Divided We Fall… Defeat in Vietnam

The Vietnam War was America’s longest war lasting from November 1955 to April 1975. The war claimed the lives of 47,415 American’s and costed the US $173 billion (Visions of America,pg 811). The Vietnam War was not only the longest war in US history, it was also the most controversial. US involvement was viewed as a way to prevent communism from spreading throughout Southeast Asia. The theory was if Vietnam fell to communism then the countries around it would as well. This became known as the Domino Theory and was the backbone of why the US was there. In the end, the US withdrew and the communist North Vietnam took control of the country. The US lost in Vietnam and there was no real reason for the US to be there. The war made a profound impact on the military as well as social and political life at home in the US.

The impact the war left on social life in the US is staggering. Never before had American’s disapproved of a war so strongly. The peace movement became strong and made itself well known through mass demonstrations and propaganda. Many American’s however dislike both the peace movement and the war. It was almost impossible for American’s to unite and overcome the racial, and class divisions that existed in America. No one could even agree on why we should end the war in Vietnam. They did agree however that the war was killing American democracy. They disliked that we went to war without a formal declaration of war. American’s began to lose their trust in the government because of secrets, lies, FBI surveillance, and draft deferments for upper and middle class men who could afford to go to college. Martian Luther King Jr. spoke out against the war to highlight the racial injustice in America until he was assassinated. Never before had peace advocates significantly influenced the political debate of a war.

The war also made a significant impact on politics in the US. Four different Presidents were in office during the Vietnam War. All were committed to be involved in Vietnam because they didn’t want to be the President that “lost” Vietnam to communism like the US had “lost” China. The war in Vietnam changed the power of the President. It was the first time that a President had committed troops to fight without a formal declaration of war from Congress. This lead to policy changes after the war. The War Powers Resolution was passed to remove the power of the President to send troops overseas for more than sixty days without Congressional approval. US relations with both China and the Soviet Union improved through efforts made by President Nixon, which lead to the signing of SALT 1. A treaty that limited the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched missiles, and the number of antimissile launching pads each side could stockpile. After the war ended the US became hesitant to become involved in international affairs and issues for fear of another Vietnam like war.

The War in Vietnam was the first time the US military faced guerrilla warfare where the enemy blended in with civilians. To combat this the US launched the largest bombing campaign in US history and utilized Napalm and Agent Orange to destroy the heavy vegetation. The US also used search-and-destroy missions to try and draw the enemy out. The US was fighting a war of attrition, trying to kill as many Vietcong as possible. It was virtually impossible to determine how many enemy were killed and body counts were always inaccurate. These tactics however lead to immense civilian causalities which fueled the peace movement at home. Disapproval of the war eventually plagued the troops in Vietnam. When the war began the first wave of troops were volunteers. By the end of the war almost all the troops were draftees who didn’t want to be there and had no illusions of heroism that the first volunteers had. When negotiations began and slowly troops were being withdrawn, moral plunged and there were many cases of enlisted men “fragging” officers. The troops were no longer willing to risk their lives for a cause that was soon to be abandoned. To make matters worse when troops returned home they didn’t receive the warm welcome that WWII soldiers had. Many returning from Vietnam were spit on, called names, and pushed around because American’s were so strongly opposed to the war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. listed the names of every American killed in Vietnam on black marble slabs that descended into the ground. One veteran described it as “hidden in a hole as if in shame,” while another said, “It is exactly the right memorial for that war.”

The Vietnam War divided the country in a way that no war had since the Civil War. In a war of attrition there was no way to tell who was winning. The truth is the US lost the war in Vietnam. Thousands died, billions of dollars were spent, and society was even more divided than it was before the war. With improving technology and the increased use of televisions in American homes, the war reached American’s in a way it never had before. Americans saw images and videos from Vietnam on a daily basis. These images greatly fueled the antiwar sentiment in the US. The Vietnam War left a lasting impact on America, changing the way American’s viewed war and changing US politics forever.

Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume 2, 3rd ed. 2019.

8 thoughts on “Divided We Fall… Defeat in Vietnam

  1. I throughly enjoyed reading your post. It is crazy all the costs that came from this war, not only the money spent, and the casualties, but also the mass participation in peace marches, riots, the events at Kent State, the Watergate Scandal, and the Pentagon Papers. With all this going on in the Nation, it is easy to see what caused and why the soldiers still in combat to lose morale and not want to put themselves in risky situations. Great post.

  2. You wrote extremely well on how the Vietnam War effected the social life in America and also politics after the war. The division that the country went through was crazy and I hope there isn’t another war / political event that has this effect on America. However due to media and different things which began during the Vietnam War and have increased in technology and scope since, I believe it will happen again and we may even be in the process right now of it happening between parties. Overall this was a great post!

  3. This was a very informative post! You went into great detail about the effect the war had on politics and social life. Like you stated, the media had a significant impact on the people. Like today with all the social media, it is easy to compare the effect media can have on politics. Also many times people will compare Vietnam to the war in Iraq. Many people question the same things, like why America has been involved for so long and how this war will impact America’s future. It is very saddening to know that Vietnam Veterans were and probably still aren’t being fully taken care of. No matter what they still were brave and risked their lives, sadly for no clear purpose. I definitely think that America should have a clear goal before getting involved in a serious war. I wonder what would have happened if the U.S. stayed in Vietnam longer and prolonged their withdrawal. You did a great job and I like the part in your title “Divided We Fall…” which is very accurate in terms of the Vietnam War.

  4. Great Post! This was very interesting , I enjoyed reading more about this! It’s crazy on how much this war costed us and how it affected us. It’s crazy all that this country went through and I hope nothing like this happens again!

  5. I really enjoyed your post. I learned even more about the Vietnam war and was very intrigued to learn about different topics like guerrilla warfare and “fragging” officers. Along with new topics that I did not write about, the paragraph about media was very close to mine on how it affected the people of this time period. I also liked when you talked about the memorial and how there is controversy over if it is fitting for what they died for like how the war itself was controversial to the people of it’s time.

  6. You did a great job explaining the different aspects of the Vietnam war and the effects it had on politics and social life. I enjoyed learning more about the impact the war had on American life. I like how you explained the effect of media and how you explained certain aspects of the war like guerrilla warfare, Napalm, and Agent Orange. Great job!

  7. Good post Molly,
    War kinda sucks no matter how you look at it; and it only gets worse when individuals are divided among ideologies. In the Vietnam war there was an overarching air of confusion of why exactly we were fighting, mix this with strong opinionated forces and you get the thirty year mess that is our history.

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