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The Vietnam War: Reasons for Failure - Why the U.S. Lost
In the post-war era, Americans struggled to absorb the lessons of the military intervention. About the book:
As General Maxwell Taylor, one of the principal architects of the war, noted, First, we didn't know ourselves. We thought that we were going into another Korean War, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn't know our South Vietnamese allies... And we knew less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know our allies and know ourselves, we'd better keep out of this kind of dirty business. It's very dangerous.
Some have suggested that the responsibility for the ultimate failure of this policy [America's withdrawal from Vietnam] lies not with the men who fought, but with those in Congress... Alternatively, the official history of the United States Army noted that tactics have often seemed to exist apart from larger issues, strategies, and objectives. Yet in Vietnam the Army experienced tactical success and strategic failure... The...Vietnam War...legacy may be the lesson that unique historical, political, cultural, and social factors always impinge on the military...Success rests not only on military progress but on correctly analyzing the nature of the particular conflict, understanding the enemy's strategy, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of allies. A new humility and a new sophistication may form the best parts of a complex heritage left to the Army by the long, bitter war in Vietnam.
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote in a secret memo to President Gerald Ford that in terms of military tactics, we cannot help draw the conclusion that our armed forces are not suited to this kind of war. Even the Special Forces who had been designed for it could not prevail. Even Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concluded that the achievement of a military victory by U.S. forces in Vietnam was indeed a dangerous illusion.
Doubts surfaced as to the effectiveness of large-scale, sustained bombing. As Army Chief of Staff Harold Keith Johnson noted, if anything came out of Vietnam, it was that air power couldn't do the job. Even General William Westmoreland admitted that the bombing had been ineffective. As he remarked, I still doubt that the North Vietnamese would have relented.
The inability to bomb Hanoi to the bargaining table also illustrated another U.S. miscalculation. The North's leadership was composed of hardened communists who had been fighting for independence for thirty years. They had defeated the French, and their tenacity as both nationalists and communists was formidable. Ho Chi Minh is quoted as saying, You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours...But even at these odds you will lose and I will win.
The Vietnam War called into question the U.S. Army doctrine. Marine Corps General Victor H. Krulak heavily criticised Westmoreland's attrition strategy, calling it wasteful of American lives... with small likelihood of a successful outcome. In addition, doubts surfaced about the ability of the military to train foreign forces.
Between 1965 and 1975, the United States spent $111 billion on the war ($686 billion in FY2008 dollars). This resulted in a large federal budget deficit.
More than 3 million Americans served in the Vietnam War, some 1.5 million of whom actually saw combat in Vietnam. James E. Westheider wrote that At the height of American involvement in 1968, for example, there were 543,000 American military personnel in Vietnam, but only 80,000 were considered combat troops. Conscription in the United States had been controlled by the President since World War II, but ended in 1973.
By war's end, 58,220 American soldiers had been killed, more than 150,000 had been wounded, and at least 21,000 had been permanently disabled. According to Dale Kueter, Sixty-one percent of those killed were age 21 or younger. Of those killed in combat, 86.3 percent were white, 12.5 percent were black and the remainder from other races. The youngest American KIA in the war was PFC Dan Bullock, who had falsified his birth certificate and enlisted in the US Marines at age 14 and who was killed in combat at age 15. Approximately 830,000 Vietnam veterans suffered symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. An estimated 125,000 Americans fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, and approximately 50,000 American servicemen deserted. In 1977, United States President Jimmy Carter granted a full, complete and unconditional pardon to all Vietnam-era draft dodgers. The Vietnam War POW/MIA issue, concerning the fate of U.S. service personnel listed as missing in action, persisted for many years after the war's conclusion.
Words at War: Who Dare To Live / Here Is Your War / To All Hands
USS Ancon (AGC-4) was an ocean liner acquired by the United States Navy during World War II and converted to a combined headquarters and communications command ship.
Ancon anchored off Fedhala, French Morocco on November 8 and began lowering her boats at 0533. The first troops were debarked an hour later. During the course of the assault, men on the ship witnessed the sinking of four other transports, and Ancon sent out boats to rescue their survivors. On November 12 the transport headed out and, three days later, put into Casablanca harbor. She got underway on the 15th with a convoy bound for Norfolk.
After a brief pause there, Ancon traveled to Brooklyn, New York for voyage repairs. A brief period of sea trials preceded the ship's loading cargo and troops for transportation to Algeria. She sailed on January 14, 1943 as a member of the Naval Transport Service. The ship reached Oran on the 26th and spent five days discharging her cargo before heading back toward New York City, where she arrived on February 13. On that day, the vessel was reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet Amphibious Forces. On the 16th, Ancon entered the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, to undergo conversion to a combined headquarters and communications command ship. She was redesignated AGC-4 on February 26.
Following the completion of the yard work on April 21, Ancon held trials and exercises in the Chesapeake Bay through May and into early June when she was designated the flagship of the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet Amphibious Forces. The ship got underway for Oran on June 8 with Task Force (TF) 85. The ship had been selected to participate in the invasion of Sicily, and her preparations continued after her arrival at Oran on June 22.
Carrying Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, Commander, TF 85, and Lieutenant General Omar Bradley on board, Ancon sailed on July 5 for the waters off Sicily. She reached the transport area off Scoglitti on the 10th and lowered her boats early that morning. Despite enemy fire, the ship remained off Scoglitti providing communications services through the 12th and then got underway to return to North Africa. At the end of a fortnight there, she shifted to Mostaganem, Algeria, on July 29. In mid-August, the vessel moved to Algiers. During her periods in port, she prepared for the upcoming invasion of mainland Italy for which she had been designated flagship for the Commander of the 8th Fleet Amphibious Forces in Northwest African Waters.
On September 6, Ancon got underway for Salerno. During the operation, the ship carried Lieutenant General Mark Wayne Clark who commanded the 5th Army. At 0330 on September 9, the first wave of Allied troops hit the beach. Thereafter, she remained in the transport area, undergoing nearly continuous enemy air harassment, until she moved to Palermo, Sicily, to pick up ammunition to replenish her sister ships. She returned to the area off Salerno on the 15th but, the next day, arrived back in Palermo.
After two weeks in that Sicilian port, Ancon shaped a course for Algiers. She reached that port on October 2 and spent almost six weeks undergoing repairs and replenishment. In mid-November, she set sail for the United Kingdom and, on November 25, arrived in Devonport, England, where she was designated the flagship of the 11th Amphibious Force. An extended period of repairs and preparations for the impending invasion of France kept Ancon occupied through the winter and much of the spring participating in numerous training exercises with other Allied warships. On May 25, King George VI of the United Kingdom and Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery visited the ship.
The preparations culminated on June 5, when Ancon got underway for Baie de la Seine, France. She served as flagship for the assault forces that landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Throughout the invasion, the ship provided instructions for forces both afloat and ashore. She transferred various units of the Army command to headquarters ashore and made her small boats available to other ships to carry personnel and materials to the beachhead. On June 27, she got underway to return to England and, the next day, arrived at Portland.
Ancon remained in British waters through late September, when she sailed in a convoy bound for the East Coast of the United States. She reached Charleston, South Carolina on October 9 and was then assigned to the Amphibious Training Command. At the completion of repairs at the Charleston Navy Yard on December 21, the ship got underway for sea trials. Five days later, she shaped a course for the Pacific. On the last day of 1944, the ship transited the Panama Canal and joined the Pacific Fleet. She continued on to San Diego, California, where she arrived on January 9, 1945.