The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War “We cannot understand war without understanding culture”

“Involvement in two world wars and the Cold War transformed America into a “crusader state” convinced of the superiority of its institutions and way of life and intent on imposing them on the outside world. ” Whether fought at home or abroad every war is to impact all parties involved.

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The Vietnam War Essay

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Such example of staggering influence on one country’s culture is no more evident then in America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Upon entering the war the USA’s government was convinced and assured the public of its confidence in very quick and consequences free resolution to their problem on the other side of the world. However, what it failed to predict which later was to prove crucial was the blowback that the war would have on the nation itself. The extent to which a superpower can be influenced by a smaller struggling and weapon lacking society has never been more evident and recorded than in America-Vietnamese case. The American culture has been shaken to its core. The following piece however aims to analyze and simplify those reasons due to which scars amongst society are being healed even now so many years since the war ended.
Twenty five years have passed since the United States officially relinquished their involvement in Vietnam. Not since the Civil war had the country been so divided. Every American family was impacted, losing husbands, sons and daughters. Over fifty thousand Americans were killed and many more of those who returned suffered and still suffer deep physical and emotional scars . Many more veterans took their own lives, were treated as social outcasts or ended up on America’s streets among the homeless. The Vietnam conflict was a war whose origins many did not understand and that left a nation questioning the policies of a government they’d always trusted.
However, it wasn’t until Johnson began his massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam in 1965 that the Antiwar Movement actually found its roots . Words like “counter culture” and “pacification” were added to the American vocabulary. It was the beginning of the hippie generation, the sexual revolution and the drug culture. The country’s youth began demanding answers to America’s high profile presence in Vietnam. They wanted to know why peace talks were organized and continually failed. They wanted to know what they were fighting for. Extensive media coverage brought the violent and bloody guerrilla war home each night to every American living room. People realized that the glowing reviews of the war effort their government had been releasing were sanitized and far from the truth. Once the draft was introduced young people on college and university campuses all around the country began to organize protests against the war. Student organizations like the Students for Democratic Society held rallies and marches, the first of which it happened in April of 1965 . Activists, celebrities and musicians and many others took up the Anti-war cause and waved Anti-war banners.
By 1967 America was caught up in its own urban problems. As the bombings and body count in Vietnam continued to escalate so did civil unrest. Antiwar rallies, speeches and demonstrations continued being organized all over the country. There was a backlash against all that was military. Soldiers returning home from the war were no longer regarded as heroes but as “baby killers”.
Richard Nixon’s number one campaign promise to Americans was that he’d end the war with “Vietnamization”. Yet the American presence in Vietnam remained high and casualties mounted, as did cost of running the war effort. As the year drew to close Nixon’s plans to end the Vietnam War had not been realized. American citizens were not impressed and demanded to know why their country was involved in a war where a resolution seemed impossible.
Backed by the huge attendance movement leaders, still mainly students expanded their methods and gained new allies over the few years. “Vietnam Day” held in October 1965, drew thousands to debate the moral basis of the war . A two day march on the Pentagon in October 1967 attracted nation wide media attention . The movement spread to the military itself as soldiers refused to serve in Vietnam. As the movement’s ideals spread beyond college campuses, doubts about the wisdom of escalation began to appear within the administration itself. As early as the summer of 1965, Undersecretary of State George Ball counseled President Johnson against further military involvement in Vietnam . In 1967 Johnson fired Defense Secretary McNamara after the secretary expressed concern about the moral justification for war . Most internal dissent however focused not on ethical but on pragmatic criteria, many believing that the cost of winning was simply too high, but widespread opposition within the government did not appear until 1968 .
As with the bombing of North Vietnam in 1965, which had touched off an explosion of interest in peace activities, another Southeast Asian catalyst instigated the most intense period of antiwar protest early in 1968. The Tet Offensive of late January led many Americans to question the administration’s authenticity in reporting war progress and contributed to Johnson’s decision to retire. After Tet American public opinion shifted dramatically, with fully half of the population opposed to escalation. Dissent escalated to violence. The brutal clashes between police and peace activists typified the divided nature of American society and indicated a continuing rise in domestic conflict. The movement gained solidarity following several disturbing incidents. In February 1970 news of the My Lai massacre became public and ignited widespread outrage. When the New York Times published the first installment of the Pentagon Papers on 13 June 1971, Americans became aware of the true nature of the war . Stories of drug trafficking, political assassinations and indiscriminate bombings led many to believe that military and intelligence services had lost all accountability. Antiwar sentiment, previously tainted with an air of anti Americanism became instead a normal reaction and the antiwar cause had become institutionalized. Many thought that the war in Vietnam had become a burden which the country no longer could afford. A “credibility gap” opened between what government officials said and what the public believed about the war in Vietnam. A weary public wanted the war to end, but even then, no consensus emerged about how that should come about. Until 1971 opinion polls consistently indicated a plurality of the public favored more intensive military action by the United States to end war on terms favored by Washington. From 1964 until 1968 more and more Americans agreed that it had been a mistake for the United States to have entered the war in Vietnam in the first place . Over the same period of time a greater proportion of the public wanted the United States to withdraw from Vietnam immediately. The anti-war movement did not end the war in Vietnam, but it did alter, almost irrevocably, the perceptions of ordinary citizens of their society and their government, and it also altered perceptions of leaders toward the public.
Twenty five years have passed since the end of the Vietnam War. During that time Americans and the world learned more about the history of the conflict and why it all began on the first place. Many agree that Anti war movement had significant impact on the length and perhaps even the outcome of the Vietnam War. Others might disagree saying that the massive protests were part of an eroding and troubled society. One thing is certain however, the war and the anti war movement left an everlasting mark on an entire generation and its country.
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