FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

35 Years Since the Fall of Saigon

The United States’ wars have always been very expensive and capital-intensive, fought with the most modern weapons available and assuming a modern, concentrated enemy such as the Soviet Union. The ever-growing Pentagon budget is virtually the only issue both Republicans and Democrats agree upon. But there are major economic and social liabilities in increasingly expensive, protracted wars, and these—as in the case of Vietnam—eventually proved decisive.

The U.S. wars since 1950 have been against decentralized enemies in situations without clearly defined fronts, as exist in conventional wars. Faced with high firepower, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, even Iraq, America’s adversaries disperse — they fight from caves, behind jungle foliage, etc.,– using cheap, relatively primitive military technology against the most advanced U.S. artillery, tanks, helicopters, and air power. In the end, its adversaries’ patience and ingenuity, and willingness to make sacrifices, succeed in winning wars, not battles. Its enemies never stand and fight on U.S. terms, offering targets. The war in Vietnam was very protracted and expensive, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also prolonged—and increasingly a political liability to the party in power in Washington. This has repeatedly illustrated the limits of American power, and the Korean war established the first precedent.

When the Korean war ended, the U.S. leaders swore they would never fight another land war in Asia. The Korean war was fought to a draw, basically a defeat for U.S. objectives to reunite the country. Vietnam proved yet again that the U.S. could not win a land war—and it failed entirely there, at least in the military sense. Their ultimate success was due to the confusion of the Vietnamese Communists themselves, not the success of the Saigon regime or American arms. The U.S. has always been vulnerable militarily precisely because its enemies have been primarily poor and compelled the adapt to the limits of their power.

After its defeat in Vietnam in 1975 the U.S. leaders once again resolved yet again never to fight a land war without massive military power from the inception of a conflict and the support of the American people — which gradually eroded during the Vietnam war. The Weinberger doctrine in 1984 enshrined this principle. The U.S. has won wars against small, relatively weak enemies, as in Nicaragua, but in both Iraq and Afghanistan it has made the mistakes of the Korea and Vietnam wars all over again. It still wishes to be the “indispensable power,” to quote former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but it cannot win the victories it covets. Like a drunken person, it no longer controls itself, its environments, or makes its actions conform to its perceptions. It is therefore a danger both to itself and the world.

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914, Another Century of War? and The Age of War: the US Confronts the World and After Socialism. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. His latest book is World in Crisis.

 

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail