.. tely through the use of air power. More tonnage of ordinance was dropped in any given week during Vietnam than during all other wars in the history of the world combined. One would think this would make the war easy to win. Unfortunately, ethical problems and lack of planning made it impossible to settle the war in the air, thus forcing the U.S. to invade with ground forces.
Westmoreland and the Ground War President Johnson chose General William C. Westmoreland to command the land forces in Vietnam. Westmoreland, a tall, rugged man from South Carolina, was know for his enthusiasm, and for always having good news from the front lines. Westmoreland commanded over 500,000 troops at the peak of the war, and was still unable to crush the Viet Cong, as hoped by most of Washington. 3 But there were many factors that contributed to our startling defeat on the ground in Vietnam. The first and foremost was the difference in tactics between the Americans and the North Vietnamese. The VC were ruthless soldiers, who, even though sometimes poorly trained, fought with as much drive and enthusiasm as the best trained soldiers in the world. The VC used something called guerrilla tactics.
They would recruit children, tie themselves to trees, use babies as bait for booby traps, and other ‘unethical’ things. American soldiers stopped accepting the drinks offered to them by young Vietnamese boys after a few unfortunate GIs found out the ice was really crushed up glass. These and other fighting techniques such as strapping explosives to kids and having them run up to soldiers, were a few of the toils U.S. soldiers had to deal with. Also on the tactics side, the entire U.S. offensive consisted of a myriad of ‘search and destroy’ missions.
S & D missions involved a patrol, (usually 10-35 soldiers), going out of the base and finding (then killing) the enemy. Unfortunately, the booby traps placed by the VC and the fact that they knew the land and could hide, meant the S & D missions were like throwing soldiers away. In fact, more U.S. soldiers were killed from booby traps than any other cause of death in Vietnam. Weapons were another problem in Vietnam. Again going back to World War II, the massive armored assaults that won the war for the allies were useless in the dense jungle.
U.S. armor was limited to using M113 troop carriers with machine guns on them, instead of using the more effective M60 tanks and artillery. 3 So Westmoreland was forced to rethink tactics, as well as use weapons and strategies untested in the history of American warfare. Other difficulties with weapons were rampant. The M-16, a revolutionary new infantry rifle, was prone to frequent jams as well as water damage. And in a country when it rains almost every day, that wasn’t good news.
Also, U.S. commanders underestimated the power of the Viet Cong’s weapons, thinking that they only had muskets and bolt-action rifles. But since the Chinese and Russians were supplying the VC with modern AK-47s and other similar arms, the officers were faced with one nasty surprise after another. Weapons, though new and advanced, can still have weaknesses, and the battlefields in Vietnam exploited almost all the weaknesses of our weapons. However, with tactics that could use the strengths and all but eliminate the weaknesses, the ground war would have also been a snap.
This shows that relying too heavily on technology and not enough on battle-tested weapons can be downright deadly. Leaders, Washington, and the Morale Issue While Johnson and Westmoreland had loads of support at the beginning of the war, as the American people started to see that the war was unwinnable, their support began to decline. 1 in 5 of every soldier who fought- and died- was drafted, 1 and this caused distress among the public. Draft cards were burned publicly, schools walked out in protest of the war, and even large music events were held to somehow stop the fighting. With all this public opinion against the war, one would wonder why the fighting continued. The reason is evident to us now, considering that hindsight is 20/20.
General Westmoreland manipulated the body counts for both side to make it look like we were always winning. Not only did Westmoreland lie, but he failed to mention that the pool from which VC and NVA soldiers came from was almost the entire country. With lawmakers telling you one thing and the television telling you another, what would you think. Obviously, it is extremely hard to fight a war where your home country doesn’t even support you putting your life on the line. Life on the battlefield wasn’t exactly pretty, either.
Daily firefights, dead comrades, and officers who were fresher than you were were a few of the troubles grunts had to deal with on the battlefield. Drug use was rampant, soldiers would get high before battles to help them forget about what they were doing. 4 Mutiny was common, and the amount of soldiers who went AWOL was higher than any other war. With soldiers who didn’t know what they were fighting for and people at home who didn’t support you, what else could go wrong? Only one thing, and it happened to go wrong. The largest reason why we lost the war is very apparent, and fits in nicely with this section.
When one is fighting for a country’s independence, and the citizens of that country don’t support the efforts, trouble abounds. 7 The South Vietnamese were not happy about U.S. soldiers being in their country, and it showed. Every day, thousands of South Vietnamese joined the Viet Cong, so the American soldiers never knew who to trust, and who to shoot. Not having the support of the people you’re fighting for is the worst curse that can be bestowed onto a military. Westmoreland and Johnson should have figured out the root of the problem before sending more troops, and the problem was that the American weapons were destroying the peaceful farmer’s fields and burning their villages. For a people as far away from the conflict and as apathetic towards the war as they were, it is surprising we lasted this long without being forced to capitulate. The saddest chapter in American history could easily have been avoided, with a combination of good leadership, planning, preparedness, and morale.
Perhaps in the future, American soldiers will know what they are fighting for, be equipped for the conditions, and not be thrown mercilessly into the meat grinder of an already-lost battle. Only the future, however, will tell.. Bibliography (Note; numbers are used for identifying citations) 1. Becker, Elizabeth. America’s Vietnam War. New York: Clinton Books, 1992 2.
Gregory, Barry. River War. The Vietnam War (series of books). New York: Marshall Cavendish corporation, 1988. 3.
Gregory, Barry. The Grunts. The Vietnam War (series of books). New York: Marshall Cavendish corporation, 1988. 4. Gregory, Barry.
The Air War. The Vietnam War (series of books). New York: Marshall Cavendish corporation, 1988. 5. Gregory, Barry.
The Green Berets. The Vietnam War (series of books). New York: Marshall Cavendish corporation, 1988. 6. Lomperis, Timothy J.
The War Everyone Lost – and Won. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1993 7. McNamara, Robert S. In Retrospect. New York: Random House, 1995 8.
Westmoreland, General William C. A Soldier Reports. New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1976.