No doubt, most American Vietnam combat veterans, recall the ARVN as corrupt, lazy and unwilling to fight.
From our position on top of six M113 A1's rolling slowly forward we gawked at the entire company of ARVN troops we were following. Their M-16s held over their shoulders, one hand on the barrel and the other holding their buddy's hand, all walking along like they were on a picnic.
We felt like sitting ducks as we rolled slowly through thick grass behind these picnickers.
By mid 1968, word of the brutality of the Hue massacres spread throughout Vietnam, convincing any of the South Vietnamese people who were not already opposed to communist rule to reject any Communist regime.
So as hard as it is for many of us to believe, about 1970 or 71 depending on the unit, the ARVN troops started to become properly motivated. They actually did form themselves into a moderately disciplined fighting force by 1972.
The defeat of the NVA in their 1972 Spring Offensive demonstrates this. During one discussion, I heard a voice object to the use of the term "defeat" so perhaps a more accurate way to say it is ... the decimation of the North Vietnamese Army during the 1972 Spring Offensive demonstrates that the ARVN could fight if properly motivated.
Besides being driven back to their starting point, (give or take) the North Vietnamese lost 100,000 KIA compared to the ARVNs loss of 25,000.
Were there setbacks? Yes. Did they have trouble overcoming the enemy? Of course they did. Twenty-five thousand KIA, that’s some darn heavy fighting. Glad I wasn’t there for that one.
Someone else said with "American air power" ... yes and we fight with American air power, too ... so that’s not really a relevant issue, is it?
The fall of Saigon is a long story that includes corruption, paranoia and politicians with unsound agendas. I will save that for a different chapter (also see PS below).
But just because Saigon fell two years later does not mean the ARVN were not ready when we left in 1973.
They were ready.
The U.S. accomplished its objective for sending combat troops to Vietnam.
When Kissinger signed the peace treaty in 1973 it was because the main U.S. objectives for sending combat troops to Vietnam were accomplished. That is ... to shore up the South Vietnamese government & to train and build the ARVN until they became a viable fighting force.
The fact that the media claimed Vietnamization to be a failure is a vivid demonstration of the way in which the media changes the story to fit their own agenda.
From early in the War, both the North Vietnamese and the Southern Communists were adamant that there would be no peace treaty. The Communists finally signed the Paris Accords because they were losing & they knew it.
The defeat, that is the fall of Saigon, came almost 3 years after the U.S. combat forces left the theater. The last U.S. combat brigade left Vietnam at the end of 1972. Other than civilian contractors acting as military and logistics advisers, American troops played no part in defending South Vietnam against the 1975 invasion that toppled the Saigon government.