The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H304: The Korean and Vietnam 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 9, 2016 - Posted by | H300, Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. Korea and Vietnam were drastically differing wars requiring significantly different operational approaches toward achieving American interests in each nation. Equating the two nations and two wars was one of the major reasons for the strategic failures in Vietnam. In Korea, the existing conditions prior to conflict, the state of the South Korean forces, and the UN-backed end state was significantly different than in Vietnam and the colonial French legacy, a burgeoning communist insurgency, and a minority-backed South Vietnamese government.
    Given the significant differences between Vietnam and Korea, the heuristic of using MacArthur’s operational approach for Korea in Vietnam was destined for failure. Instead, the Vietnam War required its own operational approach wherein the political issues were given the main effort by U.S. forces in response to the North Vietnamese efforts. By concentrating on a limited, conventional war, the U.S. ceded the political and informational initiative to the North Vietnamese ultimately ensuring that the operational approach taken in Vietnam would fail.
    Whereas the military means available to both conflicts was flexible and sufficient to resolve the conventional threat posed in either campaign, the linkages between political will and the relation between the conflict and the imminent threat to American strategic interests were similarly strained in both Korea and Vietnam. While in Korea, the American public tolerated the campaign, the unclear end state of the Korean War definitively fed the war weariness approaching Vietnam. At the initiation of the Vietnam War, the political failure to issue a robust strategy dealing with counterinsurgency exacerbated war weariness and further estranged the relationship with American interests and a democratic government in Vietnam.
    Ultimately, every campaign needs its own operational approach that deals with the threat at hand. This approach must utilize a systems perspective to deal not only with conventional aspects to conflict but also to the political and societal elements at hand. Only with a comprehensive strategy can a nation wage modern war to achieve strategic ends through military means.

    Comment by Maj Matt Wunderlich, 19A | March 10, 2016

  2. The Vietnam War was a people’s war. The North Vietnamese had strong support from the people and many civilians joined the war effort as part of the guerilla conflict. The strong support can be attributed to political action as part of Mao’s revolutionary insurgency theory. On the other hand, there was declining support for the US domestically, which led to the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. This is in contrast to the Korean War where US domestic support was maintained. Another key difference between the Korean and Vietnam Wars was that the US had the UN’s support for the Korean War. There were also multiple countries involved in the Korean War. This gave the Korean War greater legitimacy.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | March 22, 2016

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