The Vietnam War

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

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As the other answers have indicated, the Vietnam war was, to a very large extent, a pointless, costly failure.

Starting with cost, the war, in inflation-adjusted dollars, carried a price tag of $738 billion, according to defense specialist Stephen Daggett. For this enormous amount of money, the US gained nothing—and 58,220 Americans died. The US did not win the war or create democracy in Vietnam, despite its superiority in weapon technology and financial resources. The war also led to vast unrest at home: the United States was polarized in ways that have yet to be resolved fifty years later, and domestic faith in the honesty of the federal government was undermined. Frustration with the incompetent way the war was handled demoralized many troops, and mismanagement led to unfortunate massacres of Vietnamese citizens.

In many ways, the war was a reversal of the American War of Independence for the United States. Just as Britain, then a major world superpower, decided it would easily quell a rebellion of a weaker set of colonies, so the United States thought it could easily quell the ill-equipped communist Viet Cong in Vietnam. Just as the American revolutionaries did, the Viet Cong knew their terrain much better than the enemy and had a far greater investment in winning (as it was their own country) than the United States. Just as the American colonies were helped out by the French, a rival power to the British, so the Chinese aided the Vietnamese.

The Vietnam War is a classic example of a superpower underestimating the will and means of a "weaker" rival.

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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.

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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.

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