In this essay I will show you how and why the US withdrew its forces from Vietnam in the period of 1963 to 1973. They fought for SV against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Vietcong (VC) to try and stop the spread of Communism and the continuation of the Domino Theory. As the horrors went on the US realised they had more reason to leave rather than to stay in Vietnam. I will cover all the points which eventually made the USA begin vietnamization.
When the US joined the war they believed they could easily win by using the well trained marines and the most advanced weapons of he time, mainly relying on their superior air power and dominance over the NVA and VC to bomb them into submission. Yet the US soon learned that weapons alone could not beat the guerrilla tactics used by the VC, who also had the advantage of fighting on home soil. It would take some time before the young marines could get used to the gruesome conditions they had to fight in.
The VC avoided direct contact with the US soldiers (and therefore dodging the advanced US weapons) by moving in small groups throughout North Vietnamese (NV) villages, keeping no strongholds and thus using their primitive weaponry in the best way they could. This forced the US to start Search and Destroy missions (S&D), where US soldiers would be dropped by “chopper” outside Vietnamese villages.
They would then proceed to search the villages and interrogating all the villagers as the VC also wore civilian clothes to blend into the peasant population; they would then destroy anything which might possible be used by the VC, like weapons and ammunition. This led to possibly innocent villages being burnt down by US troops. This meant that it was very hard for the US troops to win the hearts and minds of the SV people, and making it more likely for more SV people to join the VC.
This explains how the VC replenished its troops so quickly after suffering huge losses at the hands of the US, in such events as the Tet Offensive. Whereas the NVA were the more ideal enemies for the US, as they fought in a more direct style, in open and more urban battle. They mainly protected the NV from any invasions and bombings, yet the VC took the brunt of the fighting, that’s why NV was so strong, the US simply couldn’t adapt to the VC’s guerrilla warfare.
The US troops were unused to the terrain they were fighting in and without support from the SV people they had little chance of beating the VC in ground warfare. They were finding it difficult to start the pro-Western government they needed in SV to encourage SV people to join the ARVN rather than the VC and use their knowledge of the land to aid the US. This was mainly because of the way the US treated the villagers. For instance the heavy bombing and use of chemical weapons destroyed the land and crops that a lot of villages relied on to sell and to eat.
Also the strategic hamlet idea angered villagers further; this was when the US selected one village that could be easily defended from the VC and they got all the villagers from miles around and crammed them into the one fortified village. Essentially forcing many SV people to give up their livelihoods and all their homes to be crammed into one village with a lot of strangers. They also moved away from their traditional burial grounds which for many played a large part in their communities. With little SV support the US could not find out much about the main route of supply used by the VC, the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Although they knew where it was they did not know which trails were dummy trails full of booby traps and mines to fool the US. Many bombs were wasted on unused trails as the US didn’t know which were actually being used by the VC. Basically the US had underestimated the determination of the VC to win the war. Even when the VC body count was triple the US body count, the influential leaders of NV ignored the deaths and focused on their achievements, saying which battles they had won and how many US troops had died.
Media coverage on Vietnam would have the opposite effect on the US as it showed killings of the VC, such as the My Lai massacre (also source M, pg45 of Sauvain) and seemed to portray the US as the “bad guys”, as they couldn’t show what the VC were doing they just focused on what the US was doing wrong. The first ever war to be covered by the media had disastrous effects leading up to the end of war. The VC were so successful because they showed determination and were influenced by NV leaders, whereas SV had never really recovered since Ngo Dinh Nhu was assassinated and had not really found another powerful leader.
So the NV soldiers and the VC had great motivation being inspired by Ho Chi Minh, and the SV had no real will to fight, mainly relying on the US to save them. Not only were US being hindered by the media but the young US soldiers were being demoralised by the sheer nature of the war itself, as riends were killed in gruesome booby traps, which for some young soldiers was too much to handle. This was showed in such gruesome events as the My Lai massacre (March 1968), where as in normal S&D missions soldiers were dropped outside the village of My Lai massacre, where many VC soldiers/sympathisers were believed to be.
Yet no one was even interrogated as officers ordered that all Vietnamese people were to be killed, up to 400 may have been slaughtered in this shocking display of brutality. Only two weapons were found in the whole village out of the hundreds of villagers murdered. Even children ere killed, who probably didn’t even know who the VC were. It was argued that some soldiers were reluctant to kill innocent people but feared a court marshal if they didn’t comply with their leaders.
Even though there is a rule stating that a soldier can disobey an order if `a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know to be illegal’ (pg33 Sauvain). This massacre was not only escalated in the press because it was essentially a war crime, but also because the US government tried to hide it and it was leaked out 18 months after. It also coincided with the Tet Offensive and therefore putting double the ressure on the US government to try and end the war quickly.
So the media jumped on it as it had been covered up, later on in the war this proved to have disastrous effects as massacres and losses like this for the US caused huge riots, which played a major part in making the decision to take US forces out of Vietnam. The strengths and advantages that the NVA and VC had led to the US taking drastic measures to try and defeat them, including the use of chemical weapons. It was obvious the Americans wanted to try and win the war quickly as they ignored professional scientists negative views n the use of chemical weapons.
This would lead to even more frustration of the public as the Government was ignoring professional at what seemed to be sensible advice. As S&D missions were seeming to have no effect on the VC, the US decided to use its airpower to even more devastating effect. Chemical weapons, such as Agent Orange and napalm were used to defoliate the forests and expose the hidden VC, so they could then be tracked down on the ground with guidance from helicopter and also bombed from the air. This worked in the sense that they did expose some VC, but it did also have an effect on the US as well.
For one, any civilians caught in the napalm dropped by aeroplane they would experience extreme pain and serious burns, also giving off a thick smoke making it hard to breathe. The defoliants would also destroy farm lands and crops, meaning that the US would be very unlikely to win the hearts and minds of any SV affected by the chemical weapons and also making them more likely to join the VC. Also not only did the defoliants kill farm land and crops but they gave off a toxin call dioxin which could cause cancer to those who handled it a lot. It was also known to cause birth defects, skin complaints, omiting and headaches.
The VC decided they needed to do something to counter act the US chemical weapons attack, as they could no longer find cover just under the thick foliage. So they began building tunnels and moving around in them, the US interpreted this as a victory as the VC were being forced to hide. Not only did the VC escape the chemical weapons, but also regular bombing and S&D missions, which meant soldiers were getting even more frustrated as it had now become hard to kill the VC, the Us knew it was going to be harder for them now but they claimed it was a victory as the VC were fleeing to the underground.
When US troops tried to take over VC tunnels it became very difficult as the VC would leave booby traps at the entrances and could wait in the tunnels to ambush entering US soldiers. Also when the tunnels were searched after the war had ended they were around 250 kilometres in total length; with underground kitchens, weapon stores, dormitories, hospitals and rest areas. The tunnels proved to actually be an advantage to the VC. On the ground they hide under foliage and still risk bombing, but underground they were almost completely safe from air attack.
By the time the tunnels had been built, it was obvious the sychological effect that the VC were having on US soldiers was taking its toll, and the My Lai massacre is just one of the bigger stories where US soldiers had tortured and murdered innocent people in cold blood. It seemed soldiers were taking out their frustration on the Vietnamese people. It was likely there were more cases of US troop brutality which had been successfully kept under wraps by the US government, unlike the My Lai massacre.
The main reason deemed responsible for the way US troops used torture to interrogate suspects, was the fact that many young soldiers had een conscripted, and therefore had very little training and weren’t trained in these kind of situations, they got frustrated very easily, and when a friend or a team mate died in the war, they could not handle the trauma of it all; and so decided to take it out their revenge on possibly innocent Vietnamese people.
This obviously meant they were not capturing the hearts and minds of the people they tortured or the people living in Vietnam who were aware of this brutality. So this would likely make more SV people join the VC, and not only that but it roused the media and more stories were made to ortray the US as the losing “side” in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam war was practically nothing compared the scale of the death in the WW’s but because of the media recording actual events happening it seemed much worse in comparison.
Even the Western World who essentially being policed by Uncle Sam were beginning to change their opinion on the war as it went on, they would see such horrors as the My Lai massacre in the news, but less of how the VC troops acted in possibly just as bad ways; such weird and sickening stories were heard from US troops how the VC had decapitated oldiers and put their heads on spikes coming out of the ground. Eventually many traumatised and/or injured soldiers returned to America, and a Vietnam veterans protest was held, it turned out to be one of the most influential and emotional protests which took place during the Vietnam war.
Veterans were seen in crutches and wheelchairs throwing down all their medals and honours they were given from the Vietnam War, it was a very emotional time for them and obviously had a dramatic effect on they way the public thought about the War in Vietnam. Some of the public realised that for so many veterans to turn p to try and end the War it must be much more horrific than the media had already shown them. This itself inspired more people to join the protests.
By the time of January 1968, the US believed they were on the brink of forcing the NV into peace talks, victory was in sight and a certain amount of complacency had crept into the US forces. When an attack came they were surprised and caught very much off guard. On the 31^st January 1968 the first major battle inside all of the cities and towns of SV began, the Tet Offenzive. Despite huge VC/NVA loses during the last few years, the NV had a huge amount of troops to stage a colossal attle fought in nearly all the biggest cities and towns in SV during the Tet festival.
This attack caused many soldiers to become down hearted as they began to believe they were still far from winning the war, at a time when the US didn’t even think NV had half the amount of soldiers that they were attacked by during the Tet festival. It was completely unexpected, firstly because of the fact that it was a festival and the NV would be celebrating it as well, secondly US officials and leaders had been saying in the news and on the TV that victory was in sight for the US troops.
Immediately the public thought hey had been misled by US officials for any number of reasons, possibly to try and stop the riots: `The Americans tell us they are winning the War. Well here we are. We’re in the centre of Saigon and this gunfire you can hear is pretty close. ‘ (Page38, Sauvain). One BBC reporter said this, basically summing up the way the public felt; confused and betrayed. Yet it seemed the US troops genuinely were not expecting such a large resistance, if any from NV.
At least the US troops were fighting on some familiar ground this time, in the cities, the type of warfare they had been trained for. This didn’t stop the media calling the Tet Offensive a complete loss for the US, simply because they knew nothing about the attack, believing NV only had a small amount of troops left in fighting condition until it started, and despite the fact that when it was over 71% of the deaths were VC/NVA and only 2% were US troops.
The Tet Offensive had a devastating and ongoing effect on the US, right up until the start of Vietnamization, it seemed to have a large impact on the public, simply because they had the power to start the offensive people in the US started to fear for the lives of their oved ones even more than before. The biased media pounced upon the chance to expose the US further, showing huge losses for the US, trying to prove that the US weren’t having a big as an effect on the VC and NVA forces as they thought they were.
People at home in the US started to realise that it wasn’t worth trying to stop the spread of Communism in exchange for the deaths of many US troops. After the Tet Offensive and the My Lai massacre the protests in the US began to get more serious, the resistance formed by the VC and NVA caused even more people to join the protests. The protests were caused y many things, such as the media involvement in the War, thing like the My Lai massacre, the Tet Offensive was just a spark to begin an uproar of colossal protests.
Such was the time of the protests, they were made even vaster because of the “hippie” movement and the want to `make love not war’. Many believed the War was immoral and that the US had no right to impose its views on a poor nation like Vietnam. Some scientists criticised the use of chemical weapons because of the effect it had on people and the environment. All of these factors and many more escalated the protests, which all had a massive effect on the US presence in Vietnam. Thus putting more pressure on the US government to end the war, whether they won or not, but just to stop all the deaths of US soldiers.
The younger generation of the US public were making themselves heard as many people of their own age were being sent to fight in the horrific Vietnam War because of the draft system. Such as the protest in Kent State University which began on Saturday 2^nd May where over 800 people rallied against the War, one university building was burnt down. Then on Sunday everything settled, but then on Monday 4^th May the protests took a sinister turn. Guardsmen had been brought in to help the police as the protests got stronger, yet they were untrained in this kind of scenario and might panic easily.
When they ran out of their primary weapon, tear gas, and some protesters were still advancing towards them, they resorted to using their guns. By the end of the atrocity four students were dead and some other injured. The consequences of the shootings were disastrous; it sparked hundreds of protests, especially in universities. The public were so angry because America was a democracy where strikes and protests are supposed to be legal. So when people in their early twenties were shot t Kent State University it was essentially a murder against an unarmed youth.
This put huge pressure on the US government to try and end the war peacefully and quickly. LBJ had been trying to end the war peacefully since 1966, but his efforts only really became urgent after the My Lai massacre and the Tet Offensive (both in 1968). This was when the media had really started to be very biased against the war and when major protests began. Things like the Kent State disaster made it even more difficult for the government and put them under more pressure from the media and even more pressure to bring the War to a peaceful end.
The US offered NV an ultimatum, they would stop bombing NV if they would begin peace talks, where the NV would not try and take advantage of the lull in bombing. NV accepted the offer and so peace talks began in 1969 and eventually ended in 1975. The peace talks were difficult for the US because they are a democracy and every decision made had to be accounted for by an electorate or to a parliament. Whereas NV just had a small group of seven people chosen by ruling Communist party. Also in 1969 Richard Nixon came into power in the US. Who’s main policy had been to bring the Vietnam War to an end.