To many, the Vietnam War symbolizes controversy, myth and question in America. There are many events that made Americans wonder what reasons we had for putting our troops and families in Vietnam. Up till that point, many other Americans had never questioned the acts of the American government and armed forces. Issues dealt with in the Vietnam War showed great impact on the American people, particularly the students.
American involvement started off very low key. Two marine battalions landed in Da Nang on March 8, 1965 (Doyle, Lipsman). They were not fighting a war yet, though a war was going on in the very country that they were in. Their job was to merely protect an air field in Da Nang, not look for trouble or initiate any kind of war tactics. But soon, holding off the enemy was not so easy for the American soldiers, and more troops were sent in. This continued on, and when May rolled around there were 46,000 American Troops in Vietnam (Doyle, Lipsman). It was at this time when American troops were then given the “permit to use more active defense,” and soon after, the number soared to 82,000 American troops in Vietnam (Doyle, Lipsman). From there, the American defense quickly turned into an offense, and transportation flights turned in to rescue missions.
This was about the time that Americans at home began to become worried that the war in Vietnam was getting out of hand. Small protests broke out amongst college students across America, but these began to become very serious.On April 17, 1965 The Students for a Democratic Society organized a national protest on the steps of the capitol in Washington D.C. (Doyle, Lipsman). Television coverage enraged people by misleading facts and disturbing war images of troops killing women and children. Frustration in America grew and riots and protests got out of hand as no questions seemed to be answered. Students protested and gathered, building rage against the war spurring events like the Kent State Massacre. The Kent State Massacre is named after a calm protest uprooted when guards killed and wounded students by opening fire on a mass of students as they gathered on the Kent State campus (Encarta). Events such as the Kent State Massacre enraged Americans more than ever causing violent riots and outbreaks.
Meanwhile, America’s position in Vietnam worsened. More and more were sent, and more and more troops were killed. America’s great offense was tattering down and guerrilla warfare on unfamiliar terrain hampered soldier performance. The war then quickly switched over and put more weight on air attacks and bomb raids. Helicopters became America’s best friend as they were a brand new invention that had not previously seen much use. The helicopter made landing and exiting in rough terrain easier than any other method seen before by the United States military. Other weaponry made its debut in the Vietnam War. Spurred from the second world war, where tanks were introduced, the anti-tank missile launcher was a key weapon for all countries to develop. The Vietnam War was the first war that the anti-tank missile launcher was effectively used. Standard guns also were changing; they become lighter in weight, more accurate, and able to function better with less maintenance and malfunction. All of these new, and newly perfected, weapons made the Vietnam War an unfamiliar territory for everybody as the death toll soared through the roof.
More troops were sent, more black troops. Racism raced through the veins of many white Americans at this time, and blacks still felt discriminated against by the government and the people of America. All of this as more black troops were being put on the battle front to fight. Black gangs erupted and dodged the draft, became violent, and held to one another very closely. This was the first sign of gangs in America, as we see gangs today. Many black Americans did not understand why they were being force to fight and die for a country that hated them. They felt as if they were being sent in place of whites, but in fact only 12.5% of all troops in Vietnam were black, and it was merle stretched facts and media influence that caused the black eruptions in America (Westmoreland, VHFCN).
As America boiled, the “photographers war” continued in Vietnam (Cohen). The Vietnam War has been said on countless occasions to be the most photographed war in history. The reason for this is the development and improvement of the camera. The camera had become small enough and agile enough to be carried almost anywhere. Also, with the fire burning in America, the media was raping the troops of their dignity as the photographers followed them everywhere. Disturbing pictures were sent back to the press and media in America for public coverage, giving the public its first ever visual images of war. Unable to handle these shocking of images of troops killing ruthlessly, America continued to rage.
The war rolled on through 1972 and Americans wondered if it would ever end. An end was soon to come, as peace talks began, on January 23, 1973 president Nixon announced the end of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam (Cohen). America took a deep breath and let down it’s arms, but the tension was still there along with the grieving loss of young men. The Vietnam War was very confusing, especially as it was going on. The American public did not have answers, and were frustrated with the constant loss of family and friends. “No event in American history is more misunderstood that the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic. (Nixon, VHFCN)” This quote by president Nixon may be one of the most well said statements about the Vietnam War that I have ever heard. The war was so chaotic that there was no time to give any answers, or find any answers; this gave the media a big loophole to deceive the public. Only now can we look back at the facts and correct them as we teach what is right and give back the pride that we have taken from these veterans.
The most logical way that I can possibly confront the “facts” of the Vietnam War is to do just that. I am going to end this report with some facts to help fix what might be misinterpreted or confusing about the Vietnam War. Because I believe that there are men and women, dead and alive who deserve the gratitude of the American public to atleast know the truth. I will do this by addressing what could be defined as myth, confusion, misreporting, and misinterpreting, and show you the statistics that will prove these embarrassing thought wrong, and give the veterans the hero image that they deserve.
Myth: American soldiers were addicted to drugs, and feel guilty for their actions and role in the Vietnam War by using cruel and inhumane acts. This is not true, 91% of all living Vietnam veterans say that they are proud that they served their country, 74% would serve again knowing that there would be the same outcome, and 97% of them were discharged under honorable conditions (Westmoreland, VHFCN).
False: Vietnam Veterans resemble the homeless population in American and are more likely to be in prison. This is an incorrect statement, in fact, Vietnam veterans are less likely to be jailed and only .5% of them have been jailed for crimes. 85% of Vietnam veterans have made a successful transition to ordinary life (Westmoreland, VHFCN).
The myth of all American troop is also incorrect. two-thirds of all men who served in the Vietnam War were volunteers; that’s just the opposite as W.W.II where two-thirds of the men who served were drafted (Westmoreland, VHFCN). “Approximately seventy percent of those killed in Vietnam were volunteers (McCaffrey, VHFCN).” Another myth is that the suicide rate of Vietnam Veterans is higher than non Vietnam veterans, but in fact it is not as bad as the media portrays it to be. There have been reports of 50,000 to 100,000 suicides among Vietnam Vets, when 9,000 is a more accurate number (Houk, VHFCN). The number 100,000 is absurd.
Black Americans were not a target of the American government to be used in place of white troops. In fact, of 541,000 men and women who served in Vietnam, 86% were Caucasians, 12.5% were black, and 1.2% were of other races (Westmoreland, VHFCN).
These may only be a few small facts that are a grain of sand when you look at the whole war. But these issues are those that were the heart of the fire in American youth when the war was in action. These were the issues and answers that may have prevented things such as the Kent State Massacre.
To all of the Vietnam Veterans, the country that they supported, their families and friends; to those who died in or after service, to those who are still alive and carry the memories of war with them every day, a memorial for them has been created. Its groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 26, 1982. The memorial has 57,929 names inscribed in it of those men and women who never came home from Vietnam (Ashabranner). A diamond after a name means that he/she was accounted for at the end of the war, a cross after a name means that he/she still is not accounted for. Also, the right is reserved to put a circle around the cross of any person who becomes accountable for, but a circle has yet to be put on the wall.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 26, 1982. The memorial has 57,929 names inscribed in it
Ashabranner, Brent. Always to Remember. New York: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 1989.
Cohen, Steven. Anthology and guide to a television history. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, inc., 1983
Doyle, Edward, and Samual Lipsman. America Takes Over-The Vietnam Experience. Boston, MA: Boston Publishing Company, 1982.
Microsoft Encarta Complete Interactive Multimedia Encyclopedia. Computer software. Microsoft, 1995. CD-ROM.
Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network. www.vhfcn.org. 2000.
Westmoreland, General William C. Address. Third Annual Reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. Washington D.C., 5 July 1986.
McCaffrey, Lieutenant General Barry R. Address. Memorial Day. Washington D.C. May 1993.
Houk, Dr. Address. Hearing before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Unites States Senate one hundredth Congress second session. 14 July 1988.