The Vietnam War lasted from 1965 until 1975, with the United States withdrawal in 1973. The war began as a civil war between the communist North Vietnam and the capitalist South Vietnam, but escalated when the United States joined and began sending troops. The North Vietnamese fought with guerrilla warfare tactics, while the South Vietnamese fought a much more westernized war under US influence. These two fighting strategies were incompatible and left the North Vietnamese with the upper hand. The United States had two main reasons for joining what may seem like not their war to fight. The first was their containment foreign policy, which was a policy stating that the US did not want communism to expand to other countries after the Soviet Union and China became main communist world powers. The seconds was the Domino Theory, which was President Eisenhower’s theory that if Vietnam were to fall to communism, other countries in South East Asia would fall as well, thus tipping the global scales in favor of communism. The United States began drafting for the war in 1969 and continued drafting until 1973.
The draft was very unpopular in the US because the war was very unpopular. Anti-War protests became commonplace, and many American men dodged the draft by getting married, fleeing to Canada, and going to college. Public opinion plummeted after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a classified government document detailing US involvement in Vietnam, specifically that the government knew the war was un-winnable and continued to send American boys to die regardless. The United States pulled troops and funding for South Vietnam in 1973, setting the stage for an easy defeat of South Vietnam and a reunification as a communist country by 1975.
Veterans of the Vietnam War were not welcomed home with open arms. Mr. Pacini, a Vietnam War veteran, recounted his return to the United States, remembering being denied service by cab drivers, and being spit on in the airport by an individual who was opposed to the war. In the decade following soldier’s return, the Vietnam War was ignored. Soldiers were not able to work through their post war trauma, and this was a very difficult time for US vets, not sure whether what they did was wrong or if this was a noble war. Eventually the United States decided that regardless of the morality of the war, veterans should not be blamed for government mistakes. In 1982 construction began on the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial. The memorial represented a shift from honoring a war to honoring those who fought and died instead. While steps were made to help Vietnam Veterans feel more welcomed and appreciated, it is not clear whether they were successful. The war did not have the moral implications of World War II, defeating Hitler, or the National outcry against terrorism after 9/11, however the war remains relevant even today. Vietnam is often brought up as an example of foreign policy and the US government continues to refer to lessons learned during that time period. The emotions surrounding the war, such as embarrassment at the first US defeat, or anger at the waste of US lives, have subsided, and the war is rarely a topic of discussion in formal settings, which leads some individuals to question whether the war is being forgotten. The graph to the right illustrates the breakdown of news articles published in 2018 that mention World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Vietnam War. As is clear, the Vietnam War is the least mentioned war in recent US history.
Another recent push for Vietnam Veteran recognition was made by President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017. He declared that March 29 would be National Vietnam War Veterans Day. To the left is a graph showing the number of articles about the Vietnam War published each day in March 2018. The red dot indicates March 29, the day set aside to celebrate Vietnam Veterans. As is clear from the data visualization, there was no increase in articles written on that day, showing that the media did not take this day to honor veterans by an increase in articles.
It is important that the people of the United States don’t ignore the sacrifices made by Vietnam veterans, notwithstanding their opinions or lack thereof of the war. If you know a Vietnam Veteran, please thank them for their service the next time you see them!
“DOD to Commemorate 1st Anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Da.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 27 Mar. 2018, www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/1477518/dod-to-commemorate-1st-anniversary-of-national-vietnam-war-veterans-day/.
Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-75. McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Ward, Geoffrey C., Ken Burns, and Lynn Novick. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. First edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.