By Gerard Chretien
Tactics in Vietnam were an important factor in the victory of the Vietcong over the U.S. There were fundamental differences in their fighting methods, which the Vietcong were able to take full advantage of. The Vietcong used Guerrilla warfare, this meant that they used their knowledge of the area they were fighting in to hinder the U.S. The U.S army had been used to conventional warfare, in the form of bouts of fighting. Guerrilla warfare meant that they had to be constantly alert and Booby traps meant that many soldiers died and witnessed horrific deaths. This was naturally unnerving for the soldiers concerned, particularly so because many of the soldiers were young and inexperienced.
The technology of the U.S was far superior to that of the Vietcong and yet it was ultimately ineffectual. One weapon, which the U.S thought would be important, was Bombs. At first the U.S bombed specific targets. When they realized that had little effect, they began blanket bombing, this was known as Operation Rolling Thunder. Massive amounts of explosives were dropped on Vietnam, three times as much explosives was dropped than on Germany and Japan put together during World War 2. However, the Vietcong countered this with anti-aircraft guns, surface to air missiles, aid from soviet planes, and a network of tunnels. The U.S believed these to be simply to take cover from the bombing, in-fact they were also effectively used to ambush the U.S. Bombing had very little effect on the Vietcong it simply increased their determination, they in fact used it to their advantage by re-using unexploded bombs or shrapnel.
The main tactic employed by the U.S was known as search and destroy. This meant hunting down and killing Vietcong. The Vietcong used a similar tactic called find and kill, although this was conceptually the same as search and destroy it was much more successful. One reason for this was that the U.S soldiers wore uniforms and were easier to pick out. Another reason was that the U.S soldiers had to contend with Vietcong mines and booby traps. These included what was known as a Punji trap, which was a deep hole filled with spikes covered with poison of faeces. Another was the Bouncing Betty which was a mine under the soil with three prongs that when steed on would explode. It was extremely disconcerting for soldiers to know that their next step could be their last. This caused a whole host of mental problems for the U.S soldiers. Booby traps accounted for %11 of deaths and %17 of wounds in the war.
The U.S used pacification, to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese. This meant that help was given to the villages. Schools and hospitals were built. This policy was a success; many South Vietnamese remained in support of the Americans and were immune to the persuasive talk of communist infiltrators. However those who were already convinced as to the virtues of communism would not be swayed. The Vietcong used statistics such as the tally of American planes being shot down, in order to keep up morale and keep the troops faithful and devoted. The unbelievable dedication of the Vietcong soldiers was a major factor in the success of the communists. They increased their popularity by using infiltration techniques; this was very successful, as infiltrators were very hard to detect
The Vietcong had a seemingly endless supply of soldiers, who would willingly die out of devotion to communism. Most Americans did not feel so strongly about the collapse of communism, and found the hell that soldiers had to go through quite unacceptable. The point is that the Vietcong were prepared for. The American population was lied to about the military strength of the Vietcong. Obviously propaganda was a vital part of getting people to join up. Lies were necessary, but they were not psychologically sound lies. The shock of finding that the Vietcong were an incredibly organized, strong and spirited fighting force crushed the morale of the U.S.
General Westmoreland (the top U.S commander in Vietnam) believed that the U.S could win a war of attrition. This was naturally unpopular with the troops and even more so with