Why the North Won the Vietnam War

By Neu, Charles E. | Naval War College Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Why the North Won the Vietnam War


Neu, Charles E., Naval War College Review


Gilbert, Marc Jason, ed. Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 254pp. $69.95

Since the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975, Americans have sought to understand how their government could have lost the Vietnam War. Given the enormous gap in resources between the United States and the Vietnamese revolutionaries, it is difficult for even scholars of the war to explain why this nation's mighty military machine failed to defeat its enemy's forces. Many who have written about the war have focused on the alleged mistakes of American civilian and military leaders, arguing that more enlightened policies, such as fewer restrictions on military operations or more emphasis on pacification, would have turned the tide in South Vietnam. The purpose of the eight essays in this volume is to place American policies in a broader context-or, as Gilbert writes, to recognize that "the outcome of that war was determined less at MACV [Military Assistance Command, Vietnam] and Washington than by the persistence of the enemy on the battlefield and in political cultures of the Saigon regime, the National Liberation Front, and its partners in Hanoi."

The most original essays in this volume, by William J. Duiker, George C. Herring, and Robert K. Brigham, pursue aspects of this theme. Duiker traces the efforts of the government in Hanoi "to manipulate the international and diplomatic environment to its own advantage" and its complicated relations with China and the Soviet Union, allies whose aid was vital to the North Vietnamese war effort. Herring emphasizes the international dimensions of America's defeat, noting how the inability of the Lyndon Johnson administration to gain support from European allies undermined the U.S. war effort. Brigham challenges the traditional distinction between northerners and southerners, arguing that it is misleading to divide "the struggle along geographical lines that have no cultural or historical precedent." Northerners, he argues, did not make all of the key decisions in the war; rather, southerners came to dominate party councils in Hanoi and were able to convince their northern comrades to pursue a more aggressive strategy in the South. …

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