What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

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Futurist
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What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 15 Mar 2021 00:06

What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion? To me, it seems like what really hurt the U.S. and South Vietnamese fight in that war was the fact that North Vietnam was able to easily infiltrate South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia and through the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through those countries. This allowed North Vietnam to consistently send new troops and supplies to help the Communist insurgents (Viet Cong) in South Vietnam. While the U.S. actually did largely militarily defeat the original Viet Cong by the late 1960s due to them becoming significantly overexerted by the Tet Offensive, this didn't really matter all that much since regular PAVN North Vietnamese troops simply replaced the Viet Cong on the battlefield in ever-greater numbers.

What really helped in Korea was the fact that there was a huge demilitarized zone running from sea to sea. So, basically, South Korea was protected by a demilitarized zone in the north and by the sea on the other three sides. In turn, this makes me wonder whether a similar approach should have been attempted in regards to South Vietnam--as in, invading eastern Cambodia and southern Laos and advancing up to the Mekong River in order to create a more defensible boundary/buffer zone for South Vietnam--similar to the function that the Rhineland served for France between 1919 and 1936 in real life--while also preventing North Vietnam from using the Ho Chi Minh Trail to continue sending troops and supplies to the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. Of course, such a U.S. move would have likely generated A LOT OF international outrage--just imagine Communists everywhere accusing the U.S. of having "predatory imperialist designs" on Laos and Cambodia by invading them even if the U.S. would have only wanted to do this in order to actually secure a buffer zone for South Vietnam so that South Vietnam could have more breathing space from the Viet Cong and North Vietnam.

Of course, another option would be to extend the Vietnam War to North Vietnam through a U.S. invasion of North Vietnam, but this might simply trigger Chinese military intervention and thus trigger a repeat of the Korean War. And of course there was also the option of simply having the U.S. completely withdraw from South Vietnam by the mid-1960s and not to fight the Vietnam War at all, preferring to save its energies for another fight for another day. Of course, such a move would have likely triggered A LOT OF criticism from vehement anti-Communists in the U.S. who would have accused the U.S. of selling out South Vietnam similar to how it previously allegedly sold out China to Mao Zedong back in 1949--and this criticism might ring especially true if there will still be a huge Indochinese refugee crisis later on in this scenario as a result of the Communists coming to power throughout Indochina, as there was starting from the late 1970s in real life.

Anyway, any thoughts on this?

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 15 Mar 2021 05:35

Define "win"... and "which" Vietnam War, of course; there were several. ;)

a) Preservation of the RVN (South Vietnam) as established in 1955? or
b) Creation of a unified Vietnam, independent of France, at some point between (presumably) 1945-55?, or
c) something else?

Provide the desired end state and it can be discussed. Too many variables, otherwise.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 15 Mar 2021 06:45

I was thinking of Option A here.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 15 Mar 2021 07:49

Futurist wrote:
15 Mar 2021 06:45
I was thinking of Option A here.
Okay, given that as the goal and - presumably - the historical timeline of US support for the RVN up until 1965, it's a question if whether the RVN can survive past that point, absent a US ground force commitment. That was really the turning point, when LBJ okayed major US deployments - the 9th Marine Brigade beginning in March, growing to a full corps-sized force (III MAF) by May, built around (initially) the 3rd Marine Division; the Army began in April, with the 17rd Airborne Brigade, followed by 1st/101st Brigade, the entire 1st Cavalry Division in September, and the 1st Infantry Division to follow; by January, 1966, there were roughly 117,000 US Army soldiers and 41,000 Marines in Vietnam, through the end of the year, the 4th, 9th, and 25th infantry divisions, the 1st Marine Division, and three more separate brigades.

The problem, of course, is there were never "enough" US troops; by 1969, there were more than a half-million American military personnel in the RVN, and the ground force order of battle at the high point amounted to a field army with four corps headquarters equivalents, nine full US divisions (1st Marine, 3rd Marine, 1st Cavalry, 1st, 4th, 9th, 25th, Americal infantry divisions; 101st Airborne (Airmobile)) and the equivalent of seven US separate brigades. Including the ARVN (four corps, 12 divisions+), the ROKs (one corps, two divisions and a brigade), the Thai force (light division or reinforced brigade) and the Australian brigade) and the Allied forces available amounted to an army group with ~26 divisions...

Which makes the point clear; the RVN was not something "enough" men were willing to fight to preserve, as opposed to the number of men who were willing to fight to end it... the ARVNs couldn't do it alone, obviously, and the Allies didn't want to continue to bear the costs of doing it for them.

And I do not believe that reality could ever have been overcome by changes in strategy, operations, or tactics.

As has been said, about a different "hot" war during the Cold War:

"Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on Earth were at hand—at too many hands. But, pushbutton warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon, hopefully, will never be an end of national policy. Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud. ”

The ARVNs and the US and the Allies put a lot of young men "in the mud" in 1965-75, using a wide variety of strategies, operations, and tactics; the DRV put more. We all know who is still there...

The entire conflict was a tragedy, and despite the courage and commitment of many (and the crimes and cruelty of some), whatever potential the RVN could offer as never enough to surmount what the DRV could - at least to the people who actually lived in Vietnam.

The only way for the US to "win" was not to fight.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 15 Mar 2021 23:00

daveshoup2MD wrote:
15 Mar 2021 07:49
Futurist wrote:
15 Mar 2021 06:45
I was thinking of Option A here.
Okay, given that as the goal and - presumably - the historical timeline of US support for the RVN up until 1965, it's a question if whether the RVN can survive past that point, absent a US ground force commitment. That was really the turning point, when LBJ okayed major US deployments - the 9th Marine Brigade beginning in March, growing to a full corps-sized force (III MAF) by May, built around (initially) the 3rd Marine Division; the Army began in April, with the 17rd Airborne Brigade, followed by 1st/101st Brigade, the entire 1st Cavalry Division in September, and the 1st Infantry Division to follow; by January, 1966, there were roughly 117,000 US Army soldiers and 41,000 Marines in Vietnam, through the end of the year, the 4th, 9th, and 25th infantry divisions, the 1st Marine Division, and three more separate brigades.

The problem, of course, is there were never "enough" US troops; by 1969, there were more than a half-million American military personnel in the RVN, and the ground force order of battle at the high point amounted to a field army with four corps headquarters equivalents, nine full US divisions (1st Marine, 3rd Marine, 1st Cavalry, 1st, 4th, 9th, 25th, Americal infantry divisions; 101st Airborne (Airmobile)) and the equivalent of seven US separate brigades. Including the ARVN (four corps, 12 divisions+), the ROKs (one corps, two divisions and a brigade), the Thai force (light division or reinforced brigade) and the Australian brigade) and the Allied forces available amounted to an army group with ~26 divisions...

Which makes the point clear; the RVN was not something "enough" men were willing to fight to preserve, as opposed to the number of men who were willing to fight to end it... the ARVNs couldn't do it alone, obviously, and the Allies didn't want to continue to bear the costs of doing it for them.

And I do not believe that reality could ever have been overcome by changes in strategy, operations, or tactics.

As has been said, about a different "hot" war during the Cold War:

"Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on Earth were at hand—at too many hands. But, pushbutton warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon, hopefully, will never be an end of national policy. Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud. ”

The ARVNs and the US and the Allies put a lot of young men "in the mud" in 1965-75, using a wide variety of strategies, operations, and tactics; the DRV put more. We all know who is still there...

The entire conflict was a tragedy, and despite the courage and commitment of many (and the crimes and cruelty of some), whatever potential the RVN could offer as never enough to surmount what the DRV could - at least to the people who actually lived in Vietnam.

The only way for the US to "win" was not to fight.
What about having the U.S. invade Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War, advance up to the Mekong River, and refuse to withdraw until and unless southern Laos and eastern Cambodia would have permanently been turned into demilitarized zones?

By the way, had the U.S. not fought in Vietnam at all, do you think that the U.S. would have fought in any other wars to stop the spread of Communism later on? If so, which wars?

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 15 Mar 2021 23:54

Well, the US "did" invade Cambodia. Trying to stay was unsustainable, historically.

As far as where else the US might deploy substantial conventional forces, whether to "fight" or not, depends on where. The FRG and ROK, obviously, as well as the Dominican Republic. Thailand, and Lebanon; anywhere else where there was a commitment due to NATO, Rio Treaty, multilateral, and - depending on when - what was left of SEATO and/or CENTO... especially in a maritime theater. ;)

Trying to fight the DRV, which had a land frontier with China and what amounted to sanctuaries in Laos, and - of course - an ally in the Soviets who were willing to supply a pretty up to date IADS by a mix of air and sealift, was a hill that really could not be climbed.

Building a line from the sea through Laos to Thailand was considered, but considering the weakness of the ARVN, it was given up as impossible. Say what you wish about the ROKs, by the 1960s they were holding the line, to the point they sent the Capital and 9th divisions to RVN, along with the marine brigade - of course, a peninsula makes that a little easier.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 16 Mar 2021 00:51

What exactly is the FRG? And Yeah, the best bet for South Vietnam was probably to try creating a defensive line from the coast through Laos to Thailand, but as you said, if South Vietnam couldn't actually hold this line without significant U.S. help, then ...

I wonder if a U.S. military intervention in Angola would have ever actually been plausible in this scenario.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Mar 2021 01:35

The FRG was the Federal Republic of Germany; i.e. West Germany, where the US 7th Army and 17th Air Force spent most of 1945-90.

As far as Angola goes, absent the quagmire in SEA, and given the country had what amounted to maybe three ports worth the name, it's not like the Soviets could have done much otherwise, if the US chose to actively support the Portuguese, South Africans, and, ultimately, FNLA and UNITA.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 16 Mar 2021 01:39

Interesting. Other than Angola, where else could the US have effectively fought to roll back Soviet and Communist influence in this scenario?

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Mar 2021 08:16

Futurist wrote:
16 Mar 2021 01:39
Interesting. Other than Angola, where else could the US have effectively fought to roll back Soviet and Communist influence in this scenario?
Roll back?

Same places they did historically:
  • China
    Egypt
    Indonesia
    Ethiopia or Somalia (or both; alliances in the Horn of Africa was "fluid" during the Cold War, to be charitable)
    North or South Yemen (same)
    Nicaragua...
Depending upon events:
  • Czechoslovakia
    Cuba

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 16 Mar 2021 20:22

Interesting; thank you.

By the way, why do you think that the South Vietnamese military was so much weaker than the South Korean military was?

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Mar 2021 04:37

Futurist wrote:
16 Mar 2021 20:22
Interesting; thank you.

By the way, why do you think that the South Vietnamese military was so much weaker than the South Korean military was?
[/quote}

Interesting question - it would take more time and energy and language capabilities than I have, but some initial thoughts:

1) Obvious, but the ROK is a peninsula; the RVN was a littoral; the ROK military learned its trade in what is, by definition, a strong defensive position;
2) The history under the pre-independence imperial powers of Vietnam and Korea was very different;
3) The ROK Army was built by the US pretty much from the ground-up; the ARVN came into existence under French command and then had to transition.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by sailorsam » 17 Mar 2021 15:05

Futurist wrote:
16 Mar 2021 20:22
By the way, why do you think that the South Vietnamese military was so much weaker than the South Korean military was?
I'm no expert
imho the SVn government had no moral authority. it was corrupt and tended to ignore rural areas.
and it was seen as the puppet to colonial overlords (first France, then USA). thus not much loyalty or desire to fight for.
most VietNamese, imho, just wanted to be left alone.

the USA was portrayed as the next French, wanting to rule. in fact the USA had no desire to rule Vietnam, it just didn't want it to be communist, but was never able to convince the Vietnamese people of this. apparently a lot of the people saw the war as an extension of the revolution against the French.
very sad that Ho Chi Minh was communist. if he had just been a nationalist he could have led his country to independence and better days.

fwiw, united Vietnam wasn't the Moscow (or Beijing) puppet the USA feared it would be.
am happy to see some freedom returning there now.
shame they wasted a generation on government by marxist dogma.
Saint Peter, let these men enter Heaven; they served their time in hell.

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 17 Mar 2021 23:00

@daveshoup2MD: Was Korea more of a martial power pre-independence than Vietnam was?

As for your point #1 here, if you would have extended Vietnam's DMZ through Laos all of the way up to the Thai border, this would have significantly helped with this, no?

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Re: What should the U.S. have done to win the Vietnam War, in your honest opinion?

Post by Futurist » 17 Mar 2021 23:01

sailorsam wrote:
17 Mar 2021 15:05
Futurist wrote:
16 Mar 2021 20:22
By the way, why do you think that the South Vietnamese military was so much weaker than the South Korean military was?
I'm no expert
imho the SVn government had no moral authority. it was corrupt and tended to ignore rural areas.
and it was seen as the puppet to colonial overlords (first France, then USA). thus not much loyalty or desire to fight for.
most VietNamese, imho, just wanted to be left alone.

the USA was portrayed as the next French, wanting to rule. in fact the USA had no desire to rule Vietnam, it just didn't want it to be communist, but was never able to convince the Vietnamese people of this. apparently a lot of the people saw the war as an extension of the revolution against the French.
very sad that Ho Chi Minh was communist. if he had just been a nationalist he could have led his country to independence and better days.

fwiw, united Vietnam wasn't the Moscow (or Beijing) puppet the USA feared it would be.
am happy to see some freedom returning there now.
shame they wasted a generation on government by marxist dogma.
Yep, I head that Vietnam only turned to the Soviet Union for assistance due to the US being hostile to it.

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