The Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War

The United States made the right decision in joining the war efforts of the South Vietnamese. The only mistake was that the U.S. should have done everything in its power to win the war as quickly as possible. The U.S. was obligated by the Truman Doctrine to contain communism. Truly the best way to contain it would be

to defeat it.

This war was a person changing experience. With all the horrible pain and

gore the soldiers had to see and endure, they could never be the people they once

were. Supporters and protesters back in the U.S. were causing chaos. The Doves

and the Hawks, the Doves against the war and the Hawks supporting the war,

divided a country. In the face of death, the brave men of the military of the United

States fought on to make the world a little better for everyone.

The United States had a clear advantage. Their military, weaponry, and

combat skills were superior. If not for the North Vietnamese knowledge of the

terrain and guerrilla tactics, the war would have possibly been a short one.

However, the U.S. government only sent what they felt to be adequate manpower to

contain communism, not to defeat it. They wanted to keep the loss of lives down, and

keep the Doves as happy as possible. If only they had sent a massive force into

enemy territory, they could have bombed the North Vietnamese thoroughly and

invaded their country with extreme force. This would have the potential to end the

war more quickly and save American lives, and the success of the victory.

The Truman Doctrine was first set forth by United States President Harry S.

Truman in 1947. The immediate objective of the policy was to send U.S. aid to

anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey, but it was later expanded to justify

support for any nation that the United States government believed was threatened

by Communism during the Cold War period, in this case, the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War took its toll on the American soldiers. When they returned

home, they were different people. They didn't look the same, they didn't act the

same, they weren't the same. Some could not hold on to their sanity in light of what

they had seen and been through. In order to take the soldiers minds off the horrors

all around them the U.S. command brought in boatloads of toys for the men to play

with, everything from go-carts to violins. There was surfing, sailing, and miniature

golfing. Almost everyone got a chance to spend a day or two at the beach pretending

that he wasn't in Vietnam. Large bases had Olympic size swimming pools and

air-conditioned libraries, softball fields, and basketball courts. Even the toughest of

bases had a net and a volleyball.1

The men also tried their best to keep their minds off the war. A soldier could

requisition from Special Services enough musical instruments to form a band or

maybe the army band would entertain. If they were too far out in the boonies, with

a little ingenuity and a few raw materials a man could rig up a washtub bass and

make his own music. In the earlier days of the war, U.S. military personnel on leave

in Saigon could put on civilian clothes and play tourist. Even after the 1968

attacks it was possible to enjoy sightseeing, shopping, and carousing in Saigon, but

the city was a much more tense place.

In the early day it was also fairly common for American serviceman to live in

civilian housing, often with a Vietnamese girlfriend. After the Tet Offensive, (the

attack on Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, and some provincial capitals by

Communist troops on January 30, 1968.) this was largely prohibited, but some

servicemen managed to continue the arrangement with the tacit approval of their

superiors. Near the big Tan Son Nhut air base there was a street known as "Soul

Alley" where a number of black soldiers lived with Vietnamese women and

commuted to their jobs on the base.

The war was taking so long because the U.S. was only trying to contain the

enemy, the soldiers needed something to improve moral. One of the major American

imports to Vietnam was the visiting celebrity. The stars would be fitted with jungle

fatigues, briefed by the brass, and flown all around the country to visit firebases and

hospitals where they would shake hands, sign autographs, and pose for pictures, all

in the interest of boosting morale. Often a military photographer would be assigned

to cover the celebrity's visit, and the star would get to keep the pictures for stateside

promotional purposes.

The star of stars was Bob Hope, and his show was the act of acts.

Amphitheatres were built at major bases for the Bob Hope Show and Hope was

guaranteed a full house. Most GIs wanted to see the show, of course, but to erase

any doubt about the seats being filled units were required to send certain amounts of

men to the show. For a grunt in the field, getting a day off the be flown out of the

bush for the Bob Hope Show was a big deal. Since not everyone in the unit could go

there were sometimes drawings of competitions to select the lucky ones. Sometimes

the competitions were based on body counts: The soldier who was credited with the

most kills was rewarded with a ticker to the show.1 Between 1965 and 1967, both the

United States and North Vietnam had fought to a highly destructive draw. The U.S.

bombing of North Vietnam caused tremendous damage, but it did not affect the

enemy's willingness of ability to continue fighting. North Vietnam kept its most vital

resources hidden, and the Soviet Union and China helped make up the losses.2

American victories in ground battles in South Vietnam also failed to sharply

reduce the number of enemy troops there. The U.S. Army and Marines usually won

whenever they fought the enemy. But North Vietnam replaced its loses with new

troops. Its forces often avoided defeat by retreating into Laos and Cambodia.

As the war dragged on, it divided many Americans into so-called hawks and

doves. The hawks supported the nation's fight against Communism. But they didn't

like Johnson's policy of slow gradual troop increases and urged a decisive defeat of

North Vietnam. Clearly the right thing to do. The doves opposed U.S. involvement

and held mass protests. Many doves believed that U.S. security was not at risk.

Others charged that the nation was supporting corrupt, undemocratic, and

unpopular governments in South Vietnam.

The growing costs of the war, however, probably did more to arouse public

uneasiness than the antiwar movement did. The war cost ate up nearly a fifth of our

nation budget-a rate of two billion dollare a month.F By late 1967, increased

casualties and Johnson's request for new taxes helped produce a sharp drop on

public support for the war.1

North Vietnam and the Viet Cong turned a new page of the war on January

30, 1968, when they attacked major cities of South Vietnam. The fighting was

especially savage in Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, and in Hue. This

campaign began at the start of Tet , the Vietnamese New Year celebration. It came

to be known as the Tet Offensive.

As a military strategy, the plan was flawed. The United States and South

Vietnam quickly recovered their early losses, and the enemy suffered an enormous

amount of casualties. But the Tet attacks shocked the American people. The United

States had about 500,000 troops in South Vietnam, and U.S. leaders had reported

strong winnings just a short time before. Many Americans wondered whether

blocking Communist growth was worth the loss in lives and money. The government

should have just defeated the Communists altogether.

The Tet offensive forced basic changes in Johnson's policies. The President

cut back the bombing of North Vietnam and rejected Westmoreland's request for

206,000 additional troops. Johnson also called for peace negotiations and declared

that he would not seek reelection in 1968. Peace talks began in Paris in May.

Opposition to the war in the United States grew quickly during Nixion's

presidency. Some opposition developed as a result of television coverage of the war,

which brought scenes of war horrors in millions of homes.

In March 1971, the conviction of Lieutenant William L. Calley, Jr., for war

crimes raised some of the main moral issues of the conflict. Calley's Army unit had

massacred at least 100 and maybe as many and 200 civilians in 1968 in the hamlet of

My Lai in South Vietnam. Calley was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to

jail for 10 years. Some war critics used the trial to call attention to the large

numbers of killed by U.S. bombing and ground operations in South Vietnam. Other

pointed to the vast stretches of countryside that had been destroyed by bombing and

by spraying of chemicals. U.S. forces used such weedkillers as Agent Orange to

reveal Communist hiding places in the jungle and to destroy enemy food crops.

Public distrust began to grow on June 1971, when newspapers published a

secret government study of the war called The Pentagon Papers. The study raised

questions about decisions and secret actions of the government leaders regarding the


In March 1972, North Vietnam began a full scale invasion of South Vietnam.

Nixon retaliated by restarting the bombing on North Vietnam. He also had

explosives planted in the Haiphong harbor, North Vietnam's major port for

importing military supplies. These things helped stop the invasion which was almost

to Saigon by August 1972.

The losses of both sides during the 1972 fighting lead to peace talks. A

cease-fire was reached and signed by all parties. American troops were evacuated

and all prisoners were returned. Soon the peace talks broke down and North

Vietnam began their invasion again. This time they were successful. South Vietnam

surrendered to North Vietnam in Saigon on April 30, 1975. Saigon was then

renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

The enemy's plan obviously worked. They got their main concern, the U.S.,

to withdraw and they knew that they probably would not return. Thousands of

South Vietnamese civilians fled with the soldiers during the invasion by the North.

Most died from either gun wounds or starvation. This all should have been avoided

at the beginning. The United States should have fought to win. In war there should

never be any half-way commitments.