American Policymakers, On The Whole, Failed To Heed The "Lessons" Of The Past During The Vietnam War.

2243 words - 9 pages

George Santayana has argued that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Of course, remembering the past does not guarantee success in the present. It does, however, reduce the likelihood of repeating past errors by providing a frame of reference for making decisions. This essay argues that, on the whole, American policymakers failed to heed the lessons of the past during the Vietnamese war. More specifically, the United States (U.S.) government and its military and political collective leadership failed to consider the historical context of the Vietnam War; did not appreciate the nature of previous conflicts in Vietnam; underestimated the strength of will, the resolve and the sheer commitment of the enemy that had been exhibited in previous wars; and did not understand the actual nature of the war that it was fighting. These grievous errors greatly reduced the chances of U.S. victory. The essay does not content that this failure to understand the pass was the only reason for the U.S. defeat. Some commentators hold that the U.S. actually won the war on the tactical level but lost on the only level that matters - the strategic, political level . Others criticise the military leadership for employing an inadequate military strategy to defeat a communist insurgent movement, for misleading the civilian leadership and the American people by providing overly optimistic assessments that the war was being won, and for being more concerned about their careers than winning the war. Similarly, it has been argued that the civilian leadership placed so many political constraints upon the military leaders responsible for conducting the war that they made it impossible to win. Whatever the merits of these various contributions, this essay argues that an understanding of the past in Vietnam may have lessened the extent of the defeat and its impact on the American psyche . This impact has been summarised by Henry Kissinger: "Vietnam is still with us. It has created doubts about American judgement, about American credibility, about American power - not only at home but U.S. involvement throughout the world. So we paid an exorbitant price for the decision that we made in good faith. "An appreciation of the basics of Vietnamese history would have been a good starting point for U.S. policymakers. Over the centuries, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French have attempted to exert control over Indochina. Vietnam's history is a litany of resistance to such attempted foreign domination. For example, in both the 13th and the 15th centuries, Vietnam initially fell to Chinese invaders but subsequently successfully rebelled against the invading power. Western invasions commenced in 1858 with a series of French military thrusts. By 1883, the whole of Vietnam was under French control and administered as part of French Indochina. French colonial rule continued until May 7, 1954, when the French were defeated by the Vietnamese at Dien Bein Phu. Shortly...

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