Yesterday, I quoted from an early entry in this blog. But since I wrote that post more than two years ago, I’ve done considerable reading and thinking about Vietnam. Here’s where I stand today:
Could we have won the Vietnam war? Probably not, even if we had (a) been willing to risk war with China by invading North Vietnam, (b) continued the war for many more years, and/or (3) resorted to nuclear weapons.
Winning would have meant effectively conquering the country and removing the communist government by an invasion of North Vietnam. That would have invited the Chinese to rush to the defense of the North Vietnamese.
Why was an invasion required? Because the North Vietnamese were committed to what they considered national independence—that is, freedom from foreign domination—even if every one of them had to die in the process. We were astonished at the number of casualties they willingly suffered while continuing to fight against a militarily superior American force. Westmoreland’s “war of attrition” was doomed to failure.
And even we if had been able to destroy the government apparatus in Hanoi, guerrilla activity throughout the country would have continued unabated, just as it did all through the war. We had been unable, for eleven years, to locate and destroy North Vietnamese military forces because they used guerrilla tactics as described by Mao Tse Tung: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” Hence, the U.S. military spent a great of time looking for the enemy and not finding him. It would have been a very long war, far beyond the tolerance of the American population.
So now, two years after the original blog I cited yesterday, I’ve concluded that the U.S. could not have won the war, even if we committed huge forces to the effort and spent twenty more years trying.
Ho Chi Minh’s tale of the tiger and elephant, quoted yesterday, accurately described the war as it played out. We Americans lost. And if the war had continued another twenty years, we still would have lost.