Vietnam was an undeniable failure for the United States government. Despite expending more than $141 billion, and 56,000 American lives, the world’s largest military superpower was unable to achieve its sole strategic objective: to prevent Vietnam from falling under communist control. Historians are deeply divided over the reasons that led to US defeat. Most attribute the loss to several factors that each played a role. This topic offers an overview of those factors, with careful consideration of the evidence that both supports and refutes each claim as a viable reason for defeat.
The South Vietnamese Government should have done more to help with the war effort. It was their country, their civil war, and ultimately responsibility for defending it must fall on their shoulders.
No South Vietnamese Leader Mobilised the Population
The South Vietnamese Government produced a string of ineffective and incompetent leaders that couldn’t secure the support of the country.
The Vietnam War was unwinnable from the start.
An all-consuming quagmire
The war was already lost before Johnson put troops on the ground in 1965.
The Northern Vietnamese communists employed highly effective military strategies to defeat the US and South Vietnamese.
The Vietcong were adept at deploying guerrilla-style tactics against the US and South Vietnamese forces.
Knowing the Terrain
The communists were fighting on home soil. They knew the conditions far better.
The communists didn't win the war, the US lost it due to extensive flaws within its war strategy.
A Severely Limited Bombing Campaign
The US government’s bombing campaign across Northern Vietnam was tightly controlled and never given the freedom to strike targets that would cripple communist supply lines.
Losing the Hearts and Minds
The US conduct in Vietnam turned the local population against them, driving many into joining the communists.
The US could have won the war at any time if it had deployed atomic weapons.
The US intelligence in Vietnam left the US forces vulnerable to attack.
The domestic situation in the US meant that successive Presidents had their hands tied and could not dedicate the necessary resources to the war effort.
The “Gold and Dollar” Economic Crisis
An economic crisis severely limited the financial resources at Johnson's disposal.
Losing the American Public
Without the support of the American people, the President could not escalate the war any further.
This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Jan 2020 at 11:13 UTC