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Why America Lost the Vietnam War: The Culprits were Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon

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MG is a senior service officer and now a senior corporate advisor. A prolific writer with varied interests and hobbies



Vietnam War, (1954–75), was a battle that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong supported by China and Russia, against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the USA. It is called the “American War” in Vietnam. The war was also part of a larger regional conflict and a part of the Cold War. It led to a humiliating retreat and overseeing this sorry debacle were 2 uS Presidents, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

The origin of this conflict can be traced to the battle of Dien Bien Phu between the French and the Vietnamese led by General Giap. The French were badly defeated and agreed to withdraw from Vietnam and a peace deal was hammered out in the 1955 Geneva conference. Vietnam was a French colony but during World War II had been occupied by the Japanese. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, the French returned but the situation had changed and the French were no longer welcome.

The Americans immediately came on the side of the French and sent in advisers but once France was defeated a peace deal was worked out dividing Vietnam into two parts, the north governed by the communist party under Ho Chi Minh, and the southern part which became an ally of the United States.

The North Vietnamese were confident that they had the support of all the people of Vietnam and accordingly launched a guerilla operation in South Vietnam. The war began as a low-intensity conflict in 1954 and had grown to a great nuisance for America by 1960. John Kennedy became president in 1960 and authorized greater American involvement in the Vietnam war. He was a progressive leader and it is the tragedy of America that he was assassinated in 1963 and president Lyndon Johnson who was the vice president was sworn in.

Johnson ordered the build-up of American forces in Vietnam and almost 600,000 American soldiers were transported to South Vietnam. The American military top brass informed President Johnson that victory in Vietnam could only be achieved in case the source of the support of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese is wiped out. Military observers also told Johnson that it was imperative that the source of weapons and supplies from China which had a contagious border with North Vietnam must be stopped. Weapons and supplies from China were coming through the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Another set of advisers however advised Johnson against escalating the conflict. Johnson also had no stomach to widen the conflict by including China and he thus committed a cardinal blunder by not following the Principles of War, when he lost sight of the political aim.

In 1964, China went nuclear and Johnson despite a plan to bomb the Chinese nuclear installations did not do anything. China did not have any offensive capability and at the same time,, the United States had the B-52 strategic bombers. These could've easily bombed the Chinese nuclear site to smithereens.

The war just continued meaninglessly and every day the number of casualties began to grow resulting in an antiwar movement building up in America.


The War

I am not going to discuss the military conflict here which is well known. Johnson was feeling the heat in America as the promised victory was not in sight. On a request from the Chiefs of Staff, he authorized the bombing of North Vietnam but added a rider that only military targets were to be hit. At the same time, the North Vietnamese ports through which Soviet and Chinese ships were supplying arms and ammunition were not hit. It was a half-hearted effort and Johnson himself must've been wondering how he had got stuck into the quicksand of Vietnam.

The American army fought very well but it was fighting with one hand tied behind its back as the sanctuary's in North Vietnam and China were left untouched. The antiwar movement was also building up and in 1968 Johnson announced that he would not run for president and Richard Nixon won the election.

Richard Nixon on the advice of his secretary of state Henry Kissinger decided to bring about a sea change in American policy toward China. A secret visit by Kissinger to China took place with the proposal that the Americans wanted to withdraw from Vietnam and normalize relations with China. At that time the war was in full swing and going to China to negotiate the end of the war in a secret visit was nothing short of treason.

With the war still on Nixon himself visited China in 1972 and it was decided to normalize relations with China. Another reason for this was the pressure from corporate houses and big businessmen who wanted the lucrative Chinese market for their goods. Nixon also thought it would be a good idea to befriend China and use it as a bulwark against the USSR. He's therefore caved to Chinese pressure and despite asking China to help out with the ceasefire in Vietnam nothing happened and the north Vietnam armies soon launched a full-scale offensive. They converted the guerrilla war to conventional war and by 1975 the Americans had been totally defeated. Nixon sacrificed the lives of 58,000 American soldiers and young men to help the corporate world in America.

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Wrong presumptions

The Vietnam war was over in 1975 and the last photo shoots of the escape of the Americans from the roof of the American Embassy in a helicopter now look almost comical. Nixon himself was impeached but the deed has been done and the Americans washed their hands of Vietnam as well as their ally for many decades general Chang Kai Shek who was then the president of Nationalist China based in Formosa. Nixon also accepted the one-China concept and that is now like an albatross around the neck of the Americans.

The Americans made a wrong presumption that China could be brought into the committee of nations and the benefit of this would accrue to the US industry. From that time, they poured billions of dollars into China as an investment as well as shifting their factories and manufacturing activities because of cheap labor to China.

Another assumption the Americans ended the war in Vietnam was the hope that China would be with them in their conflict with the USSR but that is also not happened as China and Russia are now closely allied.

The assumption that the Americans would continue as a leader of the world has also gone for a toss as China is as belligerent as ever and despite all the mollycoddling by the Americans by giving them a free hand in the South China Sea, allowing them to occupy Tibet as well as ending the Vietnam War on the Chinese terms has led to nothing. The Americans may deny it but the fact is that the adversery of the United States is China and not Russia


All over bar the shouting

Vietnam was lost when the American leadership showed, they did not have the nerve to confront China and widen the conflict. There was no way the Americans could have won in Vietnam without attacking the sanctuaries in China. Also, the decision to allow China to go nuclear has never been fully explained. The American presidents are making such a noise about a country like North Korea which is 150th of the size of the United States going nuclear and they never did anything about China. I wonder if anybody can explain that.

History will record that the Vietnam war, is the first war that marked the decline of the United States. It was imperative that the Americans should have won in Vietnam but their failure to follow the principles of war spelled their doom. The war has been studied in detail by many scholars but the fact remains that despite great heroism by the US Army, the battle was lost mainly because the political leadership never had the will to confront the real enemy- China.


MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 22, 2021:

Thank you, Devika for sparing time and commenting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 22, 2021:

MG Singh you have put together and interesting insight about a lot from the past.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 21, 2021:

Thank you, Bill, so nice you commented.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 21, 2021:

It was a mess from start to finish, one poor decision after another, and I think you accurately depicted that. Nice article and summary!

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