The Vietnam War was fought in 1955-1975 between supporters and antagonists of communism (David 145). It was a prolonged struggle between nationalist from northern Vietnam who were unifying the country under communism and southerners who tried to avert the spread of it. The United States united South Vietnam in opposing the political movement. The Vietnam War has been considered as one of the major mistakes of the twentieths century because of its consequences. The period of military operations in Vietnam was a pivotal period in the history of America (David 102). The U.S. lost support of the war at home and had to deal with anti-war movements as well as demonstrations in the city streets and at universities. In Vietnam there was witnessed massive bloodshed in some places, for example, thousands of people were killed in My Lai massacre. There had been a war in Vietnam for decades before the start of the Vietnam War. The country had been under the colonial rule of the French for nearly sixty years. On September 22, 1940 Japan invaded Vietnam and acquired some regions and, as a result, the country was now under the rule of two foreign states.
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When the communist Ho Chi Minh came back to Vietnam he established the Viet Minh, a communist coalition, in order to get rid of the Japanese and the French (Pierre 52). The last refused to leave their colony and fought back. During this period Ho was courting the United States in the hope of its help in fighting against the French. However, the western state could not support Ho because he was the leader of a communist group. America had a foreign policy called containment, whose aim was to prevent the spread of communism. The United States thought that when one country in Southeast Asia embrace communism, the neighboring countries would do the same. In the quest for preventing Vietnam from becoming a communist country America decided to support France. The allies wanted to defeat Ho and his revolutionaries. The U.S. sent military aid to the French in Vietnam to enable them to deal with the opponents. However, the French were defeated and decided retreat the fight. This action prompted a conference, which was held in Geneva in 1954, to discuss the peaceful withdrawal of the French from Vietnam (Pierre 75). The parties reached an agreement on dividing the state into communist northern Vietnam and non-communist southern Vietnam. It was also agreed there would be a democratic election in 1956 to reunite the country.
The United States made a great mistake when they refused to agree to the elections in 1956 in the fear that the communists might win. Consequently, the United States assisted South Vietnam in organizing the process on its own. After the elections Dinh Diem was elected as the leader. However, his leadership was unsuccessful as he was killed in 1963 in a coup supported by the American government. The communist sympathizers in southern Vietnam established the Viet Cong, a military political organization, which used guerilla warfare against southern Vietnam. When two American ships were attacked by northern Vietnam in August 1964 America swiftly responded by sending troops to southern part of the country (David 165). American soldiers were meant to assist southern Vietnam in conquering the whole country and taking it over. The intention of the United States was not to win the war, but to help southern Vietnam free the entire country from communists. During that time the president Johnson wanted to limit the American military presence in southern Vietnam. The limitation of the fighting parameters made the U.S. troops unable to directly conduct meaningful attacks against northern communists. They were also not strong enough to interfere with the trails of Ho Chi in his endeavors to supply the Viet Cong with ammunition. Fighters of National Liberation Front attacked in ambushes and escaped through underground tunnels. It was difficult for the U.S. troops to find the enemy. Many American soldiers suffered from low morale, drug abuse, and disappointment. The involvement of America in the war was wrongly advised and they went to the war ill prepared. It was a huge mistake. The troops succeeded in their tactics but totally failed in their strategy.
Adverse Effects of the War
The economic, social, and political effects of the war indicated that it was a major mistake of the twentieth century. The Viet Cong’s attacks on more than one hundred cities in the South were a proof of it. Northern Vietnam, which was mainly inhabited by communists, was considering the war as a colonial one. The leaders of the north claimed that southern Vietnam was a puppet of the United States. The human cost of the war was unimaginable. A huge number of Vietnamese soldiers were killed during the war (Peter 44). The estimated number of the dead is between two to three million people. The effects of the war were even felt in neighboring countries, such as Cambodia and Laos. The war in Vietnam spread over to these countries causing fatalities and other atrocities. The republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) was the battlefield where most battles took place. This region of the country suffered heavily from military operations. Specific incidents which lead to mass fatalities included the 1968 Tet offensive, when more that 45000 communists, mainly from Viet Cong, died (William 185). In 1972 between 50000-75000 combatants from northern Vietnam were killed and over 700 tanks destroyed. This attack done by the U.S. air power was termed as the Easter Offensive.
Apart from deaths of activists from both the north and the south, many civilians were killed too. The Viet Cong activists and the communists from northern Vietnam wore civilian clothes and, therefore, they were occasionally confused with civilians. It lead to killing of many people who were shot dead in cold blood because soldiers thought they were enemies (Dennis 115). As the war was not well organized by the U.S., many civilians found themselves in the midst of battles and were killed. It is estimated that more than 843,000 innocent people died in both the north and south of Vietnam during the war. The United States got involved in the military conflict because of the belief that northern Vietnamese communists were influencing the fights in southern Vietnam. The administration of President John F. Kennedy supported the war as he was committed to the cold war foreign policy. Kennedy faced a crisis after the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the erection of the Berlin Wall. The President believed that another failure on the side of America would hugely damage the reputation of his country as well as its credibility among other allies. The politician was therefore determined to ensure that communism would not expand in Vietnam.
He increased the number of troops in southern part of the country in 1963. When Kennedy died Lyndon Johnson took over the post and governed in 1963-1969. He was also determined to avert the spread of communism in Vietnam. He escalated the war after reversing Kennedy’s disengagement policy. The withdrawal of 1000 American troops in 1963 was cancelled as the war continued to spread. The effects of the Vietnam War did not only affect those in the battlefield, but also left behind long-term effects all over the world. It led to the death of many Americans, northern and southern Vietnamese. North Vietnam became victorious over the south and its’ ally. It is an important fact that the involvement of America in the war was unjustified.
The chemical used by American soldiers, Agent Orange, had adverse effects on civilians and subsequent generations. It was used to get rid of the vegetation which the enemy forces used for hiding. The veterans in Vietnam have complained of health issues related to the effects of the chemical. Some of Vietnamese citizens lived the rest of their lives with disorders because of the exposure to herbicides used by American troops during the war. The chemical sank into bloodstream and bones, and could be passed on to children. It has had unending effects on the Vietnamese population. Today there are a lot of children with deformities in Vietnam and this is attributed to the effects of the chemicals which were used during the war. In addition, many soldiers complained of post war stress disorder. The Vietnam War had many negative effects on the people of Vietnam. Women were involved into the military in Vietnam and children left by parents suffered too. Due to some stereotypes, all the women who served in the military, either as nurses or soldiers, were considered to have low morals.
When southern Vietnam was defeated it was forced to submit to the communist rule of northern Vietnam. The war transformed the entire country into a communist union, which was against the will of some people (Nulty 124). The ending of the war marked a political failure more than a military one. The conflict changed the entire political landscape in Vietnam as well as in the United States. The American troops, who were disappointed and angry, abused drugs, especially heroin. It lead to massive misuse of drugs in later years until today. After the failure of the U.S. troops people lost confidence in the military. Partially, it was an effect of the war.
The attacks on Cambodia were unjustified also because it was a neutral country which supported neither communists nor non-communists. America had a long time pronouncement that it would impartiality reverence independence and political integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia. However, the promise was not fulfilled and American troops attacked the state. The attack sparked nationwide protests in America. National guardsmen in Ohio murdered four students at Kent University. These deaths provoked a national outcry in the country and other public universities joined in the protests lead by anti-war movements. Lack of support for the war from fellow Americans showed that it was a great mistake with unbearable consequences. The involvement of other countries in it either directly or indirectly meant that the conflict was a great mistake. Other countries such as China, Canada, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, and South Korea, among others were involved too. The Vietnam War destroyed relationships between these countries and Vietnam.
When the war ended it was hard for the Americans to absorb the military intervention. The country started the war without knowing themselves and their allies in southern Vietnam. As General Maxwell Taylor describes it, they went into the war without understanding their enemy (Lawrence 218). The loss they suffered was felt by the Congress. America failed to assess the nature of the conflict, understand strategies of the enemy as well as evaluate capacities of the allies. America started the military conflict comparing it to the Korean War. That hasty step showed the military as undependable and Americans lost confidence in it. It also changed the political landscape and governance in the United States.
It is clear that the effects of the Vietnam War were dramatic and the involvement of America in it was unjustified. The consequences the disaster left behind will be felt for a long time. The war ended in 1975 after deaths of thousands of people. Many American soldiers were killed without having achieved their goal. When it ended northern and southern Vietnam united and became a communist state. The period of the Vietnam War was pivotal time in the history of America as the country lost citizens’ support and had to deal with anti-war movements that occurred throughout the state. The cost effects of the war on both American and Vietnam economy were devastating. Majority of the nations in the world were opposed to the military conflict and it was therefore a great mistake to be engage in it. The war destroyed international relations between various countries. As it is a policy for every country to respect other country’s sovereignty and the system of governance, it was advisable for the American government to let communists in Vietnam rule without interference. The entire war and its adverse consequences was a big mistake of the twentieth century.