American intervention in Vietnam, including a synopsis of presidents in office during and after this time, and their ideas of what was important to the American people and nation at or about the time of the war. This paper also describes the lessons of the Vietnam War and its consequences on American foreign policy. The history of the United States is most controversial when the subject of the Vietnam War. To this day scholars and politicians disagree on the reasons for the war and the effects of the war on society (Lockard, 1994). This lack of synchronicity of thought has led to an ever-lasting state of unrest when one attempts to analyze the Vietnam War and its consequences, on the American people and on foreign policy.
The United State’s many reasons cited for entering the war included the desire to prevent the spread of communism and support the principles of democracy, a sentiment not truly supported by foreigners observing American tactics during the war (Lockard, 1994). In fact, many called into question the reasons for the interference of the U.S. In Vietnam, many citing “fear” a common reason for support among American presidents during the time the war took place (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 362).
The Vietnam War is distinguished from other wars in that there was a lack of “mobilized support” for the war, especially on the part of the American people (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 362). The effects on foreign policy and politics within the United States were long-lasting. With regard to the human toll resulting from the war, more than 7.8 million lives were lost in Southeast Asia, 5.1 in Vietnam and more than 4 million civilians living in the areas war actively engaged and mobilized troops in (Kirkwood-Tucker, 2002).
The Presidential support for the war, then failure to support troops following the war, resulted in public disgrace and suffering among soldiers forced or drafted to fight in the war. Many foreign countries lost faith in the United States’ ability to distinguish boundaries when the subjects of democracy and freedom came about (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002). In light of presidential scandals including during the Nixon term, the U.S. lost even more credibility with foreign political ambassadors (Lockard, 1994). It isn’t hard to see why, especially given the presidents preceding Nixon failed to acknowledge or adequately support troops returning from the war, troops that suffered long-term consequences both mentally and physically (Lockard, 1994).
As a result of the American presence in Vietnam, mass destruction was incurred throughout the country, one that was so widespread according to Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton (2002) it was given the name “ecocide” meaning the destruction of foreign landscape (332). This only accounts for the damage incurred by the bombs used in Vietnam, as Vietnam was among the more heavily bombed regions of the world during this war than in any other war or among any other country since the dawn of time (Lockard, 1994). Much of the country to this day suffers, and many look back and consider the country at best a “wasteland” destroyed and dismantled for unrecognizable causes (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002).
World response was so dramatic to the war in Vietnam and the presence of allied forces that in 1973 the Treaty of Paris “called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops” and allied forces in S. Vietnam (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002). Entire villages had been wiped out, people, innocent civilians, not just soldiers, which is one reason the United States had reason to feel disgraced and failed to distinguish the returning soldiers from the war as heroes. This in turn took a tremendous toll on many soldiers resulting in post traumatic syndromes including long-lasting depression, aggression and sleep disorders (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002; Lockard, 1994). No other war had exacted such a toll on domestic and foreign life than did the war in Vietnam. Had the troops remained, there is no question the country as it is today would still exist, although what does exist is a small fracture or reminder of a land that used to be. Even after the war landmines were still prevalent throughout Vietnam resulting in even more deaths among the innocent.
Part of the problems associated with the war included Truman and subsequent presidential flops, including their lack of knowledge of the territory they invaded and the guerrilla tactics used by Vietnamese troops (Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002). In fact, many historians suggest had the United States learned more about the militant tactics of the Vietnamese, such widespread bloodshed may not have occurred (Lockard, 230; Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton, 2002). This lack of preparation is partly to blame for the tremendous toll on human life resulting from the war. Kirkwood-Tucker & Benton (2002) correctly identify the Vietnam War as, “America’s only lost war” because following the war, the President and the people of American and the world found there was nothing to celebrate when the war was complete. Unlike wars past, there were no heroes, rather, there was one big mess to clean up, one that still exists even in modern times (p. 362). One thing is certain; the Vietnam War is one that is easily remembered and the one war the United States would prefer forgotten.
Kirkwood-Tucker, Toni and Benton, Janet E. The Lessons of Vietnam: Using Literature to Introduce Students to the Vietnam War. Social Education, 66.6, (2002), p. 362.
Lockard, Craig a. Meeting Yesterday Head-on: The Vietnam War in Vietnamese,
American and World History, Journal of World History, 5.2 (1994, Fall): 227-70.
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