The Top 10 Mistakes in the Vietnam War: Things the U.S. Could Have Done Better

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 anti-war peoples and groups.

There were many mistakes made during the Vietnam War. We hope that our government and military did learn from those mistakes and have made changes to make sure they do not happen again.

I have decided to do some extensive research and I am providing 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. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions at the end of this post in the comments area.

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.

#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.

#7: Using conventional tactics to fight against guerrilla warfare

I do believe the United States has learned extensively from this Vietnam 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 truly 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 anti-war 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 too. 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!

Final Thoughts

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 created many more deaths.

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



  1. Myths and Mistakes of the Vietnam War
  2. #2: The Vietnam War (Top 10 Mistakes by U.S. Presidents)
  3. What major mistakes did the American military make in the Vietnam war?

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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1 thought on “The Top 10 Mistakes in the Vietnam War: Things the U.S. Could Have Done Better”

  1. #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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