Vietnam War, Misunderstandings from the American Perspective

Michael Do

Next year, 2025, marks the bitter end of the Vietnam War; but still, there has been a lot of misunderstanding among the American public and the Vietnam War Veterans. Our ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers had sacrificed during the war. Still, they suffered the offense on social media, mostly due to the misinformation and the superiority complex of some people.

Their common mistakes about Vietnam are:

Most Americans think that the Vietnam War was between the United States and Vietnam. They ignored the major role of the South Vietnamese people, government, and soldiers.

But when things get bad, it is not uncommon for people to point the finger at others to blame for their failure. In Hollywood or documentary movies – for instance, The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – in publications, books, and magazines, if they sometimes mentioned the South Vietnamese soldiers; there were only bad images such as corrupted, coward, worthless, who ran away from the battle.

We cannot keep quiet before the unfair and unjust perception that we consider very defamatory toward those who bravely fought and ultimately sacrificed in twenty-one years of the war.

First of all, we need to confirm the nature of the Vietnam War.

It was the war between South Vietnam – under the Western-style democratic regime – against North Vietnam – ruled by the communist regime.  In a broader scope, it was the war between the Free World led by the United States, and the Communist bloc led by the Soviet Union. We called it the Cold War. The United States played the role of Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) and the National Liberation Front (NLF, aka Viet Cong) was only a subordinate organization created and controlled by North Vietnam.

We had fought against Communism since 1949 when the State of Vietnam was born and in 1955 when the Republic of Vietnam began to exist. President Ngo Dinh Diem was a true patriot, a good leader who rejected the positions offered by Japan and Communist Ho Chi Minh in 1945.

At the beginning of the war, President Diem disagreed with the American military strategy of applying conventional war to deal with communist guerrilla warfare. He adopted the tactics used by the Britons to defeat the communists in Malaysia and implemented the Strategic Hamlet Program to isolate the communists from the peasants. The Americans wanted him to follow every piece of advice from the Military Assistance and Advisory Group.

The chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group for Indo-China, Lt. General John O’Daniel challenged President Diem: “He who pays gives orders!” President Diem objected to the plan of the United States to send combat troops to Vietnam. He did not want to give the communists the chance to justify their “Anti-American War” and gather the peasants under the banner of “independence.”

From 1955 to 1963, South Vietnam achieved some economic, social, and democratic development. From the Americans’ perspective, it was not enough! They wanted South Vietnam to establish the democratic system as seen in well-developed countries while this small country had just been freed from eighty years of French colonialism and had been in the transition from the traditional society of thousands of years.  The US considered President Diem as the major obstacle to the democratic process. Those were two serious mistakes the Americans made that led to the coup d’etat on November 1st, 1963 in which President Kennedy switched the green light for the gangs of corrupted Vietnamese Generals to murder President Diem and dismissed the first Republic of Vietnam.

From 1963 to 1965, South Vietnam fell into dangerous chaos and long-lasting political instability that gave the enemies a good opportunity to expand in the countryside and infiltrate and establish their cells in urban areas. It also gave the Americans a reason to send five hundred thousand troops to Vietnam. In April 1965, responding to Senator Wayne Morse, Defense Secretary McNamara said to the press “I don’t object to its being called “McNamara’s war.” I think it is a very important war and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it.”

And then, after seven years, with five hundred thousand troops supported by the mightiest air and naval power of the world, the Americans realized that they could not win the persistent bloody war. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.  President Richard Nixon implemented the so-called “Vietnamization Plan” to transfer the whole burden of the war onto the Vietnamese Army. In preparing for the total withdrawal, Nixon both convinced and threatened South Vietnam’s President Nguyen Van Thieu to sit at the peace talks with the enemies.  He then declared the achievement of his goal “Peace in Honor!”

Of course, we all know that the United States, after World War 2, became the most powerful nation in the world. The US was more than able to defeat Communist Vietnam in a brief war, but she missed many opportunities because she did not have a strong determination to win. At times, when our enemy was on the brink of collapse, the US suddenly paused and gave them time to heal the wound and reinforce. During twenty-one years of her involvement in Vietnam, the US did not have a consistent policy and a solid military strategy. The policies depended on the weather of the public pressure and the promises the politicians made in the election every four years. In addition, the brutal deaths of the American soldiers were shown day and night on the newly invented television in the family room. This terrorized the people and urged them to join the movements to call for any solution to end the war.

From 1972 to 1975, the ARVN forces had to operate in the territories – formerly covered by the forces that were triple more powerful. For instance, the ARVN 5th Infantry Division was responsible for three provinces Binh Duong, Binh Long, and Phuoc Long which previously were under the protection of the VN 5th Infantry, US 1st Infantry, part of the US 25th Infantry, and the 11th Armored Cavalry. We had to spread thin, very thin.

We should remember that the ARVN was always inferior to the enemies in terms of weaponry. We were supplied with obsolete weapons left from WW2 while the enemies were equipped with advanced weapons. Our Garant M-1 could not be compared to the AK-47; our 155 mm howitzer could reach a range of 15 kilometers while the enemy’s 130 mm reached twice as far; our M-41 tanks could not fight against the enemy’s T-54. The Vietnamese Air Force and Navy were ranked sixth and fifth in the world respectively, thanks to their numbers, not their quality and power. Except for the F-5E, all other VNAF aircraft were of the oldest series. The ships that the US gave to the Vietnamese Navy were picked from the ships decommissioned from WW2 and had been left in junkyards.

After 1972, US military assistance was cut down from billions to several hundred million dollars. By the end of 1974, almost all ARVN forces did not have enough ammunition to defend themselves. Thousands of aircraft did not have gasoline to fly, same for tens of thousands of vehicles.   When North Vietnam sent scores of divisions to the South and launched simultaneous attacks on ARVN posts, President Nixon did not keep his promises to help. He and the whole US Congress silently watched as South Vietnam fell to the communists.

And now, some Americans, on social media, blamed the failure on our ARVN. They were so arrogant, infected with racism and a superiority complex when looked down on us as “little bastards, gooks, hard to teach.”

We would like you guys to research to realize that there were soldiers of the ARVN 37th Ranger Battalion in the defense of Khe Sanh in 1972; the AVN Marines and Infantry fought alongside the USMC for 21 days in the retaking of Hue’s old citadel. It was the Vietnamese infantrymen who raised the flag at the pole in the citadel. The American movies never showed those images.

It was the 2/3 Battalion of the ARVN 1st Infantry who put their feet on top of Hill 937 (The Hamburger Hill) while soldiers of the US 101st Airborne were pinned down due to the enemy’s heavy fire.

Quoted from the report of Colonel Wilson C. Harper, Chief of Command and Control Division of the US-Military Assistance Command, Vietnam on 22 May 1969:

On May 19, 1969, 2/3 ARVN conducted a combat assault on LZYC324976 and began moving to positions on the southeast side of Hill 937, in preparation for the four battalions’ attack on 20 May 1969. Three battalions from the 3rd Airborne Brigade, 101st Division progressed to a multi-battalion attack which began 201030H. The advance of 2/3 was extremely rapid due to the use of the high-speed trail and light enemy resistanceThey were the first to reach the top of Hill 937 and assaulted positions vicinity YC329980. The 3/187 was meeting heavy resistance on their axis of attack. The 2/3 ARVN went to assist by moving N along Hill937 and relieving the pressure. However, friendly fire from 3/187 prevented 2/3 ARVN from moving close. The 2/3 then moved on the reverse slope of the southeast of the hill.”

End quote.

This information was later reconfirmed in The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972: “So the facts are the first people to the crest was [sic] the ARVN.”[1]

Many other brilliant victories of the ARVN were never mentioned in any American documents or movies. Such as:

– The great victory in the enemy’s General Offensive in 1968. We killed more than fifty thousand enemies, captured 6000 others, and destroyed the whole enemy’s infrastructure in South Vietnam.

– The siege of An Loc where we encountered the enemies that outnumbered us 6 to 1. We held the city for two months amid hundreds of waves of enemy attacks by infantry and tanks T-54. We received about 80 thousand rounds of various kinds of canons, rockets, and mortars.

– The 92nd ARVN Ranger Battalion was sieged and attacked by the enemy’s forces that outnumbered 9 to 1. They held the base for more than eighteen months 

– A Vietnamese Navy SEAL – Corporal Nguyen Van Kiệt – was one of the 2-man team who rescued Lt Colonel Iceal Hambleton who had been shot down in the enemy’s area south of the DMZ. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross, but in the movie featuring the rescue, there was not a word about him. Even Colonel Hambleton did not mention his savior.

The American soldiers came to Vietnam for one year on each tour. Only ten percent of the troops were in real combat. That means at the peak of its strength in Vietnam in 1969, there might be about 50 thousand soldiers fighting on the battlefield.

Let’s take a look at our ARVN. In reality, there were about 150 thousand combat troops who directly fought on the battlefield.

The Vietnamese soldiers joined the army when they reached the age of 18. They would never expect to leave the army unless they were KIA or WIA. They fought the war, not in one year, but five, ten, or twenty years! They endured disadvantaged situations; their families lived in poverty. Their courage and endurance must exceed the limit that normal people could stand.

 We do not mean to offend our friends in the allied forces. We just want to tell the truth and want to take back the dignity of our comrades-in-arms, particularly of 250 thousand ARVN soldiers who gave their lives in the war.

Jesus, when asked about the punishment for the woman who committed adultery, said to the mob: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” (New Testament, John 8.7). We want to send a strong message to those who have insulted, and defamed our ARVN: “If you did not have a day fighting on the battlefield, please, stop. You do not have the right to judge our ARVN.”

[1] Andrew Wiest. Vietnam’s Forgotten Army, New York University Press, 2008. Chapter 6: “Hamburger Hill, The Untold Story of the Battle for Dong Ap Bia” (pp 157 – 176).

Michael Do