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Why did the US lose the Vietnam War?

Vietnam was an undeniable failure for the United States government. Despite expending more than $141 billion, and 56,000 American lives, the world’s largest military superpower was unable to achieve its sole strategic objective: to prevent Vietnam from falling under communist control. Historians are deeply divided over the reasons that led to US defeat. Most attribute the loss to several factors that each played a role. This topic offers an overview of those factors, with careful consideration of the evidence that both supports and refutes each claim as a viable reason for defeat.

The Vietnamese People Are to Blame

The South Vietnamese Government should have done more to help with the war effort. It was their country, their civil war, and ultimately responsibility for defending it must fall on their shoulders.

No South Vietnamese Leader Mobilised the Population

The South Vietnamese Government produced a string of ineffective and incompetent leaders that couldn’t secure the support of the country. Explore

The Unwinnable War

The Vietnam War was unwinnable from the start.

An all-consuming quagmire

The war was already lost before Johnson put troops on the ground in 1965. Explore

Strong Communists

The Northern Vietnamese communists employed highly effective military strategies to defeat the US and South Vietnamese.

Guerrilla-Style Warfare

The Vietcong were adept at deploying guerrilla-style tactics against the US and South Vietnamese forces. Explore

Knowing the Terrain

The communists were fighting on home soil. They knew the conditions far better. Explore

US Strategic Failures

The communists didn't win the war, the US lost it due to extensive flaws within its war strategy.

A Severely Limited Bombing Campaign

The US government’s bombing campaign across Northern Vietnam was tightly controlled and never given the freedom to strike targets that would cripple communist supply lines. Explore

Losing the Hearts and Minds

The US conduct in Vietnam turned the local population against them, driving many into joining the communists. Explore


The US could have won the war at any time if it had deployed atomic weapons. Explore

Intelligence Failures

The US intelligence in Vietnam left the US forces vulnerable to attack. Explore

The War at Home

The domestic situation in the US meant that successive Presidents had their hands tied and could not dedicate the necessary resources to the war effort.

Losing the American Public

Without the support of the American people, the President could not escalate the war any further. Explore

The “Gold and Dollar” 1968 Economic Crisis

The 1968 Financial Crisis severely limited the financial resources at President Johnson's disposal. Explore
This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Jan 2020 at 11:13 UTC