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Hamilton College

Publication Date

Fall 2009

Program Name

Viet Nam: National Development and Globalization

Abstract

By the time tanks of the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon to reunify the country in 1975, the United States had spent almost two hundred billion dollars and lost over 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam. From the late 1940’s until the fall of Saigon, the United States had been fervently trying to prevent a communist takeover in Vietnam, spending billions to help France retain her Indochinese colonies, and subsequently billions in aid to the successive governments of the southern Republic of Vietnam. Yet despite the massive spending and military superiority, the United States, like France before her, eventually had to withdraw from Vietnam. While Vietnamese today are hesitant to apply such definitive terms as “won and lost” to the result of the conflict (over fifty times as many North Vietnamese died in the war compared to American casualties), the perceived loss by American forces perplexed both the American military command and public. This perception illustrates an inherent and crucial flaw in American attitude during the war. Though the war obviously manifested itself as a military conflict, the underlying driving force of the Vietnamese resistance was overwhelmingly political and social. The Vietnamese Communist party was driven to gain as much popular support as possible, and render occupying forces politically neutral, while the masses of Vietnamese society finally grasped their ability to create lasting change in their country. American commanders in Vietnam seemed ignorant of the almost spiritual attitude that many Vietnamese fought with, often trying to quantify the war in body counts and bombing missions. In 1968, the reporter I.F. Stone wrote that American policy makers and commanders had no grasp of the true struggle being waged by the Vietnamese:

In reading the military literature on guerilla warfare now so fashionable at the Pentagon, one feels that these writers are like men watching a dance from outside through heavy plate glass windows. They see the motions but they can’t hear the music. They put the mechanical gestures down on paper… But what rarely comes through to them are the injured racial feelings, the misery, the rankling slights, the hatred, the devotion, the inspiration and the desperation. So they cannot understand what leads men to abandon wife, children, home… to challenge overwhelming military odds rather than acquiesce any longer in humiliation, injustice, poverty…

Trying to break the Vietnamese resistance against the French and American forces down into troop numbers and tactical capabilities, as both countries tried to do, is simply an impossibility. To do so would negate the menagerie of forces that coalesced and combined to create the Vietnamese resistance movement that lasted for thirty years, and fall victim to the same trappings that ensnared French and American policy. This research paper is thus not a chronology of events and compilation of figures, but rather an analysis of the mentality, tactics, and motivations of the entire resistance movement, from the peasant to the soldier to the president. Through interviews, memoirs, museum visits, poems, art, propaganda, and historical documents, I will show that the Vietnamese resistance movement during throughout both wars was an extremely well-planned effort that effectively wove together political, social, and military strategies to mobilize an entire population for three decades of intense warfare.

Disciplines

Peace and Conflict Studies

 

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