The Vietnam War was one of the most unsuccessful wars that America has gotten itself into. In fact, it may be even worse than the Iraq War, as we technically “won” the Iraq War but didn’t meet our objective or foresee the damage that would be done to the entire Middle East. With Vietnam, the U.S. failed to defend Southern Vietnam from the Northern, Communistic part of Vietnam. I find it interesting that we’ve started to talk about the Vietnam War, as I just read a book called Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster. In it, the general writes about the failings of the American President, Lyndon Johnson, due to “arrogance, weakness, and lying.” In one of the readings written by the historian Loren Baritz in the book called “God’s Country and American Know-How,” the author asserts that Americans were arrogant and did not know what they were doing when they decided to fight the Vietnamese.
The book backs up this assertion, as American forces were unaccustomed to the surroundings in Vietnam, and the style of Guerilla Warfare really caused our forces great confusion and hurt. In fact, we were superior in technology and training, so why wouldn’t we be confident? Still, the President Johnson and his staff were very arrogant when it came to the war, as they thought we’d win it without much resistance when in fact it was one of the bloodiest wars after the 1950s. Vietnam wasn’t so much a military defeat, but a political defeat, as the Communists were able to break out of our policy of containment and take over a great portion of Vietnam. The author also writes that Americans knew very little of the Vietnamese. H.R. McMaster’s book also states how the American “intellects” didn’t know how the Vietnamese operated or who the Vietnamese were. America learned a valuable lesson in this war and the result of it: always know your enemy before you are willing to go to war with them. We have been much better regarding this with terrorism, the greatest threat we’ve faced in the 21st Century. George Herring’s “Fighting in Cold Blood: LBJ’s Conduct of Limited War in Vietnam” was a book about why we failed more than why we intervened.
Herring makes it known that America was overconfident in the war against Vietnamese Communists and did not estimate their enemies right. The author writes how we never really knew how we’d fight the war, and this ran all the way up to the Presidency. The author writes about how Johnson was never a war general, or a commander in chief, and often occupied himself with more domestic conflicts. The President, while picking his targets, never took “control” of his own war. This got me thinking: would we have won this war if we had a different President like Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy? Would the outcome have been different? From the way that this book states it, yes, we would have seen a different outcome if we had a commander in chief who was more experienced in war planning. We also would of had a different outcome if the President surrounded himself by different people.
Many in the military called it a war for optics, or a “limited war.” They had a point, as Johnson seemed more interested in the politics of the war rather than the outcome of fighting back the Communists. All three of the authors we have talked about and their corresponding works are backed up by the text: that America didn’t have its head in the game. If we would have done our homework, we would have won the war. That is the main take away that we should come away with when looking at why we lost the Vietnam War.