The United States entered the conflict in Vietnam, one of the nation’s longest wars lasting from November 1955 to April 1975. The United States government viewed their involvement in the war as a way to prevent communism taking over South Vietnam, which was a part of the domino theory, but there is no real reason why they got involved. In the end, the United States withdrew and North Vietnam won. The Vietnam war took away more than two million lives and another three million left wounded. On the United States side, over 58,000 American soldiers were killed and 150,000 wounded. However, blood and death was not the only sacrifice America made in the Vietnam war. The war had many lasting impacts including a damaged economy, distrust in the government, policy changes, and “Vietnam Syndrome”.
The Vietnam war damaged the United States economy severely. The United States had spent 350 to 900 billion dollars on war costs. Furthermore, inflation was on the rise. From 1962 to 1965, America was doing well; inflation was low, almost full employment rates, and a balance in trade. However, President Lyndon B Johnson’s decision to finance the war without an increase in taxes caused inflation to peak in the mid 1970’s. Because of high inflation, food and oil prices started to increase. In 1969, Johnson introduced a 10% income tax surcharge, but many economists thought that this was too little and that it was far too late. In turn, this also slowed down the economy. The huge spending on the war led to an unbalance of trades, threatening gold reserves, proving that the United States could not afford the war.
Another result of the Vietnam war included the public having distrust in the government and its officials. Events such as the My Lai massacre, news of secret bombings in Cambodia, President Johnson obtaining the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to send troops to Vietnam, Kent State tragedy, and the Watergate scandal, ending Nixon’s presidency, weakend Americans faith and confidence in the government. Americans no longer viewed their government leaders credible and became very skeptical about government decisions, especially regarding the military.
The war in Vietnam quickly led to a series of policy changes. First, Congress lowered the voting age to 18. Legislators felt like it was the right thing to do since 18 year old men could be drafted and forced to risk their lives without even having the right to vote yet. The amendment was passed in March 1971 and ratified shortly after in July. Next, Congress decided to end the military draft because President Johnson committed huge numbers of troops to Vietnam in the 1960’s and death counts were increasing. Furthermore, the draft lottery in 1969 failed to resolve the issue of discrimination to the low-educated and low-income class, which played a major part in ending the draft. President Nixon viewed the end of the draft as a way to stop the anti-Vietnam war movement. Nixon thought that the young middle-class Americans would stop protesting the war, now that they did not have to risk their lives. Since the military draft was no more, Congress replaced it with an all volunteer army, that turned out to be a better way to create military manpower. Congress also passed War Powers Resolution, which restricted the president’s power to send American troops into combat for more than ninety days without consent from Congress. They hoped to prevent further involvement in a war like Vietnam.
After the war, American leaders were very cautious to get involved anywhere else in the world because they were afraid of “another Vietnam”; the foreign policy was now a non-intervention policy. America was stuck in what was called “Vietnam Syndrome”, which refers to to America’s reluctance to send troops overseas unless it is necessary or if there is strong public support with a high chance of an inexpensive victory. Because of the Vietnam Syndrome, President Jimmy Carter failed to stop the Russians invading Afghanistan in 1979. Even in 1994, President Clinton decided not to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, where one million lives were lost within three months. However, if the United States were to intervene, more than 300,000 lives could have been saved.
On another note, the ways in which the media portrayed the Vietnam war greatly affected America’s understanding of the conflict. The Vietnam war was one of the most photographed and televised war in history, however, the media shadowed the reality of the war. The United States dropped three times as many explosives in the Vietnam war than in World War II, but the media hid this information from the public, not showing any of the truly important and raw images of the war. The media only showed the damage done to the United States, not the damage done to Vietnam, in turn, confusing the American public. Regarding the My Lai massacre, the media also shadowed how big of an event it was. American soldiers did awful things like rape, cut off heads, limbs, poisoned, randomly shot at citizens, and much more. The massacre was symbolic of what went wrong with the entire Vietnam War. Essentially, the media play a major role in portraying the war in all the wrong ways.
Overall, the Vietnam war was one of the longest and bloodiest wars in history that had many long lasting effects. The economy was driven into the ground, the public no longer held faith in their own government and due to protests, many policies were altered, including foreign policy. The devastating war left America afraid to get involved anywhere else in the world because they did not want to relive Vietnam. The Vietnam war serves as a turning point in history that changed the way America approaches military actions.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.