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The U.S. war against Vietnam in 1964-1975 is one of the most dramatic events of the recent times. It was one of the most infamous and bloodiest wars for the United States, and a cruel experience for the Vietnamese people, which resulted in huge material and human losses. However, Saigon regime troops and U.S. troops were defeated as a result of the persistent struggle of the Vietnamese people. Currently, the issue of the Vietnam War continues to remain relevant in the specific historical, scientific and educational context. Thus, the current paper will discuss the causes and consequences of the Vietnam War.
Causes of the War
The interest of the superpowers in Vietnam was caused by its extremely favorable geographical and geopolitical position, which would allow controlling the entire South-East Asia. It should be taken into account that in terms of global confrontation small countries also sought to solve their problems by trying to provoke contradictions among the great powers, and repeatedly encouraged great powers to get involved in local conflicts. Vietnam was not an exception.
In order to understand the causes of the Vietnam War, it is necessary to analyze the events concerning the relations between France and its colonies in 1955. The point is that the efforts of the democratic sentiments after the World War II and noticeable support of Vietnam from the other Asian countries provoked a bitter struggle for the independence of the country. As a result, the French government had to accept the loss of one of its colony and recognize its independence. However, the country was divided into two parts after signing the Geneva Convention. One part belonged to the government, which pursued a policy agreed upon together with France. The second part was transformed into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
At that time, the U.S. influence in the region was dramatically increased. American politicians felt that the rise to power of Ho Chi Minh, a well-known communist in North Vietnam, could lead to the domino effect. The Northern part of the country held a referendum, during which the people expressed their desire for reunification with the South. Ho Chi Minh demanded the same in South Vietnam. After the refusal of the President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem, American leaders’ concerns about the spread of “communist contagion” were well-grounded, because North Vietnam organized the National Liberation Front, commonly known as the Viet Cong.
The Southern part of the divided country constantly suffered from the rebels, which led to the formation of guerrilla units. As a result, the civil war broke out in the South. The goal of the U.S. government was to maintain the existing regime in the country and terminate the civil war by defeating the guerrilla groups. Sending the military troops was beneficial for individual corporations that produced weapons, since such a situation could demonstrate the superb technical characteristics of the weapons. However, the fear of the spread of Soviet and Chinese influence in the region played a fundamental role.
It should be noted that Ngo Dinh Diem came to power in South Vietnam legitimately, through a referendum, but in fact, he was a puppet of the United States. However, he had soon lost confidence, due to the fact that the policies pursued by his administration were not successful and appointment to different positions was determined by the principle of kinship and personal loyalty. Ho Chi Minh actively used the hostility of the local population towards their ruler. Ultimately, he aimed at unifying Vietnam according to the auspices of Marxism-Leninism.
The Soviet Union actively helped their ideological ally. Moreover, such help had a quite practical purpose. The fact is that the influence over Vietnam was strategically important for both the Soviet Union and the United States. China also had no intention to tolerate the puppet of such a powerful country as the United States. Soviet soldiers did not participate in combat operations, but the USSR sent a huge number of weapons to Vietnam. High-skilled specialists arrived along with the weapons in order to train Vietnam troops. A special role in the supply of weapons was played by the fact that there were no obstacles to Soviet ships coming from the United States. Only some of them were damaged at the time of bombing the port, but it was just a single case that caused the international scandal.
The reason for the declaration of war lied in the incidents in Tokyo Bay, where the U.S. destroyer engaged in a confrontation with the Vietnamese boats and caused significant damage to them. The question of “who fired first” remains under discussion up until now, but at that time, the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was actively looking for a pretext for the military intervention. Officially, the United States announced that the Vietnamese torpedo boats were the first who expressed aggression, but the U.S. destroyer was not damaged. After reviewing the material on the Tokyo incident, the Congress authorized the use of military force against Vietnam, as was ordered by President Johnson.
Consequences of the War for the United States
The long and bloody war in Vietnam had serious consequences for the United States within the country and outside it. The Vietnam War had a profound impact on the political life of the United States. The war has split the American society. For some people, it was a venture and unlawful imposition of one’s own values that were alien to the Vietnamese people. For others, it was a mission against the spread of communism for the sake of protecting the democratic ideals. At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the vast majority of the population in the United States was quite indifferent to this war, because Americans already “got used” to similar wars that had taken place in the U.S. history. However, months and even years went by, and the war was becoming more and more costly and annoying until it turned into a heavy burden for the American people. The initial indifference has turned into curiosity at first, but then it turned into doubt and fear. The disagreements over the government’s actions have risen sharply as soon as the Americans realized the scale of the country’s involvement in the war.
The end of the ‘60s was a time of powerful upsurge of the revolutionary movement and the fierce class struggles in Western Europe and the United States. Anti-war sentiments gave a powerful impetus to these movements all over the world. General revolutionary strikes and student demonstrations paralyzed France in May, 1968; a similar event known as the “Hot Autumn” took place in Italy in 1969; demonstrations of extra-parliamentary opposition were carried out in Germany. Slogans of solidarity with the struggling people of Vietnam could be heard throughout the world behind the barricades, during street fights and strikes.
The Vietnam War had a very significant impact on the outlook of the U.S. population. The new movement, the hippies, emerged from the young people protesting against the war. Numerous declarations and demonstrations in defense of Vietnam were held in the United States. The grand demonstration was held in Washington, DC, in October 1967, which was attended by more than 150 thousand people consisting of the representatives of 47 U.S. states.
During the years of war, the protest against the war in Vietnam was embodied in the American anti-war movements. A number of different viewpoints were concentrated on the anti-war movement, but all of them were united by a single motive that is the opposition to the Vietnam War. The Johnson administration was struggling against the movement, sending its speakers to schools and universities to lead a pro-war propaganda. However, it has not brought the expected results. The anti-war movement reached its apogee under the Nixon administration in October 1969. At the same time, the underground press appeared in the depths of the anti-war movement as an alternative to the official press. Underground newspapers were published in colleges and schools, as well as on the military bases. Underground press was extremely successful regarding its coverage of the Vietnam War. During the Johnson administration, it has played a great role, forcing him to change his policy in Vietnam, and brought closer the end of the war, making a significant contribution to the demolition of the authority of Nixon after the Watergate scandal.
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The huge losses the United States experienced because of the war; the unwillingness of thousands of young people to go to the army and numerous deaths for unclear purposes; the reduction of social programs as a result of the high costs of war; American soldiers’ brutality against the civilian population of Vietnam and many other factors played a major role in the growth of antiwar sentiment. While the antiwar movement consisted mainly of students in the mid-60s, it involved diverse segments of population at the end of the decade.
The movement of conscientious objectors was increasingly growing. Young men burned their draft notices during the demonstrations. About 10 thousand of the young men unwilling to serve in the army had taken refuge in Canada. Large numbers of veterans of the Vietnam War started joining the anti-war demonstration. This fact was an additional blow to the authority of the U.S. government. Thousands of American soldiers uniformly participated in the demonstrations that took place in autumn of 1969, the largest of which brought together 250 000 people in Washington. Many soldiers in Vietnam alone had put the black armbands on in solidarity with the anti-war demonstrations in their homeland. Moreover, the feeling of meaninglessness and futility of the war, heavy losses and severe financial and living conditions of soldiers, as well as the hatred of the local population had a strong psychological impact on the American troops.
One of the most severe consequences of this war was the Vietnam syndrome. As a rule, the Vietnam syndrome is a medical term that combines various nervous and mental disorders experienced by American soldiers and officers who have been engaged in the war in Vietnam. The Vietnam syndrome was stimulated by only those circumstances that were typical for the wars on foreign soil like Vietnam, for example:
- Difficulties with the identification of the enemy;
- Military actions in a crowd of people;
- The need to fight while the whole country lives a peaceful life;
- Painful debunking of the war related purposes.
According to the observations of American scientists, most of the soldiers who came back from Vietnam could not find a purpose in life. The reasons for this were largely determined by the socio-psychological factors. American society consciously or unconsciously kept distance from the Vietnam veterans. The latter found themselves in the position of “inconvenient people” for all who surrounded them, and were forced to be satisfied with what they had, becoming alcoholics and drug addicts. Besides, the Vietnam veterans often committed suicide. According to the official data, about 60 thousand Americans were killed during the hostilities in Vietnam, while the number of suicides among veterans of the Vietnam War exceeded 100 thousand in 1988.
The most serious consequence of the Vietnam War is that it has facilitated a crisis of faith, politics and ideology. The war in Vietnam was a kind of a catalyst provoking the change in the ideological positions of the U.S. population. There was such a tendency among the American population because of the defeat at the front of Vietnam. It was expressed in separateness, willingness to be isolated within the country and reluctance to know everything about what was happening in the world. This “neo-isolationist” tendency was at odds with the strategic plans of the U.S. ruling circles. One of the tendencies that were peculiar to the American people after the defeat in Vietnam was the distrust to militarist circles and Pentagon. The military-industrial complex was threatened by the reduction of allocations on military preparations and loss of billions of dollars profits from military contracts.
The power and prestige of the American war machine reached its peak during the first 20 years after the World War II. American militarism was growing stronger and put pressure on political, economic and social spheres of life in the United States day after day. Many of generals such as Eisenhower, Bradley, MacArthur and others have been turned into national heroes. However, the Vietnam War strongly singed the wings of American militarism. Even more serious consequence was the ideological expansion of the American society and disintegration of the unity, with which the U.S. authorities have achieved the support of its population in relation to the activities of Cold War against the expansion of communism. The U.S. population stopped believing in the propaganda of the official ideological machine. The U.S. government tried to rely on traditional national values, but real policy contributed to such symptoms as the loss of trust to the authorities and reluctance to participate in such political activities as the Vietnam War.
Concerning the military sphere, the U.S. defeat in Vietnam also had huge implications for the political strategies of the United States. The U.S. ruling circles and military forces planned to achieve success within the period of two years, relying on their huge economic and military power, namely the cost of no more than 20 billion dollars and expeditionary forces composed of 200 thousand men. However, this war lasted six times longer than the scheduled time and required the use of a huge army of the United States that was 3 times greater than it had been originally anticipated. Finally, its cost became 30 times higher than the cost calculated by the Pentagon. The very outcome of the war completely denied all the concepts of American strategists.
The war in Vietnam was one of the most dramatic periods in the history of the United States. It was a great shock to the entire American nation. It has affected everyone and determined the fate of the entire generation. The rise of the mass movement in favor of peace and against the aggressive war in Vietnam has become one of the major factors that forced Washington to initiate the peace negotiations, and then led to the full withdrawal of its troops from Vietnam. The Vietnam War has seriously undermined the prestige of the United States and its political, military and economic position in the world. It stimulated the deepening moral, political and socio-economic crisis that shook the United States and American society in particular. The result was a powerful anti-war movement and radical but temporary change in the mentality of the American nation. After waging the war for many years and suffering from enormous human and material losses, the United States was not able to implement the set tasks in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam resulted in the awareness of the American nation of the fact that not everything in the world can be measured by money and military power.