The question of who won the Vietnam War is a contentious and emotional one, because opinions in the United States were so divided while the war was happening. However, North Vietnam ultimately achieved all of its strategic goals while the United States did not. Most historians would agree that North Vietnam won the war.
Winning and Losing
The concept of "winning" a war is arguably a flawed one in the first place because most wars don't end with an unconditional surrender by one side the way World War Two did. Many wars end with an armistice, a simple agreement by both sides to stop fighting even if none of the issues that provoked the war have been resolved. For example, the Korean War ended with an armistice and is widely perceived as having been a draw. However, if the American war aim in the Korean War was to keep South Korea from being destroyed by the communist North Koreans, then that goal was achieved and the Korean War could plausibly be described as a victory. The exact opposite scenario occurred in Vietnam.
The strategist Carl von Clausewitz defined war as the use of violence to force an enemy to do your will. The U.S. government wanted to keep the South Vietnamese government from falling to the communists. This goal was not achieved as the South Vietnamese government fell to an invasion from communist North Vietnam in 1975. The South Vietnamese government wanted to prevent the communists from overthrowing it. This goal was obviously not achieved. The North Vietnamese government wanted to outlast U.S. patience and willingness to suffer casualties so that the United States would eventually withdraw, and the North Vietnamese could conquer South Vietnam. These goals were achieved.
The Argument for a U.S. Victory
Despite the eventual North Vietnamese conquest of South Vietnam, some military historians believe the United States should be considered the winner. According to military historian Roger Aeschliman in "The Augusta Chronicle," the real U.S. strategic goal had little to do with Vietnam. Vietnam was essentially a pawn in the global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.The United States was fighting in Vietnam primarily to prevent the spread of communism to more strategically vital nearby countries in Asia and the Middle East. Since these countries did not become communist and the United States withdrew from Vietnam with a negotiated peace, the United States could be considered victorious from this perspective.
The United States committed to the defense of South Vietnam because of the policy of "containment." The United States and its allies decided to avoid provoking a third World War by trying to roll back communist gains. Instead, they would try to keep any more countries from falling to communism. The United States spent vast amounts of money and suffered tens of thousands of casualties trying to keep South Vietnam from becoming communist, but in the end it did. Communism was not contained successfully. According to this analysis, North Vietnam was clearly the winner.
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