The goal of the USA and South Vietnam was to preserve South Vietnamese independence by defeating the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese (NV) armies. The only advantage that the south had over the north was the fact they had the numbers, 1,355,524 soldiers and unlimited firepower and resources. The USA/South faced the war with traditional conventional ground and air warfare.
The US tactics were wrong. Fighting a conventional war against a guerrilla war, the US should have learnt from the previous Indochina War between the French and the Vietnamese.
History repeats itself. It comes in cycles. Lessons and reflections exist everywhere, but no one seems to learn”- Arnold J Toynbee Contested Spaces”The US and RoV armies were efficiently equipped to meet conventional invasion, with tanks only used for Coup D’etat” also defensive role, armoured personnel carriers (APC’s) could only be used in dry weather and heavy artillery used as defence. The US went about the war using the Search and Destroy” method this meant they located a VC unit, attacked and returned to base.
This was self-defeating as VC would hear the fleet of planes from miles away and have time to run, hide or prepare an ambush. Soldiers plodded through rice fields and dense jungle, weakened by the heat and rain, attacked by insects and leeches, misery/boring, threat of VC, booby traps waiting to be stepped on or triggered. The US was victorious in set battles, like Khe Sanh in 1967-1968. The battle was a major attack by the NVA, a total of 10,000 NVA killed and 500 US killed. But these battles did not deter the North, but the US was furious with the amount of deaths.
As a form of Conventional warfare, the US used helicopters, jets and bombers to rain death on NV, beginning in May 1965 and continued for three years. 800 tons of bombs, rockets and missiles on the North’s military establishments, bridges, roads, rail lines, fuel storehouses. A total of 7,000,000 tons as dropped. Napalm, jellied petroleum that sticks to skin and burns through to the bone, was used in the Rolling Thunder raids and throughout the South against suspected enemies or supply lines. The Americans controlled the air space, but the North also possessed highly effective air defences. S.A.M and M.i.G fighter planes effectively caused considerable damage to US planes. On many occasions, large bodies of NVA troops were caught before they got into action.
The goal of the NVA and VC was to unify North and South as one nation by defeating the US and their allies. This cause became an all consuming one. The North, although small in numbers compared to that of the South, adapted itself to guerrilla warfare, outsmarting the enemy in every way possible.
Their main tactics were to have maximum mobility, penetrating deeply and withdrawing as far as possible by launching lightening attacks and dispersing in a flash. Their method was to fight in partisan units and relatively small groups disguised as civilians and mingling with the people. They attacked from behind, outflanked the enemy or launched sudden attacks on the enemy. They also pretended to attack the left whilst really attacking the right. They aimed to cut the enemies communication lines and harass the enemy while sleeping or eating, least expecting. This continuous wearing down of strength caused weariness and distress among soldiers, lowering their morale.
The Ho Chi Minh Trial was created by the People Army in 1946 as a jungle supply route. It extended for 1500 km from NV, south along the border of Laos and terminated at the frontier of SV and Cambodia in a region called the Iron Triangle”. From here, the Trial went underground into the Cu Chi tunnel network and connected up with the storm water drains and sewer pipes of Saigon. Binh Trams (staging depots) provided shelter, infirmaries, and storage areas and weapons assembly points. But its main purpose was to infiltrate soldier, weapons and supplies into SV.
The US and SV were very disadvantaged. They had difficulty with the languages of the different races, where as the VC had no language problems. They also had difficulty in actually recognising the enemy, as the guerrillas dressed like civilians.
You could never tell who was the enemy was … therefore you treated everyone with suspicion”- Thomas Giltner, US Soldier Contested Spaces”The foreign US soldiers had no knowledge of the geography of Vietnam (jungles, mountains, rainforests, and climate) but the VC did, and used it to their advantage. The US, by engaging in massive firepower, killing many non-combatants, destroyed the US credibility in the minds of the people. The VC sympathised with the people’s hardships and this was effective as they won the people over. The VC had extensive knowledge of guerrilla warfare, it was their war, and the US fought tractional conventional warfare which did have some effected, but eventually the US ran out of will. The military operations were restricted to daylight hours where as the guerrillas could strike at anytime. The VC could predict the US movements, with loud helicopters, they could hear them coming from miles away and prepare and ambush.
The US continued to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but failed to destroy the north to south route. It had profound impact on the Vietnam War and was a fundamental reason why Hanoi won the conflict. The Ho Chi Minh Trail enabled Hanoi to launch its most ambitious campaign, the Tet Offensive.
But the main reason, and most effective part of the VC’s strategy was that they had a cause. It complemented with the nations socio-cultural and historic precedents. Together they vowed to eliminate all foreigners and their allies. This was an emotional appeal that the people could relate to and become passionate about and embrace. The US had no emotional cause. SV’s credibility lowered in the minds of the people because they were involving the US. The VC had the time to win the war, the US planned for a 6 month war, and the VC was patient and determined to win the war from the very start. The US military tactics were ineffective, in conjunction with this, so too was the US social policies. This is why it was inevitable that the US and the RoV were to lose the war.
The US and RoV Social policies were also a failure, and a major part to the inevitability of their loss. They were ineffective and ended up reversing upon the US. As part of the Strategic Hamlet Policy the US tried to pacify the countryside and in doing so, failed with no effect.
The Strategic Hamlet Program plan to round up villagers and placed them in hamlets constructed by South Vietnamese soldiers. The idea was to isolate the NLF from villagers and make its base of support. 12,000 hamlets were classified, according to an elaborate scheme: pacified”, contested” or hostile”. This program produced limited results and had a negative impact on relations between peasants and the Saigon government. Many villagers resented being forced off of their farm land.
The US in an effort to take the measure of civilian sympathies in the campaign to Win Hearts and Minds (WHAM) Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Vietnamese could never be won with the destruction created on peaceful villages by US B-52s and ground forces. Many civilians were killed as a result of this. This gave the VC enormous political advantages as they won the hearts and minds of the locals.
The Phoenix Program” was a plan to destroy the VC’s infrastructure at the Village level; South Vietnams Police force worked in conjunction with US Authorities and arrested thousands of people allegedly linked to the VC. In total, there was 80000 arrested and 30000 killed. The programme was very effective, it decimated the VC in many of its rural strongholds, but as the war intensified, it was the US, not the VC, that was seen as the enemy to the people. During this programme, many innocent lives were forsaken.
I was given a list of 200 people who had to be killed. When I left after six months, we still hadn’t killed anyone on the list. But we’d killed 206 other people”- Higgins – Vietnam”The strategy of a revolutionary war was designed to wear down the enemy, many battles may be fought, and lost, but the war could still be won. Revolutionary war takes years.
A form of warfare by which the strategically weaker side assumes the tactical offensive in selected forms, times and places. Guerrilla warfare is the weapon of the weak”- Professor SP Huntingdon from Revolutionary War” Hugh Purall.
Fighting guerrilla warfare is all about time, being patient in the time it takes to wear the enemy down; space, being able to be mobile, a move throughout the countryside to threaten the enemy. Another of the key elements to guerrilla warfare is cost; guerrillas must win the support of the people, as this is their only source of supplies.
A successful revolution had to be fought by the people not just on behalf of the people. The people had to be made to believe in the revolutionary. The North abided by rules that helped them win support of the people. They were called the six Forbiddances and the six Permissible’s. The Six Forbiddances included: don’t damage land, don’t steal, leave hens outside, never break word, never offend faith or customs, and never be contemptible to others. The Six Permissable’s included: help people in daily work, buy commodities for people, tell amusing stories, teach writing and hygiene, study customs of each region, and be correct in diligence and discipline.
The social strategy of the US consequently failed and turned the people to look to the North for leadership. Their strategies were totally inappropriate, and hence, ineffective. But the North stayed loyal to their cause, and this cause eventually consumed the people.
The Vietnamese people deeply love independence, freedom and peace. But in the face of United States aggression they have risen up, united as one man. - Ho Chi MinhWith the US winning constantly winning battles, they were not taking advantage of these victories, abandoning soon after conquering. Their social strategy was a failure and the combination of the military side of the war along with the social, led to political unrest on the home front, and ineffective politics of the Second Indochina War.
Tet” is the Buddhist New Year and an informal recognised truce was usually held. Beginning 1968, January 31st, Giap’s plan was to simultaneously attack all targets, but this had failed. But it did not diminish intensity of a campaign that nearly brought SV to its knees. Six major cities in SV were attacked, for nearly a week Saigon was in flames and the US embassy was temporarily occupied by VC.
The Tet offensive” was a military victory for the US/ARVN forces. The US claimed all military victories. All battles won by US and the casualty rates were in favour of the US after massive US bombing missions decimated NV positions.
The primary focus of the news in the US was the heroic struggle of the American soldiers to defeat communist menace in SV; the US population was led to believe they were winning the war. The US continued to claim there forces were pushing back the NVA into Laos and Cambodia. But as the conflict intensified, many news reporters clashed with military authorities in Saigon. The idea of US success was crushed by Tet Offensive in 1968, the world saw Saigon in flames and the US embassy occupied. Viewers began to question war effort. Hanoi’s military losses converted into a media victory as anti-war demonstrations accelerated in US.
Hanoi lost the Tet offensive because it was not a quick victory, troops were overextended and under supplied, the SV stood their ground and didn’t retreat, the US air power provided crucial support and no uprise of the people took place.
Our Tet plans required absolute secrecy and all soldiers took an oath of silence” We set goals which we realistically could not achieve.”- General Tran Van Tra 1987 – Contested Spaces”Even though the North lost the battle during the Tet Offensive, it was effective in diminishing the will of the US.
The Vietnam War, graphic, violent and undeclared – had a profound influence on American social, cultural and political history. The concept of a just cause” was essential in uniting home front support, but finding this just cause was becoming more difficult as the war intensified. Popular music became a youth symbol and songs suggested a new lifestyle, and focused on issues like world poverty, civil rights, racial identity, feminism and gay/lesbian awareness.
During 1965-1972, 500000 American males over 18 were sent conscription notices. The penalty for avoidance could be $10000 fine or 12 months of hard labour.
The anti-war movement thrived in America and Australia in the 60’s, mostly at University campuses. In the US, Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers organised public moratoriums or protest rallies.
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America not on the battlefields of Vietnam”.
Marshall McLuhan, 1975Following the Tet Offensive, Washington began secret negotiations with Hanoi to find a solution. Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) declined to run of office again, and Richard M Nixon was voted the President of the US in 1968. He was determined to get America out of the war, but he had two challenges, one, to negotiate to free prisoners of war in the north, and two, he wanted to achieve peace with honour” and this meant a withdrawal from war without admitting defeat or appear to be deserting SV.
Im not going to be the first American president to lose a war”- Richard Nixon, Oct. 1969The Policy of Vietnamisation” included the US continued financial aid to SV, US troop progressively withdrawing, and SV assuming major responsibility for the war. There were problems associated with this though, logistically, the ARVN relied heavily upon the US, and also relied on them for resources. SV would have to be trained to be responsible for technological tasks, and many malfunctions occurred. The US air support continued until 1973 though. But the Vietnamisation” programme failed due to the lack of support and initiative, poor training and morale, and corruption. The effect the strategy had was that it alienated the people; US soldier came home, hence, it being the beginning of the end.
As the war continued, the low morale kept declining. As the soldiers were conscripted and just wanted to survive to go home, they did not care for or understand the conflict. The high causality rates wore out the remaining soldiers and drug and alcohol abuse arose. There were also violent assaults on officers.
As the US morale declined, the will of the North continued to grow and the though of victory was running vividly in the minds of the NV and VC. The north had been successful in sapping the will of the south and US and with victory at their finger tips continues the same mentality of fighting until the very end. At this time, lives did not matter to the North and time didn’t either, they were prepared to fight for as long as it too.
The Second Indochina War resulted in the North victorious, with a total of 1.5 million dead, 900000 children orphaned and Soviet present. The US was defeated with the cost of 50000 dead and $1,500,000 million.
It was inevitable that the US and RoV were to be defeated in the Second Indochina war. What attributed to this defeat were not only the strengths of the North’s strategy of guerrilla warfare and the vital success of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in supplying the troops. The strategy of the US and the South was hopeless in all senses for this type of war. Their use of conventional techniques and Pacification programs in the end pushed the people to believe they are in fact the enemy. The fact that the North has an emotional cause appealing to the whole of the people and the all-round inappropriate strategy of the south and US it was inevitable from the stat that the South would be defeated.
Conflict in Indochina – Contested Spaces” Thomas CantwellWar without End” James HarpurHTA Modern History Study GuideExcel HSC Modern
History Study Guidehttp://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/vietnamhttp://www.vietnam-war.info/quotes/quotes4.phphttp://hsc.csu.edu.au/modern_history/international_studies/indochina/