I think they just cannot understand how war could make any sense from the perspective of their rich, symbol manipulating (IOW, normal modern?) existences – have a lot harder time understanding anyway.
To fully understand Vietnam you have to look from the perspective of the time: 20 years before the decision year (1965) two little fascist nations almost took over the world (mostly Germany – we only directed 15% of our own war effort at Japan). Now, the two big communist nations that the two little fascist countries could not bite off were coming for us – one with 11 times zones; the other with a billion people; both with thermonuclear arms. Neither Kruschev nor Mao made any secret of their intention to “bury us”.
PS. At the time the Soviet economy was growing 7% a year to our 3% (as far as we knew) -- the Russkies were graduating twice as many scientists and engineers as we were – and they ahead of us in space and in jet engine technology (as far as we knew -- our intercontinental bomber had 8 little engines to their 4 big ones). In 1965, communism was at high tide.
In strategic terms, Ho’s invasion of the South represented the craziest communist dictator willing to kill millions of his own people to add on a little bit of communist real estate. Our fear: if the democracies rolled over and did not put up a fight, we might face every less crazy communist leader comming out of the woodwork to try to take over the real estate next to his.
More widely, we could expect every “Che” in the world to step up his attempt at home based revolution. You may remember LBJ’s recorded phone remarks that he was afraid if he let go in Nam “the communists might chase you right back to your kitchen.” Don’t forget: the psychological is to the physical as three is to one – just to keep folks on our side we felt compelled to win the race to the moon; we feared backing away from a fight could have far reaching consequences too.
PS. The “big lesson” of WWII – which I have only realized is bunk lately – is that if Chamberlain had not “appeased” Hitler, there would never have been any WWII – obviously if the guy was going to invade Russia there was going to be war.
Is this going on too long?: it is the justification for a way that killed 60,000 of us – and millions of dead Vietnamese.
By 1975, when we lost locally, we were winning globally (even if the locals weren’t) – communism was receding.
The best portrayal I have seen of the struggle with communism over those ten years is Thomas Lipscomb’s “Prosperous Southeast Asia Proof the U.S. Did Not Fight In Vain”. Note: the free Southeast Asia nations are the ones that showed the world (including China) how to raise the poorest people in the world to near Western prosperity.
Oh, did I forget, after all this – definitely too long – we might have won the war after all but then threw it all away. Seems that for the last three years the South Vietnam Army took over all the ground fighting – AND WE CRAZILY (!!!) WITHDREW THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND THEIR AIR SUPPORT. Congress was upset so we took our bat and ball and went home. According to a book by ex-CIA employee Frank Snepp, Decent Interval, we had a guy on the politobureau in the North who reported they voted to throw in the towel after Nixon’s Hanoi bombing – but when they realized the South had to ration how many bullets a soldier could fire a day, etc., they started up all over again.
Saving the best (policy) for last, there was a proposition to call up the reserves and send four times as many troops (two million – saw this in Glenn… ). This would have ended it all fast and relatively bloodlessly, if very expensively.