Vietnam ‘What If’s’ Still Haunt U.S.

Spending 10 days in Vietnam, I observed that 40 years after the American war, southerners, especially in Saigon, internalized a capitalist mindset of working long and hard hours to get ahead, pleasing customers, and going the extra mile for tips. This was much less true in the north, where a communist mindset of clock-watching by workers seemed to prevail. This led me to wonder if southern Vietnam would have been better off if it had the right to self-determination, to maintain free-market capitalism. Maybe the freedom of the South Vietnamese was worth fighting for?

On the same trip, I made a somewhat contradictory observation. I saw so many corporations that originated in America (KFC, Apple, Burger King) and such a hunger for capitalism and consumer goods that I began to wonder who actually won the war. Just a relatively few years after the war, America was one of Vietnam’s strongest allies against China. If Vietnam was safe for capitalism,  what the hell was the war about, and why did 57,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese have to die?

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Historian Max Boot’s book, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, has stirred new debate. Lansdale, a legendary CIA operative, was central in the Philippines to quashing a communist insurgency, creating a stable democracy and ally of the US.  He thought he could do the same thing in Vietnam, by listening, studying, and learning with a sense of empathy for the experiences of the people of the country, capturing their “hearts and minds,” not just military victories.

  • NYT Review: The War That Never Goes Away. “For Lansdale, as for Boot, Diem’s ouster and murder in a coup d’état in late 1963 backed by the United States was a watershed moment, a calamitous development from which the war effort never fully recovered…There is power in Boot’s conclusion that Lansdale “never wanted to see half a million American troops thrashing around Vietnam, suffering and inflicting heavy casualties. His approach, successful or not, would have been more humane and less costly.” In this sense, the Lansdale way was indeed “the road not taken.” Whether that road would have led to the destination he so wanted to reach, however, is doubtful. As much as this irrepressible Cold Warrior might have thought otherwise, Vietnam for the United States was destined to be what it had always been: a riddle beyond American solution.”
  • Washington Post review: Charting a different course in the Vietnam War to fewer deaths and a better end. “Boot judiciously refrains from contending that Lansdale’s route would have yielded a materially different outcome… The closest Boot comes to charting an alternate history is when he faults Washington for withdrawing Lansdale from Saigon in late 1956 and failing to “replace his constructive, if not always decisive,” benign influence on Diem, to counter the “paranoid counsel” of his brother Nhu. That failure, he writes, set Vietnam on course to become, within a decade, “a failing state kept alive only with heavy infusions of American blood.”

Did the Media, Led By Walter Cronkite, Lose the Vietnam War? The 1968 Tet Offensive, which the media portrayed as a defeat for South Vietnam, was, in fact, a victory in that Saigon turned back the surprise invasion from the North.

Could America Really Have Won the Vietnam War? | The National …

nationalinterest.org/blog/the…/could-america-really-have-won-the-vietnam-war-2120…

Jun 17, 2017 – But this did not mean that South Vietnam could survive on its own, or that there was any medium-term prospect of the Saigon government …

The War We Could Have Won – The New York Times

May 1, 2005 – In this view, “our side,” South Vietnam, was a creation of foreigners and led by a corrupt urban elite with no popular roots. Hence it could never …

How could the U.S. have won the Vietnam War? – Quora

Sep 4, 2015 – Even if the Americans and South Vietnamese could defeat the North Vietnamese in every battle, they could not meaningfully interdict their source of supplies …

How Could the U.S. Have Won the Vietnam War? – The Vietnam War

Oct 25, 2014 – Ho Chi Minh trail whose importance was undeniable to the Viet Cong survival in South Vietnam could have been destroyed. Had the U.S. …

PARAMETERS, US Army War College Quarterly – Winter 1996-97

by J RECORD – ‎Cited by 23 – ‎Related articles

Vietnam in Retrospect: Could We Have Won? … Years of bombing North Vietnam and “attriting” communist forces in South Vietnam neither broke Hanoi’s will …

Could the United States Have Won in Vietnam?

May 23, 2013 – The Vietnam War was a civil war waged between the countries of North and South Vietnam; the conflict soon escalated into one of the major …

Could South Vietnam have won without the US? : history – Reddit

Jul 27, 2016 – 12 posts – ‎10 authors

I’m wondering if South Vietnam could have won without US ground troops and advisers in from 1972 onward. The US by that time had set up a …

How the US Should Have Won the Vietnam War – The Mekong Delta …

Nov 18, 2013 – In 1961 alone, Viet Cong in South Vietnam killed 4,000 of Diem’s … I believe America could have easily won the Vietnam War, without large …

In Memoriam: Vo Nguyen Giap, Admitted US ‘Almost Won’ Vietnam …

Oct 5, 2013 – Pelosi has already sponsored a resolution to have Giap’s name added to … “Even after the South Vietnamese surrendered, we thought it was some … palace it was a race to see who could surrender faster — us or the enemy.

How the U.S. Could Have “Won” the Vietnam War (1982) — Updated …

Apr 19, 2014 – The essay question I had to answer was whether the U.S. could have won the Vietnam War. Recall that in 1975, South Vietnam had fallen to …

After their defeat at Dienbienphu, the French agree to decolonize Vietnam and give the country back to the Vietnamese. The Americans don’t get involved. Result? Discussion on Facebook.

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