Vietnam - A War Lost and Won

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9781841931555: Vietnam - A War Lost and Won
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The war in Vietnam was the longest war in American history. US ground troops were in Vietnam for eight long years. In all the American commitment in Southeast Asia lasted 15 years. During that time 46,370 US servicemen died in battle, more than 10,000 died from noncombat-related causes, and a further 300,000 were wounded. The Australian and New Zealand troops who fought there lost 496 dead and 2,398 wounded. But these figures pale beside Vietnamese losses. The South Vietnamese, America’s ally, lost 184,000 soldiers; the Communist enemy a further 900,000. It is estimated that over a million civilians lost their lives. However, the psychological damage to America was incalculable. Vietnam was the first war that America lost. It left the country bitterly divided. Many of 2.7 million Americans who served in Vietnam suffered psychologically for decades to come and America discovered that, for all its might and technological superiority, it could not defeat the ill-equipped peasant army of a small and fiercely determined enemy.

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How did the USA, a staunchly anti-colonial nation, become involved in the most protracted war in its history, and how did arguably the world’s most powerful military machine, together with its Australian and New Zealand allies, allow itself to become bogged down in a jungle war thousands of miles from home?
This comprehensive and balanced account analyses the ultimate failure of the war, and the psychological impact of the war on the American people, and its effect on future US foreign policy. This book charts the course of the war in Vietnam, but more than this, it seeks to place American involvement in Vietnam in historical perspective, and to offer answers to the vital questions above.

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Chapter One: Into the Nam

On the morning of 8 March, 1965, the Leathernecks of Ninth Marine Expeditionary Brigade stormed Nam O Beach – military designation Red Two – outside the port of Da Nang in South Vietnam, America’s ally in Southeast Asia. This was a classic World War II amphibious assault, like that on Guadalcanal, Okinawa, or the beaches of Normandy. Indeed Nam O had been used by the US Marines as a training beach before the outbreak of the Pacific War.
Six weeks before, Amphibious Task Force 76 had set sail from Japan. Their arrival in the Bay of Da Nang was supposed to coincide with the end of the monsoon, but the officer commanding, General Frederick J. Karch, himself a veteran of the landings on the Japanese-held islands of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima during World War II, said that in the last days the Marine assault force spent bobbing up and down in heavy seas off the coast of Vietnam he experienced the worst weather he had ever encountered in the South China Sea.

Some 3,500 Marines on board the USS Vancouver Union Mount McKinley and Henrico anxiously awaited the order to make a frontal assault on the undefended beach of a friendly nation. The Leathernecks – as the Marines called themselves – had been drilled from boot camp that there was no such thing as a friendly beach. But the only thing here that was unfriendly was the weather. As they prepared to disembark, a light drizzle gave way to a strong on-shore wind, creating a heavy swell which snapped mooring lines and made it almost impossible for the Marines to clamber down the nets into the landing craft. H-hour had to be postponed from 0730 to 0900hrs.
At 0903, Marine frogmen reached the beach, pulled themselves out of the surf and made a dash to the line of palms and fir trees that ran along the top of the beach. Hard behind the frogmen were eleven Marine amphibious tractors – LVTPs – carrying thirty-four men each. They thrust their forty-five-ton steel hulls through the white foam. With the ten-foot swell, this was a ‘high surf’ landing and smaller LCVPs had to be abandoned in favour of heavier landing craft. The LVTPs were followed by sixty-one-ton LCM-8s, whose steel jaws disgorged 200 men at a time. Within fifteen minutes, four waves of heavily armed Marines were digging in on the sand just as their fathers’ generation had on the beaches of Pacific atolls barely twenty years before. Fifty minutes later, 1,400 men were ashore, carrying rifles, machine-guns, and grenade and rocket launchers. They were ready for anything – except what actually happened.

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