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South Vietnam was helped by US. Even when the US was gone, they had a 1 million army.

So why did they lose?

Even without US support, South Vietnam had about the same manpower, higher technology, and was more industrialized. Why did they lose?

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The South was invaded in a regular war by the North. – Sardathrion Dec 17 '11 at 13:19
I'll forego a lengthy analysis and simply recommend a book by someone who knows a thing or two about this subject. 'How We Lost the War in Viet Nam' by Nguyen Cao Ky. – user3847 Aug 23 '15 at 23:56
up vote 19 down vote accepted
  1. First of all, to clarify what you asked in the subject, US didn't "lose" Vietnam war militarily. Tet Offensive was basically a disaster for them - they didn't achieve their intended strategic objective (popular uprising in the south) and suffered major losses.

  2. However, US populace lost the will to fight in that war - as noted by others, they started viewing the war as "not worth fighting" (rightly or wrongly). USA being a democratic republic, fighting a war that the majority of the people oppose and which has no geopolitical significance is not something those in power can realistically bother with.

  3. North Vietnam was also being heavily militarily helped by USSR (not sure about China), and that did NOT stop when USA went home

  4. There was a significant portion of populace in South Vietnam that wanted North to win - they weren't "foreign" invaders, and the poorest parts of society are generally a lot less resistant to the idea of an ostensibly "we are for the poor" political forces taking over.

  5. Moreover, your quip at the end - while not exactly correct - has two grains of truth.

    • First, of all, dictatorships and totalitarian countries are a a lot less likely to care about significantly higher losses. Both from intrinsically lower value on human life, AND from far lower effect of losses on country's and military's morale.

    • Second, people with less to lose and less to live for are a lot more willing to risk death for some sort of cause on average.

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+1. This is the most comprehensive and the most correct. Too bad US left. We missed you. – Jim Thio Dec 18 '11 at 5:01
There were a number of comments on this question that were starting to get out of hand, so I deleted them. If you guys want to have an off topic conversation or discussion, please use the Chat room. If this continues I will have to lock the question and all responses. – Steven Drennon Jun 6 '12 at 13:58
well said, except for your point #4. – jwenting Jun 5 '13 at 5:28
+1 for part 4. The south was ruled by a horrible, unpopular dictatorship that didn't have the support of its own people. How effective is the army going to be if the soldiers hate they government they are fighting for? It is remarkable that South Vietnam held on as long as it did – rotard Aug 7 '15 at 22:07

Up until Vietnam, the US had been training their military to fight a "conventional" war, more along the lines of what they fought in each of the World Wars. In Vietnam, the fighting was very "unconventional". In each WW, they could easily identify the enemy because they wore different uniforms and spoke a different language. In Vietnam, the enemoy spoke a different language, but it was the same language as the military they were supporting. Furthermore, their enemy did not customarily wear uniforms. It was easy for them to melt into the surrounding populace without being clearly identifiable.

Another factor was the guerilla warfare component. Much of the fighting in Vietnam involved night raids by the North, as well as surprise ambushes and quick assaults that melted away into nothing. What I mean by that is that the enemy would seem to disappear because they were so adept at blending into the landscape and they also made extensive use of tunnels to allow them to move troops and supplies. The US was ill equipped and poorly trained in how to fight a guerilla war.

When you look back in the history of the US, you could ask the same question about how the US was able to defeat the British during the Revolutionary war. The answer is basically the same. The US did not fight a "conventional" war, they were better able to make use of their surroundings and the terrain, and they fought a number of smaller skirmishes rather than trying to launch a full out attack against superior forces.

In both scenarios, there was definitely an advantage to fighting on your own soil. Your supplies are more easily replenished and it is easier to muster support from the rest of the country. In both cases, the home team just had to outlast the willingness and desire of the "invaders".

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The same reason for 1776 war - but not because of guerrilla tactics. Most of the war of independance was fought as pitched battles between US+French troops vs UK+German troops. The reason the British lost was the same reason the US lost in Vietnam, it was very expensive to fight a war half a world away for a country that wasn't economically or politically worth the effort. – none Dec 17 '11 at 17:09
+1 . However, I didn't ask why US lost. I ask why south vietnam lost. – Jim Thio Dec 18 '11 at 5:02
After all the US had done for south vietnam, they still lost. – Jim Thio Dec 18 '11 at 5:03
There were a number of factors involved there. The inability of the US to maintain a successful military campaign as well as the efforts of the US to control the military initiatives. I believe a lot of South Vietnamese lost faith in their government because they felt that the governement had become puppets that were controlled by the US as a result. – Steven Drennon Dec 18 '11 at 5:28
@StevenDrennon not inability, unwillingness. – jwenting Jun 5 '13 at 5:29

In my opinion, I think the only reason US+South Vietnam lost the war is due to the willingness of Southern people in the war. Vietnamese people have a long tradition of nationalism. They don't accept any invasion from outsiders. North Vietnam took advantage of this. They conducted propaganda to show that US was invading Vietnam and Vietnamese people had the duty to fight back.

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And that's after the north vietnam mass murder many civilians? Stupid.... – Jim Thio Jan 14 '13 at 3:06
@JimThio You have to know that North communists were very good at propaganda and controlling information. The communists made people belived that those mass murder events were conducted by US and Southern Vietnam government. Even up till now, many Vietnamese students still believe in such propaganda. – William Le Aug 11 '14 at 17:52

The main reason was that the people just supported the North. The reasons may vary, but the South were considered a force fighting for the interests of the invaders and the North were simply liberators.

One of the previous answers notes that totalitarian governments can sustain higher losses. This does not do anything with the reality of Vietnam. How can you imagine a "totalitarian government" in a forest? In civil war usually wins the side which is more supported by the people, because people can easily defect and switch the sides, and no "totalitarian government" can do anything with it. The people in the North just loved their motherland while those from South loved their money.

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-1 North Vietnam was a totalitarian government of the communist flavour. Currently, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a totalitarian communist government. – Sardathrion Jan 16 '12 at 13:38
IMHO the first paragraph has the answer here. If (for whatever reason) the people of Vietnam had wanted the south to win, it would have. As they didn't, it really had no hope in the absence of a huge external presence. – T.E.D. Feb 7 '13 at 10:15

In 1996, the North Vietnamese defense minister published an article in the Wall St. Journal about the moment when he felt that North Vietnam had won the war. It was when "Hanoi" Jane Fonda went to the North Vietnamese capital in 1972 to express her "solidarity" with them, returned home, and wasn't severely punished. Then the North Vietnamese felt that she basically spoke for the American people (who didn't want war). After the Americans finished pulling out later that year, the North Vietnamese redoubled their efforts (against the South Vietnamese only), and won.

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+1 Jane Fonda. How can somebody be that cruel? Does she know how many people got slaughtered due to the war being lost? It's still not answering the question though. Even without the US, South Vietnam has about the same manpower, higher tech, and more industry. So how did they lose? – Jim Thio Dec 18 '11 at 4:59
@JimThio Do you know how many people got slaughtered while the war was being fought? War, by definition is based on killing people to achieve your aims. The My Lai Massacre should give a good idea of what happens in a war. – apoorv020 Dec 18 '11 at 7:51
@apoorv020 - Does war suck and people die? Yes. But it is evil and morally corrupt to equate killing of <500 people by <50 use soldiers - the ONLY such incident among 2.5 Million Americans who served in Vientnam - to atrocities committed by commies (From 1957 to 1973, the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 South Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499; that's not counting what happened after the war ended). – DVK Dec 18 '11 at 14:04
The Americans weren't supporting good against evil. They were just supporting one group of murderous bastards over another group of murderous bastards. The track record of the South Vietnamese shows that they would hardly have been more merciful had they been the victors, so an earlier end to the war at least spared a few war casualties. – lins314159 Dec 18 '11 at 20:27
@lins314159 - have any sources confirming that assertion? – DVK Dec 19 '11 at 0:33

The only reason the south lost is because in April 30th 1975, they were already in sai gon fighting there last battle but they surrender because they did not want another event like Hue they still have the other marine regiment they could just call the marines that's still left out there back and take a last stand in sai gon but by that time if they do that then the vc had fire in to the city, killing civilians so that's why they surrendered it's because they did not want any more civilians to die

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A better answer would have included sources. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 10 '14 at 12:19

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