American involvement in Vietnam has proved to be one of the most divisive and controversial wars since it were also one of the longest in its history as it took a period of nearly 30 years, from 1944 to 1973. American involvement in Vietnam can be dated back to World War II after the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) representatives made contact with the little known revolutionary group called the Vietminh, who were their cronies in the war against Japan.
The Vietminh was an ostensible umbrella under which socialists, nationalists, peasants, students, and other organizations could coalesce to fight the Japanese who had taken colonial control of Vietnam from the French. However, at the closing stages of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, they were quickly viewed as possible threats due to the communist influence within the Vietminh organization.
Ho Chi Minh who was a revolutionary leader and fought alongside the U.S. was no longer perceived as a nationalist but as one of Moscow’s pawns. In 1947, a stance taken by former U.S. president Harry Truman to aid nations vulnerable to Communist conquest also did not help out the situation in Vietnam but later on took a domino upshot for future presidents. This policy was pertained to the conflict in Vietnam.
Both directly and indirectly, the U.S was involved in Vietnam both militarily and politically in a conflict which can be thought to structured into three phases starting with the 1944 to 1954 covert operations phase, the advising phase, and the third phase in which the U.S. forces had a direct involvement in Vietnam.
The Franco-Vietminh War also intensified American involvement in Vietnam as they supported France in re-conquering its former colony and restraining the spread of communism. Despite this support, the French lost and Ho Chi Minh with his triumphant Vietminh controlled much of the country and declared the formation of Vietnam’s north Democratic Republic.
This forced the U.S. into supporting the establishment of an adversarial Vietnamese Republic in the south while arming, advising, and training the newly formed Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Former U.S. president Eisenhower hopefully thought that this assistance would prevent the North Vietnamese communist regime from conquering.
However, South Vietnam started to subside both politically and militarily by 1965 which led to direct participation of the U.S. forces in Vietnam. This involvement further escalated the war owing to the volatile conditions at that time volatile. In 1961, Vietnam was not a key topic when John F. Kennedy took office but it later developed into an issue when civil warfare broke out in Laos.
This enforced Kennedy into sending military advisors and Special Forces known as the Green Berets in order to train and work with the ARVN troops as an alternative to sending battle troops. In attempts to divest the Vietcong of their ‘jungle cloak’ and food, herbicides such as Agent Orange were exploited as they were sprayed in the mid-air.
This essay is therefore going to mirror the war implications, the battles, strategies, accounts and some of the key figures of the war since each conflict has its own idiosyncratic horrors, success and failures.
A. The American Public view of the War
Although many Americans could see their involvement in Vietnam as their patriotic task of service, others vehemently opposed the conflict or did not consider risking their live for a lost cause. However, public ardor can be thought to have driven the U.S government’s decision to enter the conflict to some degree (Walton 30). On the other hand, even though the anticommunist and pro-repression reached a wide-ranging consensus with the American public, it did not result to public concern for the providence of South Vietnam.
Previous to the U.S government making a substantial political dedication to Saigon, little was known by the American public on the state of affairs in Southeast Asia. Public perception on the importance of Vietnam was unswervingly linked to the measures of the U.S government since the privileged policymakers prominently placed Vietnam on public agenda as the pledge to the defense of South Vietnam increased, and the prospect of Saigon increasingly became important.
Therefore, most Americans saw the conflict in Vietnam as a war not demanded by them but as one given to them by their leaders (Walton 30). Gradually, an intense activism grew from the American public in order to end the war that had many atrocities on both sides. One of the most outspoken activists was Martin Luther King Jr. who saw an obvious facile link between the U.S warfare in Vietnam and the fight for civil rights and against poverty which was stifling back at home (Buzzanco 2).
According to Martin Luther King’s influential antiwar sermon entitled ‘’A Time to Break Silence,’’ he argues that both black and white poor Americans bore an asymmetrical share of burden from the war (online). He also added that the war on poverty was superseded by the conflict on Vietnam since the war expenditure was acquiring funds and support that could have been used to work out the problems at home.
He also claimed that the war was only demoralizing the hopes of the poor at home and the pledges of a Great Society were being ‘shot down’ on Vietnam’s battleground while a great deal of the combating was done by the poor themselves. He also highlighted the economic status of both black and white soldiers while emphasizing the extra load on blacks who were disproportionately signed up as combat soldiers (Rotter 374).
B. Analysis of Phil Caputo’s A RUMOR OF WAR
In this memoir, Phil Caputo gives a unique account on the war when he first came to Vietnam in March, 1965 while still a young Marine Lieutenant. It gives a factual experience on the thirteen months he was in Vietnam. It is an account of one marine’s experiences that proves to be self-destroying. When he first landed in Vietnam, he was just a sanguine college graduate who was conceited with his country’s objectives in Vietnam and his imminent role in it, but all this was to change.
The fervent young Marine Lieutenant was later grounded down inch by inch by the overwhelming proceedings and process of war that changed him into a defendant indicted by military authorities for killing civilians (Holsinger 412). Caputo narrates his story in a pessimistic tone with a retrospective and self-conscious point-of view that isolates him from the once buoyant young boy.
The account also mirrors the U.S forces mission that changed steadily from quiescent defense of bases and exercise and supporting the South Vietnamese troops, to conquest the entire war. The ever changing American stances toward the war in relation to its strategy, purpose, cost, and tactics are evidently reflected since the conflict was an event that politicized and even radicalized a better fraction of an entire American Generation (Searle 74).
C. Analysis of Loren Baritz’ BACKFIRE
In this volume, author Baritz’ who is a social historian tries to relay the conflict to cultural indispensables especially with the myths in the American culture that piloted the country into the Vietnam predicament. He also exposes America’s national misapprehensions that convict them of their moral preeminence through the general assumption that American ways are more impractical than others, and the invincibility that supposedly comes through their faith in technology (Sevy 8).
In Vietnam, it was evident that the U.S used its advanced technology through helicopter dispatches and equipments that had sophisticated communications, fire detection, sensors, and automatic data processing tools that helped maintain efficiency in the battlefield to Vietnamese inconvenience.
From this volume, we can clearly see that the munificence of America’s national motives, its dense ignorance, and adherence to principle are all correlated to the pioneering myth of America. In 1630, John Winthrop’s reprimand to his Puritan cohorts to create a ‘’City upon a Hill’’ for a selected people, can also be said to be the consequence of this political and ethical idealism that underlined both the government and military demeanor in the Vietnam conflict (Herzog 13).
This only emphasizes that a war can be said to be of value if the basic safety of a sovereign state is under immense or probable threat, and if it pertains to concrete dogmas that refrains from the myriad geopolitical, social, and military irrational idealism witnessed in Vietnam.
D. The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War
During this period, the Army Nurse Corps endured and thrived despite the perplexing war in Vietnam that discerned a longstanding, ubiquitous nursing shortage. Most certainly, the conflict in Vietnam increased the focus on combat troop’s health care needs in the battlefield and post-war health, and this augmented the nation’s call for professional nurses.
Since Army Nurse Corps recruited mainly women personnel from civilian hospitals, they had to be trained to cope with battlefield scenarios where medical technology does not necessarily modify military nurses’ work.
They also had to be trained to cope with other manifold inherent forces in a particular time such as the quick evacuation of casualties which dictated almost all nursing care to be termed as critical care during this period. This training was most important due to the gender impasse concerning the deployment of female nurses into combat zone.
Despite these concerns, it is impossible to ignore the relevancy of the Army Nurse Corps as they adapted and performed well in various levels that had harsh conditions as witnessed in Vietnam. (Lynaugh 229-235). One would really ponder on what would have happened to the injured combat troops without the Army Nurse Corps.
E. The Media Role in Vietnam
The media largely revolutionized America’s public perception of the conflict in Vietnam as it conveyed the war horrors into real-life scenario. The public could now see the proceedings from the battlefield in their living rooms. Media interviews with military officers who were in the battlefield also suggested the difficulties facing the war.
America’s view on the war was greatly affected as the media relayed the bombings that caused fatalities and destruction with some even counting the number of casualties. Previously the media only focused on the positive facets of the wars that portrayed America’s actions in an optimistic way and only highlighted what pleased the people’s ears.
Prior to the media scrutiny on the situation in Vietnam, they were largely seen as government co-conspirators as they were often compliant than critical of official measures. However, most critics blame the media for the weary public support for the war since they painted a negative picture on the Vietnam situation through news reports that stunned America for the first time. Despite this claim some quarters refute this assertion (Haridakis, Hugenberg, and Wearden 24-25).
F. Comparison Aspects of the Vietnam and Afghanistan Conflicts
The Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts can be said to be in comparison since they both were geopolitically important to the U.S efforts of trying to contain a system of ideological hostility. Both wars also forced a therapeutic reappraisal of the American society.
Although the extent of threat disallowed the use of massive force in Vietnam, the situation in Afghanistan also proved that the war could not be easily won because the U.S placed its limitations on the exploitation of its military might. The conflicts also signify a fundamental failing of America in that they won every battle but not the war itself therefore exposing their blunders and atrocities.
In addition, the conflicts also proves that the U.S were ill suited to surmount an insurgency entrenched in the internal political tumult (Wiest 8). The administrations embroiled in these conflicts can arguably be said to have used rhetoric in mobilizing elite mass support, grand designs, tactics, and strategies but in both cases, the media has proved to be quite influential in changing public view towards the conflicts.
G. Accounts from ARVN Soldiers
Most experts in the military usually attest that an army’s morale is quite important to victory and accomplishing tough missions. However, most ARVN soldiers have now come to assert that Saigon’s poor leadership and ineffective government forced them to ‘carry the can’ and fend for their basic needs which might have distracted them from their assigned missions (Young and Buzzanco 147).
Nguyen Hue, an ARVN infantry soldier, is one of the many soldiers who constantly grumbled over their inadequate ‘quality of life’ as opposed to their American counterparts.
Tram Buu, who is was an ARVN captain, also adds that U.S soldiers were well paid off, well-supported, well-fed, and got good housing while not worrying on their families safety. Tram Buu is also anguished by the fact that most U.S soldiers could get occasional absconds for a considerable amount of time while the Vietnamese soldiers took their places.
However, most American officers that served in Vietnam contemplates that the ARVN wasted much time grumbling over issues regarding the ‘quality of life’ instead of fighting the communist North and ensuring the survival of South Vietnam (Young and Buzzanco 148).
These problems transformed into the unusual ARVN desertion rates which were really soaring high. From these accounts we can see a reflection from the battlefield which shows the prevalent low morale in the ARVN camp who saw themselves being mistreated from their ‘so-called friends’.
Buzzanco, Robert. Vietnam and the Transformation of American life. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999. Print.
Haridakis Paul, Hugenberg Barbara, and Wearden Stanley. War and the media: essays on news reporting, propaganda and popular culture. North Carolina: McFarland, 2009. Print.
Herzog, Tobey. Vietnam War Stories: Innocence Lost. London: Routledge, 2004. Print
Holsinger, Paul. War and American popular culture: a historical encyclopedia. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print
King, Luther. A Time to Break Silence. New York, Web. April 4, 1967.
Lynaugh, Joan. Nursing History Review Volume 9: Official Journal of the American Association for the History of Nursing. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2000.
Rotter, Andrew. Light at the end of the tunnel: a Vietnam War anthology. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. Print.
Sevy, Grace. American Experience in Vietnam. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Print
Searle, William. Search and clear: critical responses to selected literature and films of the Vietnam War. Ohio: Popular Press, 1988. Print
Walton, Dale. The myth of inevitable US defeat in Vietnam. London: Routledge, 2002. Print
Wiest, Andrew. The Vietnam War, 1956-1975. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002. Print
Young, Marilyn, and Buzzanco Robert. A Companion to the Vietnam War. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006. Print.