America’s political agenda in Vietnam is not as clear as it should be. Existing literature purports that, part of America’s agenda in Vietnam was to stop the spread of communism and in other literature excerpts, it is reported that, America was persuading North Vietnam to stop supporting the war in South Vietnam (Xomba, 2009, p. 1).
Nonetheless, it is important to note that, North Vietnam was largely a communist state and South Vietnam was a capitalistic-friendly state. The war was therefore waged along this line, with partners grouping together along the same socio-political line.
Regardless of the social grouping, the Vietnam War was many things to many people because it was seen to expose the divide existing between America’s civil leadership and its military wing.
Comprehensively, the Vietnam War led to widespread casualties for Vietnamese and American soldiers because it continued for a long time (between 1957 and 1975). Though the war was initially meant to fight communism and its antecedents, it ended with severe casualties and mistrust of the American government (to its people and the international community).
In addition, the American government suffered heavy financial losses of up to 140 billion dollars to finance the war alone (Xomba, 2009, p. 1). Most importantly, America failed to advance its agenda in the Asian nation.
It is also a matter of no controversy that the Vietnam War was a unique American war as noted by Drew (1986) who explains that, “It illustrated the difficulty in prosecuting a conventional war against an unconventional enemy and in waging a limited war against an enemy waging an essentially unlimited war” (p. 1).
North Vietnam perceived the Vietnam War as another form of colonial imperialism which was first advanced by France, US and now South Vietnam. In other words, North Vietnam perceived the South as another colonial puppet, but America perceived the war as part of North Vietnam’s strategy to take over the South (Xomba, 2009, p. 1).
Most of America’s objectives were not achieved after the war ended in 1973 but both divides (North and South Vietnam) were unified in 1973 (Drew, 1986).
With a keen emphasis on strategy and retrospect, this study establishes that America failed to advance its political agenda in Vietnam because of its failure to understand the nature of its enemy, its poor justification for engaging in the war, its political interference with the Vietnamese government, and the deep-seated contempt Americans had, about the war and its consequent impact on the morale of its soldiers.
These reasons are further complemented by the tribulations American soldiers suffered in Vietnam.
The Domino theory was introduced by the then American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower as an excuse to invade Vietnam. This strategy (as was later evidenced) was fear-driven by the fact that, after the French exited South Vietnam, the country would fall into communism and comprehensively, the entire Southeast Asia would follow the same precedent (Xomba, 2009).
Obviously, this theory was entirely wrong. Eisenhower also believed that if Southeast Asia was entirely under communism, the sociopolitical trend would soon spread into America, and this would eventually cause social instability in the Western world.
To America, communism was wrong and it acted like a deceptive tool used by its protagonists to make people believe the world would be a better place if it is adopted. Communism was also perceived as a domino whereby, if one country fell into it, it would spread like a crawling snake into other nations and eventually become uncontrollable.
Due to this reason, the American government managed to convince its people that, the Vietnam War was waged along the lines of protecting the interests of Americans from the deceptive and devastating effects of communism. This argument failed to sustain in the long run.
The failure of the domino theory was the first base of America’s failure in Vietnam because it was based on assumptions and not facts. In fact, the theory failed to stand true in some Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia where it was feared that communism would also spread (Drew, 1986).
Moreover, the theory was wrong because there was no such concept as “global communism” because most wars, thought to be for communism, were majorly fought along nationalistic lines and not on communism lines. For example, the exit of the French out of Vietnam was not because of the spread of communism but rather, the spread of nationalism in Vietnam (Xomba, 2009).
Moreover, there was an apparent rift between some communist states like Vietnam and Cambodia, and Russia and China. This showed that communism was no unifying factor for nations but rather a social element which had no significant effect on the manner countries related. Instead, territorial issues and nationalistic concerns were of more importance to states as opposed to communism.
In real sense, America was hiding under the pretext of the domino theory, oblivious to the real causes of a civil disobedience in Vietnam (of successive governments it continually supported).
This fact means that, there was a growing discontent among Vietnams (of American-backed governments) because of the widespread corruption they perpetrated and the continuous human right abuses that prevailed (Xomba, 2009, p. 3).
Considering the Domino theory was wrong, the real reason why America invaded Vietnam could therefore not be substantiated. This was the first reason why America’s political agenda could not be achieved in Vietnam.
The US had consistently interfered in the politics of Vietnam by pinpointing rulers for the Asian state. This was largely seen as an interference of the democratic rights of Vietnam and an upheaval of America’s agenda and interests at the expense of Vietnam’s (Xomba, 2009, p. 4).
However, the biggest mistake that the American government made was to appoint Ngo Dinh as the president of South Vietnam because he already had a poor track record of social justice (in terms of religious justice).
This was evidenced because he was known to persecute Buddhists, while South Vietnam was largely a Buddhist state. Consequently, there was a growing contempt of the government because the population felt alienated from it.
As was expected, Dinh never did any justice to the population of South Vietnam because he took a self-righteous strategy, based on catholic principles and eventually did more harm than good (in terms of social justice to the South Vietnam population).
For instance, he destroyed the graves of ancestral Buddhist leaders and generally stood as a hurdle in exercising the democratic rights of the people of South Vietnam (Xomba, 2009).
These actions completely led to a growth of mistrust among the people of South Vietnam towards the South Vietnam government, but more importantly, it led to the growth of mistrust between the people of South Vietnam and the American government.
The people of South Vietnam therefore started having reservations over the true intention of America’s governmental interference with South Vietnam. At that point, America was seen to be a selfish nation.
The increased unpopularity of America in Vietnam led to the development of a liberalization movement which brought together nationalists and communists to fight the Americans. Xomba (2009) acknowledges that “The Vietnamese were fighting for liberation against the Saigon regime and the scepter of colonialism that the United States itself was representing” (p. 6).
In retaliation, The US government started a series of bombings in Vietnam which consequently led to widespread human devastation which consequently alienated the international community. The heavy human toll also led to a growing contempt from Americans on the actions of its government (Drew, 1986, p. 6). The growing contempt of the American population further motivated the Vietnamese soldiers to fight harder.
Nonetheless, what the American government failed to acknowledge was the fact that, it continued to kill innocent Vietnamese civilians through military means while the war could not be won through military means in the first place (but rather, through political means).
Also, instead of acknowledging this fact, the American government remained defiant and proud of its involvement in Vietnam. This further led to a massive loss of human lives.
Experts note that, the American government was oblivious of the deep-seated issues among the people of Vietnam because it remained defiant and fearful of the fact that other communist states would see its failure in Vietnam as a win for communism (Drew, 1986, p. 7).
Moreover, the American government failed to acknowledge the resilience of its enemy, in the sense that, its enemies could not be distracted, coerced or deterred.
This misunderstanding came from the fact that, America failed to understand that Vietnam had its own unique culture and it could not win the war through its conventional military means. This fact led many observers to the conclusion that, the Vietnam War was already lost, way before the war started, because America invaded the country for reasons which were not justifiable in the first place.
Unfamiliarity with Vietnam
US troops operating in Vietnam experience combat challenges because they were not familiar with Vietnam terrain. Most American soldiers were on the contrary used to fighting in open terrain such as Europe (Xomba, 2009, p. 9). This means that, the enemies were advantaged geographically because of their familiarity with the Vietnamese terrain.
This fact can be evidenced from the observation that, local military groups launched ambush attacks on US soldiers and later retreated into hideouts which were difficult to unearth. Moreover, it was reported that, local combat groups used unfamiliar terrain, bordering Russia and China to get ammunition and food supplies from sympathetic countries (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
This further strengthened their military muscle. Moreover, their military base was unfamiliar to the American soldiers and such was the case evidenced with the Cu Chi military base in Vietnam which spread through a vast 200 miles and equipped with underground escape channels used by the local military groups (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
Furthermore, it was difficult for American troops to distinguish Vietnamese enemies from civilians, or understand their character in the first place. This is the reason assumed to have led to the extensive civilian casualties registered after the war (Drew, 1986).
It is even affirmed that, it was difficult for the civilians to distinguish the combat men from the civilian population, the same way it was difficult to distinguish friends from foes (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
Another reason that made Americans lose the Vietnam War was the low morale and support, given to the war back at home. The poor morale evidenced from home was also reflected in the battlefield because several American casualties were being registered and the war was not justifiable in the first place.
Moreover, it was claimed that several young American soldiers suffered immense casualties in a war they were forced to fight (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
The media especially played a huge role towards the growing contempt Americans had because images of casualties and widespread destruction and devastation were beamed throughout America, thereby prompting the American population to withdraw their support of the war because they perceived the war as unnecessary and not worth fighting for in the first place.
The American government consequently suffered a battered image in the eyes of its public, thereby increasing concerns on the reasons the government was fighting the war in the first place (because it was supposed to represent the interests of the American population).
On the contrary, the morale of the Vietnamese soldiers was increasingly high because it had the backing of the local population who perceived America’s involvement In Vietnam as imperialistic and motivated by selfish interests (Xomba, 2009, p. 14). Vietnamese soldiers therefore believed they were fighting for the right cause.
The odds were therefore against the American government because its soldier failed to understand the war in the first place. In other words, the reasons why America engaged in the war was ambiguous. In addition to the low morale US soldiers suffered, many felt distressed and fearful of the reasons why their government was fighting the war (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
Moreover, there were allegations that the US government recruited many young soldiers who never had a strong family footing back at home and therefore had very little to fall back on when they returned home (Xomba, 2009, p. 14).
America’s failure to advance its political agenda in Vietnam was caused by several reasons. However, the biggest reason advocated in this study is America’s failure to exhibit goodwill to both its citizens and the Vietnamese population. Factoring in all the reasons advocated in this study, we see that America was fighting a war it had already lost in the first place.
This sentiment can be evidenced from the fact that, there was a growing sense of discontent of the war within the American population and the Vietnamese citizens.
The contempt of the Americans of the war can be attributed to the failure of the US to justify its involvement in Vietnam, while the contempt exhibited by the Vietnamese population can be attributed to the dishonesty of Americans in interfering with the politics of Vietnam.
These reasons alienated the American government from its citizens and consequently its soldiers. Moreover, the discontent was further exacerbated by poor strategies in engaging the enemy.
More importantly, the arrogance exhibited by the American government, compounded by the failure of the American government to acknowledge the differences in culture between America and Vietnam contributed to the failure of America in Vietnam. The failure of America to win the Vietnam War can therefore be attributed to poor strategies and a lack of home and local support.
Drew, D. (1986). Rolling Thunder 1965: Anatomy of a Failure. Retrieved from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/readings/drew2.htm
Xomba. (2009). How the US Failed in the Vietnam War. Web.