The Vietnam war was one of the longest wars in the history of the nation. The war lasted from November of 1955 to April of 1975. The reason the United States gave for joining this war was to prevent North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam and making them a communist country. The United States cared about South Vietnam becoming a communist country because of the domino theory. The domino theory was the theory that if one country fell to communism others would follow. However, this was not the proven reason for our involvement. The war ended with the United States withdrawing from the war leaving the South Vietnamese to fend for themselves. Thus, the war ended with an inevitable take over by North Vietnam. The death toll of the war was about 2 million civilians from both sides, about 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, and about 200,000 to 250,000 South Vietnamese. There were also even more people injured. To put the numbers into perspective, around every 1 in 10 Americans that fought in the war were killed. Even though there were many deaths in Vietnam, this wasn’t the only thing that America suffered from this war. The Vietnam war also had a lasting impact on the economy, the trust Americans took in the government, changes to foreign and domestic policy, and how America viewed war from that point forward.
The United States economy took a big hit from this war because the cost of the war was about 168 billion dollars. Today, it would have costed us somewhere around 950 billion dollars to put the cost of the time into perspective. The Vietnam war was also starting during a period where inflation was low and employment wa good for the first time in a while, but that all changed once the United States got deeper into the war. Since the United States was doing economically good, they didn’t want to raise their taxing. This lead to an increase in inflation which the government tried to fix with a 10% income tax surcharge, but the tax was too low and too late to help anything. This only lead to proof that the United States could not afford the war and thanks to that they almost lost their gold reserves and unbalanced their trades which took a long time to recover from.
Not only was the economy hurt, but so was the ability of Americans to put trust in their government. Many things were hidden during the war in Vietnam 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 which ended Nixon’s presidency. This left Americans with no credibility especially after many Americans already opposed the war in the first place. The people were skeptical and untrusting of the government. Also, the formally loved military, was left discredited for many years. People even went as far as making the soldiers feel bad for what had happened in the Vietnam war and that is only starting to change within the last 10 years or so.
Inevitably, the Vietnam war came with many policy changes. The start of the policy changes were making the military all-voluntary and getting rid of the draft. They also made the decision to lower the voting age to 18 because the men could be drafted at 18 and risking their lives, so they should at least be able to vote. This became the 26th Amendment. Congress also decided to pass the War Powers Resolution in order to take away power of the president to send troops overseas for more than 90 days without consent of Congress. This was meant to take away some presidential power, but, overall, they wanted to reduce the chances of another war like the one in Vietnam. These policy changes were also meant to appease the protesting Americans and the issues with discrimination to the low-educated and low-income class. However, the policy changes did not get the response that the government was hoping for from the Americans and only slightly helped.
In the end of the Vietnam War, Americans became afraid of getting involved in other wars or issues in other countries. The United States took their foreign policy and made it into a non-intervention policy. They didn’t want to risk another Vietnam type war which became known as “Vietnam Syndrome” as the years progress. “Vietnam Syndrome” was scary for Americans and other countries. It especially affected other countries because they couldn’t turn to the United States for help. Two years after the United States withdrew from the war in Vietnam, they ended up getting involved in a situation in Somalia. Here, they witnessed their most deadly firefight since Vietnam. The fight lasted for a few days before President Bill Clinton ordered them to withdraw from the fight leaving Somalis with a haven for extremist groups. Soon after this happened, the Rwandan genocide occurred which the United States did not take part in because of their fear of repeating history.
Lastly, even though Americans wanted to forget about the Vietnam War, this was difficult because it was covered by the media and parts of it were left everywhere. The Vietnam War was the first really televised war. Many people witnessed things in the media that should not have been put out for the general public and that was with many of the footage being shadowed. As the war drug on, more and more families began to own televisions. This came with the ability of more people to keep tabs on the war. The more people knew about the war, the less they liked what was happening. This lead to an increase in protests and dislike of the war. Also, people did this without even knowing what was really happening. They thought the United States had the worst of it, but in reality we were bombing the Vietnamese 3 times worse than what we did in WWII. Soldiers also were not stand up citizens during this war as they did unspeakable things such as rape women, cut off people’s heads, dismember them, used poison, and randomly shot at citizens for no reason. All in all, the media was not helpful in the portrayal of the Vietnam War.
After seeing all of the awful things that came out of the Vietnam War, it is not surprising how unpopular the war was among Americans. The United States has yet to recover from the mental toll this war took on it. Although many Americans tried to act like the war never even happened for a long time, it is starting to become more accepted. It is better for the United States to take what happened and learn from it than to ignore it and live in fear of it. There are memorials for this war to honor those who died, but it is important to honor the veterans of the Vietnam War that are still alive just as much because the war wasn’t their fault. The Vietnam War was a learning opportunity for the United States that was sadly learned the hard way, but in the long run it has only made America stronger over the years.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.