Who Won the Vietnam War?

It is not as simple as saying that one side or another won The Vietnam War because to do so indicates that one does not understand that nature of the conflict and the complexities of the situation.

A Complex Question

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

A person only familiar with the role the United States played in Vietnam might ask this question expecting one of two answers: "The United States won" or "Vietnam won". Unfortunately, the phrase "The Vietnam War" covers a much longer period of time in the country of Vietnam where the phrase probably has very little meaning. For the Vietnamese, the closest description of the phrase "The Vietnam War" involved a conflict that spanned almost a hundred years during which the Vietnamese attempted to expel foreigners from their country and rule the country themselves.

From approximately 1887 to 1974, Vietnam was "occupied" by foreigners including the French, Chinese, Japanese, and Americans where the Vietnamese did not have control of their own government. Although the Vietnamese were not fighting what Americans would normally classify as a war, there were strong insurgency movements within Vietnam fighting to expel the foreigners from their country. The most notorious battle prior to American involvement occurred at Dien Bien Phu and on May 7, 1954, 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 while the U.S. started to build a presence in the South by sending advisers. The intent of the U.S. government was to establish an independent government in South Vietnam and that was always the definition of victory for the U.S. Unfortunately, it never happened, which is the primary thing that muddies the waters when somebody asks who won the Vietnam War.

In coming to a conclusion about an answer to the question of who won, I won't use too many more factoids to explain. American involvement effectively began after the French defeat with the intent to create a stable government. The reason for this involved adherence to the "domino theory"; the belief that if something wasn't done in a country that bordered a Communist country, it would fall to Communism. This was the main theoretical underpinning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

For a variety of reasons, advisers turned out not to be enough, and starting in the early 1960s, American troops started to filter their way into the country, eventually leading to full-scale involvement in 1965. When Marines were sent into Vietnam in March of 1965, it was considered the beginning of the ground war.

When somebody asks about winning or losing Vietnam, they are usually thinking in terms of fighting and casualties and here is where defining "loss" in Vietnam becomes difficult. In terms of fighting effectiveness and casualties, the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam. U.S. troops suffered just over 48,000 deaths in Vietnam compared to estimates that range into the millions for the Vietnamese. U.S. troops rarely lost a battle, though the entire concept of what constituted a "battle" was turned completely upside-down in Vietnam. Guerrilla warfare does not have battles in the conventional sense. To say the U.S. lost the Vietnam War (which was never officially declared a "war" incidentally), is to cover the troops under an umbrella they do not deserve and is why when we say the U.S. lost, it requires explanation.

The logical question that rises from the last paragraph is this: "If the United States military killed more Vietnamese and was not technically defeated, how did the U.S. lose the war?" Again, we come to the answer involving complexity. Ultimately, the U.S. lost the war. They didn't achieve their goals. There were two main reasons for this. One was political and the other was what I'll call logistical. In my favorite book on the Vietnam War, Loren Baritz's "Backfire", the author provides the logistical reason why the U.S. couldn't win in Vietnam. Essentially, he argues that the U.S. military was designed, at that time, to 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 simply couldn't adapt to the requirements of guerrilla warfare (and that doesn't mean the soldiers couldn't adapt, they could. 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 and that is covered in Baritz's book.

South Vietnamese flag
South Vietnamese flag

The other answer, the political answer, is that popular opinion in the U.S. turned against the war (with good reason), making further commitments of troops and money impossible after 1968. At the time, a lingering war where no perceivable progress was being made for a goal that most Americans couldn't understand made supporting Vietnam political suicide. No administration, no politician, could continue to support the conflict in Vietnam and expect to get re-elected.

The U.S. defined "winning" the "war" as the establishment of a stable, independent government in the south. This goal was never achieved and is why the effort in Vietnam by the U.S. is considered a failure.

Another common question asked and answered on radio talk shows and the like is: "Could we have won the war in Vietnam?" Many who do not understand the complexities of the conflict often answer the question with an emphatic "yes!" Such a statement represents a colossal misunderstanding of the conflict. That "yes" most often means that the U.S. could have won the war militarily by bombing more or dropping a nuclear weapon. This was impossible.

Flag of North Vietnam
Flag of North Vietnam

The problem with "winning" in Vietnam had to do with a basic misunderstanding the U.S. had for the causes of Vietnamese opposition to the American presence there which had less to do with Communism and any influence from China or the Soviet Union and much more to do with Vietnamese nationalism. This nationalism spread throughout the entire country and was why the U.S. was fighting insurgents in both the North and the South. To "win" the war by extended bombings or nuclear weapons would have meant destroying South Vietnam as well as North Vietnam.

Due to Vietnamese nationalism, many people, myself included, believe that the U.S. could never have won the "war". As evidenced by the massive Vietnamese casualties, the people of that country were determined to drive out any invading forces and were willing to fight to the death to do it. As evidenced by the political opposition within the United States that helped turn American public opinion against the war by 1968, the American people were unwilling to accept more casualties to fight a conflict with no end in sight.

The U.S. certainly did not win the war, but the military did not exactly lose it either. It was a conflict that the U.S. did not have any chance of winning because the politicians who determined the goals of the war never understood what motivated the Vietnamese. Just remember that the Vietnam War can be a very sticky, sensitive subject and defining the U.S. role as a "win" or "loss" is too simplistic an explanation that characterizes the roles of many different people, from politicians to military grunts, without proper context.

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Comments 15 comments

oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 21 months ago from The Midwest, USA

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 profile image

Jay C OBrien 24 months ago from Houston, TX USA

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 4 years ago

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

Vietnam Veteran 69/70

htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Well,I don't like wars

crankalicious profile image

crankalicious 4 years ago from Colorado Author

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 4 years ago

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 profile image

Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

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

jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India


Thanks for sharing the information.

crankalicious profile image

crankalicious 4 years ago from Colorado Author


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 profile image

AlexDrinkH2O 4 years ago from Southern New England, USA

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!

Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 4 years ago

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.

cmlindblom profile image

cmlindblom 5 years ago from middletown, ct

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 profile image

chanroth 5 years ago from California, USA

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!

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM

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 profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago from New England

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.

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