There are really two questions to be asked:
1) What was the reason for the Vietnam War
2) Why did it end the way it did
The U.S. is serious about assisting its allies in times of trouble. Our allies at the time, the South Vietnamese Government, requested assistance in repelling communist aggression from the North and communist sympathizers inside of South Vietnam itself (the Viet Cong). Communist expansion was also of great concern to the U.S. Government. We were in the midst of the cold war with the world's other super powers, the Soviet Union and Communist China. These two countries were backing their allies with funding, military training, and armaments to fight the U.S. and its allies...never becoming directly involved themselves. That is, troops on the ground, other than those serving in an advisory capacity. For example, the Soviet Union provided advisors and training to the North Vietnamese in the use of SAM sites (surface-to-air missiles) to protect themselves from U.S. bombing raids, training pilots in the use of the Soviet MIG aircraft to intercept U.S. aircraft on bombing missions, etc.
Certainly, within the walls of the U.S. Government, there were many other reasons to move ahead with its involvement, self-serving and otherwise. In the end, the U.S. Government failed in its attempts to keep the South free from communist oppression. This was largely due to weak willed and self-serving politicians who cared more about the small but loud American anti-war movement amongst mostly liberal college professors, their idealistic, gullible students, and left-wing agitators who wanted nothing more than to see the destruction of the "establishment", as they called it.
The politicians were also more concerned about their re-elections, as is always the case with politicians. The politicians also prevented the military from utilizing many basic battle strategies, like a sustained bombing of enemy re-supply routes, etc. When public pressure was applied, the politicans would fold. Never-the-less, with all of the limiting rules of engagement that were heaped upon the U.S. military, the armed forces on the ground and in the air soundly beat the enemy in every major military operation.
The U.S. could have forced the North to surrender after the failed 1968 Tet Offensive. This fact was made public in the memoirs of General Giap, the North Vietnamese Military Commander. Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the antiwar demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a "conditional surrender," Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp. Being the first major "television war," Americans watched the carnage in horror and concluded (incorrectly) that it was a military disaster for America. One of America's most trusted newsmen, CBS's Walter Cronkite, even appeared for a standup piece with distant fires as a backdrop. Donning a helmet, Cronkite declared the war lost. This is all General Giap needed to hear. All the NVA needed to do at this point was to hang on just a little longer. The rest, as they say, is history.
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