The Top 10 Mistakes in the Vietnam War

In today’s post, I will share what I believe are the top 10 mistakes in the Vietnam War. These are things the U.S. could/should have avoided.

It has been many years since the United States entered the Vietnam War. There were mistakes made and if you were to ask many of the people who lived in that era, they would say we had no reason to even be in that war. The primary reason the U.S. entered Vietnam was to try and keep Communism from spreading throughout Asia.

While I was a young man during the Vietnam War, many of you probably weren’t even a “shine” in your Daddy’s eye. Without living during that time, you probably will never be able to understand the full extent of perspectives from both the pro and antiwar groups.

I have decided to do some extensive research and in the paragraphs below, I will share what I believe to be the top 10 mistakes in the Vietnam War, and things the U.S. could have done better. You may or may not agree with my findings. That is okay. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions at the end of this post in the comments area.

Top 10 Mistakes in the Vietnam War

Starting from #10, here are the top 10 mistakes in the Vietnam War.

# 10: Battle of Dien Bien Phu

We can start the mistakes as far back as 1954 during the Eisenhower administration. Our French allies were battling Communist forces and they set out to destroy the Viet Minh Communist revolutionaries. But, they had a difficult fight at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

If the United States would have come to the aid of the French during this Battle during the 1st Indochina War, the situation in Vietnam over 10-years later would most likely come to a different conclusion, if it would have happened at all. The French were defeated terribly leading to a sweeping Communist view in that part of the world.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was a climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War that took place between 13 March and 7 May 1954. It was fought between the French Union’s colonial Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist revolutionaries. The United States was officially not a party to the war, but it was secretly involved by providing financial and material aid to the French Union, which included CIA contracted American personnel participating in the battle. ~ Wikipedia

# 9: Treating Vietnam like the Korean War

We made terrible mistakes in strategies assuming we could use the same measures as the Korean War. The main problem here is the fact that Korea had water around it, so we could create barrier lines. Our strategy was the same in Vietnam, but since the country was land-locked, the enemy could use other countries such as Cambodia and Laos to sweep around the barriers and attack.

# 8: Cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Going right along with #8, it was imperative that we cut off and even destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. North Vietnamese used it to gain access to the South, and yes, the South used it to access the North. If we would have cut off this line, it would have deeply cut the enemy’s ability to make the guerrilla tactics they used on our troops.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. The route sent weapons, manpower, ammunition and other supplies from communist-led North Vietnam to their supporters in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. ~

# 7: Using conventional tactics to fight against guerrilla warfare

I do believe the United States has learned extensively from this Vietnam War mistake. We have learned that guerrilla warfare needs to be fought on a similar level. We used guerrilla warfare during the Revolution and destroyed the convention tactics the British used. The North Vietnamese used the same system against us and it worked.

# 6: Sanctioning the Coup and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem

When we look back, we realize that Diem was a highly competent leader for the South Vietnamese. At the time, the people were against him, but much of that was achieved through Communist propaganda. For many years it was denied, but the fact is: the CIA did back the Coup on Diem. After he was killed, the leadership of South Vietnam turned into a chaotic mess. If Diem would have been left in power, I believe the North would never had gained the position they did.

# 5: Not forcing the South’s Army to take the lead role

There is a very old “proverb;” Give a man a fish and feed him a meal. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life. We made a huge mistake in not training more and putting the South’s troops in the lead of the battles. The dependency was astronomical. I do believe this mistake is intertwined with #6; it would have been much more of the South’s fight if Diem were left in power.

# 4: Using body count as a measure of success

When you fight a force that does not care how many of their troops die, how can you use any amount of statistics on death as a measure of success? The figures should have been measured on key points captured and held. Also, key leaders captured. Not body counts. Besides, how many of these stats were B.S.? Were simple peasants killed in the line of fire counted?

# 3: Allowing to much negative media

Yes, we have free speech, but when we allowed media sources from our own side to report sensationalist stories without telling both sides, we created an atmosphere of lies that carried to the mainland and antiwar groups. It would be like telling the population that our troops shot a woman carrying a baby in Afghanistan without also telling them that she had a suicide bomb strapped to her that would kill many more people.

As a writer, I also blame the media for this. They should use a fashion of telling the whole story and not just a small part of it.

# 2: Supporting after troop withdrawal

We left and did not look back. This goes along somewhat with #5. We gave them weapons and ammo, but when we left, we gave no more support. The South held for a short time, but the North did finally stomp their way through. They did not have to worry about U.S. involvement anymore. You just cannot leave without some follow-up support.

Have we reenacted this same mistake in Iraq? Many people believe so. I must admit I had a difficult time determining if this was the top mistake or the one I listed as the #1 mistake.

# 1: Allowing politicians to fight the war from D.C.

Why in the hell did we take hills that meant nothing, but left a major ammo factory sitting unharmed? Because some politicians in Washington said so. After all, there may be some Soviet people there, and we don’t want them getting angry.

You just cannot fight a War from Washington D.C.!

The leaders needed to have the right to attack the most important sites, and it didn’t happen. If we would have been allowed to bomb the crap out of certain sites, the War would have been over much sooner and we could have notched it as a victory. Just saying!

My Opinion

I blame the politicians for the mistakes in the Vietnam War. The Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors fought bravely. They accomplished the mission. The fact that Congress never FORMALLY declared war or had 100% support of the troops still bothers me. Between the lack of commitment with the politicians and the sensationalism with the media, it was a recipe for disaster from the get go. As a veteran, there isn’t much worse than being in a war your politicians and fellow citizens don’t 100% support or believe in.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, these are the biggest mistakes in the Vietnam War, as I see it.

Yes, you may feel some anger in my tone. Yes, I do feel some anger. I thank God my Uncle came home from this War, but there were many who didn’t. Well they did come home, but in a bag.

War is death, but the mistakes in the Vietnam War (mostly by politicians) created many more deaths.

So what do you have to say? Just post your thoughts below and please keep it civil. Thanks.

Suggested Reading
  1. The Top 10 Units in the Vietnam War
  2. Military Lessons from the Vietnam War
  3. The TET Offensive
  4. Vietnam Era Military Leaders

Here’s a great book with history and pictures of the Vietnam War I know you will enjoy.

vietnam war book

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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2 thoughts on “The Top 10 Mistakes in the Vietnam War”

  1. The biggest mistake the U S made in Viet Nam was the fact that they didn’t listen to MacArthur. In 1961 General Douglas MacArthur met with newly elected President Kennedy. At this meeting MacArthur told Kennedy very firmly not to get involved in a land war in Asia.
    He told Kennedy that the U S would always be outmanned in Asia. He told Kennedy that anyone who advocated sending 100,000 troops into Asia should have his head examined. So what did Kennedy do? He sent 11,000 “advisors” into Vietnam.
    MacArthur was a career soldier, a General of the Army, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Did Kennedy listen to him? No, and that is why we lost in Viet Nam.

  2. #1 Mistake of the Vietnam War was allowing the politicians to run it from Washington. They didn’t have a clue, and it was obvious to us there on the front that the U.S. had no iintention of winning the war. I voted for George Wallace and Curtis LeMay, whose platform consisted of two planks, one of which was, “We will never enter a war that we don’t intend to win.” What more can I say?

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