Japan had taken control of Vietnam during the Second World War. They had come in, in 1940, as a strategy to prevent China from ferrying weapons through the country. However, there was resistance to this through the efforts of Ho Chi Minh, who would later lead the independent country. He was a communist, and this would help him in accessing aid from the communist China when fighting against the French in the southern part of this country. The south was under the French rule, and thus, not part of the growing communism movement. Concerned over the threat of communist domination of the great part of Asia, the United States decided to back the French, so that they could set up a friendly government. However, they were defeated in the ensuing war, though they did not leave, but signed a peace agreement. Through the U.S. efforts, elections were halted in the French south, for fear of a Communist takeover. This interference led to the breaking out of war between North and South again. This was initiated by Ho Chi Minh, as a reaction to the failed elections. He led a strategic and successful guerilla warfare against the U.S. backed French. Though they received a lot of support from the U.S., the French were still unable to hold up against the Viet Cong, and would have fallen in 1965, had the U.S. not sent in, its own army. The logic behind this interference was that the United States needed to protect its interests in Asia, and allowing the Viet Cong to take over the whole of Vietnam would mean a threat to these interests, because of the Domino effect this victory would have on communism. The United States at the time was led by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who used this Domino Theory as an excuse to get involved in this war.
The war in Vietnam, and America’s role in it is a question that has been debated through the years, and one that has had a long-term effect on the decisions of the nation, including those on war (George Herring, Vietnam: America’s greatest war n.p.). There have been many doubts as to the validity of America’s involvement, and thus government bodies have lost trust because of this. Hence, the reason the “Vietnam Syndrome” as a term came up as the reaction of Americans to the unnecessary interference of America in wars that are not theirs (Vietnam War n.p.). Policy decisions have been seriously affected in terms of the indecisiveness that surrounds them as a result of this war. Some have been of the opinion that America must keep off from the wars fought around the world. Brno (p.25) states that as a consequence of the Vietnam War, military engagement should be avoided at all costs, unless a clear victory is foreseen, the nation’s interest at stake, and where the people of America are involved in the decision.
There were several failures recorded as a result of the War in Vietnam. Military failure was one of these. In spite of its military prowess, it could not achieve its goal of stopping the spread of communism. The Vietnam War affected the policy of containment, which was the strategy by which the United States waged the Cold War. The major aims of the containment had been to restrict the scope of Communist ideology as well as the rising Soviet powers. However, containment had never been a defensive ploy; it had been drawn as a tool to acquire victory during the Cold War (Leffler). It additionally seemed to lose its standing in terms of principle because it could not get into a war based on what America stood for, but based on its odds of winning. The United States’ efforts also seemed to fuel rather than stop the spread of communism. Their war activities and the devastation they wrought in Cambodia and Laos, worked in favor of those agitating for communism in those countries. Policy formation and development on this end, especially towards communist states, would reflect this. The United States was forced to reconsider its position as major world states, such as China and the Soviet Union, were communist. This has been reflected in other wars fought during this period, such as the War in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia, which had all tried to avoid the errors of the Vietnam War (Davis).
The culture of the American people, in later years, reflected the lessons learnt as well as the mistakes made in engaging in the war. Movies were made on the war, articles and books were written, and newspapers and magazines covered the war from all angles. The mistakes presented themselves through the people affected, such as the depressed and defeated war veterans, the increasing lack of confidence in the nation’s leadership, the advocacy for rights of all and even the emergence of women’s voice in society. The war inspired writings of the day, the songs that were written, the movies made and even fashion. However, the radical ideas of the following decade seemed to want to start afresh without the memories of the past. In the 80s, renewed interest in the war, and a lot of literature and films were made on the wisdom gained from war (Brno 49-50).
America could not win the war in Vietnam because of the tactics that the guerilla fighters put to work. The Viet Cong army was fighting in their terrain, had support of the locals, and could attack and fade into the forests swiftly. The United States, on the other hand, did not stand a chance, as they did not have the support of the local people. The damage the U.S. army afflicted on the locals, resulted in their resistance, thus, against them. Also, the nationalist spirit of the people was too strong a force to fight against.
The tactical error to send new recruits into combat, also affected the United States’ chances of winning. These new soldiers had not been hardened by experience, and thus quickly lost heart. Reliance on blacks, whose freedom at home was not granted, was a poor strategy, as they could not put their heart into it.
Support for the war at home was waning because of the constant media framing of the war. With all the bad news people received, it is little wonder that they opposed the war. People agitated for America to exit the war, and the only way to save its face, was through the raining of Vietnamese soldiers, and negotiating for an end to it, with Ho Chi Minh (Davis).
Davis, Mr. American Involvement in Vietnam. http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/gcselinks/britishworld/vietnam/vietnamusinvolvement.pdf Web. 12, November. 2015.
Leffler, P. M.Containment http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/pons/s2_9143.pdf Web. 12, November. 2015.
Brno. The Vietnam War, Public Opinion and American Culture. 2008. https://is.muni.cz/th/96666/pedf_m/Vietnam_War.pdf Web. 12, November. 2015.
Herring, Georgie C. America’s Longest War, the United States and Vietnam 1950-1975. Second Edition. New York: Newbery Award Records, 1986.
“Vietnam War .” http://www.vietnamwar.info/veterans/veterans2 Web. 12, November. 2015.