The wars the United States previously was involved in, like WWII, were based on winner take all tactic wars in which absolute victory or defeat alone changed US military and foreign policy. Vietnam however was fundamentally different, being a proxy theater of the larger Cold War, just as Korea was before it. The results of which would go on to foreshadow the Vietnam asymmetrical in being contrasted the US. Where the North Vietnam objectives were decisive and clear, the US through no one else’s fault but its own, became the polar opposite. This divide was seen no clearer than between the contrasting views of each nation’s public. The Vietnam War sharply polarized America into two without regard for race but social class and age. Protest due to the philosophical debate of war, to the draft avoiding those in college and with enough resources to pay it off, set the precedent for the “poor man’s war.”
Black Americans accounted for a mere 10% of the population in 1950, five years before the start of the war, yet accounted for about 15% of the total casualties. With poor white men getting it just as worse. A White Man’s War: Race issues and Vietnam, then, is to foster further research into some of the questions raised here; questions born out of the different experiences of blacks, Native-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans during the period of active US involvement. Vietnam was the United states first integrated-though not racially balanced-war in quite some time. As a consequence, it raised anew the old questions about the meaning of freedom, equality, justice and liberty and forces us to consider how these meanings change as a function of one’s status in the American social order.
The split in opinions of teens and those in their 20s challenged those of the older generations in ideal about government, authority, and patriotism. Now a days the war is regarded as a mistake, but in the 1960s, it was still popular. Those opposing the war did so to the extreme hate of society and mainstream media as communist sympathizers, un-American, and as hippies. This resentment was so strong that members of the protest at times were profiled, assaulted, and mocked in the open.
However, most Americans began to agree on the war’s effect as the body count continued to rise. Americans soon became fatigued of the horrors of warfare seen in the first televised war. This was the real deciding factor in the changing of domestic and foreign policy in the US. The media’s role in providing footage of Vietnam straight into the living rooms of Americans left little to the imagination, making it harder to avoid the truth and started turning Americans against the War. Television coverage of the Vietnam War had a huge impact in America. Seeing Americans dead and wounded was a real shock, in prior wars such images were rarely released to the public. The media had a great deal of influence on the public. TV coverage also fueled the anti-war movement in America. War correspondents reporting live from battlefield were something new and there weren’t a lot of rules about where they could go or what they could say. This provided protestors with lots of material, much of which was sadly out of context. The military’s tight control of reporters during the Grenada invasion was the result.
The most immediate effect of the Vietnam war was the death toll. The war claimed 2 million Vietnamese civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese troops, 200,000 South Vietnamese troops, and 58,000 US troops with the number of those wounded and disfigured by the war numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
By 1975, Vietnam was a clear loss for the United States, showing the effects of unchecked presidential power as well as, a reminder of what not to do. The subsequent affect of pulling out allowed the unification of a communist Vietnam, validating the philosophy of the domino theory but not the US intervention. The wounds inflicted upon the US was not a high number in the grand scheme of war. The problem was the 58,000 who gave their lives might have done so in vain or with understanding of the real reason they fought. The major wounds inflicted were psychological scars on the psyche. The Vietnam War did not effect the status of the US as a superpower but did redefine our purpose and agenda in the wars to follow.
The presidential overreach seen in Vietnam in acted several new policies most notably the War Powers Act. A federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the United States to armed conflict. The law required the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of sending combative troops overseas, and that the troops in question could only remain for a total of 90-days before needing a declaration of war to stay. 60-days allowed to the stationing of troops and a further 30-day withdrawal period. The War Powers Act is in direct challenge of LBJ’s and Nixon’s handling of the war.
Ultimately Vietnam was a new experience, and new war, one that still remains historically problematic for debating the moral and ethical out reach of the United States. Although much smaller and geographically confined than previous wars, Vietnam completely changed the war US approached military action, defining the role of America within the new age of warfare.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States. Volume 2,3/e. Boston: Pearson
Japanese American Internment Notes from e-learning