Why was the US defeated?

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  • Why the US was defeated in Vietnam
    • Unpopular American military tactics
      • The Americans tried to win the war from the air. Their tactics were brutal. As a result of this brutality and lack of sensitivity, they turned the Vietnamese people against them.
    • Operation Trail Dust 1961
      • The Americans used chemical weapons Napalm (jellied petrol) and Agent Orange (superior strength weed killer). This was used to clear foliage in the jungle which was the natural hiding place for the Vietcong. They also wanted to see along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Vietcong’s supply route.
      • Napalm did clear much of the undergrowth but it also stuck to humans and caused horrific injuries. Agent Orange also cleared the foliage but many innocent civilians’ farms and crops were lost, and animals were killed.
    • Strategic hamlets 1962
      • To prevent the Vietcong from hiding in southern villages, the South Vietnamese peasants were taken from their villages and settled in ‘strategic hamlets’. These were surrounded by barbed wire and controlled by the Americans. The peasants were opposed to this as they were far from their ancestral burial grounds and their farms, which they had tended for generations.
    • Operation Rolling Thunder 1965-1968
      • The Amercians bombed strategic targets in North Vietnam to stop the supply of troops and weapons to the South. There were not many industrial targets in the North so this was ineffective - bombs often missed targets and hit schools and hospitals.
    • Search and destroy missions
      • Working on intelligence, the Americans tried to weed out the Vietcong in the Southern hamlets. They would drop in by helicopter and kill those they thought were Vietcong. Many innocent civilians were killed. In 1968, a mission to the village of My Lai ended with the massacre of many innocent civilians, including women and children.
      • Vietnamese civilians were constantly caught in the crossfire and began to question whether the US army was really on their side. US troops became very unpopular.
    • Support from the Soviet Union and China
      • Both countries supported the reunification of Vietnam under the communist North.
      • They supplied the North and Vietcong with rockets, tanks and fighter planes.
    • Fighting for  a cause
      • The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were fighting for a cause - communism an the reunification of Vietnam.
      • They wouldn't surrender and refused to give in to US bombing.
      • They were prepared to accept very heavy casualties.
    • The US Troops
      • Many were too young and inexperienced and unable to cope with guerrilla warfare.
      • Most didn't understand why they were fighting in Vietnam.
      • This, in turn, led to a fall in morale with some resorting to drug taking and brutal behaviour such as the My Lai massacre.
    • Failure of US tactics
      • US tactics, especially 'Search and Destroy' and chemical warfare, encouraged even greater peasant support for the Vietcong in the countryside.
      • The US army failed to develop an effective response to Vietcong guerrilla tactics.
    • The Tet Offensive
      • This proved an important turning point in the conflict.
        • It showed that the Vietcong could strike at the heart of the American-held territory, especially the capture of the US Embassy in Saigon.
        • It brought a further loss of US military morale.
        • It suggested to the US public that the war was unwinnable and fuelled further criticism of US involvement.
    • Opposition at home
      • This undermined the war effort and was due to:
        • a failure to achieve a quick victory
        • televised pictures showing the horrors of war such as use of napalm.
        • casualties, with a total of 58,000 deaths
    • Effective guerrilla tactics
      • The Vietcong fought a 'low - tech' war using very successful guerrilla tactics that, for the most part, avoided pitched battles and reduced the effectiveness of the 'high - tech' methods and superior weaponry of the USA.
      • These methods were ideally suited to the jungle terrain of South Vietnam.
    • Support from the South Vietnamese
      • Many in the South supported the North and the Vietcong.
        • Others were alienated by US tactics and brutality. Their support, in turn, made the Vietcong guerrilla tactics far more effective.
        • Some believed in communism and reunification.


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