Background and Brief History:The Vietnam War was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and South Vietnam, backed by the U.S., from November 1, 1955 until April 30, 1975. North Vietnam wanted to unite Vietnam under one Communist government, since it had previously been a French colony. The anti-Communist government of South Vietnam resisted this and fought the North Vietnamese army with the help of the U.S. The U.S.'s involvement in this Cold War era conflict was part of the U.S.'s larger goal of "containment"—preventing the spread of Communism. The U.S.'s involvement in the Vietnam War is a highly controversial topic. Thousands of Americans were forced to fight and lost their lives. Some Americans believe it was the duty of the nation to defend other nations from the threat of Communism. Others believe it was not the U.S.'s place to get involved and that it was a costly mistake. Regardless of the numerous points of view, there is no arguing the significant place it holds in U.S. history or its impact on American society.
Anti-War Movement: The Anti-War Movement plays a major part in any study of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Many Americans did not believe in the war and did not want to see their friends, family members, and fellow citizens be sent to fight overseas. It was also a class war, in part, due to the fact that the majority of Americans being drafted were poor or minorities. Less educated and less wealthy Americans also had little opportunity to avoid the draft. Many Americans believed that war was not the answer and that the government was not listening to them. For this reason, protests around the country became extremely widespread. Particularly on U.S. college campuses, there were efforts to mobilize against the war. Demonstrations were held often and it was not uncommon for the police to be called in to shut them down. Americans also commonly expressed anti-war feelings through music, with popular artists of the time period including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan writing and performing anti-war songs. The Anti-War Movement ended up having a huge effect on the country. Since so many Americans voiced that they were against the war and the country was not united, it brought about changes in government. As many Americans began questioning the U.S.'s involvement and escalated role in the war, strategy was reevaluated. Eventually troops were gradually withdrawn from the region.
Significance & Impact: The impact and significance of the U.S.'s role in the Vietnam War is enormous. There were many issues regarding veterans of the war. How should the government help them? Many veterans returned to the U.S. and were not respected for their service by Americans who were against the war. Others were given special treatment wherever they went. The Vietnam War and pressures surrounding it eventually led to the end of the military draft. This meant that the U.S. armed forces would be comprised of an all-volunteer force, as it remains today. There were also major implications for U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. was unsuccessful in preventing the Communist takeover of Vietnam and had to reevaluate its strategy and initial involvement in the region. If a future situation were to occur around the world, would the U.S. act differently? In which ways? Many of the debates from the Vietnam War era have resurfaced in present times in the handling of U.S. international operations. A lot of arguments surrounding the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War are relevant today in U.S. foreign policy and politics abroad.
Important People and Terms:
- Ho Chi Minh: A Vietnamese revolutionary leader with Marxist-Leninist beliefs who served as president and prime minister of North Vietnam. Until his death in 1969, he played a large role in founding the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) during the Vietnam War.
- Viet Cong: A rebel army and political organization operating in South Vietnam against the U.S. and South Vietnamese government. It was known for its guerilla warfare tactics.
- Lyndon B. Johnson: The 36th President of the U.S. who served after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was responsible for significantly increasing the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam to 550,000 troops by 1968, from 16,000 in 1963. While this made him very unpopular, he is known for making many contributions domestically.
- Vietnamization: A policy advocated by President Nixon to have the U.S. soldiers train the South Vietnamese troops to protect themselves. The idea was that this would lead to the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops in Vietnam.
- Kent State: A college campus in Ohio where on May 4, 1970, four students were shot and killed during an anti-war protest. Nine other students were injured in the Ohio National Guard's attempt to suppress the protest. This had an enormous effect on the country, fueling anti-war demonstrations as students across the country went on strike and schools closed.
- Woodstock: A famous music festival that took place on August 15-18, 1969 with around 500,000 attendees in White Lake, New York. Many people feel Woodstock was the embodiment of the spirit of the time and generation—peace, freedom and anti-war sentiments.
- Proxy war: A war that takes place when two superpowers (in this case, the U.S. and the Soviet Union) use a third party (Vietnam) as a substitute for fighting each other directly.
- 58,148 Americans were killed and 304,000 wounded out of the 2.59 million who served, and there were an estimated 2 million Vietnamese deaths.
- Veterans of the Vietnam War represented 9.7% of their generation.
- 7,484 women served in Vietnam of whom 6,250 (or 83.5%) were nurses.
- The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC has over 3 million visitors each year. It also ranks in the top 10 list of America's Favorite Architecture for the structure's powerful and reflective design.
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