American Involvement in Vietnam: Failure or Not?
More than thirty years went by after the last American combat troops left Southeast Asia, but the social and political fires of the Vietnam War still keep on burning throughout the United States and Vietnam. Wars do not simply fade away when the guns are silenced. Millions of citizens in both countries bear the deep, painful scars of a conflict that wreaked havoc on the political and social landscapes of both nations.
Even today, legions of war veterans endure the physical and emotional wounds inflicted during their tours of duty, while the 3 million people who perished on all sides (Berman 16) are only memories to millions of husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and friends. In the United States, the nation’s military affair into Vietnam continues to impact its political institutions, foreign and defense policies.
The Vietnam War also profoundly altered Americans’ view of their public institutions. While polls suggest that public confidence in the federal government has not declined significantly in more than thirty years, Vietnam did awaken millions of Americans to the fact that their presidents had routinely lied to them – about the American military role in Southeast Asia, about Watergate, and about many other issues (Mann 2). Vietnam was, indeed, a turning point in American political history.
So, what was Vietnam War for the United States – the necessity to stop communist erosion or tragic delusion? The purpose of this study is to explore whether American involvement in Vietnam was total failure or the nation had strong reasons to go into warfare. Toward this end we will scrutinize the reasons underlying the decision to launch war affair, analyze the outcomes of Vietnam War, consider the reaction of American community upon it, and make the conclusion. The Reasons of American Involvement in Vietnam and Its Course
Five successive American presidents and scores of senators and congressmen had insisted that the preservation of a small, isolated Southeast Asian nation was vital to the US national security. During a period of twenty-five years, these leaders first funded the war fought by the French and then supported and sponsored a policy under which the fighting in Vietnam was eventually assumed by the US military – to the point that it became, almost entirely, an American war. America’s involvement in Vietnam began in 1950 as a political reaction to events elsewhere in Asia (Olson & Freeman 463).
While the communist victory in China in 1949 and the subsequent invasion of South Korea in 1950 had not directly threatened the United States, the political fallout from these events had tarnished President Harry Truman’s presidency and elevated the importance of Southeast Asia to his administration (VanDeMark 216). By early 1965, it was clear that if the United States did not introduce regular ground troops into South Vietnam, communists would overrun the country in a matter of months (Helsing 240).
In March 1965, Johnson deployed the first contingent of the US Marines to Vietnam, and by the end of the year more than 184,000 American ground troops were in the country. Despite the growing American commitment, the government of South Vietnam grew weaker, and the Vietcong, now sustained by troops and supplies from North Vietnam, grew stronger (Olson & Freeman 464). The character of the struggle for control of South Vietnam has been the subject of prolonged debate, directed toward the ultimate question of whether or not U. S. military involvement there was lawful. Many of those supporting U. S.
involvement in the war insisted that American intervention was an attempt to enforce the principles of the United Nations Charter in Asia. The argument was as follows: North Vietnam had attacked South Vietnam in violation of Article 2 of the Charter and the United States “had every right to join South Vietnam in ‘collective defense’ under Article 51 of the Charter” (Frey-Wouters & Laufer 76). The United States had also undertaken commitments to assist South Vietnam in defending itself against Communist aggression from the North; thus the introduction of United States military personnel and equipment was justified (Johns 4).
The bombing missions in 1972 became a turning-point of the war – a campaign of enormous proportions comprising more than fifty-five thousand sorties, during which American planes dropped more than 100,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam by early June – were finally yielding the deadly and destructive results (Olson & Freeman 466). By early summer, North Vietnamese intransigence began melting as the bombing and the naval blockade dried up communist supply lines.
Realizing they could not overpower the South Vietnamese army as it was backed by such massive American air power, the North Vietnamese were now more favorably inclined to negotiations about peace (Mann 702). But Nixon’s infamous bombing campaign came at a steep price. In addition to losses of twenty-six American aircraft, public opinion about war changed radically. Almost overnight, his approval rating in the polls slumped to 39 percent (Mann 713). Despite its intensity and callous brutality, Nixon’s bombing worked. In late December, the North Vietnamese finally signaled their willingness to return to the negotiating table (Johns 7).
It’s obvious that the intense bombing had been largely responsible for North Vietnam’s sudden eagerness to settle. Then presidency’s problem, however, was their mistaken belief that the conflict in Vietnam could be won entirely on the battlefield. Vietnam was also a political conflict in which the hearts and minds of the people were at stake. More bombs could never force the political and economic changes necessary to persuade millions of South Vietnamese that their government in Saigon was worth fighting for (Mann 729).
In Paris, in 1973, on January 27, Secretary of State William Rogers joined representatives of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong in signing the accords, bringing about an official end to what the New York Times called “the longest, most divisive foreign war in America’s history” (Mann 714). The Vietnam War, arguably the most misguided political and military crusade in American history, thus, ended. Aftermath of the Vietnam War After the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973, the war went on for another two years until Saigon’s collapse in April 1975.
The Vietnam War was such a traumatic and divisive experience that once the last American combat forces were withdrawn from Vietnam many Americans tried to forget the conflict. But it soon became clear that this was not an easy task. Most Americans agreed that the war in Vietnam was markedly different from any other experienced by the American nation (Johns 11). It was the first war rejected during its fighting by a substantial part of the American people, and, in retrospect, many Americans continue to have serious doubts about the wisdom of having entered that conflict.
Independent survey studies carried out in the postwar period show that several years after the end of the war, a majority of the American public agreed that the US should have stayed out of the fighting in Vietnam. In addition, respondents perceived the war’s lasting effects on the United States as almost entirely harmful (Frey-Wouters & Laufer 79). The war created serious economic problems. Until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the US ground troops into the conflict, the Vietnam War had only a minor impact on the American economy.
But as the war escalated, government expenditures increased dramatically. The large-scale federal spending fueled an inflationary spiral during the late 1960s. When inflation reached 6 percent in 1968, Congress passed a 10 percent income tax surcharge in hopes of slowing spending and lessening inflation, but it was too little and too late. Although the Vietnam War’s most dramatic impact on American society was social and political, it did set in motion the inflationary spiral that plagued the economy throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Olson & Freeman 465).
The legacy of Vietnam, like the war itself, remains a difficult and painful subject for Americans. As passions subside and time bestows greater perspective, Americans still struggle to understand Vietnam’s meaning and lessons for the country. They still wonder how the United States found itself ensnared in an ambiguous, costly, and divisive war, and how it can avoid repeating such an ordeal in the future (VanDeMark 215). In opinion by many Americans who were opposed to U. S. policy in Vietnam, the American government had engaged in an illegal war in Vietnam in violation of international law and morality.
In addition, the United States, in their view, had violated the United Nations Charter by its military intervention in the civil war (Frey-Wouters & Laufer 77). Moreover, many historians argue that American involvement in Vietnam violated international law and that the US committed crimes against humanity using napalm, gas, and defoliants, search and destroy operations, treatment of prisoners, forced relocation and pacification programs, and artillery, aerial and naval bombing (Mann 714). Those who opposed the war made the following points: 1) South Vietnam was never a separate state.
A separate state or nation of ‘South Vietnam’ had never existed. A convention signed in 1946 between the French commissioner and President Ho Chi Minh recognized the Vietnam Republic as a free state. Peace was finally negotiated, and on July 21, 1954, the Geneva Conference ended with the adoption of a Final Declaration, which reconfirmed the independence of a single, united Vietnam. An agreement was reached for the temporary division of Vietnam into two zones for a two-year period (Frey-Wouters & Laufer 76). The reunification of the two zones of North and South Vietnam, which was promised for July 1956, did not materialize (Asselin 2).
2) South Vietnam was not subjected to armed attack by North Vietnam. Many opponents of the war argued that the American intervention was not justified by the right of collective self-defense. The Charter of the United Nations permits collective self-defense only in case of an armed attack, and no such armed attack existed in the case of Vietnam. From the antiwar critics’ perspective, a civil war was going on in Vietnam, and the only proper course for states that were not themselves placed in the necessity of self-defense was to abstain from intervention (Frey-Wouters & Laufer 78).
Conclusion The President Nixon had not won the war, or the honorable peace that he had promised. He just merely delayed the day of the communist victory, with deadly and disastrous consequences. The Vietnam War was America’s longest armed conflict, a tragic crusade that cost millions of lives and ruined millions more. The war dispelled the widespread and erroneous belief that, in its foreign and military policies, the United States had always exhibited the purest of motives and actions. This, of course, had never been the case, particularly in the twentieth century.
From Truman to Nixon, the decisions about Vietnam were almost always made by presidents and other political leaders seeking to preserve or enhance their domestic or international political standings. While these presidents talked of preserving democratic institutions in Southeast Asia, the massive influx of American manpower and military in the 1960s actually undermined the ideal of a free and independent South Vietnam and transformed the nation into a client of the United States. By the time the war ended, the region that America had sought to protect from communism was, instead, ruled by it.
At home, the United States became, in some ways, a stronger nation because of its tragic experience in Vietnam. Organized public dissent became a widely accepted and effective way of influencing public policy. The American people and the news media exhibited a more healthy distrust of government officials and their public pronouncements. These and other positive changes, however, came at a horrible cost. In the name of fighting for freedom in Vietnam, the political and military leadership of the United States inflicted untold damage on a proud nation and its people.
Thus, American involvement in Vietnam represented a total failure not just of American foreign policy but also of American statesmanship. The policymakers inflexibly pursued a path which eventually damaged the essence of American power by consuming excessive lives and resources, shook allied confidence in the US strategic judgment, and demolished liberalism’s political unity and legality by polarizing and paralyzing American society. Whatever the conflicting judgments about this controversial war, Vietnam without a doubt stands as the greatest tragedy of twentieth-century U.
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” Michigan Historical Review 26. 1 (2000): 1-16. Mann, Robert. A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent into Vietnam. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Olson, James S. , and Samuel Freeman, eds. Historical Dictionary of the 1960s. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. VanDeMark, Brian. Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Helsing, Jeffrey W. Johnson’s War/Johnson’s Great Society: The Guns and Butter Trap. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2000.