Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part III

Here is Part III of my paper on the Vietnam War.

It was not known at the beginning of the war how little the U.S. government and military knew about their enemy and how best to fight them. The North Vietnamese military and the Viet Cong knew the territory and had developed a way to fight that gave them an advantage over their enemy. Ambushes were the nature of battle in the Vietnam War, and in some ways the Americans did not expect that type of warfare. “It was coming from everywhere, the ground the trees. Suddenly, everyone around me was getting hit and dying...We fought and fought for what seemed hours, but it was no good.” This description of battle at Ia Drang in October 1965 by Sergeant Miguel Seise illustrates that the U.S. military was not prepared to face an enemy like the one they encountered in Vietnam. 

Even though the Americans were victorious at Ia Drang they suffered 247 deaths and 570 wounded. Battles like the one at Ia Drang would soon become more commonplace as 1965 turned into 1966 with more men dying. In June, 1966 the war was already showing signs of turning against the Americans. Kenneth Peeples wrote of a horrific battle, “I can’t help crying now because I think about the horror...In my squad of nine men, only four of us survived.” Horrors like those experienced by Peeples were about to become much more common as the U.S. commitment intensified. By 1966 an average of 400 men were killed each month in Vietnam. The battles in which these soldiers died were usually without a clear victor, and with a new objective by the enemy, killing as many U.S. soldiers as possible.

As time went on, U.S. soldiers realized that they were fighting a war on the Viet Cong’s terms, without a clear plan to gain the upper hand. A small factor contributing to the V.C. advantage was guns and ammunition. Shortly after the U.S. arrived in Vietnam, the U.S. Army switched the standard rifle from the heavy, reliable M-14 to the less reliable, plastic M-16. The Viet Cong, however, packed the highly effective Russian AK-47 which could utilize both Russian and U.S. ammunition. Rifleman Frank McCarthy called the M-16 a “Mattel Toy.” According to McCarthy and others in his unit (101st Airborne) the war in 1965 and 1966 was meant to last only a year or possibly two, but after a few months in Vietnam he noticed a lack of action by the U.S. military heads which lead to an inactive American force who were “immobile.”

One of the elements that gave the Americans a mobile advantage quickly turned against them in 1966. By using helicopters for support, a U.S. unit that was pinned down by enemy fire could call in and have the helicopters bring reinforcements. Beginning in early 1966, the Viet Cong took advantage of the predictable U.S. pattern of calling in for reinforcements by waiting and ambushing the helicopters. Army correspondent Frank Faulkner noticed how these attacks on helicopters shook American soldiers, and sent morale shooting downward. By using their advantage against them, the Viet Cong continued to make the U.S. fight their war, their way.

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