Why did US forces withdraw in 1973
It was a tremendous shock that a superpower like the USA could not defeat a small country like North Vietnam. A large range of reasons have been given for losing the war, such as America’s inadequate leadership, too much reliance on airpower, the soldiers were inexperienced, the Vietcong’s will power, the media and public opinion, inappropriate technology used by the USA and the Domino theory. American males as young as the tender age of nineteen were recruited into the war (average age was twenty).
They felt they were going to promote American ideals and their country’s values, democracy, freedom of speech, human rights, freedom assembly, liberty, justice and generally because they were told they were helping to defeat communism and to fight for America. They were extremely confident and believed there was to be a “quick kill”. Basic soldier training included; marches and close quarter fighting, soldiers were taught to fight in the spirit of the Bayonet and were taught to give no mercy. They began to develop a bond between themselves and were highly motivated “killing machines”.
Despite their hard training and preparation, the war did not turn out as planned. Unfortunately, it was the longest and most unpopular war in which Americans had fought and huge losses were made, both in human life and financially. The main long-term reasons were: the obvious disadvantages the US soldiers had, their use of tactics. They were totally oblivious to the Guerrilla warfare. Their tactics were very different to their own. For one, it was almost impossible to win a battle against a guerrilla army because you could never find out where it was.
It attacked you then disappeared into the jungle. Also, their tactics included; no front lines (like in conventional wars) and much of the fighting consisted of hit and run attacks. The Vietcong were also able to stay concealed using their underground tunnel systems and could blend with the common peasants that filled the country. This factor links to the advantages that the Vietcong had throughout the war as they gained support throughout the war from the peasants and so could carry out their tactics efficiently as a result.
The Americans were actually organised and prepared for the war as they had a lot of weapons, however they knew more or less nothing about Vietnam; they wore the wrong type of kit for a tropical climate, suffered from blisters and malaria. Also the weather conditions were new to them as there were days when there was immense heat and humidity, and then there would be monsoons. The Americans were prepared for war literally, but not for fighting this war because they assumed it would be like all the other wars they had fought before.
Therefore because they knew nothing about these war methods this caused many US soldier deaths and meant they were lacking soldiers even though they could not really do much. The guerrilla warfare also meant that conventional war methods did not work in the jungles of Vietnam and this resulted in ever growing frustration for the USA. They turned to the tactic known as “search and destroy”. This basically meant hunting down Vietcong soldiers and killing them. Another example is “Operation rolling thunder” this was the bombing of North Vietnam to destroy railways, roads, bases and Ho Chi Minh trail.
This lasted three and a half years. However the USA was not successful using the “search and destroy” method because the Vietcong were hard to distinguish from the normal Vietnamese. As a result of the failure of conventional methods the USA used chemical warfare. Chemical weapons were used to destroy the jungle in which the guerrillas sheltered, and to attack Vietnamese villages. In 1965, 100,000 South Vietnamese civilians were killed and in 1968, 300,000. The deaths were a result of the intensive bombing.
As the Americans employed more and more chemical warfare so the hatred felt by the Vietnamese grew. The Americans attempted to win back Vietnamese support with the use of strategic villages. These were whole villages kept behind barbed wire, sometimes entirely moved to a different location. Special aid was also given to villagers, but this had limited success. However, the intensive bombing costs an awful lot and the Americans could not afford to constantly bomb Vietnam as this was even killing the innocents.
This leads to the US withdrawal because of the costly result; the number of deaths, the fact that they were paying $400, 000 for the killing of each Viet Cong Guerrilla. This included the cost of 75 bombs and 400 artillery shells so they were more or less paying for everything. They could have avoided spending thousands of dollars on bombing by devising a plan to attack the Viet Cong without masses amount of weapons (and large sums of money); but this was something they could not grasp.
What they needed was some of the Guerrilla’s tactics, who only used a small amount of weapons and still succeeded because their techniques were simple, but far more effective. There were also the short-term reasons. These were the specific events that occurred during the war, mainly towards the latter stages. Two examples are the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre. The My Lai massacre which also known as Pinksville was a very disturbing event which shocked the whole of America. Charlie Company rounded hundreds of innocent residents-babies, the elderly, women etc and urdered them also there were accusations of rape.
Soldiers found it exceptionally hard to resist killing as once they began, they found it easy to repeat as they were highly charged and wanted revenge. The Tet Offensive was when 60,000 Vietcong troops attacked all American bases in the south and over 100 cites but despite this, the US eventually overcame it and defeated the Vietcong. But this was about as successful as the USA got in defeating the Vietcong. But the Tet Offensive had an unlikely effect on the mindset of the US commanders by causing them to enjoy the idea of revenge; I, E- the My Lai massacre.
One of the most influential magazines in the USA, “Life Magazine” calculated it cost $400, 000 for each Vietcong soldier killed, and even with all this cost the Vietcong could still attack in large numbers. The US realised they were fighting a losing battle. This short-term reason for American withdrawal links to the use of expensive tactics by the USA as the Tet Offensive was when the Americans finally admitted their tactics were never going to work. This was about as successful as the Americans got in defeating the Vietcong. “Life magazine” was also the magazine who published the shocking event at My Lai.
It published moving photographs of the massacre which had been taken by an official army photographer. The people of America were disgusted with what they saw. It was even broadcasted on national television, internationally. It showed people being tortured or women and children watching with horror as their house was set on fire. As the media broadcasted the massacre at My Lai globally, this was a factor on US withdrawal because this was a humiliating experience; the Americans were there to defeat communism not cause the trouble between innocents who they were there to protect.
The whole world looked down upon the Americans and therefore soon many people began to oppose the war which led to many riots and anti-war protests, some even led by former soldiers and war veterans. Many soldiers who were injured began to finally understand how the war was a complete mess as the number of deaths were increasing; many of their soldier friends were dead or injured. Even while being treated in hospitals, the doctors and nurses were poorly paid which resulted to a lack of staff.
Equipment was terrible, soldiers were not receiving respect and overall their time in hospital was not enjoyable. Soldiers soon learnt the reality of war when returning home when people were not treating them as heroes as they thought people would; the majority of people were embarrassed. An example of a war veteran is Ron Kovic. As a result of the war, he sustained a spinal cord injury. He experienced poor treatment at an outpatient clinic and before long; he began speaking in public about his beliefs that war veterans should be receiving help.
In a speech he says, “We’re putting all of these millions of dollars into warfare when the disabled of our country, disabled veterans and disabled citizens, are in need. Many of them live below the poverty level. ” He had many supporters but some were quite violent such as when the protest at Kent State University was held, there were four people killed, however that is debateable that protestors were violent because arguably violence occurred because of National Guard’s actions.
American public opinions were mounting up, with more people protesting for peace and began to call for a peace treaty. The anti-war protests are one reason for US withdrawal because this meant that the majority of America wanted peace between US and Vietnam therefore the country was basically out of control, constantly brewing riots and protests and then there were incidents where the National Guards caused violence.
E. G- The incident at Kent State University. Basically the media attention and the anti-war protests are closely linked together because perhaps, if there it was not broadcasted on Television/newspapers/radio etc then maybe the US would not feel so strongly against the war, which means no protests as some people did not realise the effects of war before hand.
The war veterans, such as Ron Kovic, I think did not really play a big impact on the US withdrawal because the Americans were ruthless and were desperate to win and this seems like such a small reason for them to withdraw from the war as there are bigger factors which matter the most such as the strength of the Viet Cong, lack of support from their own country, the public humiliation of the My Lai event, inexperience etc. But this definitely did make up part of the reason why American withdrew because each of these factors played a part in America losing the Vietnam War.
Without one of them, things may have been different, but they were all in place, and the consequences for America were humiliating. Despite not technically losing the war, America withdrew, and would have lost otherwise because they really were not ready for this war; they even had no idea where and what Vietnam was. They dived straight into the war with such self confidence and should have researched the atmosphere and especially the Guerrilla welfare; this is probably the main point that needed perfecting-the soldiers tactics.
In conclusion, I believe the main reason for their withdrawal is because of the high number of deaths due to guerrilla warfare and the fact that Americans were totally un-familiar with Vietnam that it was impossible to defeat a country where they hardly knew anything about it. They did organise themselves and their training was excellently conducted, however the methods to defeat the Vietcong were the wrong way to go about the situation resulting to mass number of deaths. However, not to forget that live broadcasting of the situation in Vietnam was shown internationally which received many negative reactions.
This definitely was a humiliating experience and especially the fact that they were not exactly doing as well as planned which resulted to several anti-war protests by the majority of America as they realised the true reality of war and what they were doing was not exactly improving the situation. Everything got so out of hand that they felt there was nothing else they could do. This in turn put pressure on the President to start peace talks with Vietnam especially seeing that they were lacking support in their own country.