Some History of the End of the Vietnam WarSpace does not allow for a full analysis of the history of the Vietnam War, so let's focus on the end. Late in 1972 the US, South Vietnam and North Vietnam were negotiating a possible end to the war. On December 16, 1972 the talks broke down. After a US ultimatum was ignored, President Richard Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker II (AKA the "Christmas Bombings") carried out against the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and its harbor Haiphong. This campaign was expensive in terms of US losses, but the expenditure of defensive missiles and airplanes resulted in Hanoi being left defenseless against further raids. The North Vietnamese came back to the negotiating table, rather than face further destruction. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973. The US and its allies pulled out of Vietnam, 2 years before the fall of Saigon, and as the result of a military victory in the air.
The Invasion and Betrayal of South VietnamDuring this same period was when the Nixon Administration was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. South Vietnam would pay the price for depending on a doomed benefactor. From Wikipedia:
Nixon had secretly promised Thieu that he would use airpower to support the Saigon government should it be necessary. During his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was sharply criticized by some senators after he stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. However, Nixon was driven from office due to the Watergate scandal in 1974 and when the North Vietnamese began their final offensive early in 1975, the United States Congress refused to appropriate the funds needed by the South Vietnamese to protect Saigon, citing strong opposition to American involvement in the war by Americans and the loss of American equipment to the North by retreating Southern forces. Thieu subsequently resigned, accusing the U.S. of betrayal in a TV and radio address:
At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis. But the United States did not keep its word. Is an American's word reliable these days? The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men.The North Vietnamese entered Saigon on April 30 1975. Schlesinger had announced early in the morning of 29 April the evacuation from Saigon by helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel.
The US Did Not Lose the Vietnam WarIt is true the US did not win the the Vietnam War, but in what sense did the US lose? For the US, the war had been over for 2 years when Saigon fell.
How much time must pass from a ceasefire before a subsequent war is considered to be separate? If South Korea fell to North Korea 60 years after the armistice there would we say that the US lost the Korean War? If the Argentines captured the Falklands 30 years after the war ended there would we say the British lost the 1982 war? The historical record makes clear that the US negotiated a truce, and withdrew.
I would agree with critics that the effort and sacrifice in Vietnam was largely misrepresented and squandered. The Tet Offensive was a colossal defeat for the North Vietnamese, but was reported as a victory. As described above, Hanoi was defenseless and exposed after Operation Linebacker II, but the US did not exploit that weakness and instead held back. As a result, any benefits of the heroism and sacrifice of the US servicemen was lost.
Even worse, we in the US abandoned the South Vietnamese when they could have held out with some help. As a result of our collective guilt we accepted a large number of Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. That was poor recompense for our betrayal.