Why was waging war in Vietnam difficult for U.S. soldiers?

1 Answer
Aug 22, 2016

Cultural shock, Cold War rules of engagement, lack of recognition, Racial divide and social class issues, constant changing of personnel, high casualties, morale issues and a determined enemy.


Culture shock: Vietnam is a country which has a tonal language like Chinese and a unique culture. It would take an average American a lot of time to start to be culturally sensitive. Most soldiers had difficulty identifying with the general Vietnamese population.

Cold War rules of engagement: The Army could not finish the war by invading the North and destroying the enemy at his base because the nuclear standoff of the Cold War. Americans could not hold ground because that was considered a South Vietnamese job. Consequently they might hold a place for long months of hard fighting and then abandon it. This created a sense of futility about the fighting. Often the average soldier could not understand basic goals of the war.

Lack of recognition: On returning home there was little fanfare and sometimes a lot of criticism of a soldiers sacrifice. Later in the War (after 1968) this got worse as the US tried to exit the War.

Racial divide and social class: Increasingly over the war personnel at the bottom were black skinned and more politicized by the racial conflict at home. Black Americans had fewer ways to avoid the Draft than White Americans. This led to friction between Black and White. The assassination of Martin Luther King was a turning point for many. A disproportionate number of Blacks were in combat units and combat deaths had a larger statistical amount than would be expected. Working class individuals were also disproportionately represented often from the American South.

Constant change of personnel: the Average G.I. spent a year of combat service in the Army because statistical analysis of World War 2 soldiers revealed that most soldiers were at their best in the first year of combat and then became increasingly less effective. The soldiers were only there until there tour was up and then they went home there places taken by new soldiers. Officers were rotated out every 6 month so the maximum number of officers could get combat experience. The constant changing of solders in a unit could be damaging to the unit.

High casualties: Dead and wounded exceeded 200,000 Americans. This is frighteningly high number when compared to modern warfare.

Morale issues: Drugs and Venereal disease, Fragging of Officers became significant problems in the Army that were signs of morale problems.

The NVA/Viet Cong we’re actually a very effective, well led, well armed, motivated, and resourceful they had decades of experience fighting in their own backyard. They had the support of many Vietnamese.