The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Vietnam and Korean Wars

Arguably, the US was successful in achieving its desired end state in the Korean War:  stopping the expansion of communism in Asia and preserving the existence of the Republic of Korea.  Given this success, many US analysts in the early years of Vietnam did not see any serious problems with repeating that success in Vietnam.  Was that a correct analysis?  If so, then why didn’t the US repeat its success?  If not, what were the significant differences between the two situations?

March 21, 2014 - Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The early analysis that Vietnam would be a repeat of US success in Korea was incorrect and did not take into account conflict and stakeholder background. The simple difference between these conflicts, in my opinion, is that Korea was a conventional conflict while Vietnam resembled a revolution.

    The boundary of North and South Korea, at the 38th parallel, was established as Japan was forced out of the country during World War II. The north became a Soviet influenced communist nation while the south was aligned with the US and refused a turn to communism. Both countries had established militaries and governments well before actual conflict began. Both North and South Korea seemed more bent on unification than regime change that we would see in a revolution. South Korea even demonstrated success in dispelling forces and enemies in within the south who were pushing to unite under the North Korean government. Additionally, both North and South Korea required outside foreign assistance/support for conflict. With the conflict later locked in a relative stalemate, foreign allies on both sides looking for an acceptable end to the war and the peace accord resulted in a tense but longstanding peace with the original border restored to pre-conflict location.

    Conversely, Vietnam was more of a Maoist revolution. With North Vietnam having established themselves as independent state, they became focused on continuing their revolution until all of Vietnam was control of the north. From the outset, due to long lasting colony issues, the South Vietnamese government did not have widespread public support. The north was able to inspire the people to rise up against the government and created an active guerrilla insurgency of South Vietnamese citizens. Like in Maoist philosophy, the quick victory was not essential and North Vietnam waited for the right time to move between political, guerrilla and conventional forces.

    The difference between Korea and Vietnam from a US perspective should have indicated that the two conflicts would be dissimilar and although hindsight makes it easier to identify; the revolutionary nature of the Vietnam War made it essentially impossible to win from the outset, at least through the US’s conventional conflict mentality. In Korea, the South Korean people supported their government while in Vietnam, many South Vietnamese were influenced and inspired by the north to turn on and challenge/subvert authority of the southern government.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | March 28, 2014

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