The withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam was seen as one of the most humiliating moments for the country. A huge, capable, and powerful nation with a defense budget even bigger than the entire gross domestic product of other small countries did not manage to defeat the guerrillas of Vietnam. It’s easy to blame the capabilities of the GIs in fighting in the jungles of Vietnam or the ineffectiveness of the tactics and weapons given and implemented. However, one of the biggest factors not known to many was the vast and wide-range list of rules that the soldiers had to follow while fighting for their lives, known as the rules of engagement (ROE.)

Rules of Engagement

When the US decided to enter the Vietnam War to try and stop the spread of communism, it wasn’t as simple as sending the American troops to the country to help fight Viet Cong. Foreign policy, economic interests, national fears, and geopolitical strategies all played major roles upon their entrance.

And so, to protect the civilians and at the same time prevent friendly fire incidents, the rules of engagement were set in place. The intention of the rules was good if you’re going to think about it, but things evolved as time went by, and it became confusing that many of the US soldiers got confused in trying to abide by the rules.

Basically, the ROE dictated when the soldiers could and could not fight the enemy. Different rules are applied to different people and could also change based on your location and then change again after a few days. These rules would often contradict the SOPs taught during military training. This, in turn, would often give the enemy better chances to attack or run away.