Top 10 Myths About The Vietnam War

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According to the American government, their involvement in the Vietnam War started on November 1, 1955, and lasted until the Americans pulled out in early March 1973. The War, and the protest movement it created, defined the baby boomer generation.

Decades later, this war is still shrouded in myths, either from the propaganda during the war, or from the typical Hollywood dramatization that succeeding generations were weaned upon.

10. This Little Girl’s Terror Was Caused By American Bombers

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On June 8, 1972, Nick Út captured this picture of a naked Kim Phuc running with her family, away from her village that had just been fire bombed. Most assumed it was the Americans that did the bombing, but it was actually an ancient prop Sky Raider, from the late 40’s, flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force.

Decades later, US Vietnam war veteran John Plummer, then a Methodist minister, tried to take credit for ordering the strike. He was found to have exaggerated his role though, and later admitted that the planning, order, and execution of the strike was within the South Vietnamese command structure.

9. Only America and the Vietnams Were Fighting

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Movies like to portray the Vietnam War as America vs. the Communists, but most of the fighting took place between the South Vietnamese, who had the largest military forces on the ground, and the Communists of North Vietnam. During the War’s peak though, multiple nations had been sucked in, essentially turning Vietnam into World War III. Allied with the South were the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and most of the local Asian countries (including Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea.) On the Communist side, Chinese, Soviet, and North Korean forces helped out the North Vietnamese.

8. Ho Chi Minh and General Giap Were In Charge Of The Communists

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As time slowly destroys the Iron Curtain holding back the Communist Vietnam’s secrets, we learn more and more about the political structure of the “Party” during the war. Recently revealed documents and interviews have shown that, far from the omnipresent legend he is normally portrayed as, Ho Chi Minh was merely a powerless figurehead, who opposed total war against the Americans and the South. Also, General Giap, famous for winning the battle against the French in Dien Bien Phu, was also sidelined by the real power players: Le Duan, leader of the Communist Party, and his right-hand man, the indomitable Le Duc Tho. These two handled all the main decisions, and kept North Vietnam’s resolve for victory against the South.

7. The Fighting Was Only In South Vietnam

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Incredibly, many people think that the War was only fought in South Vietnam. Yet, as the Ho Chi Minh trail traveled through Laos and Cambodia, these countries too were dragged into the war. In fact, HUGE amounts of bombs ripped apart both countries, and still have effects today. Laos is actually the most bombed country per capita in history, with over one ton of explosives dropped for each Laotian. Cambodia didn’t fare any better, as it was invaded multiple times by the Americans and South Vietnamese, and received more than 350% of the tonnage that was dropped on Japan during World War II.

6. America Never Lost A Battle In Vietnam

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This one might seem a little pedantic, but a whole legend has grown around a famous quote between a US general and his NVA counterpart. After the War was finished, officials from America and the now-unified Vietnam met. US Colonel Harry Summers said, “You know you (the Vietnamese) never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which the North Vietnamese officer replied, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

This exchange has spawned a whole mythos around America never losing a battle, not one. It’s simply absurd thinking, as it’s all but impossible to lose every battle and still not surrender. The Communists actually won numerous times; probably the most infamous of which was the Battle of Fire Base Ripcord, which the US military was able to cover up for years afterwards.

5. The Vietnam War Was Purely A Guerrilla/Jungle War

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At the beginning of the War, the South Vietnamese and their allies were fighting the Vietcong in the jungle. As the war dragged on, more and more of North Vietnamese resources were sent South, until the Vietnam War turned into a full-fledged set piece battle, involving tanks and artillery battles between both sides. The Eastertide Offensive of ’72 was the largest land movement since the Chinese forces swarmed over the border during the Korean War. Thousands were killed and, depending on who you ask, between 500 and 700 Communist tanks were knocked out of battle.

4. If JFK Had Lived, He Would Have Kept America Out Of The War

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Kennedy has inspired hundreds of myths about himself, so of course there’d be one about Vietnam. Namely, that he would have fought tooth-and-nail to keep us out of there. Not so; for one thing, when Kennedy was in power, America was already involved in the War. And far from seeking to pull out, Kennedy actually wanted to double-down with the military intervention. On September 2, 1963, he gave this quote to Walter Cronkite: “These people who say we ought to withdraw from Vietnam are totally wrong, because if we withdrew from Vietnam, the communists would control … all of Southeast Asia … then India, Burma would be next.” So much for that idea.

3. American Media Coverage Of Vietnam Was Negative

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Many people still believe that the war was lost not not on the battlefield, bt because media coverage was so negative, that the entire US turned on its own cavalry, shooting their morale to pieces. As it turns out, the exact opposite was true. During the War, the media was a pure lapdog to American policy. At the height of the war, in 1968, there was the Tet Offensive, My Lai massacre, and the peak number of Americans serving in Vietnam. Yet not a single major newspaper thought the US should leave Vietnam. The mainstream press not only helped cover up military disasters, but framed the reporting to meet American needs and goals. The only time the major media outlets reported bad things in Vietnam were if other smaller alternative news outlets did.

After the Mai Lai massacre, Vietnam veterans wrote letters to multiple media outlets about the killings and the media refused to touch the story. It took more than a year and a half before some small newspaper syndicate published info about the massacre. Even then, the main reason was that they were friends with the main reporter, Seymour Hersh.

2. The US Army Was Comprised Mostly of Draftees

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Far from being mostly unwilling draftees, the men who served in Vietnam were almost exclusively volunteer. Only 21% of the force was drafted; this compared to, say, World War II, where 63% were drafted. Here is the breakdown:

World War I – 2,810,296 drafted /  4,734,991 served in WWI  = 60% drafted
World War II – 10,110,104 drafted / 16,112,566= 63% drafted
Korea –  1,529,539 drafted / 5,720,000 served in Korea = 27% drafted
Vietnam – 1,857,304 drafted / 8,744,000 served in Vietnam= 21% drafted

1. It Was Exactly Like Platoon

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Far from everyone being based in the jungle front lines, most of the Americans in Vietnam were there on cushy base assignments. 75% of US soldiers lived on bases that were done up like little islands of Americana, with all the amenities of living back in the good ol’ US of A. While their brethren were duking it out in the jungle with Vietcong ninjas, the biggest threat the 75% faced was injuring themselves from playing sports, or catching VD while partying in Saigon.

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Eric Yosomono writes for GaijinAss.com, and you should check out their Tumblr account.


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9 Comments

  1. That “never lost a battle” sounds almost like the German “backstab”-legend: After the first world war many nationalists claimed that Germany never lost in the field but instead was brought down by left-wing movements and politicians.

    • They never lost a major engagement after the war initiated.. By that standard the US military was defeated by the Nazis on multiple occasions despite the outcome of the Nazis losing at the end of the engagements.. defeats are not measured by single battles but the outcome of the engagement after the battles. TET was an utter humiliating defeat for the NVA and the VC which never recovered after.. Yet they were successful militarily at first.. IT FAILED in the end and cost them.. Based on casualties alone the US dominated the battlefield. If the article is spinning how many people died in engagements or cost as a success or failure. I think the article proves it at the end of that segment by basically bashing Patraeus.. The surge worked turned that war around and Iraq was won. Alqaeda even admitted defeat telling them not to send any more recruits to Iraq. Obama and Biden even declared Iraq a victory. Obama however didn’t want anything to do with Iraq so he basically destroyed all the success by a complete withdrawal and the support of the Arab spring, The toppling of Gaddafi without a ground force which led to the spread of alqaeda across Africa and the support of the Islamist insurgency in Syria. Which then led to ISIS reinvading Iraq. EPIC FAIL

  2. Well written list, I also appreciated the exact video quote of JFK-most people would not take the time to include that. Thank you.

  3. Regarding number 1 I’ll tell ya’ what: why don’t YOU go thousands of miles from home and live in a place where the weather, the food and damn near everything else is so completely foriegn you can’t begin to comprehend it and then add the pressure of military discipline to that and then tell me how “cushy” you’re life on a base is. As someone who’s seen both sides of the coin I can say that deployment is awful regardless of whether or not you’re “in the s**t”. When I was a medic with the Army Infantry whenever I heard someone say anything about “fobbits”, a deragotory word for all the people who have the “cushy” base assignments I’d ask them if they liked to eat, or if they enjoyed getting paid or if they appreciated being able to call home, because guess who has to do that stuff?

  4. freethinker9761 on

    There were a lot of myths, political, social, and militarily, about and surrounding the Vietnam War. Some are true, some only partially true, some blatantly false. Some of these things on this list might surprise you. To a lot of my fellow FB friends from my generation, these things will most likely not surprise, but to those of my friends who’re a younger generation, you’ll find these interesting, to say the least. 🙂

  5. very entertaining and well written list…i appreciate the thought and research that went into the writing and formation of the points and i also loved the video of JFK and Cronkite.

  6. It is true — the US never did lose a battle in Vietnam. That is not a myth, it is correct. You took your information from a website that is categorically FALSE. Most of the ‘battles’ on the website were not battles at all, while many others involved South Vietnamese forces. Anyone who has studied the Vietnam War can tell you that the information there is distorted if not outright fabricated.

    Firebase Ripcord which you mention never occurred the way you/that website depict it. As with any military operation, objectives change to fit the circumstances. Firebase Ripcord was eventually abandoned NOT because of enemy action but because it lost strategic value. In fact, the NVA were decimated during attacks each and every time. US forces were never driven out. In fact, once they left the bas they later took it back over when objectives required it. The NVA never were able to stop them and eventually gave up trying.

    Regarding the media — it WAS thoroughly anti-US involvement throughout the conflict. I’m surprised you even put it up given the extensive attention the issue has received over the decades. Seminars, university classes, Congressional hearings, and not to mention countless books have been written on the subject. Most media scholars consider it the low point in American journalism. President Reagan even said of CBS’ coverage of the war that if it were WWII, they would be tried for treason. What the media never talked about was atrocity after atrocity committed by the NVA and NLF (Viet Cong). Of the millions that died in the war, an untold number were innocent people killed by the communists during terrorist activities — none of this was ever covered by the American press.

    A good book that details every American military engagements battle by battle is ‘Unheralded Victory’ by Mark Woodruff. It demonstrates conclusively how the US actually DID win every battle. A book covering US media coverage and the Tet Offensive in particular is ‘Big Story’ by Peter Braestrup. His book shows how the media at times refused to cover American gains while purposely distorting the war. These books should be read before anyone tries to tell you any ‘myths’ about Vietnam.

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