Why We (US) Lost the Vietnam War By John Steele
I often wondered why the militarily-superior US lost the Vietnam War. At a gut level I always felt that it was due to the spirit of the times, of the 1960s revolt against the West, which is in the final stages today. This article, which I found, does a good job elaborating on this theme:
“The hidden war:
Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous. Conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by…the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.
Armed Forces Journal, June 1971
THE MOST neglected aspect of the Vietnam War is the soldiers’ revolt–the mass upheaval from below that unraveled the American army. It is a great reality check in an era when the U.S. touts itself as an invincible nation. For this reason, the soldiers’ revolt has been written out of official history. Yet it was a crucial part of the massive antiwar movement whose activity helped the Vietnamese people in their struggle to free Vietnam–described once by President Johnson as a “raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country”–from U.S. domination. The legacy of the soldiers’ revolt and the U.S. defeat in Vietnam–despite more recent U.S. victories over Iraq and Serbia–casts a pall on the Pentagon. They still fear the political backlash that might come if U.S. ground forces sustain heavy casualties in a future war. The army revolt was a class struggle that pitted working-class soldiers against officers who viewed them as expendable. The fashionable attempt to revise Vietnam War history, to airbrush its horrors, to create a climate supportive of future military interventions, cannot acknowledge that American soldiers violently opposed that war, or that American capitalism casually tolerated the massacre of working-class troops. Liberal academics have added to the historical distortion by reducing the radicalism of the 1960s to middle-class concerns and activities, while ignoring working-class rebellion. But the militancy of the 1960s began with the Black working class as the motor force of the Black liberation struggle, and it reached its climax with the unity of white and Black working-class soldiers whose upsurge shook U.S. imperialism.
In Vietnam, the rebellion did not take the same form as the mass stateside GI antiwar movement, which consisted of protests, marches, demonstrations and underground newspapers. In Vietnam, the aim of the soldiers was more modest, but also more subversive: survival, to “CYA” (cover your ass), to protect “the only body you have” by fighting the military’s attempt to continue the war. The survival conflict became a war within the war that ripped the armed forces apart. In 1965, the Green Machine was the best army the U.S. ever put into the field; a few years later, it was useless as a fighting force. “Survival politics,” as it was then called, expressed itself through the destruction of the search-and-destroy strategy, through mutinies, through the killing of officers, and through fraternization and making peace from below with the National Liberation Front (NLF). It was highly effective in destroying everything that military hierarchy and discipline stand for. It was the proudest moment in the U.S. army’s history. Like most of the revolutionary traditions of the American working class, the soldiers’ revolt has been hidden from history.
Shortly after the war began, radicalism started to get a hearing among young workers. As the Black liberation struggle moved northward from 1965 to 1968, 200 cities had ghetto uprisings–spreading revolutionary consciousness among young, working-class Blacks. In the factories, those same years saw a strong upturn in working-class militancy, with days lost to strikes and wildcats doubling. Left-wing ideas from the student movement were reaching working-class youth through the antiwar movement. In 1967 and 1968, many of the troops had been radicalized before their entry into the army. Still others were radicalized prior to being shipped to Vietnam by the GI antiwar movement on stateside bases. Radicalizing soldiers soon came up against the harsh reality that the officers viewed working-class troops as expendable. … Officer corruption was rife. A Pentagon official writes, “[the] stench of corruption rose to unprecedented levels during William C. Westmoreland’s command of the American effort in Vietnam.” The CIA protected the poppy fields of Vietnamese officials and flew their heroin out of the country on Air America planes. Officers took notice and followed suit. The major who flew the U.S. ambassador’s private jet was caught smuggling $8 million of heroin on the plane. Army stores (PXs) were importing French perfumes and other luxury goods for the officers to sell on the black market for personal gain. But the black market extended far beyond luxury goods: “The Viet Cong received a large percentage of their supplies from the United States via the underground routes of the black market: kerosene, sheet metal, oil, gasoline engines, claymore mines, hand grenades, rifles, bags of cement,” which were publicly sold at open, outdoor black markets.
The troops were quickly disillusioned with a war in which American-made military matériel was being used against them. And then there were endless scandals: PX scandals, NCO-club scandals, sergeant-major scandals, M-16 jamming scandals. In interviews, when Vietnam veterans were asked what stood out about their experience, a repeated answer was “the corruption.” The ethics of the officer corps imitated those of the business elite they served. They were corrupted by six-month command tours while their men served a year, by career advancement at the expense of troop welfare, by black market profiteering, and by living in luxury in the midst of combat troop slaughter. The corruption of the officers, combined with the combat plan that avoided officer casualties while guaranteeing the slaughter of their men, produced explosive results. The refusal of an order to advance into combat is an act of mutiny. In time of war, it is the gravest crime in the military code, punishable by death. In Vietnam, mutiny was rampant, the power to punish withered and discipline collapsed as search and destroy was revoked from below. Until 1967, open defiance of orders was rare and harshly repressed, with sentences of two to ten years for minor infractions. Hostility to search-and-destroy missions took the form of covert combat avoidance, called “sandbagging” by the grunts. A platoon sent out to “hump the boonies” might look for a safe cover from which to file fabricated reports of imaginary activity. But after Tet, there was a massive shift from combat avoidance to mutiny. One Pentagon official reflected that “mutiny became so common that the army was forced to disguise its frequency by talking instead of ‘combat refusal.'” Combat refusal, one commentator observed, “resembled a strike and occurred when GIs refused, disobeyed, or negotiated an order into combat.”
Acts of mutiny took place on a scale previously only encountered in revolutions. The first mutinies in 1968 were unit and platoon-level rejections of the order to fight. The army recorded 68 such mutinies that year. By 1970, in the 1st Air Cavalry Division alone, there were 35 acts of combat refusal. One military study concluded that combat refusal was “unlike mutinous outbreaks of the past, which were usually sporadic, short-lived events. The progressive unwillingness of American soldiers to fight to the point of open disobedience took place over a four-year period between 1968-71.” The 1968 combat refusals of individual units expanded to involve whole companies by the next year. The first reported mass mutiny was in the 196th Light Brigade in August 1969. Company A of the 3rd Battalion, down to 60 men from its original 150, had been pushing through Songchang Valley under heavy fire for five days when it refused an order to advance down a perilous mountain slope. Word of the mutiny spread rapidly. The New York Daily News ran a banner headline, “Sir, My Men Refuse To Go.” The GI paper, The Bond, accurately noted, “It was an organized strike…A shaken brass relieved the company commander…but they did not charge the guys with anything. The Brass surrendered to the strength of the organized men.” This precedent–no court-martial for refusing to obey the order to fight, but the line officer relieved of his command–was the pattern for the rest of the war. Mass insubordination was not punished by an officer corps that lived in fear of its own men. Even the threat of punishment often backfired. In one famous incident, B Company of the 1st Battalion of the 12th Infantry refused an order to proceed into NLF-held territory. When they were threatened with court-martials, other platoons rallied to their support and refused orders to advance until the army backed down. As the fear of punishment faded, mutinies mushroomed. There were at least ten reported major mutinies, and hundreds of smaller ones. Hanoi’s Vietnam Courier documented 15 important GI rebellions in 1969. At Cu Chi, troops from the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry refused battle orders. The “CBS Evening News” broadcast live a patrol from the 7th Cavalry telling their captain that his order for direct advance against the NLF was nonsense, that it would threaten casualties, and that they would not obey it. Another CBS broadcast televised the mutiny of a rifle company of the 1st Air Cavalry Division.’
In summary, it was impossible to win the Vietnam War because the US, and its allies were defeated by factors such as the radical communist/Leftist spirit of the time and the corruption of the elites. These are factors which have not gone away, but are present still. There is no doubt in my opinion, that the same forces would emerge, with even more strength today, when the inevitable war against China occurs. And, given the way things are now, even more decomposed than the relatively secure 1960s, it is hard to see how the West could prevail, given the force of the enemies within, the white ants, ever busy working away to undermine the foundations of Western civilisation, along with the dark cloud of diversity. Sad alright, but that is the tragic sense of life in men and nations: