To what extent was the Vietnam War a pointless, costly failure?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Vietnam War wasn’t a success for the United States. We entered the war to keep South Vietnam as a noncommunist nation and that didn’t occur when the war ended.

Based on the Geneva Accords in 1954, there was supposed be free elections held in both North Vietnam and South Vietnam by 1956. The South Vietnamese, with backing from the United States, didn’t hold those elections. As a result, the Vietnam War began.

In the beginning, we sent money and supplies to South Vietnam. Eventually, military advisors went there. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, we dramatically increased our involvement in Vietnam. We sent ground troops to help South Vietnam fight the war.

This war was a very different war for the United States. We knew how to fight a conventional war, where armies meet on the battlefield. However, the Vietnam War was more of a guerilla-style war, and we weren’t prepared or very knowledgeable about to how to fight that kind of war. As the war dragged on, the American public became more skeptical. The public began to doubt what the government was telling them. A credibility gap developed between the government and the American people. Soldiers began to doubt we would win the war. Protests mounted as people refused to register for the war or, in some cases, go to fight if they were drafted.

The longer the war went on, the more doubt people had. After the Tet Offensive, the public was convinced the government wasn’t being honest with them. When we expanded the war into Cambodia, opposition increased. The Kent State protest and the related killings were an example of the opposition to the widening of the war.

Eventually, a ceasefire was negotiated. This allowed the United States to leave Vietnam without a victory by North Vietnam. However, after we left Vietnam, the fighting resumed. North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam. Vietnam was united into one country, which was a communist country.

Over 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War. We spent over $150 billion directly on the war. The side we supported lost. Communism spread to an area where we didn’t want it to spread. The public lost confidence and trust in the government, which some people feel continues to this day. Congress tried to regain the power it gave to the President by passing the War Powers Act. However, that also hasn’t been very effective. Some soldiers still experience some psychological impacts from what they saw and experienced in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was clearly not a success for the United States.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Vietnam War was, almost without qualification, a costly and pointless failure.

Clearly, the Vietnam War failed.  The US military did not exactly lose the war, but the US government decided (whether rightly or wrongly) to withdraw.  We pulled out and our enemy won the war within two years.  That is a failure.  We spent huge amounts of money and lost the lives of tens of thousands of our military personnel (not to mention physical and psychological impacts on those who survived).  That is costly.

Was it pointless?  The "domino effect" that we feared so much did not happen.  Within 30 years of the war, we had diplomatic relations with Vietnam and they are now a trading partner of ours.  Clearly, there was no catastrophic impact from losing the war.  Given this, it is very hard to say that there was a point to it.