40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam

Larry Holzwarth - June 23, 2019

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
A captured Viet Cong fighter awaits interrogation during the Tet Offensive. National Archives

32. Fact: The Viet Cong was well armed and supported independently of the North Vietnamese government

In truth, the Viet Cong were a well-armed and trained organization, with much of their support coming from North Vietnam, whose officials directed and planned their operations – Tet is a good example – and whose supplies came to them directly from both the Soviet Union and China. Armed primarily with AK-47s, the world’s most ubiquitous assault rifle then and now, they often outgunned their enemies in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, who often carried the M-1 and M-14 rifles which the US military had discarded as a front line assault rifle, at least until late in the war as the US was abandoning the ARVN to its inevitable fate. Up to $5 billion dollars in military aid was supplied directly to the Viet Cong by the Chinese and the Soviets between the mid-1950s and 1968, according to the CIA.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
America’s last military operation in Vietnam was the evacuation of refugees as Saigon fell to the communists. National Archives

33. Myth: As South Vietnam collapsed the elite of its society fled to the United States

During the fall of South Vietnam and the collapse of Saigon, which occurred with stunning speed, refugees fled to the American ships and airbases outside of the country. Most of these refuges were the elite of South Vietnamese society, those who had supported the Americans and the fight against communism until the bitter end. Better educated and with valuable skills, they were given priority during the frantic evacuation of Saigon and during later evacuations spearheaded by the United States, to bring out refugees who had initially fled to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other locales to escape communist persecution and imprisonment. These were the refugees who became known as the boat people, with many eventually rescued by the Americans.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
Vietnamese ‘boat people’ fled the communist regime to other Asian countries and the United States. US Navy

34. Fact: The majority of the refugees admitted to the United States were not part of the South Vietnamese elite

The overwhelming majority of the refugees which fled Vietnam to other Asian countries in the hope of eventually reaching the United States were not the elite of society. Most of the so-called boat people were from rural areas not yet under firm control of the new government, including former members of the Viet Cong. They were farmers, artisans, mechanics, less educated, and often families of lower level officials who had already been sent to camps for “re-education”. Between the fall of Saigon and the end of the 1970s more than 400,000 were admitted to the United States, where they established Vietnamese enclaves in many American cities. More refugees continued to be admitted to the United States at the end of the 1980s, the children of American servicemen and former political prisoners.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
The myth that the burden of the Vietnam War fell disproportionately on black Americans began during the Johnson administration. US Army

35. Myth: A higher percentage of black soldiers fought the Vietnam War

According to a long-standing myth, black Americans were more likely to be drafted, more likely to be sent to Vietnam, and more likely to be killed or injured in combat. This myth has been repeated in news articles and essays, depicted in film and television, and brought forth as an example of the racism prevalent in America at the time, in which the children of privileged whites could obtain exemptions not available for black Americans. Vietnam was the first war fought by the United States with a legally integrated military since the Revolutionary War (in Korea integration had been ordered, but was not yet fully practiced). The myth remains of the Americans drafting blacks to fight an unjust war, which was itself racial in scope.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
A US Army rifle squad disembarks from their helicopter, during a training mission. US Army

36. Fact: The US Army was overwhelmingly white in Vietnam

The troops which deployed to Vietnam during the years of American involvement, including the crews of the US Navy ships which served offshore in the conflict, were just over half of a middle-class background, better educated than in any of America’s preceding wars (79% had a high school diploma) and were overwhelmingly white (88%). Of all the combat deaths which were suffered by American forces over the course of the war, 86% were white. The myth of the prejudicial use of black troops to conduct the most dangerous missions, exposing them to the greatest risk of injury or death, is directly traceable to the civil rights movement which occurred simultaneously with the worst years of the Vietnam War, in which more radical factions created the falsehoods to rally their followers.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
The US Embassy in Saigon came under heavy attack during the January 1968 Tet Offensive. National Archive

37. Myth: Portions of the US Embassy were occupied by the enemy during the Tet Offensive

During the confusion and fear prevalent in the early hours of the Tet Offensive, the United States Embassy in Saigon was under attack by Viet Cong forces. US Marines, supported by Army troops and ARVN forces, fought the Cong guerrillas within the compound and along its perimeter. The Associated Press, witnessing the ferocity of the fighting near the embassy grounds, reported that several floors of the embassy itself had been occupied by communist troops. The report was confirmed by the AP’s main competitor, United Press International. The inability of the Americans to protect their embassy within the limits of their ally’s capital city was a blow to the prestige of the American military.

38. Fact: The American Embassy was not overrun by communist troops during the Tet Offensive

American defenders of the embassy in Saigon included the guard force of US Marines, supported by Army troops from Saigon and some ARVN forces which joined them. Although a breach was achieved in the security wall by the Viet Cong, they were unable to exploit it by having troops enter the grounds, and the attack was eventually repelled by the combined Allied forces, with heavy losses to the communist troops, mostly Viet Cong. Although news releases denied the reports of the embassy being partially occupied, which had been promulgated by the Associated Press and United Press International (and repeated by other news agencies) the denials were largely ignored as the press turned its attention to events elsewhere in the country, including the fighting at Hue.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
ARVN soldiers with a hatless American advisor during the war. US Army

39. Myth: Americans had to do the bulk of the fighting in Vietnam because the ARVN wouldn’t

Another longstanding myth of the Vietnam War is the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, known as ARVN, could not and would not fight. The myth, perpetuated by films, television, literature, and the prejudices of many, states that the ARVN for the most part did not support the puppet government installed by the Americans and in any case lacked the modern equipment necessary to conduct combat operations successfully. The ARVN was ineptly led, poorly equipped, inadequately supplied in the field, and lacked the motivation to defend its own country against the communists, leaving the Americans the burden of defending South Vietnam against communist aggression.

40 Myths and Facts about the War in Vietnam
ARVN Troops flush suspected Viet Cong from hiding circa 1968. US Army

40. Fact: ARVN fought hard and sustained heavy casualties throughout the war

The South Vietnamese Army was poorly equipped early in the conflict, since the Americans had to ensure that their own troops were adequately armed and supplied, leaving only obsolescent weaponry available to supply their ally. By the time of what Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger called Vietnamization – the transfer of responsibility for successfully prosecuting the war to the South Vietnamese – the weapons provided to ARVN were the same as carried by the Americans. Though corruption was present in the ranks of senior officers throughout the war, the front-line troops fought bravely and well, and many paid the price for their courage once Saigon fell and the futile war against the North Vietnamese ended after more than twenty years of continuous conflict.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U. S. Involvement”. Neil Sheehan, The New York Times. June 13, 1971

“The Nation: Pentagon Papers: The Secret War”. TIME Magazine. June 28, 1971

“Congress Approves Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 7, 1964”. Andrew Glass, Politico. August 7, 2016

“The Truth about Tonkin”. LCDR Pat Paterson USN, Naval History, US Naval Institute. February 2008. Online

“The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973”. Carl Berger, Office of Air Force History. 1977

“In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam”. Robert S. McNamara. 1995

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Escalation of the Vietnam Conflict”. Robert M. Gillespie, Clemson University. 1994

“China’s Involvement in the Vietnam War, 1964-1969”. Chen Jian, The China Quarterly. June, 1995

“The Campaign and Election of 1964”. Kent Germany, Miller Center, University of Virginia. Online

“What We Did: Reckoning with Vietnam 50 years after My Lai…” Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs Magazine. July 8, 2018

“The US Spent $141 Billion in Vietnam in 14 Years”. The New York Times. May 1, 1975

“We Were Soldiers Once…and Young – Ia Drang: the battle that changed the war in Vietnam”. Harold G. Moore, Joseph L. Galloway. 1992

“Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954 – 1975”. Military History Institute of Vietnam. 2002

“Remember the Brutal Air War in Vietnam”. Gerald D. Skoning, The American Spectator. October 13, 2017. Online

“Dien Bien Phu: Did the U. S. offer France an A-Bomb?” BBC News Magazine. May 5, 2014. Online

“How the Draft Reshaped America”. The New York Times. October 6, 2017

“Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia”. William Shawcross. 2002

“The Air Force in the Vietnam War”. John Correll, Air Force Association. 2004

“GI Heroin Addiction Epidemic in Vietnam”. The New York Times, May 16, 1971

“Vietnam, heroin, and the lesson of disrupting any addiction”. Sanjay Gupta, CNN. December 22, 2015

“The Tet Offensive shocked the nation and permanently changed US attitudes toward the Vietnam War”. Steve Atlas, Public Radio International. October 11, 2017

“History of Special Forces in Vietnam, 1961-1971”. Francis John Kelly, United States Army Center of Military History. 1973. Online

“Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus”. Larry Clinton Thompson. 2010

“Black and White in Vietnam”. The New York Times. July 18, 2017

“What happened in the Tet Offensive’s first 36 hours”. Associated Press (1968), reprinted in Military Times. January 31, 2018

“The Development and Training of the South Vietnamese Army, 1950-1972”. Brigadier General James Lawton Collins, USA, United States Army Center of Military History. 1975