Vietnam Primer by Col. Joe Abodeely

Vietnam Primer by Col. Joe Abodeely
Vietnam Primer by Col. Joe Abodeely

Vietnam Primer

The word Vietnam conjures many mental images—a country, a war, a catastrophe, a noble cause, etc. America’s involvement lasted a couple of decades and cost over 58,000 U.S. lives; so, why did America even send troops to Vietnam? Anti-war types claim that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist who wanted to unite South with North Vietnam. Actually, he was Communist thug and murderer.

How the U.S. got to war

South Vietnam had been colonized and was a protectorate of France since the1850s. After WW II, the world’s nation states created regional alliances—United Nations, NATO, and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). The U.S. and France were SEATO signatories, and South Vietnam was a French protectorate covered by SEATO.

President Diem of South Vietnam was an ardent nationalist and did not want Ho Chi Minh’s Communists to take over South Vietnam under the guise of uniting North and South Vietnam—two distinct political entities. Diem was independent and did not cater to U.S. influence over his country. 

President Diem was a Catholic who was not popular with some of his Buddhist generals, many of whom were sympathetic to Ho Chi Minh. Ambassador Lodge authorized the Buddhist generals’ coup killing Diem and taking over South Vietnam, but South Vietnam’s subsequent leaders were not effective in stopping the erupting Communist atrocities in South Vietnam. SEATO had the mission to protect Southeast Asia from Communist expansion; therefore, Viet Cong attacks in villages and the attack on U.S. naval vessels (Gulf of Tonkin incident) justified the U.S. sending troops to war. 

The War and Protests Increase  

The 1960s in the U.S. was a time of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The fathers who weathered WWII had children whom they sent to college to get an education and play. It was a time of drugs, psychedelic music, counterculture, mini-skirts, and hedonism. Causes abounded—Civil Rights, Black Power, Women Rights, Gay Rights, Farm Workers Rights, etc. It was a pampered generation. Initially, the public supported the troops serving in Vietnam. That used to be the American way. 

Two main factors caused a dramatic change in public opinion.

First–The Communist Tet Offensive of 1968 was a massive uprising of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops in South Vietnam. Numerous major cities and towns were simultaneously attacked in the country on the Chinese Luna New Year January 30 and 31, 1968. This took U.S. and South Vietnamese forces by surprise.  

The fighting throughout South Vietnam was bitter, but in the end U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were victorious. This is a recognized fact, but the public was shocked by biased reporting of the fighting which made it appear that U.S. and ARVN forces were losing.

Second— On February 14, 1968, Walter Cronkite prepared a television report–never shown to the public—stating the Tet attacks by the VC and NVA were a failure, but—On February 27,  1968, he revised his report and said: “theonlyrational wayout then willbe to negotiate, notas victors, butasan honorable people who livedupto theirpledgeto defenddemocracyanddid the best, they could…”  

LBJ expressed it best as he told his aides, If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”. The “most trusted man in America” never told the public that U.S. and allied forces won the battles of the Tet offensive.  His Tet report was a turning point in the war. Anti-war protests increased as the American public was demoralized. College students with war deferments were especially active in claiming the war was illegal, immoral, unjust, etc.

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford all supported having U.S. troops protecting South Vietnam from Communist aggression. Nixon got a peace treaty and brought the troops home, but the Watergate investigation forced his resignation. President Ford, his successor, was stymied by a Democrat Congress, who would not honor the Peace Treaty terms which stated that the U.S. would still provide war material to South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese Communists renewed attacks. The NVA renewed attacks and the Democrat Congress denied aid contrary to the Paris Peace Accords.

College students and other draft protesters relished in what they claimed was a U.S. “military defeat”. This justified the draft dodging. In actually, the U.S. Congress supported by the antiwar crowd gave up what the U.S. military had won for South Vietnam. Now, many of the antiwar crowd are sensitive about their views and actions during the Vietnam War. 


After the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, the U.S. military returned home not as heroes but as villains. This was a great national disgrace. These soldiers served about 240 days on the average in combat while WW II veterans served maybe 40 days in combat. Two-thirds Vietnam veterans volunteered while only one-third volunteered in WW II. They won all the major battles in Vietnam.  Over 90% are proud of their service. 

They were the best Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard our country ever fielded for war, yet, they were spit on, defamed, and abused when they came home. 

Vietnam veterans still have not earned the respect and recognition for their valuable historical contributions and service. The best way to truly honor Vietnam veterans is to tell truth about their war, their service, their accomplishments. Only reputable historians, journalist, and politicians can do that. These veterans deserve their due before they die. 

Colonel Joe Abodeely March 29. 2020

USA (Ret