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The Failure of the Vietnam War

The struggle in Vietnam failed for many reasons. Many historians agree on the fact that many of the troubles began in Washington for lack of a clear plan of action. The war became more problematic when American troops were not prepared for the tactics and the determination of the North Vietnamese. In addition, as the war dragged on without any success or end in sight, the American public reacted with a fury that could not be As with all wars, the intention for an American presence in South Vietnam was to prevent the spread of Communism. While many believed the war was wrong in that it promoted imperialism, others believed that the war was an opportunity to restore law and order. While many things were unclear about the war, the one thing that did seem clear was the fact that America could not keep the war at arm’s length any longer.

Support and aid were not going to be enough and when the American presence was felt, things Things in Washington became worse when Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, John McNamara became uncomfortable with how things were unfolding in Vietnam. The president halted bombing for a short period of time in 1968 but those efforts were practically useless. The public was becoming outraged at the worsening situation while Johnson’s advisors were urging him to send more troops to the area. He was torn with no clear answer. As a result, his popularity fell. Karnow claims, “The country’s trust in his authority had evaporated. His credibility–the key to a president’s capacity to govern–was gone” (Cooper 546). Johnson was not just facing a negative reaction from the public, he was facing failure in Vietnam, which ultimately meant failure in the next election. The pressure was so heavy that Johnson decided not to run for reelection. The bombing of North Vietnam was not nearly as successful as many had hoped. Cooper asserts that it did render one “major, unanticipated result” (512), which was political rather than military.

This was the fact that Washington was finally starting to talk seriously about negotiations. Ironically, while American bombs were dropping on North Vietnam, America was the one asking for peace talks. In essence, the timing was wrong and, in Cooper’s opinion, Washington was simply “not very skillful” (514). There seemed to be no easy way out of Vietnam. In addition to the lack of guidance in Washington, the soldiers in Vietnam had problems of their own. While America certainly had technology on its side, it was not enough to prepare them for the tenacity and resilience of the Vietcong. They were not familiar with guerilla tactics and almost every step they took was taken with their fear of booby traps. Furthermore, the Americans had a difficult time identifying Vietcong. They Vietcong were tough and did not show any signs of backing down even after they suffered great loss.

The Vietnam was a failure socially because Americans could not be assured that they were “winning” the war. Stanley Karnow maintains that in the beginnings, Americans were prepared to support the effort in Vietnam. They were ready to make the same sacrifices they had made in previous wars, but they had to be “shown progress, told when the war would end” (Karnow 20). Because they could never be given any evidence that things in Vietnam were successful, or even going well, they “turned against the war long before America’s political leaders did” (20). In fact, there has never been a time when public sentiment was so There were other complications that created contention in Washington. After the Tonkin Incident, Congress passed a Resolution that allowed the president to declare war without congressional support. This act was one that was intended to prevent a larger war from breaking out. However, as time went on, many realized that this not the case–in fact, just the opposite had taken place.

As a result of the worsening conditions in Vietnam, Congress repealed the Resolution in 1974. In America, frustration was seen in the form of protest. One of the most famous incidents involving Vietnam occurred at Kent State University. The year was 1970 and mood in the country regarding Vietnam was weary. Students at Kent State buried a copy of the Declaration of Independence, claiming, “President Nixon murdered it” (Davidson 1194). The demonstration picked up momentum as the day progressed and when the National Guard fired into the crowd because they did not disperse three students were killed and nine were injured. The news of this event triggered other protests and at Jackson State, policemen killed two students and injured 12, in a similar circumstance. In total, Karnow maintains that more than 400 universities closed their doors while professor and students protested and staged strikes against involvement in Vietnam. In addition, approximately 1000 protesters marched on Washington. (Karnow 611) It is important to note that in both circumstances, the protesters were unarmed. To general public felt killings “betrayed by those forces of law and order who were sworn to protect them” (Davidson 1195). The main concern at the time was who was the friend and who was the enemy.

The problem was that no one could answer Further evidence of failure in Vietnam can be seen in Nixon’s handling of the war. Nixon was known to have promised to “end the war and win the peace” (Karnow 612). However, his words did not reflect his sentiments. However, after six months in office, he had extended the boundaries of the war to reach into Cambodia. While Nixon was finally able to reach bring troops home, it was not a glamorous affair. Troops coming home meant leaving South Vietnam in a vulnerable situation. Indeed, South Vietnam would fall and the United States would finally realize that it could not fight every battle or war in the name of democracy. In conclusion, the war in Vietnam was a failure on many levels. Because Washington could never clearly define its strategy, it was hard to convince anyone of assurance in winning. Soldiers were unprepared for the will and strength of the Vietcong, which was a hint of things to come. The length of the war couple with an obvious lack of direction spurred a public outcry that intensified matters.


Cooper, Chester. The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam.

Greenwich: Fawcett Premier Books. 1972.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press. 1983.

Davidson, James. Nation of Nations. Vol. II. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. 1990.

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