The U.S. goes to war.
When two sides of in a conflict respond to each other's actions with increasing force, the process is known as escalation. This happened in the Vietnam War, with the rising number of soldiers, battles, injuries and deaths. The United States and Vietcong fought each other with more and more soldiers and firepower.
Then the number of attacks on U.S. soldiers increased, President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, which helped the Vietcong with supplies and weapons. The Vietcong responded with an increasing frequency of attacks. The U.S. countered by committing more troops to Vietnam, increasing from 23,500 to 75,000 by June 1965. Later, General Westmoreland, the military commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam requested a total of 180,000 troops.
|In the war of
attrition, civilian buildings are bombed. (Photo courtesy
War of Attrition
General Westmoreland recognized that the U.S. armed forces had never fought a war in like the jungles of Vietnam. He also knew that they had never faced such a rugged, dedicated group of guerrilla fighters as the Vietcong. He believed the war against the Vietcong could not be won by traditional land-conquering methods, and could only be won by reducing the number of the enemy. He called this strategy, the war of attrition.
In conventional warfare, success is measured by how much land is conquered. However, since the guerrilla fighters oftentimes would retreat into the jungle and were difficult to find, Westmoreland discarded the land-conquering method and went to a war of attrition. It is won by killing enemy troops. Success is not measured by the location of the battlefront but by how many of the enemy has been killed.
American soldiers fought the war of attrition very well. They killed several more times as many men as they lost themselves.
Buildings in North Vietnam were bombed, causing many civilian causalities
as well. In a war of attrition, civilian targets are regarded as
military targets as well. However, there was a problem with the arithmetic. Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of North Vietnam, had millions of guerrilla fighters while the U.S. had troops numbered only in the thousands. Ho Chi Minh declared to the French in the 1940s, "You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win." His statement still held true in the 1960s.
To further counter the odds, Westmoreland requested more troops. Johnson agreed. By the end of 1966, the number of U.S. forces in Vietnam had reached four hundred thousand.
The morality issues of the war of attrition caused many to begin to oppose the Vietnam War. Civilians often died in the crossfire because they could easily be mistaken for Vietcong, who wore no uniforms and looked like normal civilians. Discontent grew especially when a new type of bomb was developed, the Napalm bomb, which created great firestorms on impact. Pictures of burned civilians enraged many peace groups in the United States and were the subject of many protests.
The War Drags On
The skill of the Vietnamese guerrilla fighters along with the U.S. strategy prolonged the war beyond the time period both the public and U.S. leaders had expected. General Westmoreland told the public that "the ranks of the Vietcong are thinning steadily. We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view." However, Westmoreland didn't tell the public the whole story, in fact he told the public something that was contradictory to the truth. Secretly, the general told President Johnson that the war would go on indefinitely even with an increase in troops.
A few months after General Westmoreland had told the public that the end of the war was in view, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong launched a massive offensive effort known as the Tet Offensive. Tet marks the Vietnamese New Year and for celebrations the North Vietnamese, Americans, and South Vietnamese agreed to a brief truce. On January 30, 1968, the Vietcong launched a surprise attack despite the truce. They hoped to spark a popular uprising among the Vietnamese people. The Vietcong were able to capture many Southern Vietnamese cities, and even occupied the American embassy.
The U.S. bore the burden of the attack and were later able to regain all the previously lost South Vietnamese towns and cities. The battles raged for days, and when it was over, it was estimated that 60,000 Vietcong participated in the offensive and 45,000 had died.
The Tet Offensive did not start an uprising as the Vietcong had hoped; however it did change the course of the war. Despite the clear military victory of the United States, many Americans and leaders were shocked by the event. The public was surprised to see so many villages and towns being overrun by an enemy who supposed to be on the verge of being defeated. U.S. leaders had said the light was at the end of the tunnel, however, after Tet, many Americans began to distrust their leaders and information they gave concerning the progress of the war.