- author, Atahualpa Amerise @atareports
- stock, BBC World News
The Vietnam War (1955-75) was one of the bloodiest wars in recent history, killing more than 2.5 million people.
But it is often remembered as America’s greatest defeat of the war.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last American troops from Vietnam on March 29, 1973.
The withdrawal order issued by then-President Richard Nixon was decisive, as the fragile peace process that accompanied it paved the way for victory for the North Vietnamese Army two years later.
In 1955, when communist North Vietnam was ruled by its capital Hanoi and capitalist South Vietnam Saigon, the latter began to receive support from the United States in the form of logistics, training, arms, and ammunition.
In 1965, the United States sent the first troops and entered the conflict fully, hoping that their overwhelming military superiority would allow them to achieve a quick victory.
Equipped with modern aircraft carriers, fighter jets, bombers, helicopters and missiles, they faced guns, grenades, tanks and anti-aircraft artillery from the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces, and many more were deadly.
The United States dropped about 7.5 million tons of bombs on North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the largest number of bombs ever detonated on both sides in World War II and the largest ever recorded in an armed conflict.
This included approximately 400,000 tons of napalm, 75 million liters of Agent Orange and other herbicides, as well as hundreds of millions of artillery shells.
Yet, against all odds, the Communists led by Ho Chi Minh – and after his death in 1969, by his successor, Tun Duc Thanh – prevailed. How could this have happened?
Unwavering leadership and determination
“You can kill ten of my men for every one we kill. But even if you lose, we win.”
Ho Chi Minh’s omen eventually came true, though he never saw it coming, dying of heart failure in the middle of the war at the age of 79.
“The North Vietnamese leaders were ruthless: regardless of the human consequences, they were prepared to win at all costs. It came at a terrible cost, but it was ultimately successful,” explains the BBC. Mundo historian Mark Lawrence is a professor at the University of Austin and author of several books on the Vietnam War.
Communist military losses were estimated at nearly a million, while American casualties were more than 58,000, not including the 300,000 dead South Vietnamese soldiers. Between half a million and two million civilians were also killed.
The academic notes that the communists “made very effective use” of the figure of Uncle Ho, the charismatic nationalist leader who led the country in its struggle for independence against French colonialism. Political Use”.
“The North Vietnamese regime was a brilliant combination of charismatic leadership and a brutal determination to achieve its goals at all costs,” he summarizes.
Mines, traps and AK-47s
The manner in which Hanoi’s forces approached the conflict also played a major role in America’s defeat.
The Vietcong — the pro-North guerrillas operating in South Vietnam — “proved to be more resilient and capable than the Americans had imagined,” says Lawrence.
Realizing their military inferiority, the Communists used guerilla tactics: they estimated their resources as much as possible and avoided hand-to-hand combat against a well-prepared enemy, instead launching attacks hiding among the local population. the night
Their knowledge of the dense Vietnamese jungles, where they built intricate tunnels and traps of all kinds capable of spreading fear and consternation among the attackers, worked in their favor.
In addition, North Vietnam was supported by China and the Soviet Union, which provided $2 billion worth of equipment, including 8,000 anti-aircraft guns, tanks, ammunition, grenades, and countless AK-47 rifles. A decisive weapon of war.
Chinese and Russian aid, according to Lawrence, “enabled the North Vietnamese to continue fighting, even during periods of severe setbacks on the battlefield”.
“It never reached the level of American support for South Vietnam, but it was nevertheless substantial and helps explain why America was missing its goals.”
Corruption and oppressive government
However, for the historian, the most decisive factor in America’s defeat was America’s failure to establish a stable and effective government in South Vietnam that enjoyed the support and confidence of the majority.
“It is a political defeat that no military force can compensate for,” he explains.
The rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam from 1955 until his assassination in a coup in 1963, was characterized by widespread corruption and repression, particularly against followers of Buddhism – he was Catholic – which was the majority religion in the country. .
In the years that followed, successive governments also failed to convince the South Vietnamese, most of whom were peasants sympathetic to the Viet Cong, to promise them land and prosperity.
Despite aid and some infrastructure funding from the United States, it was widely rejected by the population, which saw it as a neo-colonial force associated with corrupt governments in Saigon and perpetrators of the brutal massacres that came to light during the war.
This situation gave a considerable advantage to the Viet Cong, whose guerrillas were protected by families, fed and hidden in their homes in the jungle and cities, making them almost invisible to the eyes of the enemy.
Rejection in America
The inability to fight in this hostile environment has instilled paranoia among American forces who have committed serious atrocities against the Vietnamese people.
Massacres such as the My Lai Massacre of 1968, in which between 350 and 500 civilians were killed, including women and girls who had previously been raped, began to permeate American public opinion and horrify him.
Notably, the first major war in Vietnam was televised and documented by the media.
The stark images, such as those of My Lai or abducted children in other parts of Vietnam, shocked Americans and gradually undermined the official argument that a war was being waged for democracy and against an amoral enemy.
Later came the first revelations about the Phoenix Project, a CIA-created plan to identify and destroy the Viet Cong through assassination and torture, among other illegal methods.
In 1971, the Vietnam War Veterans Association presented a report in Detroit that the assassinations were not isolated incidents, but a regular and predictable consequence of Washington policy.
The rising number of American dead and wounded, as well as young men returning from war with severe psychological trauma, had a profound effect on American society, which increasingly considered sacrifice unnecessary.
As a result, strong protests have been organized or joined by a wide range of sectors of society, from students and workers to human rights activists, civil rights organizations, environmentalists and war veterans.
The enormous cost of the war, estimated at US$120 billion between 1965 and 1973, increased the pressure of public opinion, weighed heavily on US finances and restricted investment in the country’s most productive areas.
“America’s domestic conflict made it clear to political leaders in 1968 that they had to find a way to get America out of the war,” says Lawrence.
“It was politically impossible to fight indefinitely, so the anti-war movement led American leaders to change their plans and settle,” he adds, though he believes this factor was secondary to American defeat on the battlefield. For those mentioned above, such as North Vietnamese determination and political shortcomings in the South.
In January 1973, the United States finally recognized that it could not win the war and signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam, which granted South Vietnamese sovereignty.
Soon, however, hostilities between the two sides resumed and, in the absence of American troops, the Viet Cong overthrew the weak Saigon government and unified the country under a red and yellow flag and party rule. It has lasted until today.
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