With so many competing theories and perceptions about the Vietnam War's nature, it is not surprising that there was little agreement in the United States among the public or in government about what was happening inside and to South Vietnam. Was the war caused by North Vietnamese aggression or by South Vietnamese corruption? Was it a civil war or an international war? Revolutionary or conventional? If you cannot agree on causes and character, how can you develop a coherent response?
Which brings us to the problem of U.S. objectives. In June 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower's orders read, “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” The objectives were clearly defined, and the military and political aims of the United States meshed well with what Professor Russell F. Weigley has described as “the American way of war.”
For a century prior to the commitment of American forces to Vietnam, the United States' wars generally had been crusades in which the might of industry was wedded to the rectitude of morality; however, American objectives were never clearly defined in Vietnam, and a multiplicity of rationales were offered. At best, we seemed to have two basic objectives: (1) how to “create conditions” in which an anticommunist government could survive in South Vietnam; and (2) how to make North Vietnam pay for its aggression. But according to surveys by retired Brigadier General Douglas Kinnard, 70 percent of the U.S. Army generals who served in Vietnam were unsure of our reason for being there. Indeed, our objectives seemed to change over time. Following the 1968 Tet offensive, the United States opted for a “no win” policy in Vietnam. As the Vietnamization program continued, “peace with honor” became our expressed goal.
Did confusion as to goals and objectives doom the Republic of Vietnam despite