essay for vietnam war

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Vietnam War

By: Editors

Updated: March 28, 2023 | Original: October 29, 2009

US Infantry, VietnamThe US 173rd Airborne are supported by helicopters during the Iron Triangle assault. (Photo by © Tim Page/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Vietnam War was a long, costly and divisive conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. The conflict was intensified by the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. More than 3 million people (including over 58,000 Americans) were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians. 

Opposition to the war in the United States bitterly divided Americans, even after President Richard Nixon signed the  Paris Peace Accords  and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973. Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.

Roots of the Vietnam War

Vietnam, a nation in Southeast Asia on the eastern edge of the Indochinese peninsula, had been under French colonial rule since the 19th century.

During World War II , Japanese forces invaded Vietnam. To fight off both Japanese occupiers and the French colonial administration, political leader Ho Chi Minh —inspired by Chinese and Soviet communism —formed the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam.

Following its 1945 defeat in World War II, Japan withdrew its forces from Vietnam, leaving the French-educated Emperor Bao Dai in control. Seeing an opportunity to seize control, Ho’s Viet Minh forces immediately rose up, taking over the northern city of Hanoi and declaring a Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho as president.

Seeking to regain control of the region, France backed Emperor Bao and set up the state of Vietnam in July 1949, with the city of Saigon as its capital.

Both sides wanted the same thing: a unified Vietnam. But while Ho and his supporters wanted a nation modeled after other communist countries, Bao and many others wanted a Vietnam with close economic and cultural ties to the West.

Did you know? According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.

essay for vietnam war

HISTORY Vault: Vietnam in HD

See the Vietnam War unfold through the gripping firsthand accounts of 13 brave men and women forever changed by their experiences.

When Did the Vietnam War Start?

The Vietnam War and active U.S. involvement in the war began in 1954, though ongoing conflict in the region had stretched back several decades.

After Ho’s communist forces took power in the north, armed conflict between northern and southern armies continued until the northern Viet Minh’s decisive victory in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The French loss at the battle ended almost a century of French colonial rule in Indochina.

The subsequent treaty signed in July 1954 at a Geneva conference split Vietnam along the latitude known as the 17th Parallel (17 degrees north latitude), with Ho in control in the North and Bao in the South. The treaty also called for nationwide elections for reunification to be held in 1956.

In 1955, however, the strongly anti-communist politician Ngo Dinh Diem pushed Emperor Bao aside to become president of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN), often referred to during that era as South Vietnam.

The Viet Cong

With the Cold War intensifying worldwide, the United States hardened its policies against any allies of the Soviet Union , and by 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower had pledged his firm support to Diem and South Vietnam.

With training and equipment from American military and the CIA , Diem’s security forces cracked down on Viet Minh sympathizers in the south, whom he derisively called Viet Cong (or Vietnamese Communist), arresting some 100,000 people, many of whom were brutally tortured and executed.

By 1957, the Viet Cong and other opponents of Diem’s repressive regime began fighting back with attacks on government officials and other targets, and by 1959 they had begun engaging the South Vietnamese army in firefights.

In December 1960, Diem’s many opponents within South Vietnam—both communist and non-communist—formed the National Liberation Front (NLF) to organize resistance to the regime. Though the NLF claimed to be autonomous and that most of its members were not communists, many in Washington assumed it was a puppet of Hanoi.

Domino Theory

A team sent by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to report on conditions in South Vietnam advised a build-up of American military, economic and technical aid in order to help Diem confront the Viet Cong threat.

Working under the “ domino theory ,” which held that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many other countries would follow, Kennedy increased U.S. aid, though he stopped short of committing to a large-scale military intervention.

By 1962, the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam had reached some 9,000 troops, compared with fewer than 800 during the 1950s.

Gulf of Tonkin

A coup by some of his own generals succeeded in toppling and killing Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, in November 1963, three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas .

The ensuing political instability in South Vietnam persuaded Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson , and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to further increase U.S. military and economic support.

In August of 1964, after DRV torpedo boats attacked two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, Johnson ordered the retaliatory bombing of military targets in North Vietnam. Congress soon passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution , which gave Johnson broad war-making powers, and U.S. planes began regular bombing raids, codenamed Operation Rolling Thunder , the following year.

The bombing was not limited to Vietnam; from 1964-1973, the United States covertly dropped two million tons of bombs on neighboring, neutral Laos during the CIA-led “Secret War” in Laos . The bombing campaign was meant to disrupt the flow of supplies across the Ho Chi Minh trail into Vietnam and to prevent the rise of the Pathet Lao, or Lao communist forces. The U.S. bombings made Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world.

In March 1965, Johnson made the decision—with solid support from the American public—to send U.S. combat forces into battle in Vietnam. By June, 82,000 combat troops were stationed in Vietnam, and military leaders were calling for 175,000 more by the end of 1965 to shore up the struggling South Vietnamese army.

Despite the concerns of some of his advisers about this escalation, and about the entire war effort amid a growing anti-war movement , Johnson authorized the immediate dispatch of 100,000 troops at the end of July 1965 and another 100,000 in 1966. In addition to the United States, South Korea , Thailand, Australia and New Zealand also committed troops to fight in South Vietnam (albeit on a much smaller scale).

William Westmoreland

In contrast to the air attacks on North Vietnam, the U.S.-South Vietnamese war effort in the south was fought primarily on the ground, largely under the command of General William Westmoreland , in coordination with the government of General Nguyen Van Thieu in Saigon.

Westmoreland pursued a policy of attrition, aiming to kill as many enemy troops as possible rather than trying to secure territory. By 1966, large areas of South Vietnam had been designated as “free-fire zones,” from which all innocent civilians were supposed to have evacuated and only enemy remained. Heavy bombing by B-52 aircraft or shelling made these zones uninhabitable, as refugees poured into camps in designated safe areas near Saigon and other cities.

Even as the enemy body count (at times exaggerated by U.S. and South Vietnamese authorities) mounted steadily, DRV and Viet Cong troops refused to stop fighting, encouraged by the fact that they could easily reoccupy lost territory with manpower and supplies delivered via the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Cambodia and Laos. Additionally, supported by aid from China and the Soviet Union, North Vietnam strengthened its air defenses.

Vietnam War Protests

By November 1967, the number of American troops in Vietnam was approaching 500,000, and U.S. casualties had reached 15,058 killed and 109,527 wounded. As the war stretched on, some soldiers came to mistrust the government’s reasons for keeping them there, as well as Washington’s repeated claims that the war was being won.

The later years of the war saw increased physical and psychological deterioration among American soldiers—both volunteers and draftees—including drug use , post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ), mutinies and attacks by soldiers against officers and noncommissioned officers.

Between July 1966 and December 1973, more than 503,000 U.S. military personnel deserted, and a robust anti-war movement among American forces spawned violent protests, killings and mass incarcerations of personnel stationed in Vietnam as well as within the United States.

Bombarded by horrific images of the war on their televisions, Americans on the home front turned against the war as well: In October 1967, some 35,000 demonstrators staged a massive Vietnam War protest outside the Pentagon . Opponents of the war argued that civilians, not enemy combatants, were the primary victims and that the United States was supporting a corrupt dictatorship in Saigon.

Tet Offensive

By the end of 1967, Hanoi’s communist leadership was growing impatient as well, and sought to strike a decisive blow aimed at forcing the better-supplied United States to give up hopes of success.

On January 31, 1968, some 70,000 DRV forces under General Vo Nguyen Giap launched the Tet Offensive (named for the lunar new year), a coordinated series of fierce attacks on more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam.

Taken by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces nonetheless managed to strike back quickly, and the communists were unable to hold any of the targets for more than a day or two.

Reports of the Tet Offensive stunned the U.S. public, however, especially after news broke that Westmoreland had requested an additional 200,000 troops, despite repeated assurances that victory in the Vietnam War was imminent. With his approval ratings dropping in an election year, Johnson called a halt to bombing in much of North Vietnam (though bombings continued in the south) and promised to dedicate the rest of his term to seeking peace rather than reelection.

Johnson’s new tack, laid out in a March 1968 speech, met with a positive response from Hanoi, and peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam opened in Paris that May. Despite the later inclusion of the South Vietnamese and the NLF, the dialogue soon reached an impasse, and after a bitter 1968 election season marred by violence, Republican Richard M. Nixon won the presidency.


Nixon sought to deflate the anti-war movement by appealing to a “silent majority” of Americans who he believed supported the war effort. In an attempt to limit the volume of American casualties, he announced a program called Vietnamization : withdrawing U.S. troops, increasing aerial and artillery bombardment and giving the South Vietnamese the training and weapons needed to effectively control the ground war.

In addition to this Vietnamization policy, Nixon continued public peace talks in Paris, adding higher-level secret talks conducted by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger beginning in the spring of 1968.

The North Vietnamese continued to insist on complete and unconditional U.S. withdrawal—plus the ouster of U.S.-backed General Nguyen Van Thieu—as conditions of peace, however, and as a result the peace talks stalled.

My Lai Massacre

The next few years would bring even more carnage, including the horrifying revelation that U.S. soldiers had mercilessly slaughtered more than 400 unarmed civilians in the village of My Lai in March 1968.

After the My Lai Massacre , anti-war protests continued to build as the conflict wore on. In 1968 and 1969, there were hundreds of protest marches and gatherings throughout the country.

On November 15, 1969, the largest anti-war demonstration in American history took place in Washington, D.C. , as over 250,000 Americans gathered peacefully, calling for withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.

The anti-war movement, which was particularly strong on college campuses, divided Americans bitterly. For some young people, the war symbolized a form of unchecked authority they had come to resent. For other Americans, opposing the government was considered unpatriotic and treasonous.

As the first U.S. troops were withdrawn, those who remained became increasingly angry and frustrated, exacerbating problems with morale and leadership. Tens of thousands of soldiers received dishonorable discharges for desertion, and about 500,000 American men from 1965-73 became “draft dodgers,” with many fleeing to Canada to evade conscription . Nixon ended draft calls in 1972, and instituted an all-volunteer army the following year.

Kent State Shooting

In 1970, a joint U.S-South Vietnamese operation invaded Cambodia, hoping to wipe out DRV supply bases there. The South Vietnamese then led their own invasion of Laos, which was pushed back by North Vietnam.

The invasion of these countries, in violation of international law, sparked a new wave of protests on college campuses across America. During one, on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio , National Guardsmen shot and killed four students. At another protest 10 days later, two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi were killed by police.

By the end of June 1972, however, after a failed offensive into South Vietnam, Hanoi was finally willing to compromise. Kissinger and North Vietnamese representatives drafted a peace agreement by early fall, but leaders in Saigon rejected it, and in December Nixon authorized a number of bombing raids against targets in Hanoi and Haiphong. Known as the Christmas Bombings, the raids drew international condemnation.

The Pentagon Papers

Some of the papers from the archive of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971

A top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 was published in the New York Times in 1971—shedding light on how the Nixon administration ramped up conflict in Vietnam. The report, leaked to the Times by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, further eroded support for keeping U.S. forces in Vietnam. 

When Did the Vietnam War End?

In January 1973, the United States and North Vietnam concluded a final peace agreement, ending open hostilities between the two nations. War between North and South Vietnam continued, however, until April 30, 1975, when DRV forces captured Saigon, renaming it Ho Chi Minh City (Ho himself died in 1969).

More than two decades of violent conflict had inflicted a devastating toll on Vietnam’s population: After years of warfare, an estimated 2 million Vietnamese were killed, while 3 million were wounded and another 12 million became refugees. Warfare had demolished the country’s infrastructure and economy, and reconstruction proceeded slowly.

In 1976, Vietnam was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, though sporadic violence continued over the next 15 years, including conflicts with neighboring China and Cambodia. Under a broad free market policy put in place in 1986, the economy began to improve, boosted by oil export revenues and an influx of foreign capital. Trade and diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the U.S. resumed in the 1990s.

In the United States, the effects of the Vietnam War would linger long after the last troops returned home in 1973. The nation spent more than $120 billion on the conflict in Vietnam from 1965-73; this massive spending led to widespread inflation, exacerbated by a worldwide oil crisis in 1973 and skyrocketing fuel prices.

Psychologically, the effects ran even deeper. The war had pierced the myth of American invincibility and had bitterly divided the nation. Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war (who viewed them as having killed innocent civilians) and its supporters (who saw them as having lost the war), along with physical damage including the effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange , millions of gallons of which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam.

In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C. On it were inscribed the names of 57,939 American men and women killed or missing in the war; later additions brought that total to 58,200.

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essay for vietnam war

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essay for vietnam war

Vietnam War: Background, Summary Of Events, and Conclusion

The Vietnam War was a long, costly and divisive conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. The conflict was intensified by the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. More than 3 million people (including over 58,000 Americans) were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians.

For more articles about the Vietnam War, go to the category archive .

The Vietnam War: Table of Contents

  • Summary of The Vietnam War

When was the Vietnam War?

The m-16 and the vietnam war, #70: a vietnam pow’s story of 6 years in the hanoi hilton — amy shively hawk.

  • Aircraft: Evolution in Flight

End of the Vietnam War

The vietnam war: background and overview.

(See Main Article: The Vietnam War: Background and Overview )

During the late fifties, Vietnam was divided into a communist North and anti-communist South. Because of the Cold War  anxiety of the time, the general feeling was that, should the North Vietnamese communists win, the remainder of Southeast Asia would also fall to communism. When President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, he swore that he would not let that happen.

The more conventionally trained army of South Vietnam was clearly no match for the guerrilla tactics of the North, so in February 1965 America decided to get involved with Operation Rolling Thunder. North Vietnam was supported by China, the Soviet Union, and other communist countries, and the Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese communist group.

The struggle for control of Vietnam, which had been a French colony since 1887, lasted for three decades. The first part of the war was between the French and the Vietminh, the Vietnamese nationalists led by the communist Ho Chi Minh, and continued from 1946 until 1954. The second part was between the United States and South Vietnam on one hand and North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front on the other, ending with the victory of the latter in 1975. The communist side, strongly backed by the Soviet Union and mainland China, sought to increase the number of those who lived behind the Bamboo Curtain.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union regarded the conflict not as a civil war between North and South Vietnam but as a consequential engagement of the Cold War in a strategic region. American leaders endorsed the domino theory, first enunciated by President Eisenhower, that if South Vietnam fell to the communists, other nations in the region such as Laos and Cambodia would also fall.

Vietnam War Summary—Overview of the Conflict

(See Main Article: Vietnam War Summary—Overview of the Conflict )

Five American presidents sought to prevent a communist Vietnam and possibly a communist Southeast Asia. Truman and Eisenhower provided mostly funds and equipment. When Kennedy became president there were fewer than one thousand U.S. advisers in Vietnam. By the time of his death in November 1963, there were sixteen thousand American troops in Vietnam. The Americanization of the war had begun.

Kennedy chose not to listen to the French president, Charles de Gaulle, who in May 1961 urged him to disengage from Vietnam, warning, “I predict you will sink step by step into a bottomless military and political quagmire.”

A debate continues as to what Kennedy would have done in Vietnam if he had served two terms—widen America’s role or begin a slow but steady withdrawal. We do know that throughout his presidency, Kennedy talked passionately about the need to defend “frontiers of freedom” everywhere. In September 1963, he said “what happens in Europe or Latin America or Africa directly affects the security of the people who live in this city.” Speaking in Fort Worth, Texas, on the morning of November 22, the day he was assassinated, Kennedy said bluntly that “without the United States, South Viet-Nam would collapse overnight. . . . We are still the keystone in the arch of freedom.”

Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, was an ambitious, experienced politician who had served in both the House and the Senate as a Democrat from Texas, and his persona was as large as his home state. He idolized FDR for winning World War II and initiating the New Deal and sought to emulate him as president. Like the three presidents who had preceded him, he saw action in time of war, serving as a naval aide in the Pacific during World War II, and like them he was a Christian, joining the Disciples of Christ Church in part for its focus on good works. Drawing on his political experience, Johnson thought that Ho Chi Minh was just another politician with whom he could bargain—offering a carrot or wielding a stick—just as he had done as the Senate majority leader. Ho Chi Minh, however, was not a backroom pol from Chicago or Austin but a communist revolutionary prepared to fight a protracted conflict and to accept enormous losses until he achieved victory.

(See Main Article: When was the Vietnam War? )

Although the history of Vietnam has been dominated by war for 30 years of the 20th century, the conflict escalated during the sixties. When we talk about the “ Vietnam War ” (which the Vietnamese refer to as the “American War”), we talk about the military intervention by the U.S. that happened between 1965 and 1973.

For the first time, Americans saw a war playing out on their TV screens and witnessed a lot of the horrors that it brought and the citizens started to turn against the war. Throughout America, people started to hold large anti-war protests against the U.S. involvement in the war of Vietnam.

In January, 1973, peace talks finally seemed to have been successful and the Paris Peace Accords finally ended direct military involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam. Unfortunately the treaty did not stop the fighting, as both sides of Vietnam kept fighting to gain as much territory as possible. The communists managed to seize Saigon in 1975 and gained control over the whole country.

According to U.S. estimates, between 200 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed during this period and 58,200 U.S. soldiers were dead or missing in action.

(See Main Article: The M-16 And The Vietnam War )

In 1959, America chose the M-14 to be our main battle rifle.  It would prove to be the shortest-lived rifle to ever serve in that role.  Heavy and uncontrollable when fired on full auto, compared to the Soviet’s AK-47, the M-14 was obsolete at birth.  America needed a rifle to match her Space Age dreams.  Not surprisingly it was a subsidiary of an aerospace company that delivered that dream.  Armalite’s business was developing small arms that could then be sold to manufacturers.  Armalite employee,  Eugene Stoner  was given the canvas to create a masterpiece, and from his fertile mind came the rifle of the future.

The advantages of the M-16 over every other rifle on paper were stunning.  The magnitude of the change encompassed by Stoner’s design was the perfect complement to “Space Age” technology.  This gun was light, accurate, and had virtually no recoil.  Any soldier with a little training could put every round into a suitcase at 100 yards in under 2 seconds.   The ammo was lighter, cheaper, and deadly.   Early reports of wounds on enemy soldiers were so gruesome that they remained classified until the 80s.  Bullets would enter the body and pinball around inside doing horrific damage.  So impressed by the M-16s issued to the ARVN troops, Green Berets demanded to be issued the weapons in 1962.  The jump from the M-14 to the M-16 was equivalent to switching from prop planes to jets.  The design was sold to Colt and adopted by the US Military in 1964.  Optimism surrounding the gun was very high.  That should have been the first warning sign.

(See Main Article: #70: A Vietnam POW’s Story of 6 Years in the Hanoi Hilton — Amy Shively Hawk )

When consider major historical events that involved millions of people— World War 2, the Great Depression, the Cold War—it’s easy to forget that real people with their own stories were part of those events.

Today we’re zeroing in on one story. And that’s the story of James Shively, an Air Force Pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton POW camp. To talk with us is Amy Shively Hawk, Jim’s stepdaughter and author of the new book Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton: An Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in Vietnam.

After being shot down, Shively endured brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy in Hanoi prison camps. But despite unimaginable horrors in prison, the contemplation of suicide, and his beloved girlfriend moving on back home, he somehow found hope escaping prison and eventually reuniting with his long-lost love – proving, in his words, that “Life is only what you make of it.”

In this interview we discuss:

  • How Capt. Shively was shot down, what happened when he was captured, and his fate at the hands of Vietnamese villagers
  • What kept Captain Shively hopeful during his six years as a prisoner of war
  • What happened to the whole prison when two fellow inmates escaped but were captured the next day
  • How prisoners built a full prison communications system using Morse code, toilet paper, and hidden messages even though cell blocks were forbidden from speaking to each other under threat of torture

 Aircraft: Evolution in Flight

(See Main Article: Vietnam War Aircraft: Evolution in Flight )

“The Many Ways To Die While Building an Aircraft Carrier”

For the full  “History Unplugged” podcast, click  here !

At the start of 1962, the U.S. had 16,000 military advisors training the South Vietnamese army in its fight against the Viet Cong and the Communist government based in Hanoi. In early February, the Pentagon set up a permanent U.S. military presence in Saigon—the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV). The U.S. military presence in a country that most Americans knew very little about would only grow from that point on.

In April, Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay went to Vietnam for an inspection tour and met with the head of MACV, General Paul Harkins, as well as the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. While MACV was concentrating its efforts in the South, LeMay saw that the real problem was clearly coming from the North. LeMay made the same recommendation he made twelve years earlier, for Korea—if the U.S. intended to stop this infiltration, a massive bombing campaign of the North would do the trick. LeMay zeroed in on the port facility in Haiphong, where the weapons and supplies were coming in from the Soviet Union, and proposed bombing it. He believed this would put a halt to the guerrilla war in the South, but the plan was much too bold for the tentative steps that the Kennedy Administration was making in Vietnam in 1962.

 Aircraft: A Focus on Bombers

Ten years and 59,000 American lives later, the U.S. did exactly what LeMay had suggested. From December 19 to 29, 1972, the Air Force and Navy conducted Linebacker II, the largest concentrated bombing since World War II. The bombing of the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, and the port of Haiphong was conducted by such Vietnam War aircraft as tactical fighters, along with 741 B-52 sorties. Ten B-52s were shot down, five crash-landed in Laos and Thailand, thirty-three B-52 crewmen were killed, thirty-three were captured, and twenty-six were rescued. After years of stops and starts, the massive bombing of Vietnam War aircraft finally pushed the North Vietnamese to hammer out a negotiated settlement that gave the U.S. a way to extricate itself from its tortured involvement.

Decades later, the political debate over this conflict remains unresolved. Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen strongly disagreed with the suggestion that the conflict may have ended sooner had LeMay’s plan been followed ten years earlier, “I don’t know how you can say this so many years after the fact, especially when you consider that the Vietnamese had been fighting for their independence since forever and the idea that some bombs in Hanoi or Haiphong would have brought them to the table is ludicrous.”

But former Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, countered Sorensen’s view. “That’s ridiculous, the myth that it was a civil war. What destroyed Vietnam was that 18 divisions came down from the North in 1975. There was nationalism in Hanoi but not in the South and it was the North imposing its view on the South.”   Schlesinger also points out that had the strikes taken place earlier when LeMay suggested them, the Soviet surface-to-air missiles would not have been in place, saving the U.S. planes and crews that were shot down a decade later.

Vietnam highlighted the greatest difference between LeMay’s philosophy of war and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s. The Defense Secretary pushed for what he called flexible response from the very start of the U.S. involvement in the conflict: namely, offering the enemy a way out; however, if they show aggression, match the aggression, but only proportionately. Consequently, the full weight of the growing American military was never brought to bear on the North. Ground would be fought over in the South and then abandoned only to be fought over again and again, always with more casualties. The North would be bombed and then the bombing would be halted. It was a completely different strategy than the one the U.S. used in World War II.

LeMay thought flexible response was counterintuitive; it ran completely against his doctrine of war. If a war is not worth winning, LeMay’s answer was simple: do not get involved in the first place. Consequently, as LeMay watched the troop levels expand along with U.S. casualties, he grew more and more angry. The focal point of that anger was McNamara. As the conflict dragged on, he also grew furious with Lyndon Johnson because he believed McNamara and LBJ lied to the American people about the war. While the Vietnam War deeply divided the country, it would create major fissures within the government as well.

(See Main Article: End of the Vietnam War )

Beset at home and abroad, in 1968 Lyndon Johnson decided against running for re-election. In March he banned bombing north of the twentieth parallel, leaving most of North Vietnam a sanctuary. He was succeeded by Republican Richard M. Nixon, who largely limited offensive air operations over the North for nearly four years. One example will suffice: from 1965 through 1968 Navy aircrews downed thirty-three enemy aircraft, but over the next three years, tailhookers splashed only one. Meanwhile, “peace talks” trickled out in Paris. The end of the Vietnam War was in sight.

“After Watergate, Richard Nixon Created the Career Path for All Ex-Presidents”

Then, on March 30, 1972, Hanoi launched a full-scale conventional attack against South Vietnam, shattering the dead-end Paris “peace talks.” American airpower responded massively.

Leading  Constellation ’s   Air Wing Nine was Commander Lowell “Gus” Eggert, a cheerful aviator who enjoyed partying with his aircrews. Eggert’s keen intuition told him the 1971–72 cruise might be different from the previous three years. He began training his squadrons for large “Alpha” strikes in addition to the usual close air support in South Vietnam and Laos.

“Connie” completed her six-month deployment, and on April 1 she was in Japan preparing to return to California when the North Vietnamese spring offensive rolled south. Sailors and aircrews hastily offloaded their new purchases—notably motorcycles—and began loading ordnance. The ship was back in the Tonkin Gulf five days later, joining Hancock ,  Coral Sea , and  Kitty Hawk . By then the communists had beefed up their air defenses, and on one mission over South Vietnam, an Intruder pilot had to abort his attack because a cloud of tracers obscured the reticle of his bombsight.

After further delay, Nixon finally loosed the airmen in order to quicken the end of the Vietnam War. A Phantom pilot recalled, “We had reports of 168 SAMs on the first night after Nixon got serious in May. But that was coordinated with massive B-52 raids supported by three carrier air wings.”

On May 9 a handful of aircraft demonstrated the carrier’s potential for strategic effects with extreme economy of force. While  Kitty Hawk  provided a diversionary strike,  Coral Sea launched nine jets that turned the Vietnam war around in two minutes: six Navy A-7Es and three Marine A-6As laid three dozen mines in Haiphong Harbor. The weapons were time-delayed to allow ships to leave North Vietnam’s major port. During the next three days, thousands more mines were sown in Hanoi’s coastal waters, effectively blockading the communists from seaborne replenishment. Commander Roger Sheets’s Air Wing Fifteen, on its seventh Vietnam deployment, shut down Haiphong for almost a year—well beyond the impending “peace” treaty.

The mines were frequently replenished, eventually totaling more than eleven thousand weapons. Sometimes the “reseeding” involved unconventional tactics, as when  Saratoga ’s   Air Wing Three employed Phantoms flying formation on Intruders and Corsairs in what one F-4 pilot called “a one-potato, two-potato” drop sequence, based on when the attack jets released.

Finally, Phantom crews could ply their trade again. From January 1972 through January 1973, carrier-based F-4s claimed twenty-five aerial kills—nearly as many as the Navy total in the first six years of the Vietnam war. The tailhookers’ best day was May 10. That morning a two-plane VF-92 section off Constellation  trolled Kep Airfield and caught two MiG-21s taking off. The high-speed, low-level chase ended with one MiG destroyed which, with the Air Force bombing the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, sparked an exceptional response.

That afternoon “Connie” launched thirty-two planes against Hai Duong logistics, producing one of the biggest combats of the war with Phantoms, Corsairs, and MiGs embroiled in a “furball” of maneuvering jets. When it was over, two F-4s fell to flak and SAMs while VF-96 claimed six kills, producing the Navy’s only ace crew of the Vietnam war. In all, the Navy and Air Force downed a dozen MiGs, which remains an unsurpassed one-day total more than forty years later.

During Operation Linebacker—the final air campaign over North Vietnam, signally the end of the Vietnam War—American aircrews claimed seventy-two aerial kills versus twenty-eight known losses to MiGs, an overall exchange ratio of 2.5–1. However, the Navy’s intensive fighter training program from 1969 onward produced exceptional results. “Topgun” graduates and doctrine yielded twenty-four MiGs against four carrier planes lost, including a lone Vigilante escorted by fighters. In contrast to the Navy’s 6–1 kill ratio, the Air Force figure was closer to 2–1, approaching parity in some months.

The disparity between the two services was dramatically illustrated in August 1972, when four F-8E Crusaders from  Hancock  deployed to Udorn, Thailand, to update Air Force Phantom crews on air combat maneuvering. The senior Navy pilot was already a MiG killer, Commander John Nichols, who noted, “My biggest challenge was keeping my guys from lording it over the blue suiters.”

Throughout the war and up to the end of the Vietnam War, naval aviators shot down sixty enemy aircraft—all by carrier pilots. It was a stark contrast to Korea when barely a dozen communist planes were credited to tailhookers among fifty-four total by Navy and Marine pilots.

In fact, the reason for carrier-based fighters was to establish air superiority so the attack planes could perform their vital mission. Skyraiders, Skyhawks, Intruders, and Corsairs seldom worried about enemy aircraft while placing ordnance on target the length and breadth of Indochina. Few aircrews and probably few admirals realized how far carrier aviation had come since the start of World War II. Long gone was the era when airpower theorists insisted that sea-based aircraft could not compete with land-based planes. If nothing else, Vietnam confirmed that naval aviation was a world-class organization.

On two days in October 1972, Commander Donald Sumner led USS  America  (CVA-66) A-7 Corsairs against Thanh Hoa Bridge, a vital communist transportation target. One of his pilots, Lieutenant Commander Leighton Smith, had first bombed the bridge as a  Coral Sea  A-4 pilot in 1966. The Air Force had badly damaged “The Dragon’s Jaw,” but spans remained intact. With a combination of two thousand-pound TV-guided weapons and conventional one-ton bombs, the naval aviators finally slew the long-lived dragon, more than seven years after the first U.S. efforts.

During the eleven-day “Christmas War” of 1972, carrier aircraft again supported B-52s in bombing an intransigent Hanoi back to the bargaining table. By then Hanoi was nearly out of SA-2 missiles.

The Paris accords among Washington, Saigon, and Hanoi took effect on January 27, 1973. They were the diplomatic efforts that signaled the end of the Vietnam War. On that day Commander Harley Hall, a former Blue Angel leader and the commander of an Enterprise  F-4 squadron, became the last naval aviator shot down in the long war. His Phantom fell north of the Demilitarized Zone, and though his back-seater survived captivity, Hall did not. Long thereafter his widow learned that he had probably lived two or more years in captivity, abandoned by his government with unknown numbers of other men.

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Vietnam War: 6 personal essays describe the sting of a tragic conflict

The Vietnam War touched millions of lives. Within these personal essays from people who took part in the filming of The Vietnam War , are lessons about what happened, what it meant then and what we can learn from it now.

Long ago and far away, we fought a war in which more than 58,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands of others were wounded. The war meant death for an estimated 3 million Vietnamese, North and South. The fighting dragged on for almost a decade, polarizing the American people, dividing the country and creating distrust of our government that remains with us today.

In one way or another, Vietnam has overshadowed every national security decision since.

We were told that our mission was to prevent South Vietnam from falling to communism. Very lofty. But the men I led as a young infantry platoon leader and later as a company commander weren’t fighting for that mission. Mostly draftees, they were terrific soldiers. They were fighting, I realized, for each other — to simply survive their year in-country and go home.

I had grown up as an “Army brat.” To me, the Army was like a second family. In Vietnam, the radio code word for our division’s infantry companies was family . A “rucksack outfit,” my company would disappear into the jungle, moving quietly, staying in the field for weeks. We all ate the same rations and endured the same heat, humidity, mosquitoes, leeches, skin rashes, jungle itch. We were like pack animals, carrying upwards of 60 pounds of gear, water, ammunition — and even more for the radio operators and machine gunners. I was impressed by how the men endured it all, especially the draftees who had answered the call to service.

I learned much about leadership. I was once counseled by a senior officer “not to be too worried about your men.” Incredible. I was concerned about my men’s safety at all times. Even though my company lost very few, I remember each of those deaths vividly. They were all good men, in a war very few understood.

On both of my combat tours, in 1968 at Huê´ during the Tet Offensive and in 1969-70 in the triple-canopy rainforests along the Cambodian border, we fought soldiers of the North Vietnamese army. They were good light infantry; I had respect for their determination and abilities. But they were the enemy; our job was to kill or capture them.

Though we were conducting a war of attrition, we were actually fighting the enemy’s birth rate. He was prepared and determined to keep fighting as long as he had the manpower to send south.

In terms of strategy, it seemed a war out of “Alice in Wonderland.” The Ho Chi Minh Trail, the enemy’s major supply line and infiltration route, ran through Cambodia and Laos. Yet until May 1970, both of those countries were off limits to U.S. ground forces. We bombed the trail incessantly, but the enemy’s ability to move troops and equipment south never seemed to slack. We never invaded North Vietnam. As demonstrated during Tet in ’68, the enemy could control the tempo of the war when he wished. We, on the other hand, would use unilaterally declared “truce” periods and would halt bombing to signal something never clearly defined — a willingness to talk, I imagined, which the enemy ignored.

Looking back, if our strategy was intended to force the enemy to say “enough,” resulting in a stalemate situation like that at the end of the Korean War, would the South Vietnamese have been able to defend themselves, independently? Unlikely.

Would the U.S. have been willing to commit and maintain American forces in South Vietnam indefinitely? Also unlikely.

Did we learn anything from that experience, which left such an indelible mark on our national psyche? History is a harsh teacher; there are still no easy answers.

Phil Gioia entered the Army after graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 1967. He left the military in 1977 and later was mayor in Corte Madera, Calif., and worked in venture capital and the technology industry. He lives in Marin County, Calif.

Hal Kushner

When I deployed to Vietnam in August 1967, I was a young Army doctor, married five years, with a 3-year-old daughter, just potty trained, and another child due the following April. When I returned from Vietnam in late March 1973, I saw my 5-year-old son for the first time, and my daughter was in the fifth grade. In the interim, we had landed on the moon; there was women’s lib, Nixon had gone to China; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated.

I was the only doctor captured in the 10-year Vietnam War. I was back from the dead.

We prisoners endured unspeakable horror, brutality and deprivation, and we saw and experienced things no human should ever witness. Our mortality rate was almost 50% — higher even than at the brutal Civil War prisons at Andersonville or Elmira a century earlier. I cradled 10 dying men in my arms as they breathed their last and spoke of home and family; then we buried them in crude graves, marked with stones and bamboo, and eulogized them with words of sunshine and hope, country and family. The eulogies were for the survivors, of course; they always are.

On the Fourth of July in five successive years, we sang patriotic songs, but very softly, so our captors couldn’t hear the forbidden words, and we cried. One of us had a missal issued by the Marine Corps, our only book, but our captors had torn out the pages with the American flag and The Star-Spangled Banner .

At my release in Hanoi, I was shocked by the hair and dress of the reporters there. Once home, I saw television and movies with frank profanity and sex. When I left, Lucy and Desi slept in twin beds. I left Ozzie and Harriett and returned to Taxi Driver . What had happened to my country? Why did we suffer and sacrifice?

When my aircraft crashed on Nov. 30, 1967, I collided with one planet and returned to another. The Vietnam War, which had about one-fifth of the casualties of World War II but had lasted three times as long, had changed the country as much as the greatest cataclysm in world history. It had changed forever the way we think of our government and ourselves. The country had lost its innocence — and, for a time, its confidence.

This war, which had such a great impact on my life, is a dim memory today. There are 58,000 names on that wall, and it rates but a few pages in a high school history book.

I am dismayed by how little our young people know about Vietnam, and how misunderstood it is by others. The Vietnam War is as remote to them as the War of 1812 or the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Now, 40 years later, we must try to understand.

Hal  Kushner joined the Army and served as a flight surgeon in Vietnam. In 1967, he was captured by the Viet Cong after surviving a helicopter crash. He spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war. He lives in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Mai Elliott

Having lived through war and seen what it did to my family and to millions of Vietnamese, I feel grateful for the peace and stability I now enjoy in the United States.

In Vietnam, my family and I experienced what it was like to be caught in bombing and fighting, and what it was like to flee our home and survive as refugees.

During World War II, in my childhood, we huddled in shelters as Allied planes targeting Japanese positions bombed the town in the North where we lived.

In 1946, when French troops returned to try to take Vietnam back from Ho Chi Minh’s government, French soldiers attacking the village where we were taking refuge almost executed my father (who had earlier worked for the French colonial authorities).

In 1954, fearing reprisals from the communists about to enter Hanoi, we fled to Saigon with only the clothes on our backs.

In 1955, we fled again when we found ourselves caught in the fighting between the army of President Ngo Dinh Diem and the armed group he was trying to eliminate, leaving behind our home, which was about to burn to the ground in the onslaught.

In April 1975, American helicopters plucked my family out of Saigon at the last minute as communist rockets exploded nearby.

The fear we felt paled in comparison to the terror that Vietnamese in the countryside of South Vietnam experienced when bombs and artillery shells landed in their villages, or when American and South Vietnamese soldiers swept through their hamlets; or the terror my relatives in North Vietnam felt when American B-52s carpet bombed in December 1972. Yet, our brushes with war were terrifying enough.

As refugees, we could find shelter and support from middle-class friends and relatives, while destitute peasants had to move to squalid camps and depend on meager handouts and help from the government in Saigon. But we did find out, as they did, that losing everything was psychologically wrenching, and that surviving and rebuilding took fortitude of spirit.

Only those who have known war can truly appreciate peace. I am one of those people.

Mai Elliott was born in Vietnam and spent her childhood in Hanoi, where her father was a high-ranking official under the French colonial regime. Her family became divided when her older sister joined the Viet Minh resistance against French rule. In 1954, her family fled to Saigon, where Mai later did research on the Viet Cong insurgency for the RAND Corp. during the Vietnam War. She is married to American political scientist David Elliott. They live in Southern California.

Bill Zimmerman

I graduated from high school in 1958, thinking myself a patriot and aspiring to be a military pilot. Thirteen years later, I sat in a jail cell in Washington, D.C., after protesting what military pilots were doing in the skies over Vietnam.

My patriotism wilted in the South in 1963, after a short stint with the civil rights movement. Simultaneously, as the U.S. slid into war in Vietnam, skepticism nurtured in Mississippi led me to discover that we were stumbling into a quagmire.

The war escalated in 1965, and I became an ardent protester over the next six years. I was fired from two university teaching positions. But my sacrifices were trivial compared with those of young Americans forced into war, or Vietnamese civilians dying under bombs and napalm. With other antiwar activists, I anguished over them all, and seethed with rage at our inability to stop the killing. In our fury, we became more forceful, committing widespread civil disobedience.

That’s how I landed in jail in 1971, trying unsuccessfully to block traffic to shut down the federal government. But our failure that day became a turning point. Antiwar leaders realized that while we had finally convinced a majority of Americans to oppose the war, our militant tactics kept them from joining us.

We changed course. Large demonstrations ended. New organizations sprang up to educate the public and lobby Congress. The work was confrontational but did not ask participants to risk arrest. Millions took part. Richard Nixon escalated the war, but he also felt the heat from a much broader antiwar coalition. In January 1973, his administration signed the Paris Peace Accords, and over the next two years, our intense lobbying persuaded Congress to cut funding for the corrupt South Vietnamese government, leading to its collapse in 1975.

We learned that in matters of war and peace, presidents regularly lie to the American people. Every president from Truman to Ford lied about Vietnam. We learned that two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, cared more about their own political survival than the lives of the men under their command. Both sent thousands of Americans to die in a war they already knew could not be won.

We learned that our government committed crimes against humanity. Agent Orange and other chemicals were sprayed on millions of acres, leaving a legacy of cancer and birth defects.

Most important, Vietnam taught us to reject blind loyalty and to fight back. In doing so, we meet our obligation as citizens … and become patriots.

Bill Zimmerman is a Los Angeles political consultant and the author of Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties (Anchor Books, 2012).

Roger Harris

When I think about the Vietnam War, I am torn by personal emotions that range from anger and sadness to hope. The Vietnam War experience scarred me but also shaped and molded my perspective on life.

As a 19-year-old African American from the Roxbury section of Boston, I voluntarily joined the U.S. Marine Corps, willing to fight and die for my country. I had experienced the tough neighborhood turf battles too often prevalent in the inner city. I had a gladiator’s heart and no fear. My father, all of my uncles, including a grand-uncle who rode with Teddy Roosevelt, all served in the military. I believed that it was now my turn, and if I were to die, my mom would receive a $10,000 death benefit and be able to purchase a house. I saw the war in Vietnam as a win-win situation.

In Vietnam, I served with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division. We were called the “Hell in a Helmet” Marines. We operated in I Corps, Quang Tri Province, mainly north of Dong Ha at the Demilitarized Zone, in hot spots called Con Thien, Gio Linh, Camp Carroll and Cam Lo. I vividly remember trembling with fear from the incoming shells in the mud-filled holes at Con Thien, wishing the shelling would stop and we could fight hand-to-hand. I remember those feelings like it was yesterday.

I, along with others, witnessed deaths unimaginable. We picked up the pieces of Marine bodies obliterated by direct hits. We stacked green body bags. I often wondered why others died and I lived.

I become angry when I think about the very young lives that were lost in Vietnam and the Gold Star families who have suffered. I am saddened by the sacrifices of true heroes and the disrespect that was shown to those who were fortunate enough to come home.

When I returned from Vietnam it was March 1968 in the midst of the civil rights movement. I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport in my Marine Corps Alpha Green uniform, with the medals and ribbons I had earned proudly displayed. I approached the sidewalk to catch a taxi, hoping that I wasn’t dreaming and would not awaken back at Camp Carroll to another bombardment.

Six taxicabs passed me by and drove off. I didn’t realize what was happening until the state trooper stepped in and told the next driver, “You have got to take this soldier.” The driver, who was white, looked up at us through the passenger side window and said, “I don’t want to go to Roxbury.”

That was my initial welcome home.

I now have an appreciation for the gift of life. Since returning home and completing college, I have devoted 42 years working in Boston schools. I see it as a tribute to my fellow Marines who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

I am very proud to have served my country as a United States Marine.

I am also very proud of the young men and women who continue to volunteer to join the armed services of our country.

Roger  Harris enlisted in the Marines and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. Afterward, he worked in the Boston public school system for more than 40 years. He lives in New York and Boston.

Eva Jefferson Paterson

This summer, I attended the 50th reunion of my high school class in Mascoutah, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. My dad was a career Air Force man and was stationed at Scott Air Force Base nearby in 1960.

During dinner, before we rocked out to the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder, a group of us talked about the war in Vietnam. The men remembered the draft system that required all young men to register to serve in the military. While I was in college at Northwestern from 1967 to 1971, a draft lottery was established. Numbers were drawn out of a big bin — similar to the one used for weekly state lotteries — corresponding to the days of the year. If your birthday corresponded to the first number drawn, your draft number was 1, and you were virtually certain to be drafted and sent to war. Most men from that period remember their number.

Some at our reunion had felt that it was their patriotic duty to serve; others were just delighted that their lottery numbers were above 300 and they were unlikely to be drafted. Few of us were anti-war at that time; I fully supported the war. My dad was sent to Cam Rahn Bay and Tan Son Nhut air force bases in Vietnam in 1966, my senior year in high school.

I remember being a freshman in college and actually saying to classmates who opposed to the war, “We have to support the war because the president says the war is good, and we must support the president.” Yikes! I changed my views as I got the facts.

Much of the fervor of the anti-war movement was fueled by the slogan “Hell no, we won’t go!” There was righteous indignation about the war, but fear was a strong motivator.

Now the burden of serving in wars falls on a very small percentage of the population, one that likely mirrors the patterns in the Vietnam era, with predominantly poor white, black and Latino men and women along with those who come from military backgrounds. It would be great to have a national discussion about this, but I fear our country is quite comfortable letting poor men and women and people of color and their families bear the burden of war.

Eva  Jefferson  Paterson grew up on air force bases and enrolled in Northwestern University in 1967, where she became student body president and politically active against the war. A civil rights attorney, she now runs the Equal Justice Society in Northern California.

U.S. general on Vietnam War: ‘This was some enemy’

Vietnam War: A timeline of U.S. entanglement

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The Pentagon Papers

The Secrets and Lies of the Vietnam War, Exposed in One Epic Document

With the Pentagon Papers revelations, the U.S. public’s trust in the government was forever diminished.

By Elizabeth Becker

essay for vietnam war

This article is part of a special report on the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers.

Brandishing a captured Chinese machine gun, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara appeared at a televised news conference in the spring of 1965. The United States had just sent its first combat troops to South Vietnam, and the new push, he boasted, was further wearing down the beleaguered Vietcong.

“In the past four and one-half years, the Vietcong, the Communists, have lost 89,000 men,” he said. “You can see the heavy drain.”

That was a lie. From confidential reports, McNamara knew the situation was “bad and deteriorating” in the South. “The VC have the initiative,” the information said. “Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers.”

Lies like McNamara’s were the rule, not the exception, throughout America’s involvement in Vietnam . The lies were repeated to the public, to Congress, in closed-door hearings, in speeches and to the press. The real story might have remained unknown if, in 1967, McNamara had not commissioned a secret history based on classified documents — which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers .

By then, he knew that even with nearly 500,000 U.S. troops in theater, the war was at a stalemate. He created a research team to assemble and analyze Defense Department decision-making dating back to 1945. This was either quixotic or arrogant. As secretary of defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, McNamara was an architect of the war and implicated in the lies that were the bedrock of U.S. policy.

Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst on the study, eventually leaked portions of the report to The New York Times , which published excerpts in 1971. The revelations in the Pentagon Papers infuriated a country sick of the war, the body bags of young Americans, the photographs of Vietnamese civilians fleeing U.S. air attacks and the endless protests and counterprotests that were dividing the country as nothing had since the Civil War.

The lies revealed in the papers were of a generational scale, and, for much of the American public, this grand deception seeded a suspicion of government that is even more widespread today.

Officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” the papers filled 47 volumes, covering the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Their 7,000 pages chronicled, in cold, bureaucratic language, how the United States got itself mired in a long, costly war in a small Southeast Asian country of questionable strategic importance.

They are an essential record of the first war the United States lost. For modern historians, they foreshadow the mind-set and miscalculations that led the United States to fight the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The original sin was the decision to support the French rulers in Vietnam. President Harry S. Truman subsidized their effort to take back their Indochina colonies. The Vietnamese nationalists were winning their fight for independence under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a Communist. Ho had worked with the United States against Japan in World War II, but, in the Cold War, Washington recast him as the stalking horse for Soviet expansionism.

American intelligence officers in the field said that was not the case, that they had found no evidence of a Soviet plot to take over Vietnam, much less Southeast Asia. As one State Department memo put it, “If there is a Moscow-directed conspiracy in Southeast Asia, Indochina is an anomaly.”

But with an eye on China, where the Communist Mao Zedong had won the civil war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said defeating Vietnam’s Communists was essential “to block further Communist expansion in Asia.” If Vietnam became Communist, then the countries of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes.

This belief in this domino theory was so strong that the United States broke with its European allies and refused to sign the 1954 Geneva Accords ending the French war. Instead, the United States continued the fight, giving full backing to Ngo Dinh Diem, the autocratic, anti-Communist leader of South Vietnam. Gen. J. Lawton Collins wrote from Vietnam, warning Eisenhower that Diem was an unpopular and incapable leader and should be replaced. If he was not, Gen. Collins wrote, “I recommend re-evaluation of our plans for assisting Southeast Asia.”

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles disagreed, writing in a cable included in the Pentagon Papers, “We have no other choice but continue our aid to Vietnam and support of Diem.”

Nine years and billions of American dollars later, Diem was still in power, and it fell to President Kennedy to solve the long-predicted problem.

After facing down the Soviet Union in the Berlin crisis, Kennedy wanted to avoid any sign of Cold War fatigue and easily accepted McNamara’s counsel to deepen the U.S. commitment to Saigon. The secretary of defense wrote in one report, “The loss of South Vietnam would make pointless any further discussion about the importance of Southeast Asia to the Free World.”

The president increased U.S. military advisers tenfold and introduced helicopter missions. In return for the support, Kennedy wanted Diem to make democratic reforms. Diem refused.

A popular uprising in South Vietnam, led by Buddhist clerics, followed. Fearful of losing power as well, South Vietnamese generals secretly received American approval to overthrow Diem. Despite official denials, U.S. officials were deeply involved.

“Beginning in August of 1963, we variously authorized, sanctioned and encouraged the coup efforts …,” the Pentagon Papers revealed. “We maintained clandestine contact with them throughout the planning and execution of the coup and sought to review their operational plans.”

The coup ended with Diem’s killing and a deepening of American involvement in the war. As the authors of the papers concluded, “Our complicity in his overthrow heightened our responsibilities and our commitment.”

Three weeks later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the Vietnam issue fell to President Johnson.

He had officials secretly draft a resolution for Congress to grant him the authority to fight in Vietnam without officially declaring war.

Missing was a pretext, a small-bore “Pearl Harbor” moment. That came on Aug. 4, 1964, when the White House announced that the North Vietnamese had attacked the U.S.S. Maddox in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. This “attack,” though, was anything but unprovoked aggression. Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the head of U.S. forces in Vietnam, had commanded the South Vietnamese military while they staged clandestine raids on North Vietnamese islands. North Vietnamese PT boats fought back and had “mistaken Maddox for a South Vietnamese escort vessel,” according to a report. (Later investigations showed the attack never happened.)

Testifying before the Senate, McNamara lied, denying any American involvement in the Tonkin Gulf attacks: “Our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any.”

Three days after the announcement of the “incident,” the administration persuaded Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to approve and support “the determination of the president, as commander in chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” — an expansion of the presidential power to wage war that is still used regularly. Johnson won the 1964 election in a landslide.

Seven months later, he sent combat troops to Vietnam without declaring war, a decision clad in lies. The initial deployment of 20,000 troops was described as “military support forces” under a “change of mission” to “permit their more active use” in Vietnam. Nothing new.

As the Pentagon Papers later showed, the Defense Department also revised its war aims: “70 percent to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat … 20 percent to keep South Vietnam (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands, 10 percent to permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.”

Westmoreland considered the initial troop deployment a stopgap measure and requested 100,000 more. McNamara agreed. On July 20, 1965, he wrote in a memo that even though “the U.S. killed-in-action might be in the vicinity of 500 a month by the end of the year,” the general’s overall strategy was “likely to bring about a success in Vietnam.”

As the Pentagon Papers later put it, “Never again while he was secretary of defense would McNamara make so optimistic a statement about Vietnam — except in public.”

Fully disillusioned at last, McNamara argued in a 1967 memo to the president that more of the same — more troops, more bombing — would not win the war. In an about-face, he suggested that the United States declare victory and slowly withdraw.

And in a rare acknowledgment of the suffering of the Vietnamese people, he wrote, “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.”

Johnson was furious and soon approved increasing the U.S. troop commitment to nearly 550,000. By year’s end, he had forced McNamara to resign, but the defense secretary had already commissioned the Pentagon Papers.

In 1968, Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election; Vietnam had become his Waterloo. Nixon won the White House on the promise to bring peace to Vietnam. Instead, he expanded the war by invading Cambodia, which convinced Daniel Ellsberg that he had to leak the secret history.

After The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers on Sunday, June 13, 1971, the nation was stunned. The response ranged from horror to anger to disbelief. There was furor over the betrayal of national secrets. Opponents of the war felt vindicated. Veterans, especially those who had served multiple tours in Vietnam, were pained to discover that Americans officials knew the war had been a failed proposition nearly from the beginning.

Convinced that Ellsberg posed a threat to Nixon’s re-election campaign, the White House approved an illegal break-in at the Beverly Hills, Calif., office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, hoping to find embarrassing confessions on file. The burglars — known as the Plumbers — found nothing, and got away undetected. The following June, when another such crew broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, they were caught.

The North Vietnamese mounted a final offensive, captured Saigon and won the war in April 1975. Three years later, Vietnam invaded Cambodia — another Communist country — and overthrew the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. That was the sole country Communist Vietnam ever invaded, forever undercutting the domino theory — the war’s foundational lie.

Elizabeth Becker is a former New York Times correspondent who began her career covering the Cambodia campaign of the Vietnam War. She is the author, most recently, of “You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War.”

The Vietnam War Outcomes Essay


The Vietnam War was and is still considered the longest deployment of the U.S military in the history of U.S wars. It took place when John F. Kennedy was in power in the 1960’s. Over two thousand military soldiers were deployed to the South Vietnam where the number increased gradually over time.

President John Kennedy’s intention was to preserve an independent as well as a non communist state in South Vietnam but failed to do so due to the harsh resistance that he faced. The U.S, headed by president Dwight D. Eisenhower was unable to neither contain nor regulate small unit and terrorist attacks that were being carried out by troops popularly known as Vietcong (Brocheux, 2007).

A diplomatic negotiation is a term used to describe the process where different countries carry out a dialogue with the aim of generating a consensus. During the talks that preceded the Vietnam War, an agreement appeared to have been reached by the negotiating parties, or so it seemed. The sham peace deals and fabricated diplomatic dialogues bore no fruit but resulted to false results and hope. The war took a turn for the worse when U.S. reinforced its military grip and they dug their claws deeper into North Vietnam.

It was the year 1967 that beckoned the birth of the failed negotiations that would result in massive losses to both parties involved in the Vietnam War. However, the real trouble begun brewing two years earlier. In 1965, the year that the last of the rational diplomatic negotiations appeared to have taken place, Premier Pham Van Dong established the four point program that sought to weaken the hold of the U.S on Vietnam (Palmer, 1978).

The recommendations appeared to bring bad taste in the mouths of those in U.S., and they did not let the moment slip right through their fingers. They retaliated by saying that the recommendations were undemocratic as they insinuated that the National Liberation Force was the only representative of the Vietnamese People. At this point, no agreement could be reached and both parties resorted to taking matters into their own hands (Herring, 1979).

The Vietnam War seemed to have begun with the ‘honorable’ intentions of serving the American people’s interests but as is the case with any war, its brutal aftermath brought about both cultural and social devastation among people. It brought about social unrest among students and the young activists who frantically campaigned for the end of the killing of innocent persons in Vietnam (Moss, 2010).

In the U.S., the deep hatred for the way the war had been conducted and the way it had ended caused the people to give a cold welcome to their troops as they came back from the war. The war also caused the American people to lose faith in their leaders when they learned that Lyndon Johnson had lied to them regarding the war.

Back in Vietnam, the war had catalyzed the defeat of the South and its subsequent absorption by the North which had been persistently seeking to impose its will on the South. Millions of Vietnamese were killed, displaced and some were even completely disabled as a result of the war.

To date, vast acres of land still remain wasted as they were destroyed by the poisonous herbicides that were used during the war and the government of Vietnam still struggles to cope with the needs of its people (Moss, 2010). In a nut shell, the Vietnam War brought more harm than good both to the people of America as well as the Vietnamese.

Presidential leadership during the Vietnam War can be explained in ways such as the ethics and efforts that were put to ensure that peace was restored.

President Kennedy had been advised by France president Charles de Gaulle that he would not succeed even if he injected more funds and soldiers into North Vietnam. In the period between 1961 and 1963 his military advisors had requested him to send combat divisions instead of the so called advisors to aid the Diem government.

President Kennedy was in support of a coup where Diem together with his brother died. However, he did not last long in the war as he was assassinated three weeks later. Lyndon Johnson took over and was in power when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution took place. He sent the first combat troops to Vietnam with hope that North Vietnam would give up and surrender to peace talks.

Richard Nixon succeeded Johnson by claiming he had a secret plan to the war. He intended to train South Vietnamese and slowly pulling out American troops (Neale, 2001). Vietnam was headed by Eisenhower who reigned from 1953 to 1961. He did not support the Geneva Accords that were between Vietnam and France thus, led to the division of the country into two, North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

South Vietnam was ruled by Ngo Dinh Diem who won the elections and later on claimed that his country was under communist attack. This marked the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1957 and Diem imprisoned all those who were suspected to belong to the communist and this led to demonstrations and protests (Brocheux, 2007).

In conclusion, both the U.S. and the Vietnam governments have a lot to ponder regarding the outcome of the Vietnam War. Years have gone, but people are still agonizing from the effects of the war. Proper negotiations and good governance should be embraced before any war is embarked on, in order to avoid a repeat of what was witnessed during the Vietnam War.

Brocheux, P. (2007). Ho Chi Minh: a biography . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Herring, C. (1979). America’s longest war: the United States and Vietnam 1950–1975 New York: Wiley publishers.

Moss, G. (2010). Vietnam: An American Ordeal (6 th Ed). Upper Saddle River (NJ): Prentice Hall.

Neale, J. (2001). The American War. London: Bookmarks.

Palmer, D. (1978). Summons of the Trumpet: U.S.-Vietnam in Perspective . Novato: Presidio Press.

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IvyPanda. (2019, May 7). The Vietnam War Outcomes.

"The Vietnam War Outcomes." IvyPanda , 7 May 2019,

IvyPanda . (2019) 'The Vietnam War Outcomes'. 7 May.

IvyPanda . 2019. "The Vietnam War Outcomes." May 7, 2019.

1. IvyPanda . "The Vietnam War Outcomes." May 7, 2019.


IvyPanda . "The Vietnam War Outcomes." May 7, 2019.

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The Conclusion of the Vietnam War: a Complex Closure

This essay about the end of the Vietnam War outlines the complex and tumultuous path to the conflict’s conclusion. It highlights the Paris Peace Accords as the official end but notes that real peace was elusive, as fighting continued between North and South Vietnam. The definitive moment came with the fall of Saigon in 1975, marking the reunification of Vietnam under communist control and symbolizing the war’s chaotic and tragic end. The essay also explores the war’s profound impact on American society, leading to national debates and the War Powers Act to limit presidential war powers. Furthermore, it discusses Vietnam’s post-war challenges and gradual healing, culminating in improved relations with the U.S. Overall, the essay portrays the Vietnam War’s end as a multifaceted process, reflecting on the lasting effects of conflict and the difficult journey towards reconciliation and peace.

How it works

Wrapping up the Vietnam War was no clean-cut affair. It was messy, complex, and fraught with tensions that didn’t just vanish once the last American troops left Vietnamese soil. The official curtain call was the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973, which aimed to bring peace to Vietnam and end U.S. military involvement. But peace? That was more a hopeful aspiration than reality. The fighting between North and South Vietnam continued, showing that the deep-seated issues at the heart of this conflict weren’t going to be resolved with a few signatures on a document.

The real clincher came with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, a moment captured in those heart-wrenching images of frantic evacuations. This wasn’t just the end of a chapter; it was the whole book closing on South Vietnam’s fight, leading to the country’s reunification under communist rule. The scenes from Saigon were chaotic, a stark testament to the war’s toll and the frantic efforts to flee the advancing North Vietnamese forces.

Back home, America had to face its own music. The war had torn through the American conscience, sparking debates, protests, and a national soul-searching about its role on the global stage. The end of the Vietnam War forced a hard look at U.S. foreign policy and military ethics, culminating in the War Powers Act, designed to reel in the president’s ability to send troops into battle without clear congressional backing.

Vietnam, for its part, faced the monumental task of piecing together a nation scarred by years of war. The aftermath was rough, with the country navigating through the challenges of rebuilding and reconciling with its war-torn identity. Over time, though, bridges were built, and Vietnam and the U.S. have found ways to engage, heal, and even partner, moving beyond the shadows cast by the war.

So, how did the Vietnam War end? With signatures, yes, but also with a complex mix of continued conflict, societal upheaval, and eventual, albeit painful, steps toward healing. It’s a chapter in history that reminds us of war’s lasting impacts and the intricate journey from conflict to peace.


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essay for vietnam war

The Vietnam War (1955-1975) essay

The Vietnam War is considered to be one of the most important events in the history of the United States. This event influenced the lives of millions of Americans because many citizens of the United States were enrolled in the army. According to statistical data, “Hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers were wounded and traumatized, and tens of thousands lost their lives” (Friedrichs 131). The war began in 1955 and ended in 1975. This historical period was the era of the Cold War, which was characterized by a lot of tension between the United States and Soviet Union. The Vietnam War took place in Vietnam, and was extended in Laos and Cambodia.

The Vietnam War is also known as Vietnam Conflict and Second Indochina War. It was a prolonged struggle between nationalists aimed at unifying the territories of South and North Vietnam under a communist government and the United States with the South Vietnamese assistance aimed at preventing the spread of communism (Friedrichs 131). North Vietnam was backed by the People’s Republic of China, while South Vietnam was backed by the United States and defiant communist allies. American involvement in the Vietnam War can be explained as a way to prevent a communist takeover not only of South Vietnam, but also other countries.  In other words, the U.S. strategy was aimed at preventing the further spread of communism across the world (Friedrichs 131). The leaders of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong wanted to reunify Vietnam under communist government. As a result, they considered the military conflict as an example of the colonial war, which was fought initially against France, then against the United States as France was backed by the U.S.A. and, finally, against South Vietnam, which was the U.S. puppet state (Bostdorff  & Goldzwig 520). According to Morena Groll, “it was the longest military conflict, which on top of everything ended in defeat for the Americans”(2). The United States was engaged in a war that many military and political experts analyzed as unnecessary war because of having no way to win. The U.S. political leaders lost the national support for the war because the U.S. citizens were against the war actions in Vietnam. Since the end of the Vietnam War, this event has become a benchmark for the U.S. leaders signifying what they should not do in all future U.S. foreign conflicts. According to researchers, “wartime disagreements about foreign policy persisted in the postwar period as Americans debated the proper ‘lessons’ of the war”(Hagopian 23).

Thesis statement: Although the Vietnam War caused by the U.S. desire to stop the spread of communism had negative consequences on Americans, including social, economic and political consequences, this event helped to shape Modern World History.

  • The Vietnam War: background information

The Vietnam War has been widely discussed in the media and academic sources. In order to assess the role of the Vietnam War in shaping the Modern World History, it is necessary to refer to the causes, consequences and solutions to the military conflict. Special attention should be paid to the U.S. President’s policy. According to Denise M. Bostdorff  and Steven Goldzwig, “Kennedy’s rhetoric on Vietnam serves as an exemplar of how presidents balance idealistic arguments, which apply principles of genus to public problem-solving, and pragmatic arguments, which emphasize the efficacy or practicality of politics” (515). The idealistic appeals of President Kennedy provided legitimate support to his Vietnam policy, representing him as a “principled leader” (Bostdorff  & Goldzwig 515). In other words, the U.S. President’s appeals helped him to avoid criticism of his foreign policy and explain the causes of slow progress.

  • The major causes of the war

North Vietnam was under the communist government and South Vietnam wasn’t. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the North Vietnam, wanted to spread communism in the whole Vietnam, uniting North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The leaders of the South Vietnam opposed the spread of communism. The United States took the side of South Vietnam, bringing the war in a different level (Hagopian 73). Thus, the major causes of the Vietnam War include three causes:

  • To stop the spread of communism in Vietnam;
  • As the French soldiers pulled out of war for a number of reasons, the U.S. was ready to take their place in the military conflict;
  • The U.S. foreign policy was based on providing support to friend countries.

There were several players in the Vietnam War: South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the USA, South Korea, People’s Republic of China, Russia.

  • The major consequences of the war

The Vietnam War had an enormous impact on the life of Americans, including various spheres of public and private life. The consequences of the military conflict contributed to considerable changes in the U.S. foreign policy. Although the United States is considered to be the world’s greatest superpower, there are some negative effects of the U.S. President’s decision regarding the solutions to the Vietnam conflict. According to researchers, the United States “had entered Vietnam as a powerful, united nation certain of its cause and of victory” (Wiest 83). The defeat in the Vietnam War made millions of Americans reconsider and reassess the established beliefs and values. Besides the above mentioned facts, the country was left battered and depressed because of the uncertainty in the future policy, especially in the face of the complex challenges caused by the Cold War (Wiest 83).

            Moreover, the Vietnam War shaped the relations between the role of the political opinion of the public and the politics that was influenced by the media functioning during the military conflict in Vietnam. The legacy of the Vietnam War can be assessed by means of the statistical data, which affected the public opinion regarding the war. According to statistical data, “during the war in Vietnam the French lost some 76,000 dead and 65,000 wounded – while their allies lost 19,000 dead and 13,000 wounded, while American forces lost some 58,000 dead and over 300,000 wounded” (Wiest 83). The U.S. foreign policy was criticized during the war.

            In addition, many historians, politicians and journalists indicted the established government policy, providing radically different opinions regarding the major causes of war and its consequences. The most popular journalists and historians were Bernard Fall, Robert Shaplen, John Lewis, George McT. Kahin and others. They provided severe criticism of the war’s efficiency (Marolda 767). The American movement against the Vietnam War promoted anti-war ideas and encouraged Americans to protest against American involvement in this military conflict. This movement influenced the decisions of Johnson’s administration, leading to the policy reversal in 1968. According to researchers, “during the Nixon administration, it hastened the U.S. troops withdrawals, continued to restrain the war, fed the deterioration in the U.S. troop morale and discipline” (Marolda 758).

  • The major solutions to the war

The major solutions to the war are based on the fact that the Vietnam War was the most significant military conflict of the 20-th century. Although the war in Vietnam was rather small as it involved limited action of the United States, the “9 years of official American involvement in the war over 2 million Vietnamese and 58, 219 Americans lost their lives” (Wiest 5).

In addition, the key military operations during the war were influenced by the relationships between the military and the civilians. Vietnam was the center of Cold War strategy. Different operations conducted during the Vietnam War were related to the tactics of the limited war. This strategy was criticized by the leaders of civilian society. There were limits set on the spread of the military conflict in Vietnam. Although the senior members of the U.S. military forces recommended expanding the scope of the military conflict, the U.S. presidents and their administrations opposed the expansion of freedom of action. Both the U.S. President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson used democratic solutions to the war (Hagopian 24).

  • The importance of the event in Modern World History

The Vietnam War plays an important role in Modern World History. This event has changed the minds of millions of people regarding the perception of war and the role of the U.S. involvement in the military conflict. According to researchers, “the Vietnam War and its perception were unprecedented in their entire dimension,” because of the considerable social and political changes that occurred during the military conflict (Groll 2). More specifically, there were changes in the media perception due to the emergence of television as an effective tool of political thought and political socialization. During this period, television expanded and turned into the most influential source of information for all people. Television offered massive opportunities for the U.S. leaders, including the war coverage and the public perception. The Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, states that “television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam”(qtd. in Groll 2).

In fact, the Vietnam War is considered to be one of the most disliked wars in the history of United States. According to researchers, “the cost of this war was the death of 60 thousands Americans and 2 to 4 million Vietnamese deaths” (Rahman & Marjan 23).  The considerable changes in the development of journalism during the period of Vietnam War led to the changed public perception of the war. According to researchers, “the story of Vietnam and how pictures of bloody fights, American casualties, and killed Vietnamese civilians turned around American public opinion and, eventually, led to the withdrawal of American troops, has become a classic” (Rahman & Marjan 23). The majority of reporters provided cynical representation of the war. As a result, the mass media produced confusion among the U.S. citizens because people began to express political distrust to the government (Rahman & Marjan 24).

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The Vietnam War was the longest lasting war in the United States history before the Afghanistan War. This example of a critical essay explores the history of that violent and divisive event. The United States’ presence and involvement in the Vietnam War were something that many people felt very strongly about, whether they be American citizens, Vietnamese citizens, or global citizens.

Known as ‘the only war American ever lost’, the Vietnam War ended two years after the United States withdrew their forces in 1973 and the communist party seized Saigon two years later. This sample essay provides an example of the features and benefits that come from working with Ultius.

Causes of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War refers to the Second Indochina War, lasting from 1954 until 1973, in which the United States (and other members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) fought alongside the Republic of South Vietnam. South Vietnam was contesting the communist forces comprised of the Viet Cong, a group of South Vietnamese guerillas, and the North Vietnamese Army (Vietnam War).

The war was a byproduct of the First Indochina War (lasting between 1946 and 1948), in which France tried to claim Vietnam as a colony and was met with strong opposition from Vietnamese communist forces.

But the deep-rooted issues surrounding the cause of the Vietnam War dated back to World War II, during which Japan invaded and occupied Vietnam (Vietnam War History). The country had already been under French rule since the late 1800s, and the Japanese presence caused a man named Ho Chi Minh, inspired by communism of China and the Soviet Union, to form the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam.

World War II as a catalyst to the Vietnam War

The Viet Minh’s main purpose was to fight both the Japanese and French administration and to make Vietnam a Communist nation. They were successful in forcing Japan to withdraw its forces in 1945. With only the French to worry about, the Viet Minh quickly rose up, gained control of the northern city of Hanoi, and declared Ho as the president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam War Facts).

This meant France had to take the lead in Vietnam. France sought to regain control in 1949 when they set up the state of Vietnam, also known as South Vietnam, and declared Saigon to be its capital. The two groups, the French and the Viet Minh, struggled for power until 1954, when a battle at Dien Bien Phu ended in defeat for France. This led to the Geneva Agreements , made a few months later, which granted independence to Cambodia and Laos, who had also been under French rule.

However, Vietnam was still divided into North Vietnam, or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the Republic of South Vietnam (Vietnam War). There was to be an election to determine the country’s fate, but the south resisted, spurring a cascade of guerilla warfare from the north. In July of 1959, North Vietnam called for a socialist revolution in all of Vietnam as a whole.

United States belated involvement in Vietnam

As the battles became more ferocious, President Kennedy watched from the United States and sent a team to report on the conditions of South Vietnam. In 1961, it was suggested that the president sent American troops to produce economic and technical aid in the fight against the Viet Cong. Fearing the effects of the ‘domino theory’, which stated that if one Southeast Asian nation fell under communist rule, so would many others, President Kennedy increased the number of troops in South Vietnam to nine thousand, compared to less than eight hundred during the previous decade (Vietnam War History).

After the assassination of President Kennedy, it was decided by both his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, that more soldiers would be used in the war . On August 2, 1964, two North Vietnamese torpedoes attacked United States destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, making the president’s war-making powers much broader (Vietnam War History).

America's military policy during the war

By the year’s end, twenty-three thousand American troops occupied South Vietnam and the United States began regular bombing raids the following February. Both the American military and the North Vietnamese forces came to the same conclusion; a steady escalation of the war would ensure victory. The U.S. believed that quickly increasing force and gaining control was the way to end the war; meanwhile, North Vietnam believed that enough American casualties would decrease support for U.S. involvement, forcing the withdrawal of the military (Vietnam War).

By June of 1965, eighty-two thousand United States troops were stationed in Vietnam. One month later, one hundred thousand more were dispatched, followed by another one hundred thousand in 1966 (Vietnam War History). By the end of 1967, there were almost five hundred thousand American military members stationed in Vietnam, and the death toll had surpassed fifteen thousand.

Soon, the physical and psychological deterioration of American soldiers became apparent. Maintaining military discipline was difficult. Drug use, mutiny, and cases of soldiers attacking officers became regular occurrences for United States troops. Popularity and support of the America’s part in the war decreased dramatically all over the world.

Americans' lack of support for the Vietnam War

On the last day of January in 1968, North Vietnam launched a series of merciless attacks on more than one hundred South Vietnamese cities. Despite the surprise, the United States and South Vietnam forces were able to strike back, making the communist fighters unable to maintain their hold on any of their targets.

Upon hearing reports of the attacks, and that there had been a request for two hundred thousand more troops, the United States’ support for the war plummeted, causing President Johnson to call a stop to the bombing of North Vietnam and vow to dedicate the rest of his term to achieving peace (Vietnam War History).

This promise by Johnson was met with talks of peace between the United States and North Vietnam. When Nixon was elected to take Johnson’s place, he sought to serve the ‘silent majority’, whom he believed supported the war effort.

Attempting to limit American casualties, Nixon launched a program to withdraw troops, increase artillery and aerial attacks, and give control over ground operations to South Vietnam (Vietnam War History). Peace negotiations were not moving smoothly, as North Vietnam continued to demand the United States’ complete withdrawal as a condition of peace.

In the years that followed, carnage and bloodshed were abundant. Meanwhile, in America, the anti-war movement was growing stronger as countless of thousands of Americans gathered at hundreds of protests around the country to contest the United States’ continued involvement in the war, marching in person and writing essays to share their opinions. In 1972, Nixon finally decided to end draft calls, as the numbers of soldiers discharged for desertion or ‘draft-dodging’ rapidly increased.

By the end of that year, North Vietnam was finally ready to compromise; however, they rejected the original peace agreement, causing Nixon to authorize bombings of North Vietnamese cities (Vietnam War History). U.S. troops were finally withdrawn in 1973, though war continued to rage between North and South Vietnam forces until the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

By the end of the war, the number of Americans killed reached over fifty-eight thousand, while the number of slaughtered Vietnamese numbered over two and a half million (Vietnam War History). From this point forward, the Vietnam War would be known as America's bloodiest war since the Civil War more than a hundred years' earlier.

The Vietnam War's military tactics

Military leaders once thought Germany's military policies during WWII were the most deceitful until the Viet Cong started employing their tactics. One of the most prominent types of warfare during the Vietnam War was guerilla warfare. This tactic consists of stealthy, surprise attacks aimed to eliminate opponents (Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare).

Widely used by the Viet Cong, this enabled them to sneak up on unwary enemies, kill them, and escape before causing alarm. In addition, Viet Cong fighters often disguised themselves as farmers or civilians before attacking when least expected.

Viet Cong's deceitful disguises and innocent lives lost

This led to the accidental killing thousands of innocent Vietnamese citizens. By 1965, the Viet Cong had gained access to machine guns, which they mainly used to shoot American helicopters down from the sky. They would also utilize American land mines, which they sometimes found undetonated and would steal for their own use (Battlefield: Vietnam).

In a single year, enemy forces obtained almost twenty thousand tons of explosives from dud American bombs. Though United States troops originally aimed to use more traditional forms of warfare, meaning the ‘winner’ would be the one who had claimed more land, it was decided that the only way to truly win the war was to eliminate as many enemy troops as possible, called attrition warfare (Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare).

Domestic response to the Vietnam War

The official position of the United States government on their involvement in the Vietnam War was that they were there at the request of South Vietnam to repel communist forces that were growing during the Cold War (Reaction to the War In the United States).

Before long, however, Americans grew dissatisfied with America’s continued presence in Southeast Asia. While some citizens believed that maximum force was necessary to quickly squash the opposition, others believed that the conflict in Vietnam was a civil one, making our involvement inappropriate.

Upon the revelation that American troops had massacred an entire village of civilians, anti-war demonstrations sprang up all around the country (Reactions to the War in the United States). While most demonstrations were peaceful, that was not the case for all. Many protests escalated to violence, as draft boards were raided and destroyed, production facilities were targets for attack and sabotage, and brutal altercations between civilians and police grew in frequency (Barringer).

Americans were analyzing the war through the lens of justice and morality, in addition to growing a strong distrust for the country’s military (War in Vietnam). Civil rights leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union called for the withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam. By the time Nixon recalled American troops in 1973, the antiwar sentiment had become overwhelming as dissent for the government reigned (Barringer). Never before had the American public showed such disdain and dissatisfaction with the country’s involvement in warfare.

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While the Vietnam War had some support among American citizens, the overall feelings towards the war were negative. It was widely believed that veterans were the true victims of the Vietnam War, as thousands of Americans were drafted involuntarily to fight in a war they did not believe in and millions of Vietnamese became nothing more than cast-aside casualties of war.

The United States originally aimed to squash the growth of Communism in Asia but ended up participating in the longest, bloodiest war in American history. Regardless of the justification for their involvement, the United States continues to hold the Vietnam War as a lesson and an example for how we, as a country, should conduct ourselves during times of conflict. The memories and aftereffects of the Vietnam War will continue to serve as a reminder for generations to come. If you have strong feelings about this bit of history, for or against, order your own essay from Ultius.

Works Cited

Barringer, Mark. University of Illinois: The Anti-War Movement in the United States. Oxford UP, 1999. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“Battlefield: Vietnam”. PBS. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“Guerilla Warfare and Attrition Warfare”. The Vietnam War. Weebly, 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“Vietnam War”. Weider History Network, 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“Vietnam War History”. A&E Television Network, 2009. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“The Vietnam War”. U.S. History. Independence Hall Association. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

“War in Vietnam”. History Learning Site., 2014. Web. 2, Dec. 2014.

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Home — Essay Samples — War — Vietnam War — The Vietnam War Historical Analysis


The Vietnam War Historical Analysis

  • Categories: Vietnam War

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Words: 502 |

Published: Jan 30, 2024

Words: 502 | Page: 1 | 3 min read

Table of contents

Historical context, causes of the vietnam war, progression of the war, opposition to the war, impact of the war.

  • BBC News. "Vietnam War: History."
  • National Archives. "The Vietnam War and American Involvement."
  • History. "Vietnam War."

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In the short story "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, the author effectively captures the predicaments faced by soldiers during the Vietnam War. Each soldier carries both literal and symbolic objects that serve as a link [...]

Introduction:Death is a universal theme that permeates literature, art, and human existence. In Tim O'Brien's seminal novel, The Things They Carried, death plays a central role, shaping the lives and experiences of the soldiers [...]

Juxtaposition is a powerful literary technique that involves placing contrasting elements side by side to create a deeper understanding or meaning. In Tim O'Brien's novel "The Things They Carried," juxtaposition is used to [...]

The Vietnam War was a tumultuous period in American history, with soldiers facing unimaginable hardships and challenges in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia. One of the most iconic characters of this war was Lieutenant John [...]

Some claim the domino theory was the key reason for the US intervention in Asia as it halted communist progress, The Domino Theory was the belief that communism was spread from one nation to its neighbours and so on. It was [...]

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essay for vietnam war

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Vietnam War Essay Examples

Impact of the vietnam war on american culture.

The Vietnam War was a tumultuous and divisive period in American history, and its effects on American culture were profound. This essay will explore how the Vietnam War shaped and influenced various aspects of American culture, from music and film to politics and social attitudes....

The Vietnam War: the Experiences of Soldiers and Veterans

The Vietnam War was the United States attempting to help stop communism from spreading. The war left a negative effect on soldiers making them incapable of putting the ravages of the war out of their minds. This war was said to have lasted twenty years....

The Media in Australia During the Vietnam War

Vietnam War was a time of fear and panic for Australia as the ideology of communism had spread. Australia had been influenced by the fear of communism by the US and media. The media had become a big part of the perspectives during the War,...

Ceramics of the Khmer Empire: Temples for the Gods, Ceramics for the People

Remembered for being a significant part of the Vietnam War and even more so for the mass genocide perpetrated by Paul Pot and the Khmer Rouge after the defeat of the Communist regime in 1975 the Kingdom of Cambodia was a mystery to most people...

Why Tim O'brien Should Have Fought in the Vietnam War

What would you do if you were to get drafted into war? Tim O’Brien was meat factory worker, a student body president with a full ride scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies. He struggles to figure out if he should flee to Canada or go...

Vietnam War institutional Affiliation

In current conditions, the international situation remains quite complicated, and the relationship between the various regions of the world is so close that any armed conflict can turn into a large-scale war. This threat is because armed conflicts are, as a rule, a coalition in...

Vietnam War in "Living Through the Vietnam War" by Cath Senker

In the book “Living Through The Vietnam War” by Cath Senker talks about all the significance of The Vietnam War. It talks about how it was such a global significance and how it affected both sides of the conflict. It also talks about how it...

The Role of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War

Vietnam transformed into a subject of colossal scale news incorporation in the United States essentially after liberal amounts of U.S. fight troops had been centered around the war in the spring of 1965. Going before that time, the number of American newsmen in Indochina had...

Publishing of the Gulf of Tonkin and Its Impact on Johnson's Presidency Career

The Gulf of Tonkin incident took place on August 2 and 4, 1964, it is also known as the USS Maddox incident, an international confrontation of two unprovoked attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on Maddox and Turner Joy which lead to the involvement of...

The Power of Story Truth and Happening Truth in the Life of Tim O’brien

The author Tim O’Brien finds the way to tell his Vietnam War experience in his book by giving the story-truth and not happening-truth. The story-truth that never happened to him shows how he felt inside during the fighting for his life. The happening-truth seems to...

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About Vietnam War

1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Tet Offensive, My Lai Massacre, Gulf of Tonkin incident.

In general, historians have identified several different causes of the Vietnam War, including: the spread of communism during the Cold War, American containment, and European imperialism in Vietnam. uses cookies to offer you the best service possible.By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .--> -->