The Vietnam War Essay -2799 Words - Essay Prowess

The Vietnam War Essay -2799 Words


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The Vietnam War


The Vietnam War was a cold war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that occurred in 1955-1975 (Rottman & Anderson, 2008, p. 32). It was immediately preceded by Indochina war and was fought between the communist countries, such as China and the Soviet Union, allied with North Vietnam, against South Vietnam, which was supported by the United States of America. The United States entry brought superior firepower and airstrike and was part of the containment strategy of 1940s to end the rapid spread of communism (Allen, 2008, p. 59). However, the launch of the Tet Offensive strategy by the communist persuaded the United States out of the war in 1973, while the Cold War ended two years later. The impacts of the war on Americans and the history of the United States were tremendous, and are being felt up to now (Rottman  & Anderson, 2008, p. 57).

Events Leading to the Entry of the United States to Vietnam War

The Kennedy regime in the United States inherited the containment doctrine, which viewed communism as a major threat in the world and purposed to end its spread. The then leader of the Soviet Union held several meetings with J.F Kennedy aimed at eliminating the accumulated pressure of the cold, but the Berlin wall construction in 1961 and positioning of soviet soldiers there increased the tension between the two countries (Rottman & Anderson, 2008, p. 61). Consequently, this was worsened by the Soviet Union’s support of Cuba by donating a missile to defend against an attack by the United States, an action the soviet reversed later, and the Laos crisis in which the two parties supported different presidential candidates but later settled for a coalition government during the Declaration of Neutrality in Laos. Kennedy avoided military invasion of Vietnam, but was determined to control the spread of communism in Asia by sending military advisers and troops to South Vietnam.

President Johnson’s reign in America saw the passing of the Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which allowed him to take military actions in the Vietnam War when he deemed it fit. He authorized the attack on North Vietnam through Rolling Thunder operation by 1965, and increased the U.S. troops in Vietnam in 500,000 by 1967 but the failure of the 1968Tet Offensive strategy and decrease in support for the war by Americans served him a major blow (Roper, 2007, p. 63).

The Laos Declaration of Neutrality of 1961 heightened the pressure for a Cold War and military invasion. The agreement was made between the opposing presidential candidates in Laos who had received support from the United State and the Soviet Union to form a coalition followed by an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops (Roper, 2007, p. 69). The North Vietnam violated the agreement by retaining its military advisers and combatants an action that triggered the retaliation by the United States by supporting the opposition financially and through military aid.

The rift between the Soviet Union and the United State was intensified by decolonization of Africa in the 1960s in the newly independent nations (Rottman & Anderson, 2008, p. 91).  A series of coup de tats by parties supported by either the United States or the Soviet Union saw leaders seize power through the military and financial support by America, and this led to the end of communism in majority of nations. Therefore, the crisis brought the world very close to war (Roper, 2007, p. 73).

The United States stated humanitarian programs, such as the Food for Peace. These were aimed at providing foreign aid and strengthen the country’s security through economic progress and stability of the recipient nations (Anderson & Ernst, 2014, p. 79). The financial and military support mainly targeted the developing European nations, which were considered a communist threat while the food for Peace initiative intended to reduce the agricultural surpluses in the state by distributing it to friendly states. President Johnson changed the aim of the donations from humanitarian efforts to strengthen the foreign policy. Food grants were given on condition that the receiving country puts mechanisms in place to increase food production, eradicate diseases, and cooperates with the United States in order to eliminate communism. This boosted the United States image globally, and was used to persuade countries, such as India, to support the U.S. policy in Vietnam (Anderson & Ernst, 2014, p. 107).

The influence of the Soviet Union was growing rapidly in Latin America and Cuba. To curb this, the United States gave financial grants to the tune of $80 billion, the largest in the world. The aim was to ensure economic growth of capitalist nations, promote democracy and enhance social ties with its neighbors to enhance security in the region. The Peace Corps was formed and exists to date in 139 countries over the world (Roper, 2007, p. 112).

The treaty on Nuclear Nonproliferation was signed in 1968 by many countries that promised to curb the use and proliferation of nuclear technology (Roper, 2007, p. 113). This was followed by other agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, such as the limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and outer Space Treaty that outlawed the use of nuclear weapons in space as satellites. In spite these agreements, developments in nuclear technology did not stop, and five nuclear powers emerged in the world which included the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom and France by 1964, but the treaties reduced the spread of this technology to non-nuclear states.

The development of the treaty raised conflicts when the United States signed and agreed to stop proliferation of nuclear technology but continued to support its NATO allies. The action heightened the pressure for a cold war between the two super powers and the United States had to abandon the mission (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 79). The non-nuclear nations were required to surrender any future intentions to engage in nuclear development which required much convincing (Gitlin, 2010, p. 53). They also agreed not to accept nuclear technology from the nuclear states for a period of twenty-five years. However, the treaty faced a major challenge since two nuclear states, France and China, as well as several non-nuclear states, such as Pakistan and India, refused to sign the agreement.

In 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty. Each of the two countries aimed to acquire and maintain nuclear superiority, and while the Soviet Union was the first to launch a nuclear missile, the United States still maintained its superiority in terms of advanced nuclear technology. The competition led to each of the countries testing its nuclear weapons through explosions in space, and there was widespread public outcry regarding the potential deleterious effects of this nuclear test and radioactive emissions on human population leading to the signing of the nuclear test ban, which outlawed the nuclear testing (Gitlin, 2010, p. 59). The United States and Great Britain, however, insisted on performing an on-site inspection of the Soviet Union’s nuclear base, an act that elicited enmity between the super powers because the Soviet Union believed that this was spying.

The test ban agreement failed when the soviet army shot an American plane that was spying on its nuclear base, and the two countries continued with the nuclear testing (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 124). Subsequent attempts to reach an agreement between the two countries failed until 1962 during the Cuban crisis, which compelled the super powers to put more effort towards the success of the agreement to prevent the devastating effects of nuclear war (Gitlin, 2010, p. 39). The final treaty banned nuclear testing in space, atmosphere or under water and later included a prohibition on underground nuclear testing for bombs yielding more than 150 kilotons.

The year 1968 saw the launch of several consecutive attacks in South Vietnam by North Vietnam (Gitlin, 2010, p. 137). The attacks were termed Tet Offensive. The South Vietnam and the United States military suffered great losses through killing of their soldiers and the public outcry elicited made the United States relent in the support to the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese military attacked highly populated cities of South Vietnam, including the American embassy in Saigon, challenging the United States view of the as weak opponent. The American troops retaliated and won the war, but the support of the war by the United States citizens weakened as people saw it as fighting a losing battle. Consequently, the United States reduced the number of its troops in South Vietnam and later withdrawn from the war.

In 1965, a war arose between India and Pakistan fighting over the state of Kashmir and Jammu and although the conflict did not settle the dispute, it brought the United States and the Soviet Union in close opposition and heightened the accumulating pressure between them (Gitlin, 2010, p. 79). The forceful attempts by Pakistan to take Kashmir failed and led to the war, which was majorly influenced by cold war politics. The United States and United Kingdom supported both sides of the war, but later withdrew the support following United Nations resolution to end the dispute (Tucker, 2011, p. 69). The Soviet Union acted as mediator for both sides and, therefore, the conflict had significant implication on the subsequent cold war and super power battles.

The Arab Israel dispute of 1963 challenged the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union (Tucker, 2011, p. 57). Initially, the United States had limited its sale of weapons to Israel, President Johnson reversed the policy after his request to Egypt and the Soviet Union to control regional arms failed. Israel received tanks and aircrafts from the United States in 1966 with an aim of ending the Arab-Israel dispute by empowering the Israel side. Later, when Israel attacked Syria, following false information from the Soviet Union, Egypt sent its troops to defend the weak the Syrian military (Tucker, 2011, p. 59). The Israel side won victory over Jordan, Egypt and Syria and occupied the Gaza strip and other close regions, but the losing side claimed Israel received support from the United States, even though America was in support for a ceasefire and reconciliation.

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 served as a dangerous and direct confrontation between the Soviet Union and United States and it brought the two countries very close to a nuclear war during the cold war (Tucker, 2011, p. 59). After the United States failed to overthrow Fidel Castro, the King of Cuba, with the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, the Soviet Union placed a nuclear missile in Cuba to prevent future attacks and later continued to put up several missile stations in the country. The United States gave warning against the development of these nuclear stations in Cuba, but the Soviet Union and Cuba ignored the warning triggering the Cuba crisis (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 63). President Kennedy gave stern warning to the Soviet Union that any attack from missiles in Cuba would be taken as a direct attack on America and promised to retaliate. He established a quarantine state in Cuba, which the Soviet Union failed to honor insisting that America should withdraw its Jupiter missile from Cuba, hence bringing the two parties to a stalemate. However, the dispute was resolved in 1962, but it brought the world very close to a nuclear war and necessitated efforts towards honoring of the treaty on testing of nuclear weapons (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 221)

Impacts of the Vietnam War on the United States

The participation of the United States in the Vietnam War affected greatly its economy and its citizens (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 223). The soldiers were exposed to violence, which can be traumatizing and affects their social and family life while others remain proud of the participation of the United States in the war. The number of Americans who died because of the war stands at 58, 226, and is continually rising because some casualties of from the war become identified and revealed. The war had a negative effect on the lives of American citizens who mourn the death of their loved ones (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 87).

Twenty seven million soldiers from America took part in the war (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 80). These were mainly sourced from the colleges leading to massive deferment while others came from poor backgrounds. Furthermore, the average age of participating soldiers was significantly lower than that in World War 2 implying that America lost its youngest and most energetic men to the war. Minority of the soldiers had difficult readjusting to after war life and became drug addicts attributable to the availability of drugs in the United States and failure of the state to have a program in place to help soldiers cope with post war trauma. A good number of the soldiers became social outcasts, criminals or rapist after the war threatening the internal security of the state (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 59).

The majority of the American citizens considered the Vietnam War as unnecessary disaster unlike the World War 2, which was deemed as important (Westheider, 2007, p. 224). Therefore, soldiers returning home were not welcomed well while others only received sympathy for the injuries they sustained from the war. A good number of the soldiers face the wrath of the citizens based on racism, Vietnam War or the federal government (Duong, 2008, p. 334).

Publications were made by returning soldiers to educate the public about the events on the war ground, and also to improve their perception of the war and keep material for future reference. For instance, the book Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic was a disabled soldier who recounts his experiences at war and the reception by a hostile society (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 79).

The lives of most soldiers took a positive turn after the war. Most of them got married, employed or became successful politicians and business people, well integrated into the American society (Thompson & Randall, 2008, p. 102). The newly experience politicians and lawmakers could make sound policies towards Vietnam to boost its relation with America while others like Senator Bob Kerry faced fallout from their activities in Vietnam War implying that Americans could not separate themselves from the context of the war politically (Tucker, 2011, p. 59).

The veterans of the war got post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by acute war experience, and the related stress. The disease could be acute or chronic with slow onset and affected both men and women soldiers and nurses in the war (Westheider, 2007, p. 89). Memorials and commemorations have been built in the United States in memory of the soldiers who fought for the country, even if they did not get domestic support when returning home.

The war led to substitution of the military with a voluntary army and the voting age was reduced to 18 years (Westheider, 2007, p. 85). Furthermore, the act on war power removed the powers of the U.S. president to authorize war without the approval by congress and the military morale was greatly reduced. The economy of the United States was severely affected, leading to inflation after the war leading to a decline in the America’s foreign aid and commitment to internationalism (Frankum, 2007, p. 97).

The war also divided the Democratic Party. Prior to the Vietnam War, the Democratic Party had major support in the country, but this tremendously declined as an aftermath of the war, which was attributable to inflation, riots, and affirmative action (Tucker, 2011, p. 87). The majority of the members, who viewed the Democrats as weak in foreign policy, joined the Republican Party while others became independent politicians.

The United States liberal reform was undermined as many citizens suspected the government (Tucker, 2011, p. 59). The war depleted resources meant for the Great society program and many constituents refused to support the war (Tucker, 2011, p. 331). The Americans trust in their government declined and President Johnson refused to vie for a second term. Decades after the Vietnam War ended, the Americans remain divided over the importance of the war and whether it was necessary or not, with 53 percent believing that, it was a mistake with good intentions, and 43 per cent of Americans think the war was immoral (Westheider, 2007, p. 89).


The participation of the United States in the Vietnam was caused by increasing pressure between the country and the Soviet Union. This was due to the cold war taking place in several countries in the world. The decision to take part in the war had dire consequences on the country’s politics and its citizens, which remain to date. Decades later, the war is still considered as an immoral mistake by the public (Westheider, 2007, p. 89).


Allen, J. (2008). Vietnam. Chicago, Ill.: Haymarket Books.

Anderson, D., & Ernst, J. (2014). The war that never ends. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.

Duong, V. (2008). The Tragedy of the Vietnam War. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Frankum, R. (2007). Operation Passage to Freedom. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.

Gitlin, M. (2010). U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub.

Roper, J. (2007). The United States and the legacy of the Vietnam War. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rottman, G., & Anderson, D. (2008). The US Army in the Vietnam War 1965-73. Oxford: Osprey.

Thompson, J., & Randall, S. (2008). Canada and the United States. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Tucker, S. (2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Westheider, J. (2007). The Vietnam War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.