To what extent was the American War effort in Vietnam undermined by public opinion?

Topics: Vietnam War, Vietnam, United States Army Pages: 11 (3124 words) Published: May 4, 2004
The Vietnam War is viewed by the majority as one of the worst periods in American history. The Americans moved into Vietnam in 1954 under the pretence of fighting against an "evil and aggressive Communist regime"1. The government stated the Domino Theory as a reason for involving themselves in someone else's war, whereby if America did not stop Vietnam from falling to Communism then other countries would follow, and American liberty, free enterprise and security would be put at risk. It is hard to define one important reason for the American's defeat in Vietnam. There are many factors that explain it: restrictions on the military and tactics that the American army employed, coupled with the strength of the North Vietnamese Army. The war also cost a lot of money, which meant inflation, tax rises and America's economy suffering. The collapse of the home front and the lack of support from the media was cause for the presidents to retreat and was another reason for the undermining of the war effort. This information from home often leaked to the front line and caused the deterioration of troops' morale, also, the government was often criticised for not understanding the political nature of Vietnam, where no-one really understand or cared about the term democracy.

The general consensus by most historians is that the military tactics employed played a large part in determining the outcome of the war. Justin Wintle's 'The Vietnam Wars' concentrates on the military aspects, and suggests that while the Americans had a superior military and equipment, the tactics they used were useless due to the environment in Vietnam - Westmoreland's search-and-destroy operations would have been an effective opposition to guerrilla combat, 'or would have done had they been able to take place in a sealed environment ventilated by the Ho Chi Minh Trail'2, proving that the tactics used were inappropriate and not well thought out by the army generals. Even Major John Fenzel in the US Army agreed that defeat was due to tactical failures, which meant that they could not compete with the 'multi-faceted strategy of insurgency and protraction'3 of the North Vietnamese army. General Bruce Palmer Jr. stated that Vietnam was '...a devilishly clever mixture of conventional warfare fought somewhat unconventionally and guerrilla warfare fought in the classical manner'4. It was not just that the American strategy was ineffective; it was ineffective in the conditions and against a strong North Vietnamese army perfectly adapted to their environment. Due to the absolute strength of American air power, the Americans were lucky enough to keep a good death ratio where the number of Vietnamese deaths heavily outnumbered their own, however the fact that the war dragged on for so long greatly deteriorated the troops' morale. Obvious tactical failures were the Phoenix Program under Nixon where troops agents infiltrated into Vietnamese peasant districts to detect activists, and while its effect was obvious, its methods were seen to be violent and news of innocents being murdered soon reached home. Operation Apache Snow, where American soldiers attacked Vietcong taking refuge on Ap Bia, now more commonly known as 'Hamburger Hill'. Troops attacked with fire-fight, hand-to-hand combat and aerial bombardment, however this only served to increase opposition to the war, so 'Hamburger Hill' was abandoned, which impelled Senator Edward Kennedy to label the operation as 'senseless and irrseponsible'5. Morale among the troops was also decreasing. When tactics looked successful, morale was high. But as strategies resorted to a degree of barbarism with innocents being killed and bombing raids, news of lack of support from the home front reached the front line and the drawn out nature of the war ensured that morale soon deteriorated. Also, the experience of war was reasonably comfortable, as Saunders points out in 'Vietnam and the USA'; soldiers spent a considerable amount of time...
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