T Nation

The Vietnam War


#1

I'm currently winding down in one of my college classes on the Vietnam War. I'm just curious what the average person's take on it is today. Do you think it was a worthwhile war? Can you admit that we lost? I just want to hear some people other than the 18 year old "daddy is paying my way through college and I adopted my politics from the newest Green Day CD" crowd discuss this.

Mike


#2

I lived through that time and even as a young teen, I could see that such a war was unwinnable. Vietnam is surrounded by other countries, where the enemy could hide. You either have to conquer the whole peninsula (like Korea) or stay out.

It was a truly stupid way to fight a war. We couldn't invade NV, couldn't go into Laos or Cambodia. Talk about a plan to lose!!


#3

I definitely wasn't old enough to live through Vietnam, but you should be aware that there's been a fair amount of revisionist (meant in a good way) scholarship on the war recently. I'd especially look at Michael Lind's and Lewis Sorley's work. The bottom line is, it was a war that was fought horrendously badly, not by the soldiers on the ground, but by the micromanagers in Johnson's White House and McNamara's (worst Secretary of Defense until our current guy) Pentagon.

I think Vietnam was probably a winnable war though, in spite of the fact that we were tricked into it (read up on Tonkin Gulf) and we were facing an incredibly determined enemy. Conquering the North and uniting Vietnam was not politically feasible, and the government in the South was an ongoing disaster, but if we had had the political will post-Tet (when the Viet Cong was virtually destroyed, something they never recovered from) we could have defended the South, cleaned up the rest of the insurgency, and left an independent South Vietnam. Wouldn't have been a democracy right away, but probably would have evolved much like South Korea. Bottom line, we hung millions of people out to dry by leaving that country, a betrayal I think we are in the process of repeating in Iraq now.


#4

agreed, leaving the south to be slaughtered by the north is a horrible stain on our reputation.

Obviously we didn't achieve our goal of uniting the north and south, but we never really lost a battle. I mean, south vietnam fell 2 years after all us troops left the battlefield.

Was it worthwhile? I think it showed that we were willing to fight the spread of communism and may have helped put the seed doubt in other countries minds. I look at vietnam as more of a battle than a war....one battle in the cold war.

We can look at history and say "see, the domino effect was bullshit." I dont believe we can do that, because we tried very hard to stop it with korea, vietnam and other operation. How far communism would have penetrated without US intervetion is unknown. We know the outcome when there was US intervention: Communism died. So was it worthwhile? Yes. That doesn't mean i'm glad that some 2 million or whatever people died however. Vietnam is quickly becoming a very capitalistic country and will one day become a democracy. Who wins then? We do. Vietnam is already becoming a very important friend of the US's. Not that long ago we had a US naval ship in port in vietnam as a sign of friendship.

With all that said, we executed the war very poorly and could have done things a lot better to 1) help "win" the war and 2) save more lives.


#5

One of the worst consequences of the war was what happened in Cambodia. Knowing that no one would intervene, the Khmer Rouge started slaughtering everyone.

It took the Vietnamese (of all people) to put an end to that holocaust.


#6

I've heard a story that has been attributed to Colonel Harry Summers, author of the book On Strategy : A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0891415637/104-1416988-4138305?v=glance&n=283155).

Years after the war ended, American Summers once told a North Vietnamese Colonel that the U.S. never lost a battle in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Colonel supposedly responded by saying, "That may be true. But, it is also irrelevant."


#7

Yeah, that's made the rounds. But I'd be wary of giving the North Vietnamese too much credit, they didn't go into Tet thinking it would shatter the American domestic consensus behind the war, they did it because they thought there'd be a massive uprising in the South against the "cruel colonialist overlords." Didn't happen that way.


#8

All good points. According to this professor teaching the class, who is actually overly sympathetic to the former North Vietnamese, the war was all but over pre-Tet. Tet was kind of a last breath thing. But when they saw how the public responded to us losing the embassy in Saigon (albeit temporarily) as well as the fact that they could muster so large an offensive; the North realized they didn't have to win, they just had to not lose, much like Washington and Greene for us.

I totally agree that our abandoning the South is a dishonor to our own country, much like Bush the elder did to the Kurds back in '91 and how we are going to do to the whole country of Iraq soon.

Vietnam certainly was a winnable war. We just needed to have a non-corrupt leader in the south as well as putting more boots on the ground in the north. Voting in Barry Goldwater as opposed to LBJ would have been a great start to that. What public perception was to LBJ/Nixon was kind of what it is now, too much emphasis and credit given to airpower. You can't just bomb a country into submission. Wars cannot be won without putting infantry on the ground.

But all that said, the idea that Vietnam proved the domino effect was BS, is in itself bunk. I don't recall who it was, but recently I read an essay by a guy whose thesis was that Vietnam demonstrated our willingess to use force to stop the spread of communism and after the immediate spread to Laos/Cambodia it pretty much worked.

Mike


#9

Basically a war game perpetrated by the neo-industry/military American monster that Eisenhower warned specifically about, so in order to test out new military techniques and to develop and test experimental weapons in a field (UAV's, smart bombs, helicopters, advanced special forces, advanced field logistics, etc).

Every failure in the sandbox of Vietnam gave our military think tanks the information necessary to make adjustments, (M-16's didn't even work at the start of the war due to being so radically advanced, something commanders obviously wouldn't be using during a real war.) You wouldn't want to experiment if helicopters can be used in warfare during a WW3 etc.

After we learned what we needed and left, and NV invaded SV, Nixon ordered the indiscriminate mass carpet bombings on both civilian and military targets (schools, hospitals, etc) completely leveling everything. If done earlier the war would have been over.

Make no mistake, American Politics were in the position to finish the war the day they started it, using the same proven tactics with the same proven equipment, but that wouldn't have lead them to now possess the worlds most advanced and effective military.

Good men died every day in that war on both sides by the thousands. The veterans that survived were literally shit on by our government. (As opposed to the benefits received to veterans post WW2/Korea.)


#10

You realize we never had any boots on the ground in the North though right?

Yeah, Noam Chomsky, of all people, says something similar, that our goal was to devastate Vietnam so that socialism (i.e. communism) would not establish itself as a successful social model in Asia. Having done this, we happily walked away. All complete garbage of course.


#11

Is this a joke, or do you actually believe this shit?


#12

What is a neo-industry/military American monster?

I have not heard that term before but I have seen people use "neo" incorrectly far too often.


#13

Neo means new.
Industry involves the upper echelon of corporate America (major pharmaceuticals, large corporate conglomerates, etc) with, through shared interests, (making money) then manipulate business on all levels with the buying of US politics.
Surprise, surprise, US military grade equipment is generally the finest in the world and often decades ahead of anything remotely comparable, and as such costs an incredible amount of money, astronomically so when wars occur.
This leads to the interest of perpetuating a war...by say blatantly ignoring field commanders, which is assumed an 'accident' (whoops!) during Vietnam.

Who in the class can name another recent war, one involving leaders superseding field officers to the extent in which the consequence is...whoops, a prolonged sectarian fight?

http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

Say what you want about me, but no one trashes Ike.


#14

I don't give them much credit, except for patience and tenacity.


#15

I know what the word neo is and am familiar with Ike and his statements on the military/industrial complex.

I don't see the word neo anywhere in his farewell speech.

What do you mean by neo-industry/military? Do you think it just sounds kind of evil and cool like neo-con and neo-nazi or is it a legitimate term?

When Ike was talking about the military industrial complex he was talking about something that came of age in WWII. By the time Vietnam came about there was nothing new about it.

And the idea that we started Vietnam to test the M-16 has got to be one of the silliest things I have read in a long time.


#16

Hahahaha


#17

The M16 didn't work because they changed the powder and didn't chrome plate the chamber. It was stupid cost cuts that no one realized had big effects.

A lot of military equipment is anything but new, the F-22's we are just now getting were designed in the 80's or earlier. By the time anything gets funding and tested its already 20 years out of date.


#18

I was in 10th grade when Viet Nam ended, but I had a lot of friends and relatives that were there. I was told by many that the rules of engagement were the biggest problem. Meaning if someone were to shoot at you had to get permission to shoot back.


#19

We may not have lost a battle in 'Nam, but commanders quickly found out that not everybody plays by the rules we set forth. Vietnam ushered in the era of guerilla warfare. 40 years later, we still have not figured out how to effectively fight it on a scale beyond what our SF units can handle. Vietnam taught the entire world that a superpower can be defeated, or made to withdraw, by using guerilla tactics and tenacity, as was evidenced in Afghanistan vs. USSR, and now today in Iraq.


#20

The modern history of sucessful guerilla warfare stretches further back than that. The American war of independence is, in part, a good example.