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"Facts About the Vietnam War" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2017 10:07 p.m. PST

Part I: They Didn't Fight with One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs

"When the documentary series The Vietnam War premieres this Sunday, it will no doubt open a new chapter in America's long debate on that war and what it meant. Writing in The New York Times a few months ago, directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick expressed the hope that in this new conversation, Americans will focus on what the Vietnam experience can teach about "courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation."

The article did not say anything about teaching facts, but one hopes that was on their agenda, too. The documentary series provides a rare chance to acquaint a mass audience with realities that have grown blurry in the national memory. In this series of articles, I will present my thoughts on misleading myths I hope the filmmakers will correct.

We'll begin with the myth that American troops fought the war with one hand tied behind their backs. Proponents of this belief hold that the United States failed to win in Vietnam because it did not use enough of its military power. But those who think this might do well to remember some statistics that do not indicate anything remotely resembling an unduly limited war effort…"
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Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 4:41 a.m. PST

Yep. This myth was compiled from angles:
1. Americans desperately needed someone/something for out loss.
2. We could not use the bomb.
3. Our troops were forbidden from being as cruel and destructive as possible (although there were still incidents).

US forces won every large engagement. Americans should contemplate how Washington conducted the AWI, how the British fared on the battlefield, and why we won that war.
Then, why the North Vietnamese/VC won theirs.

Ferd4523112 Sep 2017 6:37 a.m. PST

Agree with Pan Marek. In the AWI the Continental armies stayed alive. A fleet in being if you will allow. The British could never disperse to "win the hearts and minds". That left the colonial militia to apply local pressure to keep neutral colonists neutral; hostile colonists contained; and patriotic (bias I admit) colonists with the whip hand. I know this is simplistic but I believe there is some validity. Likewise the NVA played the role of the Continentals and the VC (speaking of local VC and VCI here) kept the locals in line. Just my two cents. H

RudyNelson12 Sep 2017 6:50 a.m. PST

You cannot compare post-WW2 wars with a 1700s war. The comparisons are unrealistic.
For the Amrican soldier, the war was the few yards around us that we could see whether in the Mekong delta or the Highlands.

Back in the USA, the war was what the media showed us during the evening news each night.

From the political level, the USA did feel that they were fighting with one hand behind their back. The USA could not bomb the main harbor due to USSR ships anchored in it. The Americans were told by the Russians of the consequences if we did. Much of the war also had limited air bombardments allowed, though there were period of 'unlimited' which really was not.
Only limited incursions against NVA bases and supplies were allowed by ground forces and those that happened were many years too late.
The USMC and army were not allowed to invaded North Vietnam. This simple fact shows that we were indeed fighting with one hand tied behind our back.
So I may watch this with a suspicious eye.

Darkest Star Games Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

I have the sinking feeling that Jane Fonda and her buddies will be interviewed and called heroes. That would reeeeeally tick me off.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 9:36 a.m. PST

While I applaud your points about "tied hands" in Vietnam,
I fail to see why you discount comparing the two wars.
There were many similarities. And yes, differences. But
I still believe that the US keeps putting its foot into places, don't understand why we don't "win", and ignores
our own history.
You need to show why the comparisons are "unrealistic".

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 9:57 a.m. PST

You could compare the two wars if the British were not allowed to operate on land in New England (they could shell the coast from shipboard as long as they did not target any population centers). They would also be forced to operated within 100 miles of the Atlantic throughout the rest of the colonies. Isn't that kinda like have one hand tied?

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 1:26 p.m. PST

For most of the war not allowed to bomb NVA airfields even as their fighters were taking off from them, not allowed to strike NVA antiaircraft sites because they were on or near patty dikes of other "civilian" areas. not allowed to attack NVA base camps that were just across borders, and not allowed to strike NVA artillery sites north of the DMZ even as they were shelling our forces.

Just a few of the rules that tied the hands of the US military's hands. Their are many more but hey lets not let facts get in the way.

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 1:40 p.m. PST

The Air Force would conduct a raid, and photo reconnaissance would take picture that would be sent overnight to the White House. LBJ would select bomb targets and then those targets were sent back to Vietnam for the Air Force. Micromanagement by politicians in even tactical decisions.

What were the Safe Havens for the American Colonials? Did they flee to Spanish territories and re-group, re-train, and re-supply and then return to Vermont, New York, or Georgia to strike the British?

Did we bomb the factories that produced the weapons, fuel, and supplies for the enemy in Vietnam, like we did in World War Two? Did we censor the news in Vietnam like we did in World War One and World War Two so only the official narrative was broadcast and printed in the paper?

Did Hollywood make rousing patriotic pro-American, anti-enemy movies and entertainment like they did in both World Wars? Or did they constantly either ignore the war, or produce anti-war, and anti-American shows?

The USA had at least one hand tied behind their backs.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek

ashauace6970 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 2:51 p.m. PST

Spent 13 moths from 69'-'70
Artillery unit and was 9 months in the field at various FSB
I WAS OFFERERD A PSTING AS TAERS CLERK in charge of the battery units got supplies and getting off of red lined
First time from the field put on guard duty, check fired the '60 and my 16
Down the red line came a spit shined jeep with a Major
Chewed my as of say that all the ammo was the to be accounted for and if I saw something call it in even to set up a flare
This was late '69
I knew then that we were not going to win anything

RudyNelson12 Sep 2017 4:17 p.m. PST

Pan marek, are you a veteran? I just want to be sure we are talking at the same level by using similar terms.

RudyNelson12 Sep 2017 4:24 p.m. PST

The nature of the combat was different. can comparisons be made…yes but are they valid?
When I was working on my degree in military SCIENCE of which history is only a part, you could not do a comparison with Vietnam and World War 2, let alone to venture back to the American Revolution.
There would be difficult comparisons of the American Revolution with the American Civil War, let alone later.
How do you compare the tiger traps with stakes and suicide bombers of the VC with American Revolution.

No mass surrenders in Vietnam like you had at Saratoga, Pensacola or Yorktown just to name a few.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 9:58 p.m. PST

More hand tying, the military wasn't allowed to bomb warehouses filled with military equipment because they were situated near civilian areas. They could watch ships moving in and out of the port of Haiphong bringing those military supplies but were not allowed to bomb them or the trains emanating from it to those warehouses.

It wasn't until Nixon came along that the military was allowed to mine the port of Haiphong which forced the North Vietnamese to take the peace talks more seriously.

sgt Dutch Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 8:08 a.m. PST

I'm a veteran of the 196Th inf brigade. 1968-1970. Yes we had our hands tied behind our back. One day the area was a free fire zone. That mean shoot first ask question later. The next HQ would radio my unit in the field. Now you have to shout dừng lại three time before you can fire. dừng lại means stop in Vietnamese. One evening we had a run in with the VC. After the firefight we had run low on ammo. The Captain radio for a resupply. Well guess what it was to late in the day for a save flight in. But at that time the commanding general had a policy of flying in pizza for the troops. So the Captain radio for a pizza with a side order of ammo. 40 minutes we got our ammo and pizza. The picture is LZ Center 1968 my home on and off for year ‌

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 8:43 a.m. PST

Another fun filled "fact" based article that is myopic in its goal. If the US had wanted to fight an all out war with the unconditional surrender of the enemy it could have achieved that easily by fighting the war in NVN and not the south. That was a political decision. From the info I can gather the goal was containment of Communism (Domino Theory) while not starting a nuclear WWIII.

The Cold War was about the freedoms of people to conduct (somewhat) free trade. Capitalism (free markets) versus Communism (government control). If you want to call it US Imperialism be my guest. The US national security is based on access to resources around the world and mutual trading partners. Communist countries lock them out of that.

The US failed in their goal of using a limited tactical conventional war to contain Communists from the north. The south lost the military war by being militarily defeated. From what I can gather the US did not lose any major military engagements and thwarted all of the NVN military objectives and political uprising during Tet with the exception of the successful Psy Op against the druggie "Useful Idiots" back in the US that protested on behalf of our enemy. You win wars by defeating the Will of the enemy, not just by winning military engagements.

The limited military objectives of the US did fail to break the Will of NVN because of political leadership mistakes. I guess you could make an argument that we abandoned the SVN government militarily by withdrawing the troops and trusting the NVN to keep their word in the treaties (we knew they would not). The Communists won the Psy Op war with the assistance of the Communist sympathizers and Useful Idiots in the US.

The US military was forced to fight with a strategy and ROE's that effectively tied both hands behind their back and their leaders with their head tactically up their ass and strategically afraid of WWIII. Add to that the standard situation of underestimating the enemy which seems to happen in every war. The enemy took advantage of mounting an effective Psy Op propaganda program taking advantage of Free Speech in the US while executing their political opponents in their country.

After 1975 the US did wage somewhat of an economic war against VN with a trade embargo and limiting access to financial institutions like the IMF. By 1994, the US was appeased (loans to the Saigon government were repaid) and lifted the trade embargo that had been throttling the Vietnam economy for nearly 20 years. The World Bank, the IMF and other donors began to help. Communism was failing and needed their help. The economy started growing by up to 8.4% a year, and Vietnam was soon one of the world's biggest exporters of rice. They were importing rice in 1979 when farmers turned over their entire crop in exchange for government ration cards. The IMF had conditions of opening up free markets in order to get the capital which was one of the goals of the US in 1966. The Commies had no choice but to accept their terms as their system was failing. In the end, they lost.

The NVN Communist governments promise of a free, equal and prosperous society is a dismal failure just like it is throughout the rest of the world.

I guess you could say this is a clear case of US Imperialism and despite losing militarily it appears they had an economic stranglehold on VN that was more effective than the limited conventional military action. The NVN achieved their military and political goals only to succumb to the US and Capitalism economically. So who won what in the war?

Remember, the Cold War was what can be called an economic struggle/war between Capitalism and Communism. Capitalism has won. While it is not a perfect system the people of Vietnam (mostly the south) are freer and able to determine their own future with less government intervention in their lives. It's still a WIP.

U.S. exports of services to Vietnam were an estimated $2.0 USD billion in 2015 (the most recent available data), an 8.4 percent increase from 2014. The stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam was $1.3 USD billion in 2015 (latest data available), and the stock of Vietnam's FDI in the United States was $1.0 USD billion in 2014 (latest data available). It appears we are pretty good partners and allies.


Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 2:47 p.m. PST

Something that I think isn't well known is that Pres. Johnson's goal was never to actually win the war militarily but to force the NV to the negotiating table where he figured he would be able to win.

The blame for the fall of SV can largely be placed at the feet of the Democratic Congress who refused to honor treaties with SV to provide logistical & air support to SV if NV attacked, part of the Paris accords.

News reports of the time were full of reports of SV units abandoning their positions in panic & refusing to fight. What they didn't report was that many of those units were retreating because they had literally run out of ammo because the US wasn't fulfilling it's promises to SV.

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 7:40 p.m. PST

Interesting side note. Most of the gifts in the gift shop in the USMC museum in Quantico, Virginia are marked " made in Vietnam." How ironic.

Russ Dunaway

RudyNelson14 Sep 2017 6:53 a.m. PST

I am not sure how much of the support failure can be blamed.
Prior to Vietnamization, every national Guard unit had a platoon of vehicles assigned to each armory. Our local unit was armor, so they had five tanks, maybe M48 or early M60 as the hull was rounded. My father was the First Sgt so he had the keys to the area. (one was kept at the armory and four more at the 'range' area.
After Vietnamization, all of the tanks were removed from the units and sent to South Vietnam.
So they had plenty of American equipment. They lacked leadership ib the officer corps. So the army was crushed too soon for any signficant US support could arrive.
This is too simple of an explanation.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 10:06 p.m. PST

When the US left SV their economy collapsed & the government had little money with which to buy stockpiles of ammo & POL.

In order to get SV to sign the Paris accord the US committed to provide the SV army with the necessary supplies, and air support, to fight if NV invaded. When that invasion happened congress refused to fund the necessary & promised aid. Yes the SV Army had enough equipment fuel & ammunition they aren't very useful.

RudyNelson18 Sep 2017 6:13 a.m. PST

Yes during the 1970s and 1980s, the North Vietnam government published a 'blue' book selling all the captured USA equipment that they got when the South Vietnamese surrendered.
So I agree that they had plenty of equipment.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2017 6:09 p.m. PST

There was suppose to be a "but without" between equipment and fuel.

RudyNelson19 Sep 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

Good point about the lack of fuel for all of the captured vehicles. Since they were at odds with the Chinese then, I suspect the USSR was their source for fuel but i do not know.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2017 10:23 p.m. PST

I think you misread something. I was writing about the congress failed to honor the part of the Paris Accords where we promised to supply South Vietnam with the necessary fuel ammunition along with air support if North Vietnam violated the Accord and invaded the South. Not about somebody supplying the North with fuel for captured vehicles.

RudyNelson20 Sep 2017 6:18 a.m. PST

As a Vietnam era veteran, thought I did not have to go in-country, nor did a lot of armor guys sent to Europe or Korea. my memory of that situation was that South Vietnam collapse in such a hurry that providing supplies, material or air support was impractical.
Moral obligation and ability to provide items from an agreement are two different things.
Congress at that time seems to have been focused on other things like Watergate and inflation. Getting back into Vietnam did not appeal to either party.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2017 11:17 p.m. PST

There were stockpiles readily available in South Korea, Okinawa, and the Philippines. The north started their offensive March 10th and the South surrendered April 30th. There was time enough if they had been willing to honor the treaty.

RudyNelson21 Sep 2017 6:24 a.m. PST

I do not remember caring about treaties obligation to a country unable to stand for themselves.
As I said as soon as we left our focus shifted to a new crisis.
You are right Congress or the President failed to follow through. But both were in a battle with each other. However, South Vietnam remaining as a independent government was already a lost cause.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2017 12:36 p.m. PST

I would agree that our military operated under restrictions in Vietnam, but I can also understand the reasons for many of them. It is not obvious to me that removing them all would have been a good idea, as there were significant risks.

But guys, even if we had removed (most) of the restrictions, how would that have improved things in the long run? So assume you avoid WWIII, and after considerable additional casualties and expense on both sides you end up with the entire country under an incompetent administration like that of Diem and Nhu. And all this to guarantee "free trade"? Would you want to die for this?

BTW, the guy who characterizes the U.S. anti-war movment as "Communist sympathizers and Useful Idiots" damages his credibility with statements like that.

RudyNelson21 Sep 2017 4:11 p.m. PST

Demonstrators were often how you handled them. I am not happy with them and I will not ever like them or agree with their point of view.

I had a number of conflicts with them and they 'started' all of the confrontations.
Some of the more vivid ones in my memory are :
At a Veterans Day parade in Birmingham Alabama, demonstrators pelted our formations with eggs and bottles. We were not allowed to confront them so we kept marching.

At college a fraternity, painted the M4E8 in front of the ROTC building and the M48 in front of the armory pink. In response, we got several CS, tear gas, canisters and set them off under their Frat house.
responding felt a lot better than not.
Never called the Communist but more colorful words describing their mental capacity was considered. The strange thing is that some of the guys I had arguments with in school over the war are now, that they cannot be drafted, some of the most conservative and racist people I know.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2017 4:38 p.m. PST


Well, they shouldn't have done those things; I wouldn't have. There are morons in every group, as well as people who *want* violence for various reasons.


EDIT: What about a response to my middle paragraph?

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2017 9:14 p.m. PST

Well the military had a plans to invade the midpoint of North Vietnam's panhandle so as to cutoff access to entry point of the ho chi minh trail and starve the NVA forces in the South.

They could have been permitted to chase retreating NVA forces into Cambodia and destroy the base camp there. When Nixon did that after his election NVA activity in the South dropped off drastically for months.

They could have mined Haiphong harbor early on an thus cutoff the North from the majority of there military aid. When that was done in'72 the North as forced to begin talks in Paris in earnest.

Just a couple of things off the top of my head.

Murvihill22 Sep 2017 8:11 a.m. PST

Regarding the middle paragraph, the goal was not to set a stable democratic government up in Vietnam, it was to prevent the communists from taking over the country. While a moral equivalence argument may be made, and many countries are no more than tin-pot dictatorships regardless of political affiliation, in reality with a US-allied Vietnam not at war we could apply pressure to clean up the country's politics, while with a communist country we had no leverage.
Really, whether the war was worth fighting to anyone is dependent on their opinion of communism. If it's no worse than capitalism any effort to oppose it is wasteful, if communism is worse than capitalism any effort to oppose it is not wasteful. I think a comparison of the two Koreas makes the point nicely.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2017 10:57 a.m. PST


Good point on "fighting communism" being the holy grail for many, especially back in the 1960s. I just think that perspective is over-simplified. So I can understand how many were not willing to die merely to keep a country from going communist. Further, if the fight against communism was in part camouflage for a misguided attempt to ensure foreign markets for corporate America, I can understand not wanting to die for that cause either. YMMV.

IMHO, North Korea is not the typical communist country, nor is our relationship with them (or lack thereof) typical of how we have interacted economically with communist countries, especially since the end of the Cold War. I mean China and Vietnam are still nominally communist, right? So, I disagree that it "makes the point nicely".


RudyNelson22 Sep 2017 12:04 p.m. PST

Avoid World war three was easy with the MAD strategy in place. Neither side was willing to risk the marbles they had just to gain one or two more. The marble theory has been in place for a long time and is still a constant in the study of foreign relations.
The scary thing about North Korea today, since they have entered the nuclear arena, they thought they would automatically get marbles but they did not. Now we have a country with no marbles, resources, to lose. Therefore they are more than willing to risk their no marbles in an effort to gain some. This makes them risk takers and unpredictable.

Murvihill22 Sep 2017 12:38 p.m. PST

The comparison I was referring to was national strength and quality of life between South and North Korea.

RudyNelson22 Sep 2017 9:16 p.m. PST

Yes the marble theory does apply for that reason. All of the Nk neighbors are doing well, hence a lot of marbles. While the NK is not so no marbles.
I am surprised that you did not study the marble theory when you were in Foreign relations classes.
We also used the Vanderbilt UN model, back in the 1970s so several more are out now, to test the theory. Back then it was China that had the least marbles, resources. And yep they attacked the weakest team then. LOL.

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