“From 1964 to 1972, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort, with everything short of atomic bombs, to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny, peasant country – and failed. When the United States fought in Vietnam, it was organized modern technology versus organized human beings, and the human beings won.” Professor Howard Zinn
It is a little known fact that United States soldiers won every significant battle they fought during the entire Vietnam War. Most Americans, especially younger Americans, have the impression that our military “lost” the Vietnam War in the field. This false impression is as widespread as it is largely because the left wing extremists who make up most college history faculties, and write most of the mainstream history books, insist on portraying the soldiers who served in that war as losers.
The United States Military is not very popular among the political left, and nowhere is this anti-military bias more apparent than on college campuses. During the Vietnam War left wing radicals associated with groups like Students for a Democratic Society frequently planted bombs in and/or committed acts of arson against campus ROTC buildings. Thirty such attacks damaged ROTC buildings in 1970 alone.
In more recent years many universities banned or obstructed armed service recruiters on campus, causing a confrontation with Congress and the Defense Department that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which decided unanimously in favor of the military.
And, of course, the only form of federal government spending that academics and other leftists consistently oppose is military spending.
The roots of much of this hostility go back to the 1960’s, when male students eager to avoid or evade the draft frequently tried to take the moral high ground by denouncing their peers who served in Vietnam as war criminals, or as ignorant dupes being sent into harm’s way by the “military industrial complex.” Many of those draft protesters of yesteryear are the college professors of today.
The View from the Ivory Tower
Mainstream history textbooks are pretty uniform in how they present the military dynamics of the Vietnam War. Following are a few representative quotes from widely used freshman history textbooks.
From Give Me Liberty: “The only war the United States has ever lost, Vietnam was a military, political, and social disaster.”1 (Italics added)
From Nation of Nations: “By any real measure of military success the Vietcong peasant guerrillas and their lightly armed North Vietnamese allies had held off, and in that sense defeated, the world’s greatest military power.”2
From A People’s History of the United States: “It was the first clear defeat to the global American empire formed after World War II. It was administered by revolutionary peasants abroad, and by an astonishing movement of protest at home.”3
What Really Happened
In reality the Vietnam War was only a “military disaster” for the North Vietnamese troops who invaded South Vietnam, and had to face American troops in combat. In battle after battle US troops defeated and drove back the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and their Viet Cong allies, always imposing disproportionate casualties.
From the first major encounter between American GI’s and Communist forces at the Battle of Ia Drang until the Nixon administration pulled American forces out of the country, American troops won every significant battle they fought.
Even more dishonest is the statement about Communist forces having “held off” American military power. It was the Communists who started the war by sending troops into South Vietnam. The government of South Vietnam invited the Americans in to help them hold off the invading Communists, which the American GI’s did with great success for eight years.
The Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations never allowed our troops to chase the invaders back across the border. If US forces had invaded North Vietnam, it is unlikely that the NVA would have been able to “hold off” the Americans for any length of time.
Finding Defeat in Victory
Unable to point to a single case of Communist forces actually winning a battle against American troops, left-leaning scholars do what they can to portray the America war effort in a negative light.
History textbooks tend to say very little about the actual fighting that went on during the 1968 Tet Offensive, for example. Most textbooks focus instead on the fact that public support for the war effort waned during this period. The intensity of the fighting during Tet, brought into America’s living rooms by the television networks, caused a backlash against the war. This “political victory” for the Communists is the closest thing to a victory that their apologists in academia can point to.
From a military standpoint, however, the Tet Offensive was a disaster for the Communists. The combined forces of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army attacked dozens of cities in the South, and could not hold a single one. The US Army and Marines routed the Communists, killing an estimated 37,000 to 42,000 soldiers in just a few weeks. For all intents and purposes the Viet Cong ceased to exist as an organized military force after being ravaged by American forces during Tet; all it could manage for the rest of the war was isolated guerilla actions.
There are many factors that helped contribute to North Vietnam’s conquest of South Vietnam in 1975, but battlefield incompetence by the American military is not one of them. The history professors and other leftists who take such pleasure in describing our soldiers as losers are telling us more about their own prejudices than they are about actual history.
1Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, WH Norton & Co. 2006 edition, p.890
2Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff; Nation of Nations, McGraw Hill 2006 edition, p. 912
3Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial 2005 edition, p. 501