The United States involvement in Vietnam started when the Vietnamese were fighting the French for independence. From the year 1945 up until 1975 the United States had a role in lives of many Vietnamese and Americans. This war was consisted North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Americans after the French decided to give up to Vietnam. According to the United States we decided to go to war to stop communism from taking over Asia, also known as the "Domino Theory" and its freedom from attack. The Vietnamese had another reason to continue fighting the United States. First, the people were nationalists and they loved their country and believed in independence. This is what allowed them to win the war with strong confidence. Today many people still question, what were the reasons for the United States fiasco in Vietnam? The United States did not succeed politically or military in Vietnam due to internal and external cost. The internal elements have to do with the fact that the United States lost public support for the war due to number of casualties, mistaken government policies and the activists of the anti war movement. The external costs have to do with the nature of war itself which was more of guerilla war and with the mistaken assumptions that's the United States carried into the war. These mistaken assumptions includes the belief that the war was won due against communism, obeying the idea of the domino theory and not that the war was really an independent struggle by the Vietnamese. These mistakes create further complications because the United States started to use tactics that hurt the Vietnamese people and because they supported the governments in South Vietnam that were anti-democratic and unpopular.
In the 20th century Vietnam has experience wars to gain independence from the French, Japanese and Americans. Vietnam struggles to fight for independence for hundreds of years from the Japanese up until 1945 due to the lost of World War II. France remains in power still controlling Vietnam as a colony with the aid of the United States.
From 1941, Ho Chi Minh decided to start the Vietminh. The Vietminh were a group that later became as an independence movement against the French. Many people supported Ho Chi Minh for his actions especially his own people. Vietminh became larger and stronger which made it very difficult for the French to continue defeating them. With the aid of the United States, still there was no victory possible. By 1954, the Vietminh defeated the French. The French decided to return back home by the United States decided they couldn't leave. Vietnam decided to make Ho Chi Minh their president. The United States could not return back home due to the threat of communism. The United States saw that Ho Chi Minh was a communist and could not see him taking control of the whole Vietnam. Allowing Ho Chi Minh to take control would result in other countries falling into communism. The domino theory was a theory that if one country fell into communism, that others would follow. So to prevent that The United States decided that Vietnam should have free-elections and to divide Vietnam into two sections; South Vietnam (American Control) and North Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh- Communism). They came to the conclusion of having a Geneva Accords two years later (1956) to see whether the people wanted to have a communist government leader by Ho Chi Minh or a capitalist country leaded by Ngo Dinh Diem put in power by Americans.
Ho Chi Minh was a man who went through up and downs just to get independence. As a kid Ho Chi Minh went to France where his dreams was to attend a school there where he got rejected and soon after he found himself in the United States where he resided in Harlem, New York. In the United States, Ho Chi minh was inspired by the Declaration of Independence. He wanted to have something similar back at home in Vietnam. He tried talking to President Woodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new nationalist government related to the Declaration of Independence. After arriving back to Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh decided to start the Vietminh. The Vietminh were a group that later became as an independence movement against the French. Many people supported Ho Chi Minh for his actions especially his own people. Ho Chi Minh became the president of North Vietnam after the independence from the French.
Ngo Dinh Diem was also Vietnamese. Instead he was a Vietnamese living in New Jersey and honor by many Americans. He was put in power by Dwight D. Eisenhower after Vietnam was split in half. The United States thought that Ngo Dinh Diem would have an effect on Vietnamese people and would eventually gain support. He was in controlled of the South where his views were completely different from Ho Chi Minh. There was no support from the Vietnamese in the south who were supposed to look at Diem as their God. The funny part was that their own people were not even supporting their own government. That had no control over their people. Diem was a corrupt dictator that didn't know himself what was happening. People were going against him which showed that the United States would have no authority in Vietnam. People would go against Diem by supporting Ho Chi Minh and some examples are the way they responded to his government, setting up trails to get from the north to the south.
Many saw Ho Chi Minh as a God figure in Vietnam. This scared the Americans because their hopes were to have Ngo Dinh Diem take authority with majority votes when it was time for the Geneva Accords. However, by 1956 when it was time for the free elections to happen, Lyndon B. Johnson canceled them knowing that Ho Chi Minh would win majority of votes. Eventually this made Ho Chi Minh angry which formed the Vietcong. The Vietcong was the army supported by Ho Chi Minh to fight another war against the South who supported the United States. At this point, it was the United States responsibility to fight war. The Geneva Accords showed that we did not let Vietnam decide on what they wanted and instead used power to cancel these elections and go by what we pleased. We did not like Ho Chi Minh being a nationalist communist. That was what started the war. Vietnam felt betrayed by the United States after the Geneva Accords. The New movement begins to happen.
As years went into the war, the Vietcong became strongly active and showed control throughout Vietnam. Back at home in the United States there were many people against the war. Most anti-war people were college students across the country. There were many types of protests such as sit-ins, teach-ins, speeches, and burning draft cards. As years went into the war, the united states were losing supporters for the war. These people engage in many different activities. The anti war had a significance impact because they made Johnson life impossible and this allows him to not run for president. They also reacted on Nixon which caused Nixon to drop from the war and to bring troops back home. It went from hippies to college students to American society rebutting the war. By 1968 there were about 58% of people against the war. The Anti-war became stronger in a matter of days as it caused pain to societies which decrease support. The movement involved the North East, North West, Northern California and some pockets in the Midwest. Many people today believe that the war was lost due to the Anti-War strong movement and Howard Zinn states "The Vietnam war gave clear evidence that at least for that war (making one wonder about the others) the political leaders were the last to take steps to end the war- "the people" were far ahead. The president was always far behind" (Howard Zinn- A people history of the United States pg 498) This shows how the Anti-War contributed a lot to this war because; Zinn shows how they manage to control most of the war by leading. Zinn also shows how the Anti-war took hold in America's public and states, "One sign that the ideas of the anti-war movement had taken hold in the American public was that juries became more reluctant to convict antiwar protesters, and local judges too were treating them differently. The antiwar groups who had raided draft boards- the Baltimore Four, the Catonsville Nine, the Milwaukee Fourteen, the Boston Five, and more- were receiving lighter sentences for the same crimes." This shows how American public (juries) wanted to see antiwar protesters in jail immediately. They had no sympathy for them and the only one that seems to give a little sympathy was the judge; but still it made it difficult because of the jury. Zinn believes that the loss of Vietnam was due to the antiwar strong, powerful and amazing movement. The Anti-war movements were very significance and it managed to get the government to pull out of the war before it got worse. This cause the United States to lose because there was so much pain in society such as taxes, deaths and people interfering where we lost support from people to continue fighting.
Many journalists had an impact on public's view during the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite known as the anchorman was an American journalist for CNN News. His role of recording actions in Vietnam made him become the most "trusted man in America" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Cronkite). "It is generally agreed that American media coverage of the Vietnam War had a major impact on public attitudes toward the conflict" said, (Walter Cronkite). Televisions were primary sources for the public receiving their news. Televisions were considered to be anti-war influences because the media showed horrible things happening in Vietnam that cause the public to give less support. The media not only affected the nature of the war to the public but it also changes the minds of Americans on their own people. "Critics in the government, the military, and elsewhere claim that the media was dominated by the antiwar journalists who poisoned the American public against the war by delivering superficial and negative coverage of the conflict. (pg 177 Walter). This shows how Walter noticed that people attentions were grabbed by the over coverage the news released. Walter Cronkite also had an effect on the war and changed many peoples opinions as well. "When Cronkite traveled to Vietnam to cover the Tet Offensive in February 1968, he was shocked by the military and political situation in the South. Cronkite realized that North Vietnam remained a strong and dangerous foe. Armed with this knowledge, the trusted broadcast journalist decided to air grim editorial detailing his own impressions of the war in Vietnam" (pg 120, 121) When he did this editorial his understanding of the war got the public to feel they were being lied to because they had believed we were winning. Even President Richard Nixon believed that the television was something harmful to Americans. In 1971, Nixon even stated that "aside from the communists, our worse enemy seems to be the press." With this understand we realized how the anti-war became so powerful. It was the role of the press who discourage "Many people believe that Nixon and other government officials disliked the press converge because it exposed their flawed policies to the world. In any case, day to day coverage of the war declined dramatically in American newspapers and network news programs in the early 1970s, as the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam accelerated.
The United States entered this war unprepared. As strong and confidence they were they went in and actually lost. This surprised them to think they would lose a war to a third world country that had no type of "chance" to defeat the United States of America and it was due to lack of support. If there is no support of the people then therefore there is no control for what needs to be supported. South Vietnam government collapsed due to lack of support from its own people. Robert McNamara served as Defense Secretary during the Vietnam War and looks back after the lost of war and says "The Nixon administration, like the Johnson administration before it, could not give the South Vietnamese the essential ingredient for success; genuine indigenous political legitimacy." (Argument without end) Robert McNamara realizes that as much effort we put to help the South Vietnam to rebuild; its people were not supporting it to have it succeed from its very beginning. Robert McNamara also states "The achievement of a military victory by U.S. forces in Vietnam was indeed a dangerous illusion. At no time, beginning with the increase of U.S. military advisers early in the Kennedy administration to the final withdrawal of American troops during the Nixon administration, would it have been possible at acceptable cost-in terms of American and Vietnamese lives lost and without the risk of war with China and/ or Russia-to achieve a military victory in Vietnam." (pg 368 Argument without and end). There was no way to win. It was a total illusion and we lost South Vietnamese government. We could not bring the support of its own people. The United States of America did not understand that there would be no victory. We could not control or defeat a war to a reason of nationalism. Robert states again "The Vietnamese "people's war"-could not be won by an external military force, no matter how powerful. From 1964 to 1973, the so-called Republic of Vietnam, this is, what we came to know as "South Vietnam", existed only because of the willingness of the United States to send soldiers to fight on its behalf. When U.S. support was removed, the inevitable results could have been predicted, whether in 1964, 1968 or 1973" This shows how the United States should have never entered war in the first place because there was no support for South Vietnam government to begin with. Robert notices after the war that it was useless time because no matter when we came in there was no sense to it. On top of that the only time South Vietnam government could control its people was when American troops were there but once we left, North Vietnam took control due to their high support. Robert McNamara main reason to enter war in the first place was due to the Domino Theory but if he were to see what he saw today about how support throughout this war, then he would have thought differently. To conclude it was more that they underestimated nationalism. Both administrations could not see Vietnam defeating the United States and they realized when it was too late that this was nothing new to Vietnamese. They had experienced this when fighting for independence for hundreds of years. One man who was apart of the government and also against of war was Senator Wayne Morse. On August 5, 1964 he states "In our time a great struggle is going on in the world between freedoms on the one hand and the totalitarianism of communism on the other. However, I am satisfied that if the hope of anyone is that the struggle between freedom and communism can be settled by war, and that course is followed, both freedom and communism will lose, for those there will be no victory in that war. Because of our own deep interest in the struggle against communism, we in the United States are inclined to overlook some of the other struggles which are occupying others. We try to force every issue into the context of freedom versus communism. That is one of our great mistakes in Asia... we say we are opposing communism there, but that does not mean we are advancing freedom, because we are not." This shows how people even working for the government had doubts in the war. He knew that solving the issue of communism wasn't through war. With all these doubts in the first place, the best thing was to come to an agreement rather then kill lives and lose.
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Answer by Tony Morse, managing partner, Spatial Analysis Group:
Basically because the Vietnamese wanted to win more than the Americans did. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, the Americans were an invading force, and the Vietnamese were fighting on their own soil. Second, the Americans were not willing to make an all-out commitment to win.
The second item is interesting to me. I was in the U.S. Air Force in Thailand in 1971. I was talking with a forward air controller who was disgusted that the U.S. was not using nuclear weapons on Laos to stop the flow of supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. I was incredulous and asked him why. His very matter-of-fact reply was that war is denying the enemy the use of the land and nothing did that better than nuclear weapons.
The irony is that had that pilot had his way America would have lost so much more that just the Vietnam War.
Answer by Jon Mixon, studied military actions from the Punic Wars to South Waziristan:
America “lost” South Vietnam because it was an artificial construct created in the wake of the French loss of Indochina. Because there never was an “organic” nation of South Vietnam, when the U.S. discontinued to invest military assets into that construct, it eventually ceased to exist.
Had the United States continued to prop up South Vietnamese government with military forces, it is conceivable that the entity could have continued into the 1980s, thus bringing it closer to when the Soviet Union collapsed and most communist nations in the world (China being a notable exception) ceased to exist. However, the American public had grown tired of the loss of American lives and of the war itself, meaning that there’s was no way that U.S. military involvement in the region could continue.
Also, had the United States launched a full-scale military invasion of North Vietnam instead of confining the war to the southern half of the country, the war would have largely ended in the mid- to late 1960s. There would have been some guerrilla actions for years and perhaps some incursions from Laos or Cambodia, but there would have been a unified Vietnam that was noncommunist.
However, that’s not how history went, and the brief fiction of South Vietnam and its eventually failure was the result.
*Correction, Nov. 18, 2014: This post’s photo originally missated the date the Vietnam War ended. It ended April 30, 1975, not April 31.