originally published at Mediard.com
The presidential candidacy of Sen. John Kerry has resulted in occasional repetition of the myth that “Vietnam is the only war that American lost.” Those who repeat this myth either don’t understand what the word “lost” means or are unfamiliar with the history of Vietnam.
Four wars were fought in Vietnam in the mid-20th Century.
The first was World War II. In this war the Japanese forced the French to give up control of their Vietnam colony. This war ended outside Vietnam with the surrender of Japan that ended the war.
The second war was an attempt by France to regain control of its former Vietnam colony. Two groups opposed French efforts to treat Vietnam as a colony. A loosely knit group nominally had the Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai as a leader. Ho Chi Minh tightly controlled the other group and formed an army called the Viet Minh to fight French troops. The Bao Dai group allied itself with the French in the fighting, but wanted the French to eventually leave.
The second war ended in 1954 with the French agreeing to leave and the two groups agreeing to divide the country along the 17th parallel. The Ho Chi Minh group was given control of the northern area with a capital in Hanoi. Ngo Dinh Diem became the leader of the southern government with a capital in Saigon.
The third war began gradually after Ho Chi Minh had General Vo Nguyen Giap begin a guerrilla war in the south. The increasingly repressive nature of the Diem regime helped these guerrillas, the Viet Cong, gain support. The United States entered this war gradually beginning with a small number of advisors, including a Captain Colin Powell. After the overthrow of the Diem regime, which had been okayed by President John F. Kennedy, the situation rapidly deteriorated with a series of coups.
President Lyndon Johnson felt the instability that followed required the introduction of U.S. ground combat forces. The conflict then escalated into a full scale war. Over 500,000 American troops were in Vietnam when President Richard Nixon began withdrawing them in late 1969. By this time regular North Vietnamese army units were also operating in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese army gradually took over the fighting from American troops.
This third war ended in January, 1973, with a peace agreement signed by the United States, the Republic of Vietnam(south), the Viet Cong/National Liberation Front and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(north). This agreement left the Republic of Vietnam in power and in control of the southern half. Both sides pledged to abide by the agreement.
Considering that the United States had entered the conflict to prevent the northern conquest of South Vietnam, the agreement meant that the United States won the war. The United States had never stated a goal of changing the government of North Vietnam. The United States accomplished the only thing it attempted to do which should qualify as a victory. North Vietnam had failed to accomplish its goal of gaining control of the south. Thus North Vietnam obviously could not have won the war.
Two years later the fourth Vietnam war began with a full scale North Vietnamese invasion of the south. The United States did not become involved in this conflict which meant that the United States could not have won or lost the fourth war. The war was fought exclusively between the north and south Vietnamese governments and could only have been won or lost by them. The South’s reliance on generals who held their positions because of political influence rather than military ability made it relatively easy for the North Vietnamese army to conquer the south.
Perhaps the United States could have changed the outcome by entering the war, but it did not. Perhaps the United States in the 1940's could have prevented a communist takeover of China, but the United States didn’t enter that war either. If the United States “lost the Vietnam War” because the North Vietnamese army defeated our ally, then the United States must also have “lost the China War” because our ally was defeated there.
If the United States can be said to have “lost the war” because a subsequent war resulted in conquest of South Vietnam, then the United States must also have “lost World War II” because some of the European countries we had sought to free from foreign control were subsequently conquered by Germany’s former ally the Soviet Union.
In baseball, a pitcher who leaves the game with his team in the lead
cannot be charged with the loss if the other team takes the lead and wins
the game in later innings. The same rule should apply to war. A nation
cannot lose, or win, a war it doesn’t participate in.
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