The United States has suffered its fair share of division. But its involvement in the Vietnam War remains one of its most polarizing conflicts, causing millions to turn against their own country. So much so that over 50 years later, the myths surrounding the war remain a point of contention for citizens. Let's dispel some of them, shall we?
An Unprovoked Attack?
The first myth we should address is the belief that the North Vietnamese launched an unprovoked attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Believe it or not, this myth began with President Johnson in 1964, when he addressed the nation with disturbing yet fictitious news. LBJ reported two naval engagements between U.S. forces and North Vietnamese patrol boats had occurred in international waters...
The first an unprovoked attack on the USS Maddox on August 2 and the second against the USS Turner Joy on August 4. Behind the scenes, the President used these fictitious incidents to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress. Once that was done, he had the power to order retaliatory bombings of North Vietnam and insert U.S. military forces on the ground without declaring war.
The Truth Revealed
Though we would like to think that the President was ill-informed, we now know that these attacks were already being disputed by the U.S. Naval Commander before Johnson addressed the nation. Three years after the supposed Gulf of Tonkin incident, the then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, testified before Congress that there was no unprovoked attack as the Commander in Chief had suggested.
In 2005, McNamara’s testimony was supported by the declassification of an NSA report. The documents reported an incident between North Vietnamese patrol boats and the USS Maddox on August 2 but also stated that the U.S. destroyer initiated fire. The declassified information also revealed that no North Vietnamese vessels were in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 4. The USS Turner Joy did, in fact, fire on that date; however, their only target was a shadow.
Another myth that originated with Lyndon B. Johnson: the United States used restraint when waging airstrikes, targeting only areas in North Vietnam with a known Viet Cong presence. This particular falsehood won this man the 1964 presidential election. Johnson’s opponent at the time was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, a staunch republican with militant anti-communism views.
When asked about the conflict in Vietnam before the election, Goldwater advocated for additional U.S. intervention to prevent the spread of communism. Knowing his stance was already deemed extreme by the American public, Johnson claimed to be the candidate of “reason and restraint,” using slogans such as “In your guts, you know he’s nuts” to insinuate his opponent would resort to the use of nuclear arms. Meanwhile, LBJ had already concocted a vigorous assault on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
An Inherited Mess
Despite the myth that JFK was the first President to entangle the U.S. in the Vietnam conflict, President Kennedy initially inherited it from past administrations from the moment he was sworn into office. President Truman initiated America’s involvement in 1950 when he approved the use of U.S. military advisors to aid the French in their fight against the Viet Minh and their communist cohorts.
In fact, Truman also provided financial and covert support to ensure the French regained power over its former colony. However, in 1954, the French withdrew their forces, and the independent state of South Vietnam was formed. Unlike France, the U.S. remained embedded in South Vietnam’s affairs. Under the Eisenhower administration, the newly formed nation received financial support, military training, and an arsenal of arms thanks to the U.S. military aid program.
War Was Well Underway
The fact remains that President Johnson's aggressive airstrike plan was well underway long before the votes were cast. American and South Vietnamese pilots were issued orders to join forces on a mission to bomb areas of Laos. The mission aimed to interrupt a supply chain headed for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.
In December of 1964, the President was presented with numerous options to persuade North Vietnam to withdraw from the newly independent South. He chose continued airstrike reprisals against South Vietnam's enemies, followed by what he called a "graduated air war," though no declaration had ever been declared. On top of that risky decision, LBJ also initiated the deployment of ground troops to fight on South Vietnam's behalf.
A Cry for Help
Though much of the U.S. population supported the deployment of aid to South Vietnam in early 1965, President Johnson justified sending the troops overseas by delivering yet another falsehood to the American people. In an address to the nation, he stated the reports generated by U.S. military and civilian officials described a weakening South Vietnamese command.
He stated that the South Vietnamese government requested American aid to deter the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, who were receiving backing from the Chinese and the Soviets (both communist regimes). The mass casualties of the South Vietnamese forces had shaken morale, causing their government to officially question America’s commitment to fighting communism on their behalf. While the United States claimed South Vietnam had sent a cry for help.
The Pentagon Papers Don’t Lie
Prior to this address to the nation, President Johnson had assured the American people that troops would not be deployed to Vietnam. As he was delivering this message in January and February 1965, the Pentagon Papers confirmed that the Commander in Chief had already given the order to prepare for ground troop deployment while he also increased the airstrikes.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara later testified that President Johnson had no interest in helping South Vietnam in their cause; his interest was only to contain China following their attack on an American base in Pleiku. In February, the Viet Cong infiltrated the base, which housed U.S. military advisors. Johnson’s response was to implement Operation Rolling Thunder, an aerial bombardment and ground support mission that lasted for over three years.
Playing On the Fears of the People
One particular belief regarding the Vietnam War has been a point of contention for generations. Supporters adamantly suggest that the U.S. government was reluctant to get involved but did so to thwart communism. While there is some validity to this argument, President Johnson sold the war to the people based on the idea that he chose to lend aid to a country’s cry for help.
Now, North Vietnam had the full support of China and the Soviet Union. All three countries were ruled by communist regimes who, in the President’s opinion, posed a threat to democracy. As the myth goes, the United States' involvement was reflexive, an attempt to halt communism altogether. Had they not committed resources to South Vietnam, they would, in fact, be aiding and abetting the end of democracy. Dramatic? Yes. The full truth? No.
As mentioned earlier, LBJ won the 1964 election because of his stance on the conflict in Vietnam. Republican Barry Goldwater used his platform to promote an aggressive approach to the North Vietnamese that included widespread aerial attacks. At the same time and in complete contrast, Johnson promised restraint.
LBJ made the false promise that America’s involvement in Vietnam was to “furnish advice, give counsel, express good judgment, give them trained counselors, and help them with equipment to help themselves.” According to the documents that were declassified well after his term, the combat strategy and aerial offenses were determined by President Johnson while he was still on the campaign trail, six weeks, in fact, before Election Day 1964.
Be Careful What You Wish For
As the war escalated in Vietnam, so did the skepticism of the American people. Soon a myth began to gain traction that the U.S. military commanders on the ground weren’t receiving the support they needed from the politicians in Washington, D.C. However, in June 1965, Commander William C. Westmoreland was granted his wish for additional troops by President Johnson himself.
The Commander, known as “Westy,” circumvented the bureaucratic red tape when he requested an additional 44 battalions be sent to the jungles of Vietnam. Though the politicians in D.C. had agreed that only 34 companies be sent, Westy’s wish was quickly granted, and another 200,000 soldiers were deployed. After this risky request was met with full backing, William C. Westmoreland was given complete control over all decisions and strategies in Vietnam.
In truth, the United States government poured resources into the fight, including manpower, airstrikes, weaponry, and military equipment. From the government’s perspective, their efforts were working; it seemed the combined forces of the United States and South Vietnam had gained control over the war zones in the sky and on the ground. And who did they have to thank? Commander Westmoreland, of course.
By the end of 1965, Westy had earned the trust of the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the American public, and the press. The Commander was so well-respected that he was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Though it was highly unusual, Westmoreland even returned to the states twice to appear in front of Congress, each time assuring them the U.S. was winning. In his statement in 1967, he said, “We have reached an important point where the end begins to come into view.”
Defeat Is a Relative Term
Another longstanding argument regarding the Vietnam War pertains to America’s ultimate failure in their efforts. Proponents claim that the U.S. military successfully won every significant battle on the ground, but because of spineless politicians in D.C., the communists eventually won the war. The reason behind this myth is the inflated numbers presented by the White House during the conflict.
Remember the Pleiku campaign launched by the North Vietnamese? Their infiltration of that American base was the first encounter with the enemy that resulted in mass casualties of U.S. soldiers. An American commander who fought in the battle and survived was astonished by the defined military tactics of the North Vietnamese and reported his concerns to Washington. Even so, the White House claimed victory, releasing statistics on enemy kills that were inflated by more than 30%.
At Best a Draw
The Commander who was so stunned by his enemy at Pleiku was Lieutenant Colonel Harold G. Moore, known affectionately as Hal to his men. As the head of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Ia Drang, he fought alongside his soldiers from beginning to end, stating later that the conflict was in no way a victory for the U.S. Army.
In his book, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, Moore shared his evaluation of the battle, writing, “The peasant soldiers had withstood the terrible high-tech firestorm delivered against them by a superpower and had at least fought the Americans to a draw.” The Commander then wrote of the North Vietnamese, “By their yardstick, a draw against such a powerful opponent was the equivalent of a victory.”
You Know What Happens When You Assume
Lieutenant Colonel Moore’s assumption that the North Vietnamese Army was comprised of peasant farmworkers also sparked a myth that lasted for decades. This simple depiction was a tactic the enemy’s leaders used to present themselves as a non-threatening force fighting for a worthy cause.
Those so-called simple peasants rose up against the French to fight colonialism and were now standing firm against American imperialism. Though the myth resorted the people into simple peasants, the North Vietnamese leadership considered their troops freedom fighters. Those determined to maintain a united Vietnam, complete with the country’s traditions, freedoms, and religious beliefs instilled by their spiritual leader Ho Chi Minh, who, oddly enough, died before America’s withdrawal.
The tactic worked. Most Americans, including the politicians, believed the enemy was a group of ill-equipped freedom fighters. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese Army consisted of well-trained, professional soldiers. Remember, China and the Soviet Union donated their resources to the cause. Those resources included specialized training and equipment, such as tanks, anti-aircraft defenses, and heavy artillery. In addition, the Soviet Navy positioned its ships to provide the North Vietnamese with early detections of American air raids.
China and the Soviet Union weren’t the only countries assisting America’s enemy; North Korea, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba also provided aid. With so many communist governments backing the North Vietnamese, Eisenhower’s domino theory gained traction in the first few years of the Vietnam War. However, by 1968, it became clear that the North Vietnamese Army was a well-oiled machine all on its own.
The Limited Campaign
To this day, some still argue that the aerial bombing campaign waged by the United States was limited and strategically designed to interfere with the supply chain route used by the North Vietnamese Army. Another argument concedes that aerial attacks were used by the U.S. government but were limited to anti-aircraft targets in rural areas rather than well-populated cities.
In addition to arguing that the bombing campaigns were limited, proponents also claim that the airstrikes were made with precision. After mastering the aerial techniques learned in World War II and the Korean War, pilots were able to hit exact targets without affecting the battalions deployed on the ground. In other words, the military’s air power was designated support for U.S. forces and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), not as a relentless assault on the region.
Though the limited aerial campaign theory remains, some shocking statistics debunk the myth. The relentless bombing of Indochina lasted for nearly a decade, with over seven million tons of aerial arms affecting the regions of South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. For perspective, that is three times the total tonnage of aerial explosives used by the U.S. military during all of World War II.
In Laos, the number of aerial bombs dropped throughout the conflict was equal to one ton for every resident. Though South Vietnam was the region the U.S. agreed to protect, the government unleashed about four million tons of bombs on any target they suspected of having a Viet Cong concentration, including populated cities and villages. In addition to the relentless air attacks, Vietnam was also targeted by the U.S. Navy, which used the artillery on their cruisers and destroyers to fire at the shores.
We Are Just Here for Moral Support
Prior to his assassination, President Kennedy famously told news anchor Walter Cronkite that the U.S. would only act in an advisory position regarding the conflict in Vietnam. He firmly held that it was up to the South Vietnamese to determine whether they would win or lose the war. JFK wasn’t the only Commander in Chief to voice that position.
When addressing the public, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford all took the same stance. As far as the American people knew, the United States was answering a call for aid. The military’s role in the country was to assist the South Vietnamese in deterring the North Vietnamese, who were acting under the communist direction of China and the Soviet Union (both considered America’s enemies). Behind the scenes, the U.S. was in deeper than anyone knew.
Quick to Press the Button
Within the walls of the oval office, all of the politicians listed above suggested a more aggressive stance in Vietnam. However, Richard Nixon held the most radical view on the conflict. As the Vice-President for Lyndon Johnson, he proposed using nuclear arms to contain communism as early as 1954. At the time, French colonial troops were battling the Viet Minh, an independence movement led by the Communist nationalists in North Vietnam.
Nixon was adamant that the United States step in with an aggressive response. So he used his power as the Vice-President to pressure the Joint Chiefs of Staff to initiate Operation Vulture, an aerial assault using conventional explosives and three atomic bombs. Though more rational minds prevailed in 1954, Nixon attempted to use nuclear threats again once he became President in 1969. Luckily, Henry Kissinger intervened and convinced him to abandon the idea.
Forced to Fight
Another myth that continues to gain traction pertains to the troops. It is widely believed that those who served in the Vietnam War were reluctant draftees who not only opposed America’s position but also had their freedom revoked because of forced military service. Looking at the documentation of draft card burnings, this may seem legitimate; however, in reality, a greater percentage of soldiers were drafted during World War II than in Vietnam.
In 1942, the government suspended voluntary enlistments in order to assign those drafted to the branches that required the most support. During Vietnam, a person’s individual preferences for service were taken into account. Those drafted into the Army had the option to volunteer for the Navy or Air Force to avoid head-to-head combat. Yes, the draft was in play during Vietnam; however, the statistics debunk the myth.
The Choice Made a Difference
When looking at the number recorded by the U.S. Army, the statistics show that only 25% of those serving in combat roles were drafted into the military. That number can be deceiving because of the choices offered to the men at enrollment. Many opted to volunteer for the Navy or Air Force to avoid heavy combat, some joined the National Guard, and others went the college route, seeking deferments to pursue higher education. Medical deferments were also sought after; those claiming conditions such as bone spurs were often relieved of duty.
Sadly, those with less had fewer options. In other words, eligible men of a lower socioeconomic standing were more likely to be drafted into combat. Those stats are also up for debate. Vietnam vets claim that 100% of men drafted into the Army faced action, while others argue that only 10% came under heavy fire.
Savoirs of the World
Proponents of the Vietnam War still maintain that the United States halted the domino theory by backing the South Vietnamese. For those unfamiliar, the domino theory was first introduced during the Eisenhower Administration in a speech given by the President regarding the fall of French Indochina to the Communist Viet Minh party.
One of the most famous phrases of the Cold War era, the domino theory, compared the fall of each tile to the fall of each country taken over by Communist extremes. Throughout the Vietnam War, this train of thought dominated the conversation. And still, to this day, it is argued that the United States sacrificed the lives lost in the conflict to save Southeast Asia and the rest of the world from falling victim to Chinese and Soviet influences.
A Hypocritical Withdrawal
If, in fact, the United States saved Southeast Asia from the domino theory, why were South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia left dominated by communist regimes at the time of America’s withdrawal? A poignant question, yes, and a valid point. Throughout the Vietnam War, Cambodia and Laos were fighting civil wars of their own against Communist forces.
Under the Nixon Administration, U.S. troops were secretly deployed to both countries, not to contain the Communists but to secure a safe withdrawal for American forces. Nixon and Kissinger devised a plan they termed the Vietnamization of the war, which essentially transferred the burden of defending South Vietnam to its own people, so the U.S. could bow out of the fight. After a decade in the region, Southeast Asia was left to fend for itself despite being dominated by Communist forces.
Champions of the Sky
During the Vietnam War, news reports and Presidential addresses had the nation believing that the U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots were champions of the sky. American airpower, which mainly consisted of fixed-wing aircraft, was said to be dominating rival forces, outperforming the North Vietnamese, Chinese, and Soviet pilots in every air battle.
The aerial charge in Vietnam was also compared to America’s former air strategies in World War II and the Korean War, where they also faced off against Chinese and Soviet pilots. Per the reports from the White House, U.S. air losses were considerably lower in this conflict than ever before. While this news was promising to the American people, these reports were sadly fictitious; the numbers simply don’t lie.
Unfortunately, the U.S. suffered staggering aircraft losses during the Vietnam War based on the military’s own statistics. The United States Air Force lost 2,251 of their aircraft, 2,200 of which were fixed-wing planes. Of the 850 reported losses by the Navy, 532 went down in combat, and the remaining were taken out by anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, over 5,600 American helicopters went down in Southeast Asia during the conflict.
Between the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, the United States lost over 10,000 military aircraft, averaging 1,000 per year of participation in the Vietnam War. Even more shocking is this number doesn’t reflect the planes provided to the South Vietnamese pilots or those captured by the enemy. Though North Vietnam’s aerial strategy wasn’t as vigorous as America’s, its forces only lost 200 planes.
Turning a Blind Eye
With the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, another more controversial myth began circulating, the belief that the drug use of soldiers while deployed was equivalent to the use of civilians at home. Though it was the 60s, the psychedelic era, proponents argue that drug abuse among the troops didn’t occur in Vietnam. Those veterans who suffered from addiction began using after they arrived home.
The reasoning behind this myth makes sense. Many argue that the invariable PTSD from the horrors of war prompted soldiers to turn to drugs. Others blamed the hostile reception the troops received upon arriving on American soil for their substance abuse. Because of these sensible explanations, they adamantly believe no one became addicted while overseas. They further argue that the troops had no access to drugs besides cannabis and the occasional beer from their commanders, both of which were solely used recreationally.
An Epidemic of Addiction
The facts regarding this myth are grim. The truth was revealed in May 1971 when several American news outlets reported a growing epidemic among those who had served and returned from Vietnam. They were addicts, men who had become so reliant on heroin that they were overwhelming the U.S. healthcare system. A military officer assigned to curtailing the crisis told the New York Times, “Tens of thousands of soldiers are going back as walking time bombs.”
This sole officer responsible for handling the epidemic also said that the government was ignoring the problem, essentially denying any issue existed. Though classified at the time, an official U.S. Army statistic stated that as many as 37,000 soldiers returned with a heroin addiction as of May 1971. Sadly, the government cover-up of this grim and significant health crisis still remains today.
The Tet Offensive is also a topic of dispute amongst those for and against the war. No matter what team you are playing for, these surprise attacks by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were pivotal moments in the Vietnam War that changed the American public’s attitude, creating more division. The surprise early morning maneuvers targeted over 100 cities, destroying numerous bases and U.S. military installations.
Though the U.S. troops and the AVRN responded quickly, causing their foe to suffer mass casualties, their defensive maneuvers weren’t as efficient or productive as the government projected. Yes, the Tet Offensive ended in a crushing defeat for the North Vietnamese; however, General Westmoreland’s subsequent response requesting to increase the troops on the ground by 200,000 prompted skepticism amongst even the most loyal supporters of the Vietnam War.
Time to Re-Evaluate
The Tet Offensive, though unsuccessful overall, prompted the North Vietnamese to continue with the same strategy, hoping to convince America to bail out of the war and encourage members of the AVRN to defect. So, three additional offenses occurred, making 1968 the conflict's bloodiest year.
Though the North Vietnamese were unsuccessful in encouraging entire units of the AVRN to defect, desertions became apparent soon after the attacks. Even more beneficial for America's enemy was the fact that these tactical surprise offenses exposed the lie that General Westmoreland was presenting to the White House and the people of the United States; the country was not winning this war. The communists, deemed peasant farmers, were now seen as a united fighting force with military strategies that had outwitted America, the Superpower.
The Guerrilla Assist
The Viet Cong was another force that fought alongside the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. During the conflict and for years after, this group has been portrayed by the media and, let’s face it, the myth, as rogue North Vietnamese residents lurking in the jungles with primitive weapons and non-tactical strategies.
Like the Viet Minh, who fought against French colonialism, the Viet Cong were viewed as an independent peasant unit corralled by the North Vietnamese, Chinese, and Soviets to do their bidding. As the myth goes, they were used to terrorize villages and identify locals sympathetic to the cause of the ARVN and its American allies. This presentation certainly made it more believable that the Viet Cong was a beatable foe; however, as the war progressed, it became apparent that they were a worthy enemy.
The Upper Hand
Despite the longstanding myth, the Viet Cong had the upper hand in warfare. The independent party was well trained by the North Vietnamese and received organized tactical strategies such as the Tet Offensive to assist them in their mission. In addition, the Viet Cong was provided state-of-the-art military supplies from the Chinese and Soviets.
As a prime example of their advantage over the ARVN and U.S., the Viet Cong was supplied with AK-47s, high-powered assault rifles that easily outgunned the M-1 and M-14s used by the South Vietnamese. The United States knew its allies would be outgunned as the military abandoned the M-1 and M-14 for frontline fire early in the war. The American government also knew the Viet Cong were well-equipped. According to the CIA, the Chinese and Soviets supplied up to $5 billion in military weaponry and equipment to the so-called peasants between 1954 and 1968.
Though America’s involvement in Vietnam lasted for over a decade, the withdrawal from the war happened in haste with the fall of Saigon. No longer protected by their Superpower allies, many South Vietnamese civilians fled the country, fearing persecution. Per the U.S. government, those allowed to seek asylum within the country’s borders were members of the social elite. Those with sophisticated skills and high-quality educations who assisted the military in fighting communism until the bitter end.
Per the myth, even with the frantic evacuations from the country, the U.S. military prioritized these essential individuals to save them from a life of imprisonment or, more likely, a death sentence. Once on American shores, they were utilized to protect other individuals who had initially fled to Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. While this is an interesting perspective on the refugee crisis that followed the war, it isn’t exactly true.
The Boat People
While it’s undoubtedly true that the American withdrawal from Vietnam led to the Indochina refugee crisis, those admitted to the United States were not the chosen elite the government boasted about. The souls referred to as boat people hailed from rural regions and often made their living as farmers, artisans, or mechanics. Because of their lower socioeconomic standing, these people were at greater risk of being sent to “re-education” camps or, worse, execution.
Over three million refugees fled Vietnam; however, it is estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 perished at sea. Of those who made it to land safely, 400,000 were admitted to the United States following America’s withdrawal. As of the mid-1980s, the borders were opened again to allow the children of servicemen and released political prisoners asylum.
Racism Was Rampant
Another highly controversial topic regarding the Vietnam War is whether or not racism came into play regarding the draft and heavy combat field assignments. America’s participation in the conflict coincided with the Civil Rights Movement, so there was a pre-existing division within the country’s own borders. At the same time, the government legalized an integrated military, allowing blacks to serve alongside whites for the first time since the Revolutionary War.
Because those of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to be drafted than the privileged, typically white males, Civil Rights leaders determined that the draft was biased and unjust and called for reform. Though service assignments were reformed between 1967 and 1968, statistics from the military branches show no such bias. And yet, the argument remains via published works, films, and documentaries.
Casualties Came in All Colors
Vietnam was a particularly brutal war that the troops were unprepared for due to the government’s gross underestimation of their enemy. Unfortunately, this meant the United States suffered mass casualties of all races. According to military statistics, 79% of the soldiers deployed hailed from middle-class backgrounds, had a high school diploma, and were 88% white. Those same statistics show that the combat deaths incurred by American forces were 86% caucasian.
We should, however, take into account that Civil Rights leaders took action in 1966 by protesting the overrepresentation of black servicemen in hazardous duty roles, causing the government to pass reforms prior to the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War. Was racism prevalent on the battlefield or within the walls of the Oval Office? Sadly, yes. Were black soldiers at the top of the list of casualties? No.
While many myths regarding the Vietnam War were started by the American government, the media also played a role in bending the narrative. Take the Tet Offensive, for example; reports from the press had the American public believing the U.S. Embassy in Saigon had been occupied by Communist forces. Granted, the early hours of the Tet Offensive were chaotic and confusing. The Embassy was under attack by the Viet Cong, with limited troops from the Marines, Army, and ARVN to defend it.
As the Associated Press witnessed the chaos, reports were generated stating that the enemy had taken over several U.S. Embassy floors. United Press International, the AP's main competitor, confirmed the story without seeing the occupation for itself. Despite the fictitious nature of the report, the American public believed the military could not protect its own Embassy in its ally's capital.
The Press Moved On
Though the U.S. military and the South Vietnamese forces were shocked by the scale of the strategy used by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive, the American Embassy remained protected from Communist troops throughout the chaotic fight. A significant breach was made in the security wall surrounding the compound; however, the Viet Cong were unable to infiltrate the grounds because of the U.S. and ARVN forces.
Though the allied forces were limited that day, they managed to repel the enemy away from the Embassy, resulting in mass Viet Cong casualties. Some news agencies attempted to report the factual data of the historical event, hoping to mitigate the initial fallacy. Meanwhile, the initial false-reporting offenders, the Associated Press, and United Press International, moved on to other stories throughout the region.
A War on America’s Shoulders
Despite the numerous examples of the ARVN’s assistance to U.S. troops, many still believe that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam refused to defend their own country. This myth, which has been prolonged because of the media, films, and, you know, racism, claims the ARVN saw the United States government as puppets and refused to be brought down to their level of incompetency.
There are additional falsehoods that remain about the ARVN’s military prowess. It is widely believed that their Army was inept, lacked experience, was poorly equipped, and were cowards who lacked the courage to defend their own nation while under the threat of a communist regime. This myth led to the belief that the burden of their war resided solely on America’s shoulders.
Paying the Price
Unfortunately, a small part of the myth is true; the South Vietnamese Army was ill-equipped. Though they fought side by side with their allies, in the early days of the war, the U.S. government reserved all weaponry for the American troops, leaving the ARVN to fend for themselves. This was in complete contrast to the North Vietnamese, who were heavily supplied with military equipment and training from the Chinese and Soviets.
It wasn’t until Nixon and Kissinger’s Vietnamization that the ARVN received U.S. weapons from the units that were withdrawing. Despite being the obvious underdogs, the front-line troops of the South Vietnamese Army stood their ground, fighting just as bravely as their American allies. Once Saigon fell and the U.S. retreated, their acts of courage during the war were met with harsh punishment from their new communist leaders.