Vietnam was split into North Vietnam, communist and South Vietnam, capitalist and used to be part of French Indo-China, occupied by the French. The leader of the Vietnamese communist was Ho Chi Minh who set up the league for the independence of Vietnam, this was named the Vietminh. The Vietminh set up guerrilla operations to defend against Japan and France in Northern Vietnam; they defended with success and later beat the French again with the clever guerrilla Warfare at Dien Bien Phu.
The lead to the Vietnam War was because of America’s fear of the domino theory coming into effect. This theory was that, due to neighbouring countries like China and North Korea falling into communism, then North Vietnam, South Vietnam would be next and this was definitely not what the USA wanted to see happen. Subsequently, this drive in fear lead America to take action against the Ho Chi Minh policies and his anti-capitalist ideas. US troops fought in South Vietnam and worked alongside the ARVN when the Vietcong assassinated South Vietnamese officials between 1959 and 1961. This in turn kick-started the War between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, along with America.
The US set up numerous tactics to help them defeat the Vietcong in South Vietnam but all of these failed as the Vietcong knew their own country inside out through their dense jungles, unlike the US troops. One of many tactics was ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ this was a plan to destroy North Vietnam’s supply routes to the NLF in the South Vietnam. This was to ensure the Vietcong would soon run out of weapons and equipment. However the Vietcong, unaware by the Americans and President Johnson, got their supplies from China and USSR, because of their allies and the Soviet Union on their side. President Johnson also believed that bombing North Vietnamese areas would convince the Vietcong that America wouldn’t give up, hoping to persuade a compromisation between them and North Vietnam. This failed as there were hardly any factories to bomb as Vietnam was mostly countryside. This tactic was planned to last eight weeks but instead carried over three and a half years and another flaw in the plan was that by bombing innocent Vietnamese civilians, the Vietcong would obviously be infuriated and would want instant revenge.
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Another US tactic was ‘Search and destroy’, an operation by the General Westmoreland, the commander of the US forces. This was a plan to search and destroy the enemy forces of the NVA that were operating in the south, like the secret officials. This plan was to cut down guerrilla Vietcong fighters but again this was a main failure as the US troops couldn’t see or fight at their optimum in the tricky dense jungles. Also the US troops couldn’t tell between Vietcong enemies or Vietnamese civilians as they wore the same clothes and it was hard to spot them in the jungles. After the Vietcong would kill American soldiers, the friends of these soldiers would be frustrated and frightened and so went to Vietnamese villages and carried out Zippo raids; killing innocent civilians. In turn, this led to failure of the ‘Battle of the hearts and minds’ as the US troops would not get the peasants of Vietnam on their side and instead would follow the Vietcong’s side. This played a major part in the withdrawal in Vietnam as during the Vietnam War, a lot of innocent civilians were killed and due to the effect of the media and no censorship, Americans did not like what they were seeing or hearing.
There were still other failures of US tactics as well as the unpopularity of them which itself lead to failure also. Another tactic was ‘Body Count’ this was a plan to kill as many Vietcong as possible; this failed with the same reason, US soldiers couldn’t tell between civilians and the Vietcong and so again ended up killing innocent civilians due to confusion and fear of these soldiers, like ‘cherries’ who were inexperienced soldiers imported after one year, where they replaced good American soldiers who had already served one year. These ‘cherries’ didn’t get accepted and were seen as weaker and careless and so made it difficult for them to get along with their officers and fellow soldiers. This in turn lead to ‘fragging’ because when it was coming close for the US troops to go home, they wanted to stay alive and not be sent into combat; so they then killed their officers by shooting them so they wouldn’t have to fight. The ‘Body Count’ also failed because the Vietcong would take the dead bodies with them and US troops wouldn’t check and so they lied to the officers and gave phoney information.
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Like the other failed reasons, cluster bombs, napalm and defoliants helped towards the failure as more innocent civilians were killed. Cluster bombs turned to shrapnel, after dividing into smaller bombs and killed Vietnamese civilians as they were close to where the Vietcong fought. Napalm was liquid petroleum jelly that when exposed would attach to the skin and burn the flesh at eight hundred degrees. This, tragically, killed innocent people and children and because of no censorship, Americans back in the USA witnessed shocking images, where the role of the media was involved in turning America more against the War. Napalm would also be accidentally thrust on US troops and killed them, this was clearly a failure.
Defoliants were chemicals sprayed on vegetation in the jungles so it would kill the crops, leaving no cover for the Vietcong but the Vietcong had other places to hide for their guerrilla tactics. The defoliants would be traced in streams, where the American soldiers drank, and one common defoliant was ‘Agent Orange’ which caused cancer and killed peasants as it killed crops which led to starvation.
Throughout the War, the US troops were transported in helicopters as there were no roads and they had to fight in the dense jungles. This was a bad thing as the Vietcong could hear them coming and could hides and wait for them to land, where they ambushed the US troops. The Vietcong were cleverer and their tactics were successes and one of these was the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was during the Tet holiday in 1968 and when the Vietcong ambushed towns and cities in South Vietnam, they had to ban their guerrilla tactics which was a mistake as it was a military defeat as they weren’t well equipped in South Vietnam. However it was a political victory as the ’15-man suicide squad’ broke into the American Embassy in South Vietnam and they were killed by US troops. Because of no censorship, America was astonished to see that the Vietcong broke into the embassy and this annoyed Americans as they were paying higher taxes on a War that they were losing.
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The credibility gap also annoyed Americans as the role of the media helped them see the truth but the government used propaganda by telling them they were winning when evidently they weren’t. Many images stunned America, like the girl being napalmed; America was upset after these pictures were published. There was also an interview that was broadcasted with a Colonel stating he would kill any innocent Vietnamese who were in any of the buildings they were going to bomb because of Vietcong suspects. These images and President Johnson’s tax raising procedure both annoyed and angered Americans and simultaneously turned them against the Vietnam War.
Other Vietcong tactics were also proven successful like: guerrilla tactics in the dense jungles, booby traps, mines, tunnels and the Ho Chi Minh trail. The booby traps were pits that could hold men in them underground; these traps were simply made up of trip wires and sharpened bamboo plants that could slice through the sides of the feet. Grenades were attached to trip wires, killing many US troops. Tunnels were discreet and hidden many kilometres along underground where the Vietcong would hide out and could set the traps and shoot US troops. The Vietcong would get to South Vietnam, like the ambushes in the Tet Offensive through the Ho Chi Minh trail; they could easily travel through the jungles, where they had the advantage. All of these tactics as well as the battle for hearts and minds proved successful. The battle for hearts and minds was to get the peasants of South Vietnam on the Vietcong’s side by giving them land and they would help them with food and supplies in return, this was why it annoyed the Americans, causing Zippo raids and massacres. One massacre that stood out in America was the ‘MyLai Massacre’, where the US soldiers ambushed the village of MyLai and they killed men, women, children and babies as well as raping the women. This had divided reactions in America as people just thought it was false and that the civilians were in fact Vietcong but some Americans saw these images and were consequently disturbed by them and were horrified.
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The images and the uncensored broadcasts caused the anti-war movements in America, like the draft cards being burned in public as an act of protest. People were aware they were losing as well as disgusted by the publications of images of innocent Vietnamese civilians being murdered and to add to this, President Johnson made Americans pay higher taxes for a war they knew they weren’t winning. Also Johnson had promised a ‘great society’ where black people and the poor would have a decent welfare system but this didn’t happen, causing aggravation with Martin Luther King, who led the black civil rights campaign. This lead to protests and students protesting, so Johnson quit as he knew he wouldn’t get re-elected as he was a blame for the War. So when Richard Nixon was elected for presidency, he announced in 1970 that he was sending US troops in neutral Cambodia, students feared another Vietnam and started protesting in universities all over the United States. In Kent State University, four students were shot dead by National Guard soldiers which then caused four hundred more strikes and protests.
All of these protests made Nixon realise he wouldn’t be re-elected if he didn’t withdraw from Vietnam and so he made a decision in 1972 to withdraw which won Americans’ votes. President Nixon was already unpopular due to his illegal ways of hiding information in the White House and the issue of the Pentagon Papers, and so he knew he had to withdraw. The Pentagon Papers were published in 1971 in the New York Times newspaper, which showed the American public the confidential documents to do with the Vietnam War from the 1940s and onwards. These papers showed the USA how the government lied about or covered up incidents connected to the Vietnam War. There were four thousand pages of these and the documents were collected by a Pentagon employee in 1967 called Daniel Ellsberg. Others, as well as Ellsberg then added roughly another three thousand pages which contained analysis of the documents. Together, these became known as the Pentagon Papers.
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Nixon then came up with ‘Vietnamisation’ in which he wanted US troops to leave Vietnam gradually without making it look like they were losing despite America knowing this, and so Nixon carried on bombing North Vietnam, however the Hanoi government knew to hold on and stand their ground as they knew Nixon would withdraw eventually due to the anti-war movement in America.
In the leading to the withdrawal of Americans in Vietnam, it was because of poor tactics and no censorship, which created the main part, which was the protests, leading to Nixon withdrawing from Vietnam. Moreover, during Vietnam, America failed from the start as they were entering their enemy’s homeland as the Vietcong knew the dense jungles and their countryside and of course the Vietcong had been fighting the War victoriously since 1939 as well as being one step ahead. Again, this and the fact there was no censorship was the jump start as America realised they were being lied to and could see they were losing despite propaganda and was shocked to see the horrifying images, creating anti-war movements, which ultimately led to Nixon withdrawing as he knew he had to, to be re-elected to amend his past unpopularity. This consequently meant that the Americans withdrew in 1973 and that North Vietnam was the communist victory and resulted in them reunited with South Vietnam.