Vietnam War

A posting spoke of the "disastrous entanglement in Vietnam."  Dick Hancock comments:The Wall Street Journal (3/18/05) has a book review by James Schlesinger on Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes (pp .917), transcribed and edited by Lewis Sorley and published by the Texas Tech University Press.  The review makes clear that Vietnam was a military victory which we proceeded to throw away because of bad press and the anti war movement. "With U.S. air support, the South Vietnamese Army was proving itself able to stand up to the enemy.  Evan as our combat forces  began to withdraw, Washington slashed the funds that would have helped the South Vietnamese consolidate their victory."  Schlesinger concludes that some of the lessons of Vietnam are: "(1) Don't let a war go on so long that congressional and public support dwindles; (2)  don't make cheery statements that lead to false expectations and public surprise--so that a colossal defeat (like Tet) gets transformed into a political victory for the enemy; and, not least, (3) don't necessarily believe press accounts on how well or how badly a war is going."

Christopher Jones answers Dick Hancock: With a very clear memory of the evening news and those casualty numbers racing up like on a pin ball machine, I think the American people have a very important say on whether the US intervention in Vietnam was worth it or not.  50,000 dead for a senseless war thousands of miles from the US is not my idea of a sound policy to contain communism, nor by the way was US support for corrupt dictators like Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe fetishist wife, General Suharto and his 15 billion dollar fortune, or Nguyen van Thieu or Lon Nol.  As usual, the US favored rapacious dictators beholden to corporate America.  This love affair with the third world dictator was the greatest failure of US policy.   The US did not stabilize Southeast Asia. In fact its presence probably was a major destabilizing factor.  What stabilized the region and led some of its nations to become "the Asian tigers" was a neutral organization called ASEAN.

Christopher Jones answers Cameron Sawyer: How anybody can call the Vietnam war a "military victory" and blame the American defeat on "bad PR" is mind boggling.  The US lost the war in Vietnam politically, diplomatically, militarily, and however else you want to look at it.  The NVA defeated the ARVN [the Army of the Republic of Vietnam --  the South] and the Bo Dois took Saigon, reunifying the country.  The American military objective of Vietnamization --  to maintain and bolster the ARVN and preserve its client, corrupt state, the Republic was defeated.  To suggest that the ARVN was somehow on the road to victory [what does this mean?  does the writer suggest that the ARVN was going to Hanoi?]  thanks to US airpower serves only to underscore that the Republic of South Vietnam was dependent on US military might for its survival.  Its political defeat had begun years earlier, and probably there was never any real hope of converting South Vietnam into a viable state. James Schlesinger's ideas are very scary; it seems he would have liked Americans to continue fighting for such outstanding "Defenders of Freedom" as Nguyen van Thieu, [whose aircraft could not get airborne because of the extra weight from the gold bullion bars stashed inside] and failing that "nuke'em."

Jones answered Cameron Sawyer: How anybody can call the Vietnam war a "military victory" and blame the American defeat on "bad PR" is mind boggling. Cameron retorts: Well, I specifically did not "blame the American defeat on bad PR".  I agree with Chris that "The US lost the war in Vietnam politically, diplomatically, militarily, and however else you want to look at it," that is more or less what I said.   I was merely trying to express agreement with Dick Hancock that it our defeat did not take place on the battlefield, where, it is well established, we practically always won.  Reunification of the country under the Communists took place only after our complete and unilateral withdrawal.  But our victories on the battlefield were not enough to win the war; furthermore, as I said, it is an oversimplification to say that the problem was "PR".  The problem was in not having clear, achievable goals, and in misconstruing and underestimating the other tasks necessary for a real victory.  I worry that we have not learned our lesson.

Christopher Jones writes:It is misleading to say that the US defeat was not on the battlefield where "we practically always won." This is misplaced American bravado. The 50,000 war casualties were simply too much for the US body politic to bear.  The only real major US victory (of sorts) was the relief of the embattled outpost at Khe Sanh, which had been surrounded, like Dien Bien Phu. (This is not to say that the VC and the North Vietnamese did not make mistakes)  It did not really make any difference in the long run, because it was the Vietnamese politburo who had determined the "style" of war   There wanted to draw the US into a guerrilla "revolutionary"war, which they did, and avoid pitched battles.  Their objectives were clear and concise: reunify Vietnam.  Their cadres, the Can Bo were in the villages and hamlets winning their hearts and minds for Hanoi -- or else.  Remember the teachings of Sun tzu:

Those most skilled in warfare are those
who conquer the enemy without fighting battles
who capture cities without laying siege to them

Dick Hancock answers Christopher Jones: In evaluating the Vietnam war, we need to look beyond victory or defeat in favor of giving consideration to the question of its impact on our policy of containment which eventually ended in the defeat of Communism.  At the time of our intervention, there was evidence that Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and perhaps other Asian nations were threatened with a Communist takeover.  In the final analysis, only the South Vietnamese people can decide if our intervention was positive or negative.  When will there be an opinion poll that will provide the South Vietnamese perception of this war?

General Robert Gard writes:A senior American general told a high ranking North Vietnamese official
the the US never lost a battle. That's true, the official replied, but irrelevant.

Cameron Sawyer writes: I agree with Dick Hancock that Vietnam was a military victory, but that is not the point.  Vietnam was a disaster for everyone concerned, and not just because of our bungling of the PR aspects of the war.  This is extremely important to note.  The war was a disaster because we overestimated by importance of the military side of it, and vastly underestimated the complexity of Vietnam's internal politics.  In the warm afterglow of the allied victory in WWII, we made the mistake of assuming that American troops would always be welcomed as liberators everywhere.  It turned out to be much more complicated than that.   Sound like another war we have been discussing?  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 13, 2005