Why did America withdraw its forces from Vietnam in 1973
After 30 years of war, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell into communist hands. Two years earlier, the US army left Vietnam defeated. Many factors made the Americans admit defeat. There are three areas, which account for the withdrawal of US troops: War factors including: failure of US military tactics; differences in experience between US and opposition forces; poor morale of US troops from the experiences of the war. Social factors that include: opposition to war particularly in America; unpopularity of South Vietnamese government; and the cost of war.
International factors including: support for VC forces from Russia and China: ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ was the American bombing campaign over North Vietnam. It was supposed to last 8 weeks but lasted 31/2 years. More bombs were dropped in this campaign than were dropped in the whole of the Second World War. North Vietnam had very few factories, meaning that bombing was ineffective. Another US tactic was called ‘Search and Destroy’ which was to find the enemy and destroy them. This was ineffective because the enemy was often too hard to find. This was because Vietcong wore clothes that were the same as peasant’s clothes.
They also hid in tunnels for long periods this factor affected US troops’ morale making it lower because it made the enemy mysterious and scary. The American were also scared of VC troops because of their guerrilla warfare tactics. The Americans were so desperate to do something that they burnt peasant’s homes. This was to stop peasants hiding Vietcong supporters in their homes but, in fact, it made peasants hate the Americans, and support for the Vietcong increased. The US also bombed neighbouring Cambodia because there were Vietcong bases and supply routes.
Chemical Weapons were used and civilians many of whom were South Vietnamese were killed. This increased the bad press for America in South Vietnam. This increased the unpopularity of both American and South Vietnamese governments. ‘Agent Orange’ was the most used chemical. It was shown to cause cancer for those who were in contact with the chemical. It also got into streams and was drunk by soldiers on both sides and by civilians. The Americans thought they could gain the peoples support but because of bombing, they were un-trustable
Experience in the two sides was very much different. The US army had to ‘draft’ the majority of its forces. These ‘drafted’ soldiers were relatively inexperienced and by the time, they were experienced to fight effectively then they were sent back home. The Americans had a rotating army. The VC used jungle-fighting tactics and the Americans were ill equipped in knowledge of how to fight this way. The VC was less sophisticated but they stayed close to the US troops. This meant Americans couldn’t bomb the VC without killing themselves.
The VC weren’t scared of death and they had a real cause for fighting. The American soldiers consumed drugs and alcohol because their morale was so low and this made them even less effective to fight against the VC. The lack of US experience in guerrilla warfare undermined their morale. The American soldiers didn’t believe in what they were fighting for. This meant they weren’t properly motivated for fighting. The opposition to war from many civilians at home reduced morale even more because they felt that they had little support from their own people.
The morale was so low that between 1966-1973 there were 503,000 cases of desertion. Racial tension was also a large problem. This tension was between black and white troops because at this time the white community was treating black people in an awful way. Black soldiers were commonly called the ‘beast’ and white soldiers would laugh behind the black soldiers back. There was always trouble seething beneath the surface. Black soldiers had very low morale because they were told they were fighting for people’s freedom. When in America they had little freedom.
The people of America were divided and wanted different things. Socialists were in support for the Vietcong. The Pacifists were anti-war and others didn’t feel that the war was worth losing. There was opposition to the war because of the war being televised. This included a VC ‘suspect’ who was executed without even being tried. There was protest that included the burning of draft paper and draft board offices. So, the draftees didn’t have to go to war. Some protest weren’t so non-violent like in Kent State University, Ohio. When 4 protesters were shot dead.
This just sparked more protests and strikes in universities. In one public poll, 56% of the public were against war. When the war started, Ngo Diem ruled the South Vietnamese government. He was a catholic and the majority of the South Vietnamese were Buddhist. He also wouldn’t give land to the peasants. There was a lot of corruption in this government. The ‘strategic hamlets’ programme failed because peasants were made to pay for buildings materials. There were many gunfights because of this. Kennedy removed Diem in the ‘coup d’etat’.
These were the reasons for the unpopularity of the South Vietnamese government. The war cost $120 billion: the kill rate was $400,000 for every ‘VC’ member killed, which included 75 bombs and 400 shells. 55132 Americans were killed and 2413 went Missing in Action. 500,000 veterans suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. The government had planned the ‘Great society’ but the war was costing $20 a year and Linden B Johnson had to cut welfare spending so the ‘Great society’ went this made the war in America even more un-popular.
The longer lasting costs were that people became more confident about protesting against the government and future protesters targeted nuclear weapons. All of these factors had great consequences on the withdrawal of US forces but poor US tactics and the poor morale of the US forces are the most important ones. Many of these factors interlink. The fact that the US soldiers were unable to fight their enemy face to face meant that their morale was very low.
The commonly known ‘Zippo Raids’ in which peasants houses were burnt down to discourage peasants from helping Vietcong only increased the support for VC and the unpopularity of the Americans. The use of chemicals meant Americans at home thought of the war being a crusade were dashed making the US government very unpopular. Protests in USA made morale lower for troops in Vietnam. The government had planned the ‘Great Society’ but the war was costing $20 a year and Linden B Johnson had to cut spending making war in America even more un-popular.