Cold War in Asia- Why did the US fail to win the Vietnam War?

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Role of US military

  • Motivation questionable- 10 million served.
  • Disunity- inexperienced and unpopular officers, disproportionate number of black combat troopss, disillusionment with aims.
  • "Comfortable war"- R&R in Saigon/Japan, 1966 30,000 war-orphaned prostitutes, 1/4 soldiers caught STDs, 1970 58% smoked 'pot' and 22% heorin.
  • Officers- served 5 months, under Nixon 83 officers killed by US soldiers.
  • Grunts- young foot soldiers, 19 years old, guerilla warfare (booby traps) had psycological effect not knowing enemy.
  • Poor relations with civilians- unable to win "hearts and minds". "If it's dead and Vietnamese, it's Vietcong". eg in My Lai Massacre
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Role of Vietcong & guerrilla warfare

Why were VC/NVA so successful?

  • Unpopularity of US- treated Vietnamese peasants as sub-human, struggled to win them over.
  • VC offered peasants fairer distribution of land.
  • Communist soldiers avoided the **** and pilage characteristics of ARVN (Saigon's Army of Republic of S Vietnam)
  • Good behaviour gained VC support of the peasants- important for their strategy of guerilla warfare.
  • Popularity- "won the hearts and minds" land reforms
  • Determination- fight till death, hatred of US.

Guerilla warfare:

  • 'Hit and run'
  • Used tunnels- long and sophisticated network
  • Reused ammunition.
  • Ho Chi Minh trail- nerver one set route
  • Relied of villagers support in south for food and shelter.
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Role of the Tet Offensive 1968

  • Military failure for communists, victory for US (General Westmoreland).
  • Psychological defeat for US- peortrayed by meadea as a communist defeat.
  • Was a series of surprise attacks by the VC and N Vietnamese forces, on cities, towns and hamlets in S Vietnam, starting on 31st Jan, an important Vietnamese holiday.
  • 70,000 VC attacked 36 cities and towns.
  • VC fought into the US Embassy grounds, failed to capture the building.
  • 45,000 NLF soldiers killed.
  • General Westmoreland required 200,000 more US soldiers.
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My Lai Massacre- March 1968

  • My Lai is a village in S Vietnam.
  • Search and destroy mission- US soldiers told to find members of VC in the village.
  • Hundreds of villagers were killed.
  • A number of US soldiers were charged- the Lieutenant who commanded the attack sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Split US opinion- many horrified, some thought that the villagers were hiding the VC.
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Opposition to the War in the US

  • Soldiers against the war due to atrocities committed and witnessed. 1960-73 503000 soldiers deserted posts.
  • My Lai Massacre- publicised in New York Times.
  • Anti-draft movement- increasing numbers in 1965, people tore up and burnt draft papers, 40000 soldiers called up per month. Boxer Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted.
  • Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organised 'teach-ins'
  • 1967, 100000 protestors listened to MLK speak at Lincoln Memorial.
  • Death count increases and oppostion. 1968- most amount of deaths.
  • Economic expense- $25 billion per year. Johnson's 'Great Society' reforms scrapped.
  • Hippie movement- 'love not war', Woodstock 1969, Lennon 'bed-in'/
  • US conduct was illegal- war crime tribunal 1967 found US prohibited weapons and torture.
  • Washington protests 1967 and 1971, NY protests 1966.
  • Disproportionate amount of black people were drafted to the War- black opposition- MLK.
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Nixon and the Bombing Campaign

  • Nixon elected as President in 1969.
  • Detente was the de-escalation and warming of Cold war tensions leading to a smaller chance of military confrontation.
  • Madman Strategy- Nixon used nuclar weapons as a threat to force peace talks, and acted like a 'madman', for example he used bombing threats to frighten Hanoi and pressured Ho into peace talks.
  • Escalation- Nixon warned Hon that if negotiationis didn't progress, he would have to escalate. Jan 1970 Nixon ordered Ho Chi Minh Trail to be heavily bombed. Spring Offensive. 
  • 'Vietnamisation' policy meant S Vietnamese soldiers had to fight. 1971 invasion of Laos, US supported ARVN, showed failure of Vietnamisation. 
  • Paris Peace Talks 1968-73, terms were all fighting in Indo-China would stop, US troops withdraw from Vietnam, US PoWs releaseed, elections held in South to choose new gov.
  • Thieu wasn't happy with terms (he knew ARVN no match for Communist forces) and rejected agreement.
  • December 1972, Nixon ordered massive bombing on North.
  • North started negotiations aginat and Thieu forced to accept agreement- Nixon over-ruled him.
  • Was signed in Paris on 27th Jan 1973.
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Northern Victory and Fall of Saigon 1975

  • By March 1973, all US troops had left Vietnam, apart from those protecting the embassy.
  • April 1975, Saigon fell to N Vietnamese forces.
  • Vietnamisation failed to prepare ARVN appropriately- too dependent on US.
  • General Thieu fled to Taiwan in April 1975- frightened of Communists.
  • By April 30th 1975 S Vietnam under Communist control.
  • Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city.
  • Nearly 5 million people killed during the war. 
  • US didn't restore relations with Vietnam- gave no money, or help during reconstruction.
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