7 Battles That Changed Public Perception Of The Vietnam War

20 Feb 1968, Khe Sanh, South Vietnam --- U.S. Marines lie prone on the ground in sandbagged trench as they take cover from Communist mortar fire. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The Vietnam War, or, as it’s called in Vietnam, the Resistance War against America, was a cold war-era proxy war, officially fought between North and South Vietnam. For America, the Vietnam War was an attempt to spread communism; for North Vietnam, it was an effort to reunify the country. The players in this war were the South Vietnamese army, or the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the Viet Cong, guerrilla fighters allied with North Vietnam, and the Communist People’s Army of Vietnam, the official army of North Vietnam, as well as American forces.

Battle of Ấp Bắc, January 2, 1963

785px-ch-21c-shawnee-transports-m101-105mm-howitzer-1960s

On January 2, 1963, army and Civil Guard forces from South Vietnam engaged Viet Cong forces from North Vietnam at the village of Ap Bac, 35 miles southwest of Saigon. The South Vietnamese army was well-supplied, with armor, artillery and air support, as well as American military advisors. The South also had a clear numerical advantage, outnumbering the Viet Cong four to one.

According to early reports from the United States Army Command in the Pacific, the United States Army Command in the Pacific reported the battle to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as “one of the bloodiest and costliest battles of S. Vietnam war” and noted that the battle “will provide enemy with morale-building victory”.  The Viet Cong did, indeed, find this victory to be quite important.

The Battle of Ap Bac was a clear win for the Viet Cong for several reasons. Captured Viet Cong documents claimed preparation, motivation and discipline as the cause for their victory. American officials attributed the loss, in part, to South Vietnamese military strategy. The South Vietnamese acted courageously, but without the needed organization. They failed to make effective use of American resources. The Battle of Ap Bac illustrated the challenge for larger armies against small, highly mobile forces like the Viet Cong. By the end of the battle, the South Vietnamese lost 80 men, with another hundred wounded.

The Battle of Ap Bac played a key role in engendering American condemnations of military activities in Vietnam. The press presented the battle as a clear loss, which it was, but exaggerated the importance of the battle, and framed it in the worst possible light. Newspapers claimed multiple American casualties, and accused South Vietnamese troops of cowardice. The U.S. government expressed concerns about how the battle was presented; these concerns would continue for the remainder of the war.

Advertisement
  • PK

    Your first paragraph says, “For America, the Vietnam War was an attempt to spread communism.” You can’t really believe that, right? I imagine this was simply something that made it past your proof readers? Perhaps, For America, the Vietnam War was an attempt to STOP THE spread OF communism

    • Robert Zornes

      You really can’t believe much of anything on these blogs. They get things wrong ALL the time and don’t even properly proofread their own materials.

    • Jason Joiner

      Learn to read. For America(The North Vietnamese )wanted to spread Communism

      • Bill Parton

        Imperialism is tyranny.

        The denial of democratic vote is tyranny.

        Vietnam, the entire country, was to hold an election in 1954 per the Geneva Accords. Pro-French leaders in the South canceled the election because they knew they were to lose.

        What is a “Christian founded Democracy”?

        Do you still feel it is the duty of the United States to “stop the spread of tyranny”?

        • Ben Drake

          Yes, it is our duty to do that. Something tells me you were a draft dodger.

          • Bill Parton

            Imperialism is tyranny.

            Go see someone about those voices
            that are telling you things.

          • Steve Weathers

            No it is not our duty………….

        • John M. Baxter

          I seriously doubt the Communists would have won such an election. Most South Vietnamese wanted to remain independent of the Communists in the North.

    • Walter Kernaghan

      As vet of VIET nam, the VIET nam war was about food, the north had an agreement with French on giving them rice from the south, because patties in the north were not producing. The French got greedy, and said screw them, so the north came south and kick the French out, and we signed an agreement called sato, that’s why we got involved, then arms industry took over , that’s why we were their

  • Don Akin

    Democrats got us into that one to fight the spread of communism, and then embraced the communism party. Look at ole Bernie Sanders. I spent all my time there in a OH-6A like the one in the picture of the little helicopter that was wrecked. All those Americans killed and now all of us still fighting the war in our minds. Thanks for the agent orange and PTSD and the warm welcome we got when we came back…

    • Margaret

      you betcha! I lived through that time with a brother serving 3 tours. And that’s when I began to hate the media. The BS coming on the tube and watching soldiers welcomed back being splattered with blood from activists and the media loving filming it. I hope the MSM shrivels into nothing!

    • Brent Leatherman

      I didn’t realize that Ike was a Democrat. The first US troops were sent over there in 1955, two years into his term.

    • historyrepeatsitsself

      Well obviously you do not knw the difference between “communism” and “Socialism” .. the sad part is you have lived your entire life in a hybrid Socialistic/capitalistic society… You also are unaware that it was Eisenhower who put us into Vietnam… not Kennedy, not Johnson (although he accelerated our involvement)… you need to break open a dictionary and perhaps do a little research before you open your big mouth publicly… so you even know what “socialism” is… do you have any idea what the difference is between “socialism” and “Communism”.. any clue at all? You might want to not post any more without some serious investigation on your own and not just take it that three tooth “Billy Bob” next to you knows what he is talking about.

    • Gus Ramos

      I served with 2nd Batallion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division. I have a History degree from UCLA. Don Akin, you don’t know your history. The ‘Nam War was started by Dwight Enisonhower, a Republican. Presidet Kennedy was blamed for the ‘Police Action,’ which they always do very well. We were there for the natural resources,oil, etc. The domino effect was never an issue. To fight Communisn was just an excuse to invade another country. We lost 58,000 plus for nothing. The only ones who benefited were the Vietnamese who entered the country thru the back and were given monety to establish a business, buy homes, and send their children to the best universities while American born were denied entrance. Too add salt to the wound, most Veteran Hospitals are full of Vietnamese doctors. Please don’t tell me about building a wall.

  • Gary Masters

    We did not have an immediate victory. The Government in Vietnam that we supported fell. But after so many years in Vietnam we left enough associations and friends that we soon became a trading partner and ally of the Vietnamese who now see China as their threat. We got more than we expected and our work was not lost. It was a victory of our culture and economy. A program of support for education and cultural activities would finish the deal.

    • Margaret

      Yes, I think you’re right. Like South Korea after the Korean War. And Japan after WWII.

      • Larry J O’Daniel

        Until 1975, Vietnam was never unified. It was aggression,pure and simple. The media reports were often reported from Saigon bars, rather than the field. The VC existence was largely manufactured as separate organization. Their political existence was nil in 1975. What little that was left was betrayed by the North rapidly. We could’ve easily lost WWII with the biased reporting from Vietnam.

  • Doc N’ Carol BikerGypsy

    So you really have it all wrong. I mean really. America’s perception of the war began in the mid-60’s. The I’Drang with Hal Morris was a well kept secret from the American public for years. Average Americans simply didn’t get emotionally involved as early as you say. We didn’t “perceive” anything. The first draft card burning wasn’t until late october 1965 and it was initially a conscientious objection by a Catholic priest. Actually it was Khe San that changed the perception of the war as well as the public execution of a Viet Cong by an ARVN officer.

    • John Mercer

      Do you mean the execution of a leader of the Viet Cong by the commander of the Vietnamese National Police, who was authorized to act by the laws of his country?

      • Bill Parton

        John Mercer – Were summary executions
        authorized by the laws of Vietnam?

    • historyrepeatsitsself

      No… that stuff you talk about was not what caused the public to wake up… it was the DRAFT… that is why we have never had a draft since… Think on it… if we had a draft today we would be out of the middle east.

  • Doc N’ Carol BikerGypsy

    You forgot Khe Sahn

  • Margaret

    This History Collection needs correction.

  • luckless pedestrian

    “Good Morning, Viet Nam!”…Cue: “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” We were fighting the Korean War in Vietnam. I recall heading out on yet another “Search & Destroy,” walk in the noonday sun, when I realized that the VC/ NVA didn’t want to “spread Communism all over the world.” They just wanted their country back. Then it was back to the business of winning the “hearts and minds” of farmers and civilians by stomping through their houses and then burning them down. Building and supplying huge bases to fight a guerrilla war. Yeah! That’s the ticket! Turning huge patches of land into the surface of the Moon with B-52’s so high in the sky you could barely see them and then getting pinned down by 4-6 guys in pajamas. Picking up pieces of guys you had been talking to 15 minutes before they stepped on a mine. Learning how to keep it all “outside” yourself or find yourself standing by the wire, shaking like a leaf. Again. “Christian founded Democracy?” STFU!— RVN ’65-’66. USMC. 100% PTSD. Semper Fi.

    • Dirk L. Zollinger

      Jarhead, your not PTSD, your problem is embarrassment. Failure to look back at what you accomplished, even though your Government was wrong. It is the people like you who add to reasons 22 vets commit suicide every day. My Government was wrong, but AT THAT TIME we were fighting Communism in Russia,Cuba, China, and the RVN. I performed my job and I performed it well as did all I knew over there. I hurt severely every day for those I knew who lost their life, but to demean what they did to make you feel better,won’t work. You want to go after some for the deaths of our brothers and sisters over there, Hanoi Jane, John Kerry, the American public who worked on Congress to make rules of war. I guess you jarheads must have been the reason for people talking of the atrocities over there. I was there in 1968, and the only villages that got burned down was villages we received fire from. Unless it was the North, most of the B-52s hit jungles or mountains. I was with the unit Platoon was about. This was used to draw the anti war crowd. Stone was in Delta Company, and I was in Alpha, and I assure you Alpha Company didn’t do what was portrayed in the movie. I don’t want to hear your cry baby stuff about seeing death and complete disection of buddies. All of us did if we were in the bush. My squad leader, gunner and myself were standing in front of a bunker. Gunner and squad leader were killed right beside me, wanted to run, but was too scared,so I just started shooting into the bunker until some sergeant pulled me away. If you want to keep that hate in you, there is nothing I can do about that. I would recommend you get in a group.

      • historyrepeatsitsself

        Leave off of him.. just because your experiences were not the same is no reason for you to go off on him…what is a “unit Platoon” by the way? Not everybody can walk away easily my friend… and those who did feel guilty for having been able to… I am glad you have no residual issues…. Oh and the “Jarheads” name calling.. why would you do that? Was there a reason?

        • Dirk L. Zollinger

          You stupid twit, do you hear him saying anything, if you have no idea about a subject, you need to listen or leave. It is quite obvious you never walked the walk, so you have no frikkin idea what I am talking about. Platoon was a movie. I was a VFW service officer for 6 years, you don’t know what that is either, but I helped troops get the disability they deserved. If he is legit, which I am doubting, he is in line to be one of the 22 suicides military people commit every day. A jarhead is another name for a Marine. I am also100% PTSD. Listen and learn or stay out of the conversation.

      • luckless pedestrian

        Fuck you, Doggy!

        • Dirk L. Zollinger

          Nice reply. Your Welcome.

  • Josef-Peter Roemer

    It started way before any of what is mentioned, started with the French loosing their war in Vietnam the USA stepping in to help the French. We complain when another country interferes in our internal issues, but we interfere in other countries all the time to topple leaders our Government does not like even democratically elected ones which we replace with a puppet Dictator.

    • Bill Parton

      It goes way earlier than that.
      Ho Chi Minh pleaded for an independent
      Vietnam at the negotiations that ended World War I.
      His plea was rejected.

  • 1984isnow

    Khe Sahn, Con Thien, 881, Especially Khe Sanh, to leave that out is stupid. What agout the battle for Hue?

  • casevier

    What a ridiculous caption to the Khe Sanh photo. Communist mortar fire? What? Are there Capitalist M-16s?