December 11, 2023

Withdrawing support for Ukraine based on the belief that the war is akin to Vietnam is not supported by history.

After the 1954 defeat of the French, a peace agreement was brokered in Vietnam, and free elections were to be held to unify the country.  The agreement fell apart, and, soon after, civil war erupted. The United States reacted with what can only be described as mission creep efforts in Vietnam. (READ MORE: Ukraine Critics’ Fallacy of Equivalence)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a small number of advisers to Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s. President John F. Kennedy, during his 1,000 days in office, increased the number of American advisers from a few hundred to over 16,000 before his death on Nov. 22, 1963. Kennedy’s advisers were integrated into South Vietnamese military units and engaged in actual combat.

The year 1961 saw 16 American soldiers killed in Vietnam, the next year saw 53, and 1963 saw 122, ostensibly in a mere “advisory” role. By the end of 1964, the United States was — through its new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — much more fully and legally involved in the war, which saw 216 American service members killed in Vietnam that year and over 10,000 dead each year from 1967–1969. The Vietnamese civil war gradually became an American conflict, but that happened through definitive steps.

Unlike Vietnam, the War in Ukraine Has Not Cost American Lives

These same definitive steps have not been seen in American involvement in the defense of Ukraine. Not one active-duty American service member has been killed in Ukraine, let alone while operating in an integrated role near the front lines of the conventional fight. Zero.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is neither a civil war nor a classic unconventional war — two of the worst types of conflicts for Western powers to get involved with. Instead, Ukraine is a more conventional and electronic war than Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (which had both American and Russian involvement), or the very successful British intervention in the Malayan Emergency. (READ MORE: Russia Courts North Korea)

Unlike South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm, who was killed by his own people in 1963, President Volodymyr Zelensky enjoys near-universal acclaim in Ukraine — even much of the Russian-primary-language population in Ukraine detests Moscow’s invasion. The foreign leader facing a threat of being overthrown is not an American ally but an enemy of the United States — Vladimir Putin. This was further buttressed by Moscow’s elimination of the head of the infamous Wagner Group.

Destroying the Russian military and weakening the Russian-Chinese alliance in the process for a fraction of the American defense budget, without having a single American combat soldier on the ground, is a wise move on the part of the United States. Further, investing in the land war of Ukraine does little to nothing to weaken American defense in the South China Sea, which is primarily sea- and air-based. (READ MORE: Ignoring Russian History Is Costly)

Ukraine is in a war that everyone thought it would lose — except the Ukrainians and, perhaps initially, the United Kingdom, then guided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Since then, Ukraine has made tremendous gains in a little over a year since the Russian reinvasion. NATO has been strengthened, and more nations are meeting the NATO benchmark of greater defense spending by the alliance.

While further aid to Ukraine should be tied in with anti-corruption and other measures, her fight for survival is, historically and literally, far from Vietnam.

Views expressed are those of the author and are not those of any government agency.