been pointless. Once the ground was ceded back to the enemy, it was immediately re-occupied. No US command ever held an area of operation 18 months after a major action had been fought there.
  • The US was not fighting a total war, and usually did not remain in any areas with its forces other than those logistically important. It was never a goal of the US to occupy South Vietnam. In some cases this meant retaking the same areas from the enemy more than once. North Vietnamese generals recognized the fighting power of the US forces, but knew that the morale of US troops would go lower the longer the war went on, just as the US as a whole would tire of the war.

Nixon Ends The War and Congress Blocks the Funds

Nixon had been elected on a promise to Vietnamize the war, meaning more fighting would be turned over to the South Vietnamese army, and to start bringing home American troops. When the President ordered US troops into Cambodia and ordered more bombings, the result was a tremendous uproar at home with more marches and demonstrations. Congress reacted to the antiwar feeling and repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave the President the authority to send troops and fight the war in Vietnam. The United States did not lose the Vietnam War, although some may argue that by pulling out of South Vietnam we did just that. In 1972, North Vietnam finally realized that the war was a stalemate. The two sides met and arranged a cease fire. In January of 1973, the Paris Accords went into effect. The US agreed to withdraw all its troops from Vietnam in 60 days. Congress had stopped funding the war effort. The North Vietnamese government agreed to release all prisoners, which they never did. Free elections were to be held in Vietnam. The President of South Vietnam considered the agreement between North Vietnam and the US as a sell-out. But it allowed President Nixon to save face and bring the soldiers home. By 1975, after US troops had been pulled out of South Vietnam, the ARVN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) collapsed and the North Vietnamese moved into Saigon, ending the war and finalizing the takeover of the South by the North. Our purpose in the war is debated to this day.

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12y ago

The Us did not lose Vietnam. How can you say north Vietnam won the war when in the 11 year period they lost every battle and had 4,000,000 casualties. North Vietnam was practically giving up before the US pulled out and established a treaty. They were the ones who went against the treaty. So you can say there was a second Vietnam war and South Vietnam lost that one. Since the first Vietnam war wasn't established by the UN you cant say either country one that one. But in that war the US military clobbered Vietnam. The United States hasn't lost a single war in its 232 year history and probably never will.

We didint so call (loose) the war we just simply left cause we found it to be pointless

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10y ago

U.S. forces successfully defended South Vietnam from the time they entered the country in 1959 through 1973 when they left. They perfected helicopter warfare against guerrilla tactics.

The U.S. had total air and sea dominance in the south as well.

South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communist forces a full two years after the U.S. left Vietnam.

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12y ago

For me Vietnam defeated US in the Vietnam War. Because North Vietnam conquered Southern Vietnam. And Southern Vietnam is a democratic country and an ally of US.

The US Military was restricted by the political situation and was not able to wage war in an effective manner. Because of political pressure, the necessary military resources could not be deployed.

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15y ago

Our side lost the war on 30 April 1975; but our forces withdrew in 1973.

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13y ago

North Vietnam won the war.

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