The topic we choose for this assignment is the Vietnam War, because this war has been one of the most influential ones in American history. The war, which lasted from 1955 until 1975, had and still has a great impact on American society. Hundreds of thousands of both soldiers and civilians were killed it a, what later turned out to be, a useless interference in a civil war by the United States. The media had reported on big parts of the war. For the first time, due to the introduction of the television, every American citizen could see the horrible effects of the war live from their living room.
The Vietnam War was a proxy war during the Cold War-era that took place between 1955 and 1975. The war was fought between the communist North Vietnam, the South Vietnamese communist force Viet Cong on one end and the non-communist South Vietnam on the other. The Vietnam War followed up the First Indochina War, partially, due to the interference of the United States and the Soviet Union, among other forces. The United States and its allies supported South Vietnam, while the USSR its allies supported North Vietnam. This made the Vietnam War known as one of the few ‘hot’ conflicts of the Cold War. The war represented a successful attempt of the North Vietnamese government, led by Ho Chi Minh, to unite the country under communist flag, since it had been split up by the decolonization. Elections for unification of the country were held in 1956, but South Vietnam ignored them. From this year up until the end of the war the Viet Cong carried out attacks in South Vietnam.
The amount of US armed forces in Vietnam had been growing since 1955 but the real interference did not take place until after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, august 2nd, 1964. This incident, in which two US navy vessels had been torpedoed, led to the Tonkin Resolution. This resolution made it possible for the president of the United States to assist any South East Asian country in a war against communism. Between 1964 and 1968 the US president, Lyndon B Johnson, send over 500.000 troops to Vietnam. The US Army general William Westmoreland was in command during that period, he believed large scale aerial attacks to be the best option for defeating the Viet Cong. On March 28th 1968 the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces began to launch a series of guerrilla-attacks on South Vietnamese cities, the Tet Offensive. Even though the US Army troops were better equipped and larger in number, they could not withstand these attacks. The Tet Offensive later became known as the turning point of the war, as the public opinion on the righteousness of the war shifted. This was due to broad media coverage of all the events and attacks in the Vietnam War.
President Johnson was not re-elected and succeeded by Richard Nixon. The Nixon administration was responsible for something called the Vietnamization. This basically meant that, because public opinion about the war had shifted, American troops must be withdrawn and the war handed back to the Vietnamese again. Also, Nixon ‘expanded’ the war into neutral countries such as Cambodia and Laos. This led to big protests in the United States, especially amongst students.
In 1973, after peace negotiations in Paris, the last US Army troops leave Vietnam. In the following two years North Vietnamese forces took over large cities in South Vietnam resulting in the surrendering of South Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975.
Reception of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was the first war that was broadly documented and reported on by the media. Almost every day, news about Vietnam was broadcasted on American television. At first the general opinion was positive, but as the war escalated and more American soldiers died, the opinion shifted. This was greatly fuelled by the negative and sometimes inaccurate news reports during the Tet Offensive. The gruesome images of warfare broadcasted by the media caused distrust towards to government felt by the American society. One of the most famous events is the death of a Buddhist monk, who burned himself to death protesting the suppression of Buddhists by Ng”nh Di’m’s administration.
Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, burns himself to death on a Saigon street June 11, 1963 to protest alleged persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne)
Between 1967 and 1971 the percentage of young men who refused to serve in the US army rose from 8% to 43%. The opposition pointed out that the civilians of both North and South Vietnam became the main victims and that the US were actually supporting a corrupt government in the South. Because the United States lost the Tet Offensive, contrarily to public expectations and the insurances of the White House that victory was near, a big Anti War movement and counterculture was founded. Woodstock Music and Art Festival is the most famous example of this counterculture. The combination of new morals such as free love, recreational drug use and rock music made Woodstock a symbol of the antiwar movement.
The anti war movements organized huge demonstrations. Among the demonstrators were a lot of students, clergy’s and African American. Popular anti war slogans were:
‘Hey hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today’? – Chanted by the demonstrators in opposition of Lyndon B. Johnson
“Hell, no, we won’t go!”
Vietnam War and present day US
Some of the things that happened during the Vietnam War have had a huge impact on how the Americans and the rest of the world live today. One of the things that had a huge impact on the Vietnam War is that the American media played a large role in this war. For the first time the citizens of America were able to see exactly what was happening overseas and witness the horrors of true war. This is something that was new then but now reports like that are on the news at least every week. Because the media is more involved then it ever was nowadays, the opinions of the people have changed and not everyone is ‘pro war’ anymore.
This new source of information during wars and conflict also sparked distrust amongst the people of America towards their government and other authorities. This is something that can still be seen today. According to a survey carried out by Gallup.com(Gallup) 81% of the American people have a hard time trusting their own government.
Another thing that changed is that since this war, the President is no longer able to declare war without consulting first. Congress also changed their army draft to an all-volunteer force and changed the voting age to 18. All of this to give more freedom to the people and give them more influence on the government.
The Vietnam War resulted in a loss. America the number one country in the world, with the strongest army, had lost its first war. The citizens lost confidence in their country and its government. But what about the countless veterans who came home from this terrible war. Most of the veterans that came back suffered from physical as well as psychological problems. Because of these problems most of these veterans were unable to get back to their regular lives. This was also known as the Vietnam Syndrome. Up until the 1980’s nobody actually talked about the existence of this trauma and because of this there was almost no care for the veterans who had served their country. A lot of the veterans that returned to the USA could not get jobs and so became homeless. The veterans were also now seen as not only heroes or victims, but also as victimizers. This of course after the citizens of the USA had seen the terrible thing their own soldiers had done. The government, which promised health care and education for the veterans that got an honorable discharge, kept to their promise. The only problem for a lot of veterans was that their discharge had not been honorable and so had no right to any of these things. Because of the poor conditions the veterans had (and some still have) to live in took its toll on a lot of them. Statistics show that almost every 80 minutes a US veteran commits suicide, about 18 a day. They also had to cope with the physical harm caused by Agent Orange or the mental harm; PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). They still cope with these problems today as Agent Orange can cause birth defects and PTSD is very hard to overcome, especially since the American government does so little to help these people.
It depends on from what perspective you look at this war and to what it has brought the world and more important America. We think that the consequences of this war are negative for the most part. America took several hits and still has not recovered from them. One of the most obvious things is that the citizens distrust their own government. Another thing is that more and more people are starting to agree on the fact that the Vietnam War might not have been such a great idea. Over the years people have started to doubt whether it was the right thing to do and in the year 2000, approximately 70% of the American people think that it was a mistake (see graph(Gillespie, 2000) below
All of this because of the Vietnam war, but why? Why had this not happened in earlier wars? The biggest reason for this is that the media played a major role in this war. For the first time the American people could follow the war right at home with their television. Not only could they watch broadcasts of the war but there were also a lot more reports coming in every day. This made people look at the war from a whole other perspective. No longer was this war about helping people, honor and glory. People got to see the actual battles that took place, horrific images that one would not forget quickly. For the first time people did not think of America as the savior but as the bad guy.