The Vietnam War was a conflict over the invasion of US-backed South Vietnam by the communist North Vietnamese from 1965-1975. This war proved that even if you die 40 times less then the enemy, you can still lose.
Throughout its history, Vietnam was basically Little Mac from Mike Tyson's Punch Out. Vietnam would get kicked and bossed around by much stronger nations, but then after using incredible patience, would strike at the perfect moment and inconceivably kick the snot out of a world power. They struggled against Chinese dynasties since before Christ, were borderline enslaved by the French from the mid 19th to mid 20th century under French colonialism, and had to put up with the Japanese jackasses during World War II. Each of these groups had their asses handed to them by these peasants. The French got whupped, obviously. After wanting to save face after getting spanked by the Nazis, apparently the French believed a war against a bunch of pig farmers would be the ticket to building their confidence, only to get reamed again. The US of course took this history into account as they laid out their plan of attack. Oh wait, no they didn't.
There was also the issue of the Geneva Accords. This gave Vietnam independence from France, which split the nation in two in the first place. It promised to give free elections to the country and to reunite the country in two years. With resounding popularity for the communist Ho Chi Minh, the democratic south basically went with the "fuck that shit" approach and went along as their own seperate nation. The US backed the south, having never signed the Geneva Accords in the first place, because internationally approved treaties just really ain't our thing.
As renowned military historian Garth Ennis put it, "Many moons ago the greatest nation on Earth sent spies to a tiny country in a part of the world they wanted a foothold in. The spies took a look around and came back to tell their bosses what was what. 'The south,' they said, 'is full of lazy, corrupt cowards who will run in terror at the first sign of trouble. But in the north the people are tough little peasant farmers who will fight like hell for what they believe in. We should back them.' 'But they're communists,' said the bosses. 'Yes,' said the spies, 'but not the kind that we're worried about. The farmers are not bent on global domination like the Soviets. They want nothing more than peace to live their lives and land to grow their crops, and will stick by anyone who grants them those things. We should back them.' 'But they're communists,' said the bosses. And fifteen years of bodybags and G.I.s on smack and massive domestic unrest with nothing to show for any of it later, the spies went to the bosses and said, 'Nice going assholes. A truly spectacular piece of self-buggery. Told you we should have backed the north.' 'But,' the bosses said..."
The important thing to know about Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader, was that he was a nationalist first, and a communist second. If the US helped Vietnam following World War II, he gladly would have used the Communist Manifesto to wipe his ass if we asked him to. Ho Chi Minh was for the most part pro-American, with the exception of our treatment of the poor. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson's call for a League of Nations, he desperately sought audience with the president for his help. Ho tried to get US help again after World War II by drafting a Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, which was pretty much a copy of the US Declaration.
A prevalent notion of the time was the so called "Domino Theory." Basically, if one country were to fall to communism, the next in the area would fall more easily. And the best way to stop dominoes from falling? A lot of bombs. This strategy was far different from the Truman Doctrine, the greatest communist prevention technique in history, and one of the greatest humanitarian efforts of all time, as Kanye would say.
No, not a 70s Motown group. These were the enemies the US faced during the war. The North Vietnamese Army fought in traditional warfare. Their biggest success was the Tet invasion of 1968, in which the North Vietnamese invaded every major city in South Vietnam, and took over the US embassy in Saigon, the capital. This was a surprise attack, considering Tet was Vietnam's biggest holiday and we assumed they would be chillaxing. After all what kind of a country would launch a surprise attack when fighting for independence?Probably one that wants to win. Tet marked a turning point in the war due to US General Westmoreland remarking a short while before Tet, "I can see a light at the end of the tunnel." Apparently that light was an oncoming train filled with Asians carrying rifles. Even the visiting Walter Kronkite said shit was fubar after Tet. Even though the invasion was turned back by the Americans, the damage had been done.
The Viet Cong were based in the south. Given the nickname "Charlie" by the Americans due to the "Victor Charlie" translation of VC in radiotelephony, these soldiers used a more guerilla-style assault, focusing on ambushes, booby traps, and foiling the plans of the dastardly Americans. They were so good at sabatoge, one might wonder how they became so proficient. Well, go back a few years to World War II. After dealing with horrific Japanese occupation, Vietnam had a resistance force known as the Vietminh that collected intelligence on the Japanese for the US. The US also trained them for an expected assault on mainland Japan, giving them weapon training and sabatoge. Essentially the US created the Viet Cong. The US would surely learn from this mistake and not train or arm potential future enemies ever again.
How do you lose a war where the enemy loses millions, and you lose in the tens of thousands? By being a complete fucking numbskull, which America excels at. An early strategy of the US was called "Operation Rolling Thunder" aka "Bomb the shit out of everything." Dropping the equivalent of two atomic bombs every month on the north, the US figured, "Hey they'll quit eventually." Included in this strategy was offering president Johnson maps of the North and asking where to strike, probably because considering the amount of ordinance used, the military was just plain bored of picking what to blow up. I imagine Johnson picked completely at random shouting "die die die!" when pointing at the map.
A tour of duty lasted for 1 year in Vietnam. Which was probably all well and good from a PR standpoint, considering it was not an all volunteer force over there. But consider how the initial force to enter Vietnam was specially trained by the Army and Marine Corps for action in Vietnam only had 1 year to put all of that training to work, and after that had some poor bastard that didn't want to be there in the first place finish the job. Not exactly a winning strategy.
Then there were the handful of US troops that went on to damage the image of the US soldier for years to come. The Mai Lai Massacre was the most notorious incident. Basically, a platoon slaughtered a village filled with innocent women and children. This was due in part to villages aiding the Viet Cong, due in part to command, and due in part to general assholishness.
Perhaps the most unforgivable atrocity that US government created was the hippy: colleged aged youth that rebelled against society and the war. Showering every other month and only if tripping on something, these bums wanted nothing less than world peace and bad music on every radio station. There was no welcome home parades for Vietnam soldiers, due to the federal government thinking that would be a bad image. Mostly they just got berated and had stuff thrown at them by these ass clowns. If you run into a vet, take the time to thank them, cause they got shit on over there, and just got shit on when they got back.
The North Vietnamese strategy of the war was basically to be a dick right back to the Americans. They rigged a variety of fun booby traps such as the bouncing betty which was an explosive that shot up 3 feet in the air in front of its target. That's right, the Vietnamese strategy was "knock enough of their cocks off and they won't come back." This was an invention by the Nazis, but their dickery needs a whole nother topic page.
Another dick move was the treatment of prisoners of war. This included torture that even Jack Bauer frowned upon. Castration and skinning were common. So was shoving sharp bamboo up the fingernails. They would put a basket over the head of victims filled with rats that would eat the flesh off of live POWs heads leaving only a skull, presumably to battle he-man.
This but with rats
Kind of makes you want to sing "Oh Canada," doesn't it?
Even if a G.I. managed to avoid this shit, he still had to deal with the god awful South Vietnamese he had to liberate. Hookers sympathetic to the north shoved broken glass downstairs to give Americans the old bloody dick. Drugs were booming, with many Americans going home as addicts. Even the ARVN, the South Vietnamese army, wasn't all that interested in fighting, and pretty much gave up at every opportunity.
Richard Nixon was reelected on a platform of a "secret plan to win in Vietnam" while promising "peace with honor." This "mystery box" strategy hasn't been used since, but we sure wish it would be. His plan was called "Vietnamization" which meant gradually turning over responsibility of the war to the native population with a gradual withdrawal of troops. We even gave them our planes as a parting gift, leaving them with the worlds third largest airforce, not that farmers really knew how to fly or anything. Eventually we left the fighting to the totally competent ARVN, who promptly got destroyed. Vietnam went on to live its days in very communist like impoverished peasant conditions. They then switched to a free market economy, so all in all we really just prevented capitalism from being implemented sooner.