It’s hard to argue that any other nation in history has exceeded the military might of America. This dominance proved itself in World War II, as powers were defeated on three continents and America became the first nuclear power.
How could such a superpower lose a war in a country as small as Vietnam?
Historians, scholars, analysts, and even politicians will likely argue about this until the end of time, but there are several safe theories to posit.
First of all, the war might have started off more as a humanitarian assistance program that ‘mission creeped’ and escalated into a full-fledged conflict. Remember, there was never a formal Congressional declaration of war.
There was also a fear of communism spreading. It was assumed that if Vietnam falls under the clutch of this kind of government or society, then a domino effect would spread it throughout the peninsula and even into nearby island chains, possibly even threatening Australia. This of course never materialized, but worldviews and concerns were much different during the Cold War than they are today.
A huge issue from the start was the government’s inability to formulate clear and convincing goals, both amongst themselves and with the American population. There was a desire to accomplish something good in Vietnam but without sacrificing a lot of lives. The good intentions backfired and created far more casualties than should have resulted. Recruits and soldiers that actually served over there saw with their own eyes what the situation was really like and about, but the American public had a strong anti-war sentiment throughout the conflict. This hampered any efforts by Washington to ramp up military efforts that might have turned the tide of the war.
Diplomacy was another thing that hurt the country’s war efforts. It’s always worthy to negotiate with an opponent, not just even when engaged in formal hostilities, but especially so. However, one certain diplomatic concession backfired hard. The Navy’s remaining battleships had been pounding targets within range of the coast with their mighty guns, and the opposition asked that this stop in exchange for continuing the talks. The Pentagon yielded on that specific kind of bombardment, only to see the enemy take serious advantage of the freedom from seaborne artillery.
It’s hard to know when the peak of America’s power truly was. Some would point, albeit gruesomely, to the nuclear bombings in Japan ending World War II. Many more would point to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely, far exceeding the Soviet Union’s achievements of putting a man in space first. The entire world was watching when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
However, Vietnam was still happening at this time. America had won World War II around the world but then had fought to a stalemate in Korea that’s present to this day. Vietnam was where the mighty nation lost. A lack of public support and clear objectives doomed what would have could be a winnable conflict.