America became involved in the Vietnam conflict because of their fear involving the spread of communism. By helping the South Vietnamese resist the communist North the US government believed they could prevent the spread of Communism throughout Asia and eventually the world. This was called the ‘Domino Theory’. America believed they could easily defeat North Vietnam; “We should declare war on North Vietnam. . . .We could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas. ” Ronald Reagan 1965.
Factors contributing to the withdrawal of the US troops from Vietnam include; the differing military tactics of the two sides, media influences, civilian reaction and Nixon’s policy of ‘Vietnamisation’. The US withdrew their forces from Vietnam in 1973 because President Nixon had promised the protesting Americans, that his government would bring it to an end with “the right kind of peace, a peace that would last”. An important long term cause leading to the withdrawal of US troops was the conflicting military tactics of the two sides.
The average age of a US serviceman was nineteen and ground troops were only trained to fight pitched battles. The Vietcong took advantage of this inexperience and adopted guerrilla warfare employing intelligence, ambush, deception, sabotage, and espionage. This escalated US problems as they were fighting on unknown territory lacking experience of guerrilla warfare. Furthermore, the US came to Vietnam with poor tactics. For example ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ where heavy bombing (worse than anything even in World War Two) was used to destroy military bases and equipment in North Vietnam and to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trails.
However, it was unsuccessful, managing to achieve none of its aims and causing huge resentment amongst South Vietnamese villagers. This meant the villagers became a problem for the US. 70 percent of villagers gave troops no support, often allowing the Vietcong to use villages as storage and hideout bases. In comparison to US weaknesses, the Vietcong showed much strength during the war. Their success significantly forced the withdrawal of US troops, who were fighting a losing battle. The Vietcong were supplied from the North by the Ho Chi Minh Trails, and as the war went on, they received more supplies from China and Russia.
They knew the terrain which allowed them to exploit the US weaknesses by ambushing and sabotaging them. They used cunning booby traps and mines which the soldiers was unable to avoid. They chose tactics that suited their surroundings and this proved to be a great success. After carrying out sabotages and ambushes from the jungle the Vietcong soldiers would quickly flee to local villages and integrate with ordinary peasants. This made it difficult for US troops to separate Vietcong from villagers, causing US troops to mistakenly kill many innocents.
The Vietcong’s strength dramatically affected US morale, forcing troops to perform worse and become increasingly frustrated. As Michael Herr said in 1977 “Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods. ” To make matters even worse, out of the 10,000,000 drafted soldiers more than 500,000 deserted. This led to brutal acts, such as the ‘My Lai Massacre’ of 16th March 1968. Another reason for the withdrawal was an unsuccessful change in US tactics. Search and Destroy missions were deployed by the US but the US forces increasing usage of aggression led to its failure.
The ‘My Lai Massacre’ where troops raped, tortured and massacred innocent villagers as they could not find any Vietcong members proved this. The US response was chemical warfare. The Vietcong were at a natural advantage in the jungle so to expose them; the US decided to use defoliants such as ‘Agent Orange’ and ‘Napalm’ (petroleum jelly) to strip the leaves from the trees. However, Agent Orange contains highly toxic chemicals that poisoned the environment and contaminated the troops that used it. Napalm stuck to the skin and caused horrific burns. The morale of US troops worsened as they saw the devastating effects.
This led to public outrage and US citizens began to question the war. The effects of the chemicals on US troops created resentment and hence led to their withdrawal. They were no longer fighting to resist communism but to kill. The cost of fighting the war totalled $168. 1 billion, with the eventual cost estimated at $600 billion. For each Vietcong member killed, it cost $400,000. Tax money was being wasted on a worthless cause. Support began to fall and protests for the removal of troops developed by 1967. For example, 3,000 students gathered at a college to protest about the war, ending with 4 non-protesters being shot dead.
The rising numbers of US casualties was also concerning. By 1967, 160 soldiers were killed a week. The death tally, ludicrous cost of the war and brutal tactics made US troops question why they were fighting war. This led to another long term decisive factor which was to play an integral part in the withdrawal of US troops – the media. Media played a key role in forcing troops to withdraw from Vietnam. US citizens were increasingly disturbed by the cost and casualties of the war. This was exploited by the media who developed many posters such as ‘I Want Out’ convincing the public American involvement was needless.
During a speech from Johnson, people started chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, How many kids did you kill today”. Television highly influenced the civilians. In 1975Marshall McLuhan stated; “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam. ” This was the first war shown live on television and in colour. Viewers witnessed events such as a Vietcong prisoner being shot dead and women and children being stripped and murdered by GIs.
Television revealed the devastating truth of the My Lai massacre and showed South Vietnamese being torn apart and shot to pieces. Citizens saw the inhumane use of tactics and broadcasting caused huge embarrassment for the US. The changing opinions of US citizens, caused by the input of the media, put great pressure on the US government to withdraw its troops for Vietnam. This was a direct reason for the resignation of President Johnson. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was the turning point for the war and Johnson’s presidency. The Tet Offensive was the most important event in changing US civilian opinion on war.
It consisted of massive attacks by the Vietcong on all major cities including Saigon. Eventually, US forces managed to defeat the Vietcong, killing 80,000. However, the Tet Offensive showed the Vietcong had the ability to strike where and when they wished. It made it clear that the war could not be won. As a result Johnson came under fierce domestic criticism and resigned as president. The promise of ending the war came in 1969, when Richard Nixon took office and adopted the policy of ‘Vietnamisation’ and led to the withdrawal of US troops. The withdrawal of US troops was not going to be an easy task.
With all the lives and money expended, Nixon could not simply admit defeat. In October 1969 he exclaimed “I’m not going to be the first American president to lose a war. ” He introduced his policy of ‘Vietnamisation’ whereby responsibility for the war was handed to the South Vietnamese whilst America offered military support. This allowed US troops to gradually withdraw. Troop strength fell dramatically to 95,000 by 1972. As part of ‘Vietnamisation’, Nixon opened peace negotiations with Russia and China. However, these stalled so Nixon launched a heavy bombing campaign of the 20th parallel to cut off supply lines.
This proved successful; talks restarted and a deal was soon reached. Despite believing the war may restart, by 1973 all US troops had left. Help was promised if this did happen. Written in January 1973, in a letter to president Thieu, Nixon claimed “You have my assurance that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam. ” However, when the war resumed only supplies were sent. Within a year Saigon fell and by 1976 North and South Vietnam became a single communist country under the rule of Ho Chi Minh. The American policy of containment had failed.
The conflicting military tactics of the two sides was the most important cause for the withdrawal of US forces. If there been a series of pitched battles, the war would have been won by the US within months. However, the Vietcong’s successful use of Guerrilla warfare prevented this. Their use of the Jungle was too great for the US soldiers to defend against as it was unfamiliar terrain and the Vietcong used this advantage effectively. Frustration was building up for US troops because the lack of support from the South Vietnamese, who they were fighting for, allowed the Vietcong to hide amongst the villagers undetected.
This frustration culminated in atrocities and massacres by some US troops which was broadcasted all over the world causing great embarrassment for America. Ultimately, the poor US tactics led to the withdrawal of their forces in 1973. Word Count: 1500.
Bibliography Books: “Modern World History” 1996 Walsh “Modern World History” 1999 Kelly & Lacey Websites: http://www. vietnam-war. info http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Vietnam_War Films: “Casualties of War” (1989) “Platoon” (1986) “Apocalypse Now” (1979).