Viewed from a half-century away, the outcome of the Vietnam War seems like an inevitability. Surely the U.S. government saw it was wasting money, weapons, and men on a war it couldn’t win.
A major driver of the conflict was the ever-present Cold War and a pervasive fear of the proliferation of communism. American statesmen were desperate to contain its spread in Southeast Asia — and avoid any association with failure. One of these men was Henry Cabot Lodge, the former Massachusetts Senator and ambassador to Vietnam.
In his article in the July 29, 1967, issue of the Post, “We’re Winning in Vietnam,” Lodge explains why, despite what our readers might have heard in other media, the U.S. was making progress in the war.
Lodge points out that the Vietnam War wasn’t like World War II. It had none of the signs of progress of traditional wars. So he explains the “solid achievements” that led the U.S. military to believe it was winning the war:
- South Vietnam now had increased control of the country’s waterways and roads.
- North Vietnam’s supply lines were being disrupted by American bombers.
- Recent elections had been held in South Vietnam despite Viet Cong efforts to disrupt it through terrorist attacks.
- Even the Viet Cong admitted they were losing their grip on the South Vietnamese people.
- “They cannot win,” Lodge confidently declares, “and we cannot be pushed out.”’
What Lodge doesn’t mention is the price America was paying for its gains. The month before this article appeared, 830 Americans had died in combat, and the month before that, 1,223.
And Lodge didn’t know the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had already begun planning the Tet Offensive, which they launched in January of 1968. It would send 85,000 communist troops in a country-wide assault on five major cities, dozens of military installations, and scores of towns.
When it was over, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fell back, leaving 33,000 of their dead behind. It was a tactical defeat for the communists, but it was a psychological defeat for Americans, who saw their combat deaths rise to 1,200 in January and over 2,000 in February. Nearly 17,000 American soldiers died in 1968 alone.
America might have been winning tactical battles, but public support wasn’t there. According to “The U.S. Army in Vietnam” by Vincent Demma, intricate historical, political, cultural, and social factors all played a part in how the war ended: “A new humility and a new sophistication may form the best parts of a complex heritage left to the Army by the long, bitter war in Vietnam.”