View Full Version : Defeat Factors

Mike Chambord
02-06-2006, 02:08 PM

I am required to do an extended essay on why the USA lost in Vietnam, covering all "defeat factors" ie poor morale, language, unused to guerilla warfare, and media influences. I was wondering if anyone could point me in the direction of some material on this.



02-06-2006, 08:09 PM
I would look in the H-Diplo archives from 1999 -2006; there are a great many Vietnam War threads containing intense debates by diplomatic historians and political scientists, many of whom are specialists and/or vietnam vets over every aspect of the war. Plenty of bibliographic sources.

H-War would no doubt be a good place to look as well.

02-06-2006, 08:33 PM
... at our very own SWJ Reference Library (http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/reference.htm) - the Vietnam (http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/ref/vietnam.htm) section. That said, there are many, many "non-defeat factors" contained in the references - good things that must be drawn on as true lessons learned - the good, the bad and the ugly. Moreover, make sure to address the political and information (media) components in your paper - do not focus just on the military. In many cases the former drove the later.

02-06-2006, 09:57 PM
Yes - I would agree about not just focusing on the military aspects.

There is a new paper out now at the SSI site about "what went wrong in the Iraq war" and one of the points made is perhaps the biggest failure was assuming the military option could bring the results being sought. Perhaps the problem is not a military one but the idea that they were trying to resolve a non-military problem with a military solution.

Merv Benson
02-06-2006, 10:19 PM
Two books I recommend are Strategy for Defeat, by Admiral U.S.G. Sharp and Dereliction of Duty, by H.R. McMaster. Admiral Shap focuses on the air war over North Vietnam, while McMaster focuses on the war in the Pentagon. The two are somewhat interrelated when it comes to the militaries push for the "hard knock" and the restraint imposed by the Secretary of Defense and the President.

Of course there were other factors that caused the defeat. Many believe, including the communist, that if the US had cut the Ho Chi Minh trail the communist aggression would have failed. Another factor was the resistance to providing the force requested by the military effected the tactics and strategy that could be used. During the entire course of the war the US was kept on the strategic defensive by politicians who hoped that fighting the communist to a draw would force them to quit.

Another book that is interesting is The Secret War Against Hanoi, by Richard H. Shultz, Jr. This book focuses on Kennedy and Johnson's attempt to mirror the communist strategy.

Brian B
02-07-2006, 05:14 AM
You might read "Unheralded Victory" by Mark Woodruff. In the last 1/3 of his book he dissects what he considers to be all of the "myths" from the Vietnam War and reasons why we lost. It would not only provide you a good list to work from, but also give you the other side of the debate. Your choice whether you agree with him or not.

"How Democracies Lose Small Wars" by Gil Merom is a good study (akin to a doctoral thesis) on the subject as titled. From about page 233 on, he talks specifically about Vietnam.

"The Savage Wars of Peace" by Max Boot gives some perspective starting with Chapter 13.

You could also contact Dr. Peter Maslowski at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Don't have his e-mail handy, but you can track it through the University website. He's a Vietnam expert and I suspect he'll be more than happy to point you in the direction of the loss in Vietnam.

Good luck!

Mike Chambord
02-07-2006, 09:06 PM
Firstly, thanks for the swift replies.

The main aspect of my study is to focus on how the US media affected the war, turning public opinion against it. Basically, so far, I think that the US could realistically continued it indefinately if their had bean support, and would quite probably have worn down the VC, eventually. Also I was surprised by the free access given to US media, as we would never allow that here, (and I take it the US is much more contorlled now).
Karnow says that the US puplic would have been willing to sustain some economic and deaths damage if their had been some success, ie towns taken, but due to the nature of the war this was impossible as towns had to be captured over and over, and "success could only be measured in meaningless bodycounts".

PS sorry if my post is hard to understand, I am not greatly comfortable at writing in English.

Brian B
02-07-2006, 09:22 PM
I would still go with Unheralded Victory by Mark Woodruff. The premise of his book is to first illustrate how we won the battles beating both the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops. The last 1/3 he talks about all those things the media reported, the "myths" that were created, and how they influenced public opinion. His theme is we won the battles, but the media lost it for us, and here are the untruths they told to lose it for us.

"How Democracies Lose Small Wars" covers the subject to some degree as well. Gil Merom talks about societal factors which influenced the press, which in turn influenced society to degrade support for the war.

Those two would probably be the best of the 3 I previously recommended.

Also, If you haven't read through the 1947 commission report "A Free and Responsible Press" it can give you some background on why the press reports subjectively rather than objectively, beyond everything being filtered through the prism of one's own perspective.

02-07-2006, 09:59 PM
Over the last several years I have visited this site - Vietnam War Myths (http://www.rjsmith.com/war_myth.html) - as a springboard to counter those that actually have bought into revisionist history and to further research.

I have put together a compendium of the most virulent myths to come out of the Vietnam War. Some of these myths, because they have been repeated so many times, and have been showcased in some deplorable books and movies about the war, have taken on the status of "fact" in the minds of an alarming number of people. While some of these myths can be exposed as apocryphal tales by examining the statistics compiled during and after the war by independent sources, others are impossible to disprove (You can not "prove" a negative hypothesis. All that one can do is examine the evidence and determine if there is any susbstance to the allegations.

02-07-2006, 10:08 PM
About Face by Col. David Hackworth, It’s an autobiography but it has a lot of insight into the US Army during that time frame.

Merv Benson
02-07-2006, 10:12 PM
Peter Breastrup's The Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0891415319/002-3732600-1099232?v=glance&n=283155) is the classic study on the reporting and its effect on policy. It is a very good book. There is a review of the book here (http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1978/nov-dec/bishop.html).

Here are a few excerpts from the review:

The sheer volume of press and TV reports on Tet is intimidating, and, of course, almost every conceivable interpretation of events can be found in them. Nonetheless, Braestrup's analysis points to the emergence of several themes that came to dominate the coverage. The sober examination of these themes with hindsight reveals important misconceptions.

Misconception: There had been no warning of a coming offensive. Actually, the press ignored cautions expressed by General Earle Wheeler and General William C. Westmoreland in December and January.

Misconception: The offensive was a victory for Hanoi. The press corps, it is now clear, was stunned by the initial Tet attacks, many of which occurred in Saigon. When the allies met some initial reverses, the press reacted by emphasizing the enemy's successes. As the weeks wore on and military intelligence clearly indicated defeat for the insurgents, the press still interpreted the offensive as a "psychological victory" for the Vietcong/ North Vietnamese Army, who "held the initiative," "decide who lives and who dies... which planes land and which ones don't," who were unconcerned with losses, and could "take and hold any area they chose." There was little objective analysis of the many enemy failures or of the severe toll that allied counterblows exacted from the enemy.

Misconception: The North Vietnamese military initiative bared the unreliability and inefficiency of our own allies, the South Vietnamese. Government of Vietnam (GVN) troops were described as "lolling in the sun," failing to carry their load, and complacent. The press reported that the offensive shattered GVN control over the countryside and conclusively undermined the loyalty of the people.

A more truthful assessment: the GVN "muddled through" the crisis, Army of Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) performance was initially inhibited by the fact that half the Vietnamese troops were on Tet leave when the enemy struck, and many ARVN units gave a good account of themselves in the subsequent fighting. Press pronouncements that the offensive eroded loyalty to the GVN were ill-informed.

He goes on to discuss several flaws in the coverage. If you are asked to write how the media messed up in Vietnam, this is a must read book. The review is a pretty good summary of a few of the points made.

02-07-2006, 10:16 PM
Also I was surprised by the free access given to US media, as we would never allow that here, . . .

PS sorry if my post is hard to understand, I am not greatly comfortable at writing in English.

Nothing to worry about your English is excellent. I am curious where is “here”?