War has undoubtedly shaped the course of human history. Conflicts, through sheer human nature often arise through disagreement. Occasionally these conflicts end with war as opposing sides believe so vehemently in their respective reasonings and doctrinal views. Oftentimes, these war's end with one "victor" and on defeated party, however, in war everyone losses.
The Vietnam War in particular is an example of how war is a zero sum game that only results in losses for all those involved. This paper examines how the conflict started, taking particular care to express both points-of-view regarding core issues followed by a discussion concerning Special Forces operations and their overall impact on the outcome of the war. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings about Special Forces in Vietnam in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Origins of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a long, costly armed conflict that pitted the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, known as the Viet Cong, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. Although, chronologically the conflict started in 1940, the war began in 1954. For instance, according to Stanton (1995), "Since the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, [Vietnam] had been chopped in half, divided at a line of demarcation along the 17th parallel. This was the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam."
The war principally began after the rise to power of Ho Chi Minh and his communist Viet Minh party in North Vietnam. Further compounding the issue was the backdrop of an intense Cold War between two global superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. At the time, a fear of nuclear war threatened the global landscape. More than 3 million people were killed in the Vietnam War. Ironically, however, more than half were Vietnamese civilians, indicating the deadly force in which both sides engaged.
By 1969, at the peak of U.S. involvement in the war, more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were involved in the Vietnam conflict. Growing opposition to the war in the United States ultimately led to bitter divisions among Americans, both before and after President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973. In 1975, communist forces seized control of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year to the dismay of much of the developed world.
Detailed Overview of the Vietnam War
There had been fighting in Vietnam for decades before the Vietnam War began. The Vietnamese had suffered under French colonial rule for nearly six decades when Japan invaded portions of Vietnam in 1940. In 1941, the Vietnam region had two foreign powers occupying them, ultimately causing a rift within the community. Once Ho was back in Vietnam, he established a headquarters in a cave in northern Vietnam and established the Viet Minh, whose goal was to rid Vietnam of the French and Japanese occupiers. Minh was particularly distrustful of the Japanese, who controlled a large portion of the land prior to his arrival. Minh, much like many of the other leaders of his time was very charismatic.
Through his great oratory skills and plan of liberation he gained support for his cause in northern Vietnam. As such, during the early 1940's Viet Minh announced the establishment of an independent Vietnam with a new government called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This was the first step in which conflict began to escalate as Minh became very aggressive in this approach toward the French and the Japanese. The French, as expected, were not willing to give up their colony so easily and fought back vigorously to dispel this burgeoning conflict.
Ironically, Ho had tried to court the United States to support him against the French, including supplying the U.S. with military intelligence about the Japanese during World War II. The United States however, was vehemently against any form of communism. The cold war policy of this era was containment, meaning preventing the spread of communism, where ever it may lie. This fear of the spread of Communism was heightened by the U.S. "domino theory," which stated that if one country in Southeast Asia fell to Communism then surrounding countries would also soon fall. This systemic risk was ultimately propelled...
Soon, much of the developed world believed the Vietnam was the start of a massive communist movement that ultimately threatened the well-being of American civilization. Therefore, to prevent Vietnam from becoming a communist country, and potentially spreading communism around the globe, the U.S. decided to help France defeat Ho. Initially, this aid was provided from afar with supplies, armaments and weaponry. However, eventually, the U.S. sent troops.
President Johnson's goal for U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not for the U.S. To win the war, but for U.S. troops to bolster South Vietnam's defenses until South Vietnam could take over. In fact, President Johnson was initially reluctant to engage in peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese out of fear of antagonizing South Vietnam's leadership.
The strategy allowed the South Vietnam people time to bolster their defenses, ultimately allowing them to defend them in the event of attack. However, by entering the Vietnam War without a goal to win, Johnson set the stage for future public and troop disappointment. To the dismay of America, the U.S. found themselves in a stalemate with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong throughout the entire war. This consequently led to America's withdrawal, as no clear definition of victory was established or pursued.
During the period 1965 to 1969, the U.S. was involved in a limited war in Vietnam. Although there were aerial bombings of the North, President Johnson wanted the fighting to be limited to South Vietnam. The limitation on the war on paper appealed to the masses. It was seen as a support mechanism that did not harm U.S. troops, or put them in harm's way. By limiting the fighting parameters, though, the U.S. forces would not conduct a serious ground assault. American forces were often left helpless due primarily to their limited defenses against the more adept northern Vietnamese military. Particularly in the Northern areas of Vietnam, U.S. attacks were not strong enough to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This trail was particularly important as it was the main supply line for the north.
Based on the enormity of the importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the north's prosecution of the war, it is little wonder that the military leadership in Hanoi assigned enormous amounts of resources to building, maintaining and defending it. Indeed, Rosenau (2001) emphasizes that, "At any given time, approximately 100,000 people were employed along the trail as drivers, mechanics, engineers, and porters and in ground security and anti-aircraft units. Anti-aircraft artillery appeared in 1965, and by 1970, the entire trail was protected by anti-aircraft guns, some equipped with radar."
As a result of these steps, U.S. troops fought a jungle war, mostly against the well-supplied Viet Cong. The Viet Cong would attack in ambushes, set up booby traps, and escape through a complex network of underground tunnels. This guerilla warfare was of particular important to the Vietnam military as provided them with a competitive advantage through asymmetrical warfare. They knew their land far better than any of their foes. As such, their escape routes were difficult to predict. In addition, through the use of guerilla warfare, their attacks were frequent, small, and unpredictable. The jungle in particular provided excellent cover for the Vietnamese military. For U.S. forces, even just finding their enemy proved difficult. Since Viet Cong hid in the dense brush, U.S. forces would drop Agent Orange or napalm bombs which cleared an area by causing the leaves to drop off or to burn away. According to Palmer (2003), "The U.S. military dispersed over Vietnam approximately 72 million liters of herbicides, including 40 million liters of Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a term adopted by the U.S. military for a mixture of the herbicides, conventionally known as 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, that contained a dioxin by-product, 2,3,7,8 TCDD."
U.S. soldiers commonly became frustrated with the fighting conditions in Vietnam. Many suffered from low morale, became angry, and increasing numbers turned to using drugs.
By 1969 more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and China poured weapons, supplies, and advisers into the North, which in turn provided support, political direction, and regular combat troops for the campaign in the South. The costs and casualties of the growing war proved too much for the United States to bear, and U.S. combat units were withdrawn by 1973. In 1975, South Vietnam fell to a full-scale invasion by the North. The human costs of the long conflict were harsh for all involved. According to the Vietnam government as many as 2 million civilians on both sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters died as a result of the…
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