Honors Program


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Althouse, B. (2024). Assessing Victory: Did Different Measures of Success Lead to an Extension of the Vietnam War. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


"Copyright Brian Althouse 2024"


In his paper Exploring the Bargaining Model of War, Dan Reiter argues how “in some conflicts, militaries may have different measures of success; two opposing sides could conceivably observe the same battle outcome with both concluding that they were successful, coming no closer to agreement on the eventual outcome of the war” (Reiter 2003). Extrapolating on this point, he assesses how this theory could be one explanation for the Vietnam War. Reiter argues that within the conflict both US and North Vietnamese forces measured success through increases in enemy casualties, and that occurrence of combat and casualties on both sides caused “each [side] to conclude that it was doing well, perhaps delaying the termination of the war” (Reiter 2003). In this paper, I address the validity of this claim, analyzing the hypothesis within the context of three major campaigns during the war: Operation Rolling Thunder, the Tet Offensive, and Linebackers I and II. Overall, I find that this hypothesis does not appear to be true within the context of the Vietnam War for two key reasons. Firstly, while North Vietnamese leaders appeared to measure victory to some extent by body count, American officials seemed much more focused on measuring success by their ability to push the North into negotiations. Secondly - and more prominently - American and Northern leaders did not appear to overwhelmingly “conclude that [their side] was doing well” in the lead up to or aftermath of each of these campaigns, and as such the sense that victory was close does not appear to be a driving factor in the extension of the war (Reiter 2003). Instead, when an operation seemed definitively successful for at least one side - as seen in Linebackers I and II - the war was brought to an end rather than extended further.