The end of the Vietnam War had a great impression on my political opinion because of the controversy that surrounded the war and the fact that it created a major rift between the government and the American citizens. The war that lasted almost 10 years cost billions of dollars, the lives of 58,282 American soldiers and left 303,644 American soldiers wounded. The war defined a generations, divided Americans and changed the U.S. military policy and operation. Americans opposed the involvement of the U.S. in the Vietnam and by 1970 less than 30% of the citizens supported the war leading to numerous protests in Washington and colleges all over the country. The public opposition and sustained pressure on the government to withdraw from the war led to the official withdrawal of the American military from the Vietnam was on March 29 1973, when I was graduating from high school. The protracted Vietnam War, its controversy and the way it ended had a great influence on my perception and view of government and politics. As such, this paper will recount the Vietnam War mainly focusing on the events that led to its end.
Historical background of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War is one of the most expensive and protracted wars that America has ever engaged in. The war was actually an extension of the cold war tension with North Vietnam and the southern Viet Cong being supported by China (and other communist nations) and South Vietnam being supported by the U.S. Though the conflict between the two regions can be traced to the nid-1940s it escalated to an actual war in 1954 when the Viet Minh (communist party) took the reins of power. At the heart of the Cold War, the U.S hardened her anticommunism policy and thus in 1955 decided to support South Vietnam by offering military equipment and training. By the late 1950s, the U.S had little military presence in Vietnam but in 1962 (working under the presumption that should Vietnam fall under communism many Southeast Asian countries would follow suit) President J.F Kennedy increased the U.S troops. Following the military coup in South Vietnam, in 1963, and the subsequent assassination of J.F Kennedy the escalation of tension in Vietnam and the U.S increased her military support to South Vietnam through regular bombing raids (operation rolling thunder). By 1965, the U.S decided to send more troops (up to eighty two thousand troops) to support South Vietnam, a move that was initially supported by the American population. Throughout 1965 and the following year the U.S constantly increased her military presence in Vietnam and even though other anticommunist allies joined in, the U.S had the highest number of troops. The economic impact, the increasing casualties and high deaths in the war, resulted in growing antiwar movement in the U.S, which was the beginning of the Vietnam War.
The antiwar movement in the U.S
At the height of the antiwar movement, I was just completing my high school and I keenly followed the antiwar debate. As such, the events recounted in this segment had a great impact on my political impression. The hard leftists and communist supporters initially fronted the growing opposition to the war. However, the movement grew to incorporate students who organized University “teach-ins” to criticize the government’s involvement in the war. The argument of the opponents of the war was that the government had no right or obligation to meddle in the governance of another country and thus should allow the Vietnamese to choose their government system. In addition, the South Vietnam authorities captured and tortured the members of Viet Cong in the south, which was against the tenets of the U.S. By 1970, two thirds of Americans were against the involvement of the American troops in Vietnam. Protests against the war became common and even turned violent. Some of the protestors (particularly the young people) were simply against the were because they did not want to be sent to the battleground. There also those who felt that withdrawal of the American troops could actually ease the tension and thus end the conflict in Vietnam. The government was also criticized for supporting Diem, the leader of South Vietnam, who had refused democratic elections (for fear of losing to the communist powers) which was against the very rules of democracy that America was fighting for. In fact, it was disappointing to many Americans that J.F Kennedy, who had opposed the engagement of the U.S in the war, was the first to increase the American troops when he was elected President. Some Americans opposed the war to end the merciless killing associated with the war. Reports by international and local media that a majority of the 3 million killed in the war were civilian Vietnamese caused some to join in the call for the withdrawal of the American troops in solidarity with the Vietnamese. Some simply opposed the war on humanitarian grounds that war led to untold suffering of millions of innocent victims. Despite the varied reasons for opposing the war, the protestors united against the government’s actions and policy on the Vietnam War, to the extent that the strife between the government and its people turned violent.
Protestors often powered in the streets of American Cities to voice their disappointment with the political class. In 1968, angry protestors disrupted the Democratic National Convention. The media, a major political socialization agent that shaped my political opinion, was accused of inciting the citizenry against the government by reporting the incidences of abuse of Vietnamese (especially women) by American military and the death of many service men in the war. The media reports seemed to strengthen the resolve of the protestors and weaken the will and moral authority of the government to continue sending more troops to the war. While the media reports were said to be inaccurate and sponsored by the supporters of communism they played a crucial role in bringing the war to an end. Such reports ignited angry feelings culminating in violent protests. In 1970, one such protest led to the shooting of four students of Kent State University who died. This led to the massive protests all over the country led by different Universities culminating in the withdrawal of the American troops in 1973 and the subsequent end of the war in 1975.
These events culminating in the end of the Vietnam War left me idealistic in my political perception. It brought to my mind the very meaning of the politics of democracy, in which the government is not just an authoritarian body with no respect for the opinion of the citizenry. By upholding the very tenets of democracy, the American government would have prevented the loss of 3million lives and $120 billion. By rule of democracy, the American government should have left the choice of the political system to be established in Vietnam to the Vietnamese. The American government’s attempt to choose the type of government to rule Vietnam led to the escalation of the conflict. In addition, the U.S government, being a government for and by the people, should have listened to the initial calls by the citizens to withdraw the troops from Vietnam. This could have eased the tension both in America and in Vietnam and averted many deaths including the death of the four University students. Largely, politics is a matter of public opinion and perceptions and as such, politicians ought to be keen in reading the mood of the citizens.
Michael, IP. Looking Back: The End of the Vietnam War. 29 March 2013. 18 May 2013 <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/03/looking-back-the-end-of-the-vietnam-war/>.