There is a pretty heated discussion about the war in Vietnam, among other things, in the comments of this post by Ginny, so these observations by Jerry Pournelle should contribute some useful context:
Viet Nam was a US success because a great part of Soviet transport production including trucks and such was built in the USSR, transported at great expense to Viet Nam and destroyed by USAF. When North Viet Nam invaded the South in 1975 they had more armor than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk, and more trucks than Patton ever had in the Red Ball Express. This was all replacements for similar amounts of materiel destroyed in 1973 when the US at a cost of 663 US casualties aided ARVN in repulsing a 150,000 troop invasion — fewer than 40,000 ever got back home — bringing with it more tanks than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk and more trucks than Patton ever had — none of which ever got home.
Viet Nam helped convert the USSR into Bulgaria with missiles. They neglected their own infrastructure to send materiel to Viet Nam for us to destroy.
As Pournelle also writes in his post, Afghanistan was yet another war of attrition that finished them off. One important reason why the Soviets didn’t realize all that in time was that they lied to each other. If displeasing your superiors with reports about problems is risky, you simply report successes all the time. The West in turn didn’t notice what happened because our spies didn’t get to hear anything but the misinformation Soviet officials were feeding each other. That’s also why the victory in Vietnam didn’t feel like one for decades. While Iraq isn’t Vietnam (it can’t be repeated frequently enough), the example of the long-term success that the Vietnam turned out to be should serve to demonstrate the virtue of patience. Iraq will only turn into a defeat (in the long as well as the short run) in case of a premature troop withdrawal (but that is an issue for another post).
15 thoughts on “The Vietnam War (eventually) resulted in an American victory”
Ralf- Pournelle is straight up correct. When I lived in the USSR, I talked to a lot of ex-officers and a few (then) current officers. They were unanimous in saying that Vietnam crushed their economy, especially the military economy. They went on to say that during Afganistan, when Regan seriously floated the idea of Star Wars, they realized that the snickers of the American left – that the plan was technically impossible – were irrelevant. Even a 50% successful screen put the USSR at a huge disadvantage to us, and they did not have the money to match the program, even if they could steal the technology. So Gorby’s hand was forced, and he withdrew the briding units from Central Europe, signalling the end of the USSR’s threat of immediate attack. It was during those conversations that I turned from an agnostic to believer on the utility of Vietnam – i.e. standing up to enemies wherever the chance presents itself. The domino theory was not just a theory, it was actual Soviet policy. Better to have stopped them in Asia than to have fought the proxy war in Latin America.
As an odd aside, the war left a huge network of ties between the Vietnamese and Russian mafias, and there were entire areas of Moscow controlled by Vietnamese gangs in the late 80s. They smuggled out all sorts of stuff that was worth little even to the Russians, but which in Vietnam’s devastated economy brough lots of return. Galvanized buckets, for example. The Russian mobsters used to laugh at that.
Vietnam also contributed to eventual victory because had the war not been fought there, it would have been fought somewhere else. In that sense, a losing war of attrition prevented the Communist from diverting resources to other targets.
However, although our years in Vietnam were not completely wasted, I think the abandonment did real lasting damage to the security of the US and the rest of free-world and that the effects of the damage persisted to this day long after the Cold War ended.
The mythology of the Vietnam conflict in which a materially weak but morally determined people defeat a decadent superpower has led every street gang with an a couple of AK-47s and an RPG to believe that they can defeat the US with a mixture of ruthlessness and patience. The training materials for Al-Quada, the Baathist and virtually every other opponent of the free-world since 1973 has been laced with references to our defeat in Vietnam. We might comfort ourselves that we eventually won the Cold War rendering the outcome of Vietnam moot but those leaders opposing us today rally their troops by pointing out that the Vietnamese communist who fought the US still rule Vietnam.
Vietnam destroyed what game theorist call our deterrence credibility and what criminals call “street cred”. We lost the ability to to credibly threaten even very weak actors with military force if they crossed the line. Much of the world’s lawlessness and oppression can be traced to the inability of the US and other developed nations to project power where it might be needed. Insurgents kill Americans in Iraq today because they believe that Vietnam taught them they can win by inflicting minor but continuous causalities.
Those killing US soldiers and Iraqi in Iraq today do so because they believe that they will end up on top just as the Vietnamese communist did. Many days, it is hard to argue that they are wrong to believe so.
Shannon: it gets worse than that.
Every potential ally may be reminded that when push comes to shove, we’re going to abandon them to their enemies, and that they’re going to wind up being refugees of one sort or another, AT BEST.
And I think that’s where the analysis really falls down.
It looks at all of our potential allies in the third world, all of the people who want something else besides rule by the Mubaraks, or the Musharrafs, or the Mullahs, as useful idiots to be expended.
It’s true that the Vietnam War and the Afghanistan war did contribute significantly to the demise of the USSR’s economy and later the fall of the USSR. I used to point this out to those leftists of their fallacies about the war is useless and meaningless and the domino didn’t fall if SVN falls. It didn’t fall because the banks of those supporting the NVN are broke and it’s as simple as that.
However, one point did escape most of us that it happened as a consequence of the war, neither designed nor planned. If the consequences turning out to help us in the future, just consider as luck like throwing a dart with eyes closed.
There are plenty of mistakes made then and prices are paid in full today by the USA as mentioned by Shannon & Phil but it seems to me there is no middle ground between both sides in the USA, those who prefer to intervene early on than rather at next door (or even within as in this current Iraq proxy war) and those decided to wait out until when. The outrageous consequence of this deadlock is a start/stop war with total waste and destruction of young men/women and their families, without any inkling idea of what the future would become and how many wars fighting like this to happen. And that is minuscule compared to the loss of others outside of the USA, those who believed in the USA and those believed they will prevail if they keep on fighting. What’s a tragedy starting right here inside the USA.
I understand the point of involving causing the USSR collapse but I fail to connect the virtue of patience with your cited example. In Vietnam, the 9 years period of the USA heavily involvement starting from 1963 to 1972 partly causing the USSR demise. The end is the USA still withdrawing. We are 3 years into this Iraq war and if I said we withdraw next year or maybe at 2009, what’s in the Vietnam example you cited above can help you to defending your case to stay the course? None.
“It looks at all of our potential allies in the third world, all of the people who want something else besides rule by the Mubaraks, or the Musharrafs, or the Mullahs, as useful idiots to be expended.”
Which is why GW Bush’s attempt at regime change to democracy is – with respect to all other regime changes in history – a very good, admirable thing. At least the motivation behind the attempt, not 100% altruistic to be sure, is a new high in power-play morality.
What a batch of rationalizations! “They” won; we left. They took over the country…they won. If you want to say ultimately we won, then why not say Let’s leave Iraq and ultimately we will have won?
As any of the guys that fought in Nam who won and who lost.
A valid point, but it worked at an even more basic level: During the Cold War it was vital for both sides to show that they could keep up with the other side. Even if the American system would have been completely ineffectual in practice, the Soviets couldn’t have deployed anything at all, even in practice, so they had already lost.
By an odd coincidence, Vietnamese who were living in East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down came up with a Mafia of their own that controls the smuggling od tax-free cigarrettes into Germany.
Regardless of the problems, the world is better off after the Vietnam war and with the current war in Iraq than without. Sometimes there are no good, much less pretty, options.
North Vietnam had lost more people and material than it could replace, the US left just as it had won. That would have one good reason to be patient; even if victory hasn’t been won in Iraq rigfht now, leaving would make things worse, not better, and leave a lot of people behind who would be slaughtered by the terrorists.
The Vietnam war was in itself just one battle of the Cold War. It finished the Soviet Union off as a serious power. Things would have been better if America hadn’t left too soon, but it didn’t change the eventual outcome.
I tried to post this here weekend, it was a comment a wrote regarding the irony of the push to set a timetable failing because they set a time table. I also posted it at Kevin Drum’s.
1) Vietnam population today is roughly 85 Million, while in the 70s around 40 Millions. Assuming “brain retardation coefficient” due to genetic, policy, environment conditions etc remains constant (which is not true in Vietnam case, relative to their past history, they are better today than before) that’s more than to replace the human resources lost in the war.
2) There is no natural resources known to be destroyed by the war that could not be recoverable other than natural resources destroyed by themselves during the idiotic years of 80s. Don’t forget that there are natural resources that could not be produced before during the war like oil fields currently is producing to line up their pockets.
3) Don’t forget every year, Vietnamese expatriates remit more than 1 Billion dollars free obligation economic aid since the mid 80s. It won’t last forever but it’s a significant amount of dollars considering in 1972-1975, US’s economic aids to SVN is $100-300 Millions dollars including military equipments.
You may argue America did win the cold war (by luck?) but your generalized statement above is incorrect. The US does lost the Vietnam battle.
It’s humanitarian argument, but it occurs after as a result of this start/stop war mentality, and the high pedestal American get themselves up to. It did not stop American to withdraw before and I suspect it will not today. The war today is no difference than bombing half bridges cross Korea/China border before and similar patterns had been seen in Vietnam War. What won the cold war is a product of luck, not a clear thought strategy, and that may or may not warrant a repeatable outcome. And less able bodies to join the fighting force in an all volunteer army if this mentality to continue.
Consequences of withdrawal (/timetables) via Instapundit.
Anyone who says the USA lost the Vietnam demonstrates gross ignorance of history. We went into the war because we were parties to the SEATO treaty which required us to help any party to the treaty who came under military attack by persons outside the treaty.
Pres. Nixon, by aggressive warfare and heavy strategic bombing and with hard-headed aggressive draftees like me who hate Godless communism forced the dirty dinks and gooks to the conference table in Paris in 1973. In that treaty, both sides promised not to ever try to take over the other side by military force, and to let their governments be selected only by free elections.
The dirty gooks signed the treaty in 1973; and so by 1975 when most of us GI’s were gone from there in reliance on the treaty, then, as soon as it was safe for the cowardly dinks, because they could never over-run the south when we draftees were there, the dirty, slope-headed gooks violated the treaty big time.
SO NOW WHO DO YOU SAY LOST THE VIETNAM WAR YOU IGNORAMUS UNAMERICAN MORON?
It was the dishonorable slope-headed gooks who lost. These dishonorable low-lifes have now made themselves subject to re-invasion from top to bottom someday soon because of their treachery. Most likely they never intended to let their promise be true, which is just like a stinking rotten gook.
P O W D E R R I V E R!!!!!! lET ‘ER BUCK !!!!!!!!
My favorite marching tune:
I’M GOING TO GO TO VIETNAM
I’M GOING TO KILL THE VIET CONG
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