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The Search for the "Breaking Point" in Vietnam: The Statistics of a Deadly Quarrel

John E. Mueller
International Studies Quarterly
Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1980), pp. 497-519
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
DOI: 10.2307/2600287
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600287
Page Count: 23
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The Search for the "Breaking Point" in Vietnam: The Statistics of a Deadly Quarrel
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Abstract

American strategies for success in the Vietnam War, derived at least partly from historical experience, were based on the assumption that Communist forces would reach a "breaking point" after suffering enough punishment. In conformity with this strategy, extensive damage was inflicted to the point where it appears the military costs accepted by the Communists, in comparison with population, were virtually unprecendented in modern history. The central question about the war then is: Why were the Vietnamese Communists willing to accept virtually unprecedented losses for a military goal that was far from central to the continued existence of their state? Some aspects of an answer to this question are suggested; the strategy of attrition is assessed in historical comparison; and the question of where the "breaking point" might have been is discussed.

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