“…we killed 26 times more than they did and we still lost.”
This is a question that Mr.G. William Davenport, former Administrative Law Judge (1994-2015), chose to answer on Quora. Here’s what he had to say:
You ask why America is obsessed with the Viet Nam War.
Everyone who is reading this lost someone in Viet Nam. War is about personal loss more than it is about statistics. Joseph Stalin actually defined it well — “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.”
Each American loss was personal — to a wife, a child, a brother/sister, a parent, a cousin, a friend. We cannot get over the personal loss.
And why did we lose these young men? The Government lied to the American people, over and over, about why we were in Viet Nam. What our goals were. And also about one other key point.
Did you know that America never had a plan to “win” the war? It’s true. Look up any news magazine of the period and read about our strategic plan, which was merely to prevent the enemy from winning. Our method? Tit for tat killing, a life for a life… blah, blah, blah, on and on, forever, world without end, amen. You see, we were so brilliant (cue file footage of Defense Secretary McNamara) that we would make the idea of war itself obsolete. NO ONE could ever win. Not them (we would prevent it) and not us (we weren’t even trying). Once that was realized, the enemy would stop fighting, since it was useless, and peace would break out (cue file footage of My Little Pony characters, playing on screen).
Seriously, dear readers, I cannot make this up. None of my students in American Government Class (when I teach that in local colleges) ever can believe this. Yet it is totally true, and right there in the popular press from back in the day. Please do look it up on the Internet.
You are now quite ahead of me, readers. You realize that America was asking a generation of young Americans to flush their lives down the toilet in return for…. nothing at all. We weren’t even trying to win a stupid war, supporting a bunch of non communist crooks, against a bunch of communist thugs, fought in a backwater country in the back of beyond.
The miracle is, these young men loved their country so much that, even when they had no objective reason in the world to go, nearly all of those who were drafted did go, did serve, did fight, and did either get horribly wounded or killed.
It’s no wonder Americans cannot forget Viet Nam.
, Editor/Publisher (2005-present)
There are so many reasons Tom; perhaps too many to even mention here. So, I will touch on just a few reasons. First, America had just become a “superpower” following WWII. We fought a very bitter war with North Korea (with the support of Russia and China) to a draw. We were now engaged in a ideological, economic, political, and surrogate war with Communist Russia and China, which became known as the Cold War, for what many claimed was a war for global democracy and freedom.
Then too, we blundered badly in our attempts to remove Castro form Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion. We had come close to a nuclear Armageddon during those seven days in October known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then we (and the world) witnesses the murder of a president live right there in our living rooms. I think that was simply a precursor of what we would be seeing nightly. We also had a growing social movement, the Civil Rights Movement, which made some of us to begin asking how can we be fighting for freedom and democracy elsewhere when we don’t have it here?
We got involved in Vietnam after France, its colonial overlord, had been soundly defeated, and on the advise on the CIA and State Department. As with most things, it started small-as advisers-then as instructors to operate the equipment we were now sending, and then light support, and then, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, we started putting boots on the ground-lots of them. I think that at this point, we were still fighting for an ideal; spreading American style democracy. We were also told that the Vietnamese wanted us there; that this would be a quick little war and be over (never mind that the Vietnamese had fought the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, and the French again).
Of course, that never happened. The war dragged on and on. We were provided with body counts by the Army as proof we were winning (we weren’t). Most of the numbers, as we soon learned, were faked). Then came the Tet Offensive. While a strategic loss for Hanoi, it was a brilliant PR piece. The North wasn’t as weak and teetering on collapse as were told. So, we bombed and bombed and bombed some more with little change in the result.
Meanwhile, resistance to the war grew into a national social movement. Like the Civil War, it was tearing families apart. This same movement had its own music, lifestyle, values, culture-which includes its own clothing and hair styles! Through this, our political system began to fracture as well. Parties broke off into various wings hawks, doves, and so forth. We had pro-war and anti-war politicians and candidates. We witnessed again the murders of Martin Luther King and then jut a few weeks latter, the brother of the slain president, Bobby Kennedy, who many had hoped could end the war and bridge this expanding gulf. We saw the corruption of politics unfold in Chicago in 1968, and the police riots. We saw the Ohio National Guard murder students at Kent State.
Finally, and perhaps most damning of all, was the nightly news reports which brought us daily images in living color of the fighting in Vietnam, and now too in Cambodia and Laos. Instead of reading censored print news reports like we did in WWII, we could now watch the carnage from the comfort of our living rooms and kitchens. Of course, things continued to escalate thanks to the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the SLA, Hippies, Yippies, Woodstock, and so much more.
We watched as one president, Lyndon Johnson, leave the White House in disgrace and a new one, Richard Nixon, enter. He was an unlikely savior of America. Despite his words to the contrary, he was a very conservative war hawk, and although he promised to end the war quickly, he thought he could bring about victory by quickly expanding it. He was wrong. Ultimately, the war did end, but now we faced corruption all the way up to the Oval Office in what became known as the Watergate Hearings. We would see first a Vice President leave office in disgrace, and then for the first time ever, a president resign.
Vietnam represents so much to Americans. It was our first military defeat, thanks mainly to a lack of political will and an inability of commanders to adapt. Those who came home from the war were treated like lepers, or worse. They were completely ignored. It divided the country into countless pieces. It revealed numerous lies by the military and government. It revealed a level of corruption we all knew existed but never imagined how widespread it was. The war even created two cultures mainstream and a counterculture. It showed the hypocrisy of fighting for an ideal overseas which didn’t exist at home. It shook America to the core, and in many ways, it still shakes us to this day.
Here is a third comment taken in part: As for the Vietnam War” America indeed inflicted disproportionate casualties on the enemy and never lost a real stand up fight. HOWEVER, America’s political and strategic goal in the war was to “maintain an Independent South Vietnam”. South Vietnam was eventually overran by the North so America lost.
Do you agree with any of these responses? Or, are you of the opinion that Americans should forget the war already? I’ve heard comments from my peers:
“The war’s over, It’s been fifty years.”
“Let it go and move on.”
“Nothing you do today will change what happened back then.”
If you are interested in adding a response to this question on Quora, then go here: https://www.quora.com/Why-won’t-Americans-forget-about-the-Vietnam-War-We-killed-26-times-the-amount-we-lost
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