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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
The Vietnamese War was an American perpetrated conflict that took place between 1955 and 1975, essentially fought on ideological grounds. The United States very much feared the Northern Vietnamese and the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War was the second of the Indochina Wars and was fought officially between the Northern Vietnamese and the government of Southern Vietnam, but many other nations intervened.
Southern Vietnam was a key ally of the states and was supported by the United States government whereas the North was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other advocates of communism. The great leader of the North, Ho Chi Minh aimed to reunite the whole country and this war that spanned nearly two decades ultimately led to a communist revival of power in Southern Vietnam, as well as huge collateral damage, thousands of lives lost, and an enormous financial cost.
Because the North and South were supported by various countries, the war was considered a proxy war of the Cold War era. Unsurprisingly, the Vietnam war has gone down in history as a great humiliation for the United States government.
The North and the Viet Cong army, an underground and guerrilla military faction, were both fighting with a hope to reunify the country. The United States government wanted to intervene because they viewed the war as the spread of communism to the South of Vietnam. The Americans feared the domino theory of communism spread, whereby if one country became influenced by communist ideology, then others around it would follow suit. Therefore, the United States government thought it right to intervene and protect parts of the world from communist influence. By 1962, the number of troops deployed grew to an estimated 9,000 and there were certainly more to follow.
1963 saw the assassination of the United States president, John F. Kennedy, who was replaced swiftly by president Lyndon. It was under Lyndon’s rule that he send many more thousands of troops to Vietnam to fight in the war. This was largely due to a comeback from the bombing of US destroyer ships off of the Gulf of Tonkin, so the US government felt a stronger need to retaliate. Lyndon grew more fierce in his attack on Vietnam, ordering the mass bombing of Vietnamese targets such as Operation Rolling Thunder which tragically resulted in around 182,000 civilian deaths.
In the mid-sixties, it was becoming clear to many American citizens that the Vietnam War was becoming a long drawn out charade and so a backlash came from the US citizens in the form of protests. Muhammad Ali’s opposition to the war landed him in prison for three years as he refused to join the army. 1965 also saw a dramatic increase in protests on college campuses, sparking the anti-war movement. Protests amassed in size over the years and the following grew larger and larger. By the time of 1967, the number of US troops deployed in Vietnam totaled over half a million, with an estimated 15,000 of these lives lost. On top of this, the bill for the war by 1967 had totaled over 25 billion dollars.
The protests were generally well-received by the public and support grew, yet despite this, the war also continued to grow on and on. As the US deployed more troops, other western countries joined in too, such as New Zealand and Australia. South Korea also joined forces with Thailand to help combat the war.
By 1970, war operations crossed international borders, making Laos and Cambodia suffer greatly. These countries were often used by Northern Vietnam for supply routes which were consequently heavily bombed by the US forces. The president at the time, Richard Nixon, became largely unpopular with his country as he ordered such attacks to be carried out. The unnecessary loss of life and bombing of innocent territories created further protests in the States, but the war raged on regardless.
In 1973, President Nixon ended all American involvement in the war, putting an end to their intervention. The process of “Vietnamization” was carried out, gradually pulling out all US ground troops from the region and instead, the task of fighting communism was delegated to the southern Vietnamese. It was a tumultuous time – despite the Paris Peace treaty signed by all parties in the same year, fighting within Vietnam continued. The war came to a stop in 1975 when the Northern Vietnamese army captured Saigon, the South’s capital, reunifying the North and the South as one nation.
As previously mentioned, this war was thought to be a great disaster and embarrassment for the United States. Not only this, but the 20-year conflict resulted in a tragic amount of collateral damage and vast loss of life. Varying estimates of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers killed range between 900,000 and 3 million. For the United States alone, over 50,000 army members died and many thousands went missing. Those countries that weren’t directly involved such as Laos also saw around 50,000 of their civilians die as a result of the conflict. Not only this, but a lot of these countries are still feeling the effects today, for instance, the land which was often attacked using Agent Orange caused further illnesses and prevented crops from growing. Many soldiers that returned home to the United States didn’t lead healthy lives either, suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder and various other intense medical conditions. Others who were even more unlucky came home with permanent disabilities and amputated limbs.
So what can be made of the Vietnamese War? Ultimately, it was a war whose escalation led to an unnecessary loss of life and a failure to overthrow communism. As with any history, the important thing is the lessons that can be learned. In the case of the Vietnam War, it would be a good thing if this part of history was not to repeat itself in the future.