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Why We Lost The Vietnam War

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"I've always said, if you don't go in to win, don't go in at allÐ'...Either you conduct the conflict with all the assets the United States has at its disposal to bring about a quick and successful outcome or you stay out." -Alexander M. Haig JR.

The War That Couldn't Be Won!

By withdrawing its forces from Vietnam in 1973 did the United States admit defeat? This is an argument that historians and observers have been having for years. Before answering that question however, we must first understand if we ever really had a chance to win the war. The circumstances leading up to the war were pretty much out of the United States control with an obligation to our French allies. With threats of communism taking over Vietnam, many felt that our presence was needed to avoid Ho Chi Mihn's control. With all of the excitement, many important factors were overlooked such as did the United States have enough troops to fight this war, what type of retaliation the Vietnamese would use, and were we ready to fight a sixteen year war? The United States strongly underestimated the power and desire that the North Vietnamese had to gain control and preserve communism.

It was thought that the US presence in Vietnam was required to contain the communist influence from living up to the expectations of the Domino Theory. The Domino Theory resulted from the Cold War and stated that if one country was to fall under the communist regime, soon neighboring countries would fall. At the time France was fighting to gain back control of Vietnam as it was beginning to feel resistance from small guerrilla groups known as the Viet Kong, so America saw it as its duty to help out their French allies by giving money and supplying weapons. America believed this was necessary in order to help the French keep control of Vietnam and never fall to Communism. These small Communist guerrilla groups were funded by other Communist powers such as China and Russia. If the whole of Vietnam fell to communist rule this could have had an impact on the rest of the world and show that a Communist regime holds more power than the United States Democracy, thus slowly turning the rest of the world communist. This was just the beginning of the part the US played in Vietnam.

Gradually they got dragged further and further into the war and suddenly the indirect aid the US gave to France became more direct as the French left in 1954, and US troops were sent in on March 1965. Mistakes and bad decisions made by the US escalated and added pressure onto the US government and its leaders. This War was not only fought on Vietnamese soil, but rather here in America as well. Heavy opposition and strong protests were constantly ongoing on campuses nation wide. The entire country was spilt between the decisions being made by the leaders of this country. In my personal opinion after reading the accounts in Patriots and hearing professor Appy speak about the fundamental flaws made by policy makers, the Vietnam War was a war in which the great United States was unable to win. The Vietnamese people were sick of foreign control over their land and were willing to do nothing short of die to take their country back! In short the will of the Vietnamese people was much stronger than the invading U.S. army.

According to Alexander M. Haig, Jr., a military officer and political advisor, the main problem in Vietnam for the U.S. was what he called "incrementalism". According to this theory, the enemy would be stopped with the lowest level of combat intensity as possible. This proves that from the beginning the United States were not willing to put one hundred percent of their effort into this war. Instead of coming back with full force, the United States would use force either equal or slightly above what the Vietnamese were doing, temporarily pushing them back. After years of these tactics, it is no surprise that the United States was not able to ever gain full control over Ho Chi Mihn and communism. The United States also ignored other recommendations made by Alexander M. Haig which could have changed the outcome of the war. One of his most valuable recommendations was that he thought we should have completely mobilized the United States military and delivered ultimatums to Hanoi and Moscow. He believed that if the United States had followed through with these strategies, Moscow would have told Hanoi to leave them alone (Appy 397-398). However, this advice was not taken because it did not seem "politically acceptable".

Political acceptance was yet another reason that the United States did not win the war. During John F. Kennedy's presidency, he had begun to consider withdrawing troops from Vietnam. Shortly before his assassination he had ordered 1,000 advisors to be taken out of Vietnam. These plans shattered after his assassination when Lyndon Johnson became the new president. Lyndon Johnson felt that they had to increase their force in Vietnam so that other communist countries would not think that the United States was weak. He felt that if they had retreated from Vietnam, they would not be taken seriously by other countries and the United States authority would be tested. Instead of going down



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