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Who Won the Vietnam War? A Brief History

I have a BA in history and creative writing and an MA in history. I enjoy politics, movies, television, poker, video games, and trivia.

Did America win the Vietnam War?

Did America win the Vietnam War?

A Complex Answer

Who won the Vietnam War? Answering that question is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, to do so indicates a lack of understanding of the nature of the conflict. It's also helpful to remember it's officially a conflict. The U.S. never declared war.

Because of the vast complexities involved in the conflict, the winner and the loser are hardly clear at all. In many ways, this conflict changed our ideas about what it means to win a war. It also changed our ideas about what it means to lose a war.

A Complex Question

The first response to the question: "Who won the Vietnam War?" should be: "Which war are you talking about?"

Those only familiar with the U.S. role in Vietnam tend to think in binary terms. Either the U.S. won, or Vietnam won. There are only one of two answers. However, the question is not binary. Moreover, the Vietnamese don't perceive just one war. "The Vietnam War" covers a much longer period of time in the country of Vietnam. It was a long struggle for independence. For the Vietnamese, the conflict spanned almost one hundred years. During that time, the Vietnamese attempted to expel foreigners from their country and rule it themselves.

A Short History of Vietnamese Occupation

From about 1887 to 1974, Vietnam was occupied by the French, Chinese, Japanese, and Americans. That is to say, the Vietnamese did not control their own destiny. During that time, the Vietnamese weren't fighting what Americans would normally classify as a war. However, there were groups in Vietnam fighting to expel the foreigners from their country. The most notorious battle prior to American involvement occurred at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954. That was when the Vietnamese forces defeated the French and expelled them from the country.

Following the defeat, the Geneva Accords split the country at the 17th parallel. China exerted influence on the North through the government in Hanoi. Meanwhile, the U.S. started to build a presence in the South by sending advisers. The U.S. goal was to establish an independent South Vietnam. That goal was the definition of victory for the U.S. Unfortunately, America never reached that goal. The absence of a completed objective is the primary thing that muddies the waters in the Vietnam War.

What Is Winning?

American involvement effectively began after the French defeat. The goal was to create a stable government. America justified this with something called "the domino theory." This was the belief that Communism would take over in any country that bordered a Communist country. Those countries would fall like dominoes. If one fell, they would all fall. In fact, "the domino theory" was the main reason for U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, advisers turned out to be inadequate. Thus, in the early 1960s, America slowly sent small numbers of troops into Vietnam. Eventually, this led to full-scale involvement by 1965. The ground war started when Marines arrived in Vietnam in March of 1965.

When somebody asks about winning or losing Vietnam, often they think in terms of battles and deaths. This is where defining "loss" in Vietnam becomes difficult. In terms of casualties, the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam. Consider that U.S. troops suffered just over 48,000 deaths in Vietnam. Contrast that to estimates into the millions for losses of the Vietnamese. U.S. troops rarely lost a battle. However, Vietnam turned the entire concept of battle upside-down. Guerrilla warfare does not have battles in any conventional sense. To say the U.S. lost the Vietnam War is to paint the troops with a brush they don't deserve. It is unfair. That is why when we say the U.S. lost, it requires more detail.

The Logistical Conclusion

Perhaps you are thinking: "If the United States military killed more Vietnamese, how did the U.S. lose the war?" Once again, we come to a complex answer. Ultimately, the U.S. lost the war because it didn't achieve its goals. There were two main reasons for this. The first reason was logistical. The second was political.

My favorite book on The Vietnam War is Loren Baritz's Backfire. The author provides the logistical reason why the U.S. couldn't win in Vietnam. Basically, he argues that the U.S. could only fight wars like those in World War II and Korea. Effectively, wars where two forces clash and the better trained, more powerful force usually wins. In Vietnam, the U.S. military couldn't adapt to the requirements of guerrilla warfare. This doesn't mean the soldiers couldn't adapt. The soldiers adapted. It means the military organization couldn't adapt. The very nature of the U.S. military made it impossible. This answer requires a much more in-depth explanation. Baritz covers this in his book. It's worth reading.

South Vietnamese flag

South Vietnamese flag

The Political Conclusion

The political answer is that popular opinion in the U.S. turned against the war in Vietnam. This is true. It happened with good reason. Thus, sending more troops and money became harder after 1968. At the time, most Americans opposed sending more troops and money to Vietnam. Americans saw no progress. The nightly news showed horrible images. There was no end in sight. Basically, it made support of continued conflict a political suicide. Thus, no administration, no politician, could support the Vietnam conflict and expect voters to elect them. Most Americans wanted out.

Once again, consider that the U.S. defined winning as the creation of a stable, independent government in the south. America never achieved this goal. Generally, it's why historians consider U.S. involvement in Vietnam a failure.

Another question about the Vietnam War is: "Could we have won in Vietnam?" Many people answer the question with a quick "yes!" Sadly, such a glib response represents a misunderstanding of the conflict. Those who answer yes often think more bombs could have solved the problem. Others believe a nuclear bomb might have ended the war. Neither was ever a real option. Obviously, they contradicted the stated political goal.

Flag of North Vietnam

Flag of North Vietnam

Was Winning Possible?

Basic confusion hampered American efforts in Vietnam. The U.S. thought it was fighting Communism. This was wrong. Maybe some Vietnamese believed in Communism. More than that, the Vietnamese believed in self-determination. The people fought for their country more than any abstract belief. America badly misjudged the will of the people of Vietnam. Because of Vietnamese national pride, the U.S. fought insurgents in both the North and the South. Winning the war with more bombings was unrealistic. Further, using nuclear weapons would have meant destroying the whole country. America's stated goal was a functional country.

Don't overlook the will of the Vietnamese people. Their nationalism was stronger than any political belief. For this reason, many people believe that the U.S. could never have won the war. The Vietnamese fought on no matter the casualties. There was no quit. They fought to the death. Concurrently, political opposition in America grew. Americans did not want to spend more money. They didn't want more death. Vietnam was on the other side of the world. Politicians couldn't explain our goals.

The U.S. did not win the war, but the military didn't lose it either. Sadly, people blamed the troops anyway. Unfortunately, American political and military leaders never understood what motivated the Vietnamese. In retrospect, the Vietnamese simply wanted to control their destiny. It's what most people want. It's what Americans want.

Be careful when writing about the Vietnam War. Just remember that it can be a very sticky, sensitive subject. It's a complex topic. Moreover, defining the U.S. role as a "win" or "loss" is too simplistic. It characterizes the roles of many different people, from politicians to military grunts to the Vietnamese, without proper context.


Here are some of the best books I've read over the years about the Vietnam War that will give most readers a solid background on the subject. For brevity's sake, I've picked three of the best, but there are just so many that it would be silly to cover them all here.

  • Backfire by Loren Baritz: This is my favorite book about the Vietnam War. It's a highly unusual book in that it takes a cultural approach, not a military one. It doesn't cite political reasons for entering the war, like many other books, but cultural ones. It asks questions like: "how did our cultural imperatives lead us into Vietnam?"
  • A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan: This book looks at one specific battle, which it uses as a symbol of what was wrong with our approach in Vietnam.
  • America's Longest War by George C. Herring: This is one of the most concise overviews of the entire conflict and provides an excellent introduction to the Vietnam War.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What ended the Vietnam war?

Answer: That is a very difficult question to answer, but keep in mind that if America had wanted to, it could have wiped Vietnam off the map. What ended it mostly was a lack of political will and purpose. Our purpose there was to create an independent Vietnam sympathetic to American interests and prevent it from going to the Communists. Given the ineffectiveness of the various leaders we installed, there just wasn't enough will to continue. Nixon tried to exit with dignity by bombing the crap out of the place. Ultimately, the American people just didn't want to be there anymore.

© 2011 Allen Donald


rahulkhan3725 on September 10, 2019:

The Vietnam War is the longest and bloodiest war in the 20th century. This war was essentially a lasting revolution of the Vietnamese people. Vietnam defeated the United States by nearly twenty years of war, with fancy guerrilla tactics, territorial advantages and a strong sense of victory. The Vietnam War is one of the biggest instances in US military history. In this episode we will know today about one of the bloodiest Vietnam War in modern times.


A-Realist on August 04, 2018:

No winners in war. America however lost it..royally.

They were the ones who retreated cap in hand, because the enemy was never going to quit.

They went in all American Bravado "Hoorah Semperfy..Let's kick some butt"...Usual braindead US mentality. backwards third world nation both held them at bay, and saw them dissolve and retreat.

Mouthy bullies who had their comeuppance, and still refuse to accept it today. Funny how the wheel turns..Now you have yourself a new mouthy orange bully, whose own comeuppance is a case of not *IF*..but *WHEN* it's delivered.

NguyenloiMoving from 264 Mai Chi Tho, An Phu, Quan 2, TPHCM on July 10, 2018:

No one. I'm sure about that

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on March 28, 2018:

Who won the Vietnam war? No one.

ChipPetro on March 28, 2018:

You know, it’s because the strength of patriotism. I’m proud I’m a Vietnamese ;))

Paula from The Midwest, USA on January 13, 2015:

This was really helpful in understanding the Vietnam war a little bit better. To point out that the motivations of the Vietnamese people, needed to be better understood, is a good thing to remember. Its hard to discuss some of these things, and a lot of questions are raised, but I found this to be helpful in understanding it a little bit more, while being understanding of the words surrounding the dialogue and why explanation is so necessary. The more full picture. The video was very helpful as well, thanks so much.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on October 25, 2014:

Great article. I agree with suzettenaples and chanroth, there are no winners. There are some people who sell war goods to the government and make a lot of money.

Individuals should learn not to be involved in war. The problem is the government teaches a pro-war history in schools. Worse, churches teach pro-war religion. I have found this shocking truth in Methodist and Baptist churches. Churches teach it was OK for Joshua to commit genocide of the Canaanites so we can do it.

John Heinze on May 09, 2012:

perhaps visiting our site at might give you a little more insight..

Vietnam Veteran 69/70

htodd from United States on May 06, 2012:

Well,I don't like wars

Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on April 16, 2012:

U.S. politicians really did believe that getting involved in Vietnam was about national defense. This was the origin of the Domino Theory - the idea that allowing Vietnam to fall would result in the spread of communism throughout SE Asia. This is where the nationalism argument becomes relevant. The people of Vietnam didn't care about Communism or Capitalism, they cared about deciding their own fate.

buddhaanalysis on April 14, 2012:

you said that USA did not loss war because USA killed millions of Vietnamese and USA loosed only half lakh of soldiers.

Isn't it shows that USA is directly involved in killings all over the world just sake of it's own agenda?

Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on April 13, 2012:

Great information for anyone needing or wanting information about that great conflict.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on April 13, 2012:


Thanks for sharing the information.

Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on April 13, 2012:


I consider it high praise that a vet would consider my article on the Vietnam conflict interesting. In regard to writing the war was "unwinnable", I say that in regard for the political definition of winning, which was a stable, independent South Vietnamese government. Most evidence suggests that was impossible. In terms of the military conflict, your plan certainly has merit, though I'm pretty sure they did something like that. Consider the 72 Christmas bombings when more bombs were dropped on NV than in all of WW2. By then, of course, political will had vanished.

AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on April 13, 2012:

A fascinating article on Vietnam. I served there from 1966-67 and I was frustrated by our inability to stop the VC from terrorizing the countryside. I'm not sure I agree that the war was "unwinnable" - had I been president at the time, I would have ordered the intel community to come up with a list of the top twenty military/industrial targets crucial to Hanoi's war effort and then I'd order them destroyed one by one until they ceased fighting and supporting the insurgency in the south. Anyway, it's history now. All in all, a thoughtful and interesting piece!

Paul Swendson on February 23, 2012:

I agree that the war was unwinnable, but I have one more problem to add. The United States, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, was claiming that its efforts would help the country in which it was fighting. They were helping South Vietnam fight against an insurgency, and these efforts would prevent the evil of communism from claiming another country. But the more damage that the United States did in South Vietnam, the harder it would be to make the claim that these efforts were helping. At some point, the costs would inevitably outweigh the benefits. Sure, the United States could have bombed all of Vietnam into oblivion and achieved a physical victory. It would then be impossible, however, to claim any moral victory.

Chris from middletown, ct on September 24, 2011:

Nice hub man. I dont really share my opinion of war because these days people don't like to hear it. All I ever say is "if there is man there is war". Anyway we won in numbers but lost it back home with our own people soo... idk good hub though

chanroth from California, USA on September 23, 2011:

This is a really great hub and enjoy reading the history. For me, the term war is no winning...I simply think each one of them are loser...No one win the war because all I see in war is killing each is killing each other define something or a country a winner? How is war being an answer to a conflict? If killing each other and killing innocent children/people makes these rich politician happy than they are nothing worst than a living demon. I hate war and I don't see how we benefit from it. Maybe benefit for those people sitting on the chair demanding the soldiers to fight while they are safe in the white house...but to's heart wrecking and I have grandfather and aunt who is in the military and died from war. I'm proud that my grandpa and aunt stood for their country...but to doesn't make any sense at all...why war? Maybe I'm just not getting it but I do like this hub thank you!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on September 23, 2011:

You really write an interesting an informative hub. In my opinion, no one ever wins in war. One side might be conquered, but no one really wins. All war does is kill innocent people.

I don't think for one minute we are winning any wars in the middle east - Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever. I'm thrilled we killed Bin Laden. That evil man needed to go, but I don't think we are accomplishing much more over there.

I'm not a pacifist, but I just don't see where war has ever gotten us anywhere. Even WWII left us with Communist countries and the Iron Curtain. And, another war - the Cold War. In the 60's we got the Berlin Wall. So how is that winning? So who really won WWII? Again, we got rid of Hitler, and that was good, but not all of our objectives were reached in that war either.

But, this hub is well-written and thought out so I voted it up!

ahorseback on September 23, 2011:

I MUST SAY GREAT HUB! Listen soo many offer opinions , great they read a little bit of histoty . And then blast the western world for everything! My brother , a marine in Viet Namm would go back tomorrow and "finish it". Everything is not P. C. and you show that here !awesome.