Information on the Battle of Hamburger Hill during The Vietnam War, also known as Hill 937. The battle, which was fought on May 10-20, 1969 was a direct assault against a heavily defended and strategically insignificant hill, resulted in over 400 U.S. casualties and caused an outrage back home.
‘Don’t mean nothin’. That was the refrain of the powerful 1987 movie about the battle for Hamburger Hill, more correctly called Ap Bia Mountain or Hill 937. Many veterans of that May 1969 fight would no doubt agree, since the hill was abandoned to the enemy soon after it was taken. But the truth is that it was one of the most significant battles of the war, for it spelled the end of major American ground combat operations in Vietnam.
The Hamburger Hill battle had run afoul of a fundamental war-fighting equation. Master philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz emphasized almost a century and a half earlier that because war is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it both in magnitude and also in duration. He went on to say, Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced. And that’s exactly what happened. The expenditure of effort at Hamburger Hill exceeded the value the American people attached to the war in Vietnam. The public had turned against the war a year and a half earlier, and it was their intense reaction to the cost of that battle in American lives, inflamed by sensationalist media reporting, that forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations.
This was not the first time the American public had stopped supporting a war. Contrary to widespread belief, Vietnam is not the most unpopular war in American history. The Mexican War in 1848 was far more unpopular, as was the 195053 war in Korea. The majority of Americans supported the war in Vietnam from the landing of the Marines in Da Nang in March 1965 (64 percent supporting, 21 percent opposed after the first U.S. combat engagements) until October 1967, when for the first time a plurality (46 percent opposed, 44 percent supporting) turned against the war. Those 30 months equaled the period of time the American people supported the ground war in Europe in World War II, from the landing of U.S. forces in North Africa in November 1942 until the end of the war in May 1945. Public opinion had turned–not on ideological grounds, as the anti-war movement would claim, but for pragmatic reasons. Either win the damn thing or get the hell out! was the prevalent sentiment, and when the Johnson administration seemed unable to do either, the American people’s patience ran out.