To what extent can it be argued that the use of guerilla warfare tactics by the Vietcong against the US military was the key factor in explaining the American lack of success in the Vietnam War? The Vietnam War has been regarded with much controversy – both during the War, and after its conclusion in 1973. America came under heavy criticism because it seemed to the world that its presence there was unjustified. Many countries saw America’s presence as purely strategic and economical rather than for the protection of South Vietnam’s people as America had first claimed.
This worldwide lack of support included many protestors at home in America. This was devastating for the morale of the hundreds of thousands of young ‘grunts’. Throughout the war American losses, both financial and military were astounding. Never before had a country with America’s degree of power and worldwide influence been so unsuccessful when combating an economically underdeveloped country such as Vietnam. Admittedly North Vietnam did receive aid from both the Soviet Union and China but despite this, Vietnam has to be seen as a Third World country defending their homeland from the world’s biggest super power.
The aim of this essay is to investigate the main reason for America’s defeat. Possible reasons for failure apart from the effectiveness of the Vietcong guerrilla tactics would include: lack of morale of US troops, inappropriate US military tactics, the shocking images shown in the media coverage, US motives for engaging in this war, their lack of consideration for and understanding of the Vietnamese people, worldwide lack of support for the US war effort, the collapse of support on the home front. All these factors will be considered in order to arrive at a conclusion as to what was the major cause of America’s humiliating retreat.
Since America first got involved, its motives for engaging in the Vietnam War have been debated among historians. America claimed that their presence in Vietnam was for the aid of the people, terrorised by the communist north. It has always been clear that the threat of communism spreading across south east Asia was a great worry for capitalist America, therefore America’s key motive has often seemed to be the fight against ‘evil’ communism. But why would communism in Vietnam be such a threat to America? First of all America prided itself on its powerful economic position, taking full advantage of her resources and the ability to free trade.
Southern Asia was a major importer/exporter of/to America and one impact of communism would be a more independent people, no longer happy to be taken advantage of by America. This would cause trade prices to rise for America and any other country doing trade with S. Asia. America could not run the risk of letting spreading communism compromise their dominant position in world trade. Evidence that perhaps supports the view that America’s motives were indeed less than commendable is that the government that they set up and supported in the South was definitely not a democrat.
The leader of this government was Ngo Dinh Diem, a corrupt catholic who, unlike the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, lacked the support of the Vietnamese people. The persecution the people of the South endured under the hand of Minh created great mistrust of America. They were seen as “propping up” Diem, which created a very negative image for them. Whilst this government was set up as an independent one, they took much guidance and counselling from the US. Many times the US simply forced their will onto the South.
One example of this was the prevention of free elections in the whole of Vietnam, as set down in the Geneva Convention, as America’s own intelligence reported that 80% of the people would have voted for Ho and therefore defeated the American-backed government in the South. The evidence that America was invading a foreign country for what appeared to be their own social and economic gain created a ‘rolling snowball’ of world wide lack of support that just got faster and larger, picking up many people around the world, including Americans.
In fact, for the entirety of the US war effort, American troops showed very little consideration or understanding for the Vietnamese people and their way of life. They showed very little respect for the Vietnamese people’s cultural and religious beliefs and instead of attempting to educate themselves about Vietnamese society, they just tried to “Americanise” the people. US troops assumed that if they offered the peasantry small treats like Coca-Cola and candy their loyalty would be won and the US would gain their support and trust.
For some of the people this would work but its effects were only temporary and greatly overshadowed by the brutality of the US interrogation methods. America often found it hard to battle their opponents in the forests and so favoured and utilised their technological superiority, launching massive bombing runs as often as the sometimes-turbulent weather permitted. Often the uncaring use of advanced weapons did America more harm thanThese bombing offensives devastated the forests with Agent Orange and incinerated villages with napalm1.
One of the most famous battles of Vietnam – The Battle for Khe Sanh is a perfect example of America’s over use of technologically advanced weapons. It was seen by the Americans as just another element of North Vietnam’s massive Tet Offensive. However the NVA and other Northern Vietnamese forces used it as a way to distract America from the Tet offensive itself . Put a footnote here to indicate you have a source for this claim. From early 1962 America encouraged Diem to adopt a policy of ‘strategic hamlets’, fortified villages in which the Vietnamese peasants would hopefully be isolated from the Vietcong.
This strategy only created further opposition to Diem and the US regime as the people disagreed with being forced to leave their ancestral homelands and farms to build the blockades. Link to Vietnamese culture – ancestor worship – bones of ancestors buried in land nearby. Another incident that shows poor American preparation and execution But you haven’t been talking about poor preparation and execution in the paragraph before – you’ve been talking about the fact that their behaviour was insensitive.
You therefore need to introduce this slightly differently – perhaps – ‘an event that highlights in an extreme form the insensitivity of American soldiers in their approach to the Vietnamese is the My Lai massacre of May 1968. This incident was a well-publicised tragedy that was has often been put down to the utter frustration that the American troops were experiencing. The My Lai massacre, a search-and-destroy mission, claimed the lives of 300 unnamed civilians including women, children and the elderly.
As this incident came into the light of the world in November 1969 many people started to have serious doubts about the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. Court Marshall proceedings followed and many US soldiers were dishonourably discharged for their part in the incident at My Lai. This form of search-and-destroy tactics was not officially used by the US military, however this was not an isolated incident and on other occasions US troops showed a great lack of experience and understanding of the battlefield they were on and the people that inhabited it.
Give a source here. Eg US ‘Strategic Hamlets’ policy did not take account of Viet religion – bones of ancestors buried in their land – forced to leave. My Lai Massacre (not policy – but evidence that was not an isolated incident) These factors led to anti-American feelings amongst the people of Vietnam and in turn led to support for the Vietcong, which the US troops found very difficult to deal with. America’s lack of consideration was again shown when they tried to deal with the undercover support for the Vietcong.
The brutality of the US interrogation methods is well documented and has been accurately portrayed in films such as “Platoon”. The US soldiers faced a vicious circle when interrogating suspected Vietcong, the loyalty that the people showed to the Vietcong infuriated them and they took their frustrations out on what were probably innocent people which in turn made the US appear brutal in the eyes of the world. Provide a source for this claim. The Vietnam War is so famous because it was the first war that had such wide media coverage.
It has often been called a war “fought on television”. It was the first war that had film crews and photographers on scene during battles with the ability to shoot with film whilst everyone around them was using live ammunition. This paragraph needs to be developed much more fully and linked with the point that you have been making in the previous paragraph (ie about the insensitivity of American methods. How does this link with the media coverage, due you think? It also needs to be linked to the overall question you are addressing – namely, establishing the main reason why they lost.
You need a signposting sentence here to provide a smooth link between paragraphs. In a war in which the average age of troops is 19, a great level of inexperience is to be expected. The Vietnam War was one of these wars and the overwhelming presence of young inexperienced soldiers, fresh out of training was clear throughout the War. Young men often lied about their ages Do you have proof of this? If so, give a source. Doesn’t it conflict with your earlier point about wide media coverage? Was it just at the beginning that people lied about their age?
Were there other reasons for the young age of the soldiers; so that they could do their “American duty” and serve their country abroad. Little did they know or understand the true horrors of war and their sprits were soon broken when they saw the carnage going on around them. Often soldiers would hope for a small injury or shoot themselves in the foot. Provide a source for this claim. But what was so horrible about the war that led these young men to such extreme measures? First of all very little progress ever seemed to be made which was disconcerting to all involved.
A constant fear of the hidden Vietcong and their excruciating booby traps led to troops being unwilling to venture into the jungle in which their main adversary was hidden. Provide a source for this claim. Clearly a war cannot be fought effectively when one’s enemy cannot be seen. The ‘grunts’ constantly battled against the heat and insects as well as having aching bodies from being laden with 50-70 pounds of equipment. Many things led to the crushingly low levels of low morale: American disunity and inexperience, Vietcong support and hatred from the people they were trying to defend.
You need to provide a source for your comment about low levels of morale. Unfortunately for the Americans, the low morale led to what seemed like an infinite stream of problems for their war effort. Many of the most obvious causes for the US lack of success could be ultimately put down to a lack of morale and vice-versa. The causes and consequences of US lack of success often appear to be intertwined. Jon – there’s lots that’s good about this, but the one crucial problem is that the factor you highlight at the beginning of the essay – namely, Vietcong guerrilla tactics, is not mentioned at all in the essay.
What you have to do is to discuss these tactics in some detail, provide evidence of how these tactics resulted in massive casualties for the Americans. Explain how Vietcong tactics didn’t allow America to gain the advantage from their much higher levels of military technology. In your concluding paragraph you need to tease out all the factors to explain why you consider that guerrilla tactics was the key factor – perhaps bringing out, though, in some detail how all the other factors played a part in allowing the guerrilla tactics to be so successful. 1 The Battle for Khe Sanh, The USA and Vietnam 1945-75 – Vivienne Sanders.