- Ho Chi Minh
Long before American soldiers arrived in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Vietnamese people had endured centuries of violent struggle for control of their country. The most recent of these struggles took place from 1946 to 1954, when Vietnamese Communists—known as Viet Minh—fought to free the country from more than one hundred years of French colonial rule.
In 1954 war-weary France gave up its claims on Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and his lieutenants rejoiced at their victory and prepared to establish Communist rule over the entire nation. But the United States and other democratic nations objected to this plan because they did not want Vietnam controlled by Communists. The view at the time was that if one country fell to Communist control, others would follow. As a result, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists were forced to accept a compromise—the Geneva Accords—in which they received only the northern half of the country. The southern portion of the country went to non-Communists. This arrangement was only supposed to be temporary. The treaty called for national elections to be held in 1956 to create a single Vietnamese government. However, South Vietnam and its American supporters refused to hold the elections because of fears that Ho Chi Minh would win.
Before long, North and South...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
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Ho Chi Minh
Excerpt from a letter to the editor of
the American magazine Minority of One
Published in the May 1964 issue
"The Vietnamese people thank the workers', youth, students', and women's organizations, as well as progressive intellectuals, congressmen, and clergymen in the United States who have courageously raised their voices, staged demonstrations, exposed the criminal policy of aggression pursued by the U.S. government."
Vietnam has a long history of being controlled by other countries. For example, it was ruled by neighboring China during ancient times, it was a colony of France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it was occupied by Japan during World War II. All through their nation's history, the Vietnamese people have struggled to gain their independence from foreign powers. Some historians consider the Vietnam War to be another example of the Vietnamese fighting to achieve independence and self-rule. In that war, the historians argue, the foreign country that was using its power to control Vietnam was the United States.
North Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh often characterized the war as a revolution to overthrow the U.S.-sponsored government in South Vietnam and thus free the country from foreign control. "For the defense of the independence...
(The entire section is 5836 words.)
The War at Home
- Martin Luther King, Jr
- Robert F. Kennedy
- Tim O'Brien
- Richard M. Nixon
- Bill Rubenstein
U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War increased dramatically during the 1960s and remained significant until 1973, when American forces were finally withdrawn from the conflict. In the early years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, a large majority of Americans supported the government's policies. But as the bloody conflict continued without any end in sight, many Americans declared their opposition to the war in Vietnam. They said that the United States was interfering with the internal affairs of another country. They viewed the war as an immoral campaign that was wasting the lives of American soldiers and destroying the country of Vietnam. By the late 1960s, although many Americans continued to support U.S. involvement, the antiwar movement had become a major force in American politics and society. But as its influence swelled and some of its membership engaged in radical and violent protests, the antiwar movement itself became controversial. People who continued to support U.S. involvement viewed antiwar...
(The entire section is 822 words.)
Martin Luther King, Jr
Excerpt from his antiwar speech "Beyond Vietnam"
Delivered April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City
"[The world] demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam."
When the United States sent ground troops into Vietnam in 1964, one out of every seven (about 14 percent) of those soldiers was African American. In the time leading up to the Vietnam War, blacks tended to view military service as a very positive thing. Many African Americans joined the armed forces out of high school in order to receive training, career opportunities, and wages that were not readily available to them in civilian (non-military) society due to segregation.
At that time in American history, there were laws that segregated (separated) people by race. For example, white people and people of color were required to use separate restrooms, drinking fountains, schools, theaters, and restaurants. These laws discriminated against blacks and placed them in an inferior position in society. The military was one of the first American institutions to be desegregated. "Military service was for blacks a vehicle for social equality in which rank replaced race as a measure of respect and accomplishment," Clark C. Smith wrote in Brothers: Black Soldiers in the Nam....
(The entire section is 6357 words.)
Robert F. Kennedy
Excerpt from a speech on the Vietnam War
Delivered on February 8, 1968
"Reality is grim and painful. But it is only a remote echo of the anguish toward which a policy [U.S. military policy in Vietnam] founded on illusion is surely taking us."
Throughout the years of American involvement in Vietnam, U.S. government officials and military leaders became entangled in a great debate about the government of South Vietnam. Some people argued that if the United States continued to provide military and economic support, the South Vietnamese government could eventually build a democratic state that would be popular with the nation's people. But critics disagreed. They charged that the government was hopelessly corrupt and ineffective, and they noted that the South Vietnamese people felt no allegiance to their leaders. Some observers even claimed that the government's flaws were so great that it did not make sense for the United States to support it. This viewpoint became more common as the war dragged on and American opposition to involvement in Vietnam increased.
Doubts about the effectiveness of the South Vietnamese government first arose shortly after the 1954 Geneva Accords. This treaty, which ended the First Indochina War between Vietnam and France, divided the nation of Vietnam into a...
(The entire section is 4693 words.)
Excerpt from his story "On the Rainy River"
Published in The Things They Carried, 1990
"I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile. I was afraid of walking away from my own life, my friends and my family, my whole history, everything that mattered to me."
As American involvement in Vietnam deepened, the United States used a military draft system known as the Selective Service to meet its troop needs. But the draft soon became one of the most controversial aspects of the entire war. The antiwar movement condemned it as a terrible system that forced America's sons to fight an immoral war. Some supporters of the war disliked its rules as well. In fact, they joined antiwar activists in charging that draft rules favored young men from middle-class and wealthy families and forced America's poor and workingclass families to shoulder most of the burden of the war. As criticism of the draft intensified and opposition to the war increased, millions of young draftees resorted to a variety of strategies to avoid military service in Vietnam. Millions of others decided to obey their draft notices. Either way, reaching a decision on this all-important issue was not easy for most men. Many draftees agonized over whether to accept induction (membership in the armed forces), torn by their conflicted feelings...
(The entire section is 5887 words.)
Richard M. Nixon
Excerpt from the "Silent Majority" speech
Delivered on national television, November 24, 1969
"And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support."
By the time Richard M. Nixon was elected president of the United States in November 1968, the majority of the American people had grown tired and frustrated with the war in Vietnam. Polls showed that 60 percent of Americans thought that becoming involved in the war had been a mistake, while 20 percent favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Many people began to question whether Vietnam was important enough to U.S. interests to justify the loss of more American lives. In addition, some people began to worry about the effects the war was having on American society. "Controversy over the war in Vietnam brought vast changes to the United States in the 1960s," Robert D. Schulzinger wrote in A Time for War. "The war affected every institution in American life: universities, Congress, the presidency, the Democratic Party, the armed forces, labor unions, religious organizations, and the mass media."
Historians have noted that the Vietnam War divided the American people more than any other event since the Civil War (1861–65) a century earlier. Some people believed that the war was immoral...
(The entire section is 5589 words.)
Excerpt from his essay "Tragedy at Kent"
Published in Middle of the Country, edited by Bill Warren, 1970
"This is a "national tragedy," one that will, when history is written, be one of the hallmarks of a leadership distinterested in and unconcerned with the pulse of its people."
In November 1968 Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon was elected president of the United States, defeating Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. One important factor in Nixon's successful campaign to win the presidency was his repeated promise to end the war in Vietnam if elected. Upon assuming office in early 1969, Nixon did take some steps to decrease U.S. involvement in the war. For example, he devised a military strategy that allowed him to begin withdrawing American troops from the conflict. This withdrawal was interpreted by most Americans as a sign that the war might finally be drawing to a close. Even American antiwar activists expressed hope that an end to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was in sight, although they grumbled about the slow pace of the troop withdrawal.
In late April of 1970, however, Nixon approved a massive military operation into Cambodia, a country on the western border of Vietnam. Nixon explained that the invasion was intended to wipe out Communist military bases that...
(The entire section is 5095 words.)
The War in Vietnam
- Walter Cronkite
- Le Ly Hayslip
- Philip Caputo
- Julie Forsythe
- James Stockdale
The Vietnam War was a brutal and bloody conflict that took the lives of more than fifty-eight thousand American soldiers and an estimated two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. In addition, air bombings, mortar attacks, and gun battles destroyed countless forests, farmlands, villages, and city neighborhoods in both North and South Vietnam. As the war progressed, it also took a great emotional toll on its American and Vietnamese participants as they struggled to keep themselves, their comrades, and—in the case of Vietnamese civilians—their families alive.
Most of the battles that were waged in Vietnam were fierce gunfights between small bands of opposing soldiers. But both sides occasionally launched larger military campaigns. The greatest and most important of these major campaigns was called the Tet Offensive. This massive surprise attack by the North Vietnamese Army and its Viet Cong (South Vietnamese Communists) allies hit targets all across South Vietnam. American and South Vietnamese troops...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
Excerpt from an editorial about the Vietnam War
Broadcast on CBS Television, February 27, 1968
It is generally agreed that American media coverage of the Vietnam War had a major impact on public attitudes toward the conflict. But historians, military leaders, lawmakers, community leaders, and ordinary Americans have different opinions about the nature and quality of coverage provided by U.S. television and print journalists in Vietnam. Defenders of the American press in Vietnam claim that the journalists informed the American people about the true nature of the war at a time when their political and military leaders repeatedly deceived them. But critics in the government, the military, and elsewhere claim that the media was dominated by antiwar journalists who poisoned the American public against the war by delivering superficial and negative coverage of the conflict. Three decades later, the fairness and accuracy of American journalism in Vietnam remains a subject of fierce debate.
When the United States first became involved in Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the relationship between America's press and its military and governmental leaders was fairly positive. This cordial relationship is generally attributed both to America's triumph in World War II and the economic prosperity the nation enjoyed in the...
(The entire section is 5086 words.)
Le Ly Hayslip
Excerpt from her memoir When Heaven
and Earth Changed Places
Published in 1989
"I had a terrible dream of ghosts floating through the village and into our house and into my mouth and nose and I couldn't breathe. I woke up to find my father's hand over my face and his voice whispering to me to lie still."
In many ways the Vietnam War was a fight to control the countryside of South Vietnam and the loyalty of its people. Before the war most of the people in South Vietnam lived in small, rural villages and supported their families by farming. They tended to be quite poor, and few of them could read or write. They lived simple lives that emphasized the importance of family ties and cultural traditions. They did not know or care much about politics. But when the war began, the South Vietnamese peasants were caught in the middle.
The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the war between France and Communist-led Viet Minh forces, divided Vietnam into two sections. The northern section, which was led by a Communist government under Ho Chi Minh, was officially known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam but was usually called North Vietnam. The southern section, which was led by a U.S.-supported government under Ngo Dinh Diem, was known as the Republic of South Vietnam.
(The entire section is 4833 words.)
Excerpt from a memoir of his experiences
in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, 1965
Published in his book A Rumor of War, 1977
"Everything rotted and corroded there [in Vietnam]: bodies, boot leather, canvas, metal, morals. Scorched by the sun, wracked by the wind and rain of the monsoon, fighting in alien swamps and jungles, our humanity rubbed off of us as the protective bluing rubbed off the barrels of our rifles."
War has always been a terrible experience for American soldiers to endure. This is true even when soldiers go to war to fight for a cause in which they believe, such as defending U.S. liberty or saving another nation or people in danger. Indeed, accounts of major American wars like the Civil War and World War II are filled with stories of the death, pain, sorrow, and cruelty that American soldiers experienced while serving their country.
But many historians and soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War believe that the conflict took an even greater emotional toll on the American soldiers than had earlier wars. They argue that when U.S. troops went to Vietnam, they became trapped in a uniquely nightmarish war that placed a tremendous strain on their emotional well-being.
Combat duty in Vietnam was frustrating for U.S. troops for many...
(The entire section is 5712 words.)
Excerpt from an interview about her
experiences in Vietnam, 1972–75
Published in Kathryn Marshall's In the Combat Zone: An Oral History of American Women in Vietnam, 1987
"I'm sure things are desperately poor [in Vietnam] and probably still incredibly beautiful. But whatever's happened, it's their [the Vietnamese's] country now, and I'm glad of that."
Thousands of American women served in Vietnam during the war years. In fact, some estimates place the total num ber between 33,000 and 55,000. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that nearly 7,500 of these women served in the American military, while the Veterans Administration places the number of American military women in Vietnam at over 11,000. The numbers are uncertain because the government did not keep separate military records by gender at that time. In addition, there were no official records of civilian (non-military) women serving in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War women who pursued a mili tary career were segregated into special branches of the service and not allowed to participate in combat. The main opportunities for women in the American military were in the nursing and administrative fields. Most of the women in the American armed forces in Vietnam served as nurses. But about 20 percent served...
(The entire section is 4349 words.)
Excerpt from an account of his experiences as a prisoner of war
Published in In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale, 1984
"I wrote the papers, and I signed them. But I made them beat it out of me. I felt like two cents when it was done."
During the Vietnam War, thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict were captured and imprisoned by enemy forces. These prisoners of war (POWs) included infantry soldiers, fighter pilots, and other military personnel, as well as people who participated in the conflict by spying, recruiting, or providing other direct assistance to the enemy army.
As the Vietnam War progressed, neither the Communist leadership of North Vietnam nor the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam paid much attention to international guidelines on proper treatment of POWs. These guidelines were detailed in the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that had been developed through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
According to the terms of the Geneva Conventions, POWs were supposed to receive "humane treatment," including adequate food, shelter, and medical care. But both North and South Vietnam subjected many of their war prisoners to horrible treatment. For example, both sides tortured some of their...
(The entire section is 5735 words.)
Legacies of the War
- Phuong Hoang
- Linda Phillips Palo
In January of 1973 the Paris Accords were signed and the United States withdrew its military forces from Vietnam. Two years later, North Vietnamese troops captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to end the war. Once the war ended, the Communist leaders of North Vietnam reunited the two halves of the country to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The government then seized control of all farmland and business activities and placed new limitations on the rights of the Vietnamese people. These changes made life very hard in Vietnam, and millions of Vietnamese fled the country to look for a better way of life.
Some of the people who fled the country after North Vietnam's victory in 1975 had supported the South Vietnamese government or its American allies. They worried that the country's new leaders would consider them enemies and take revenge on them. Others left Vietnam because they held religious or political views that would make it difficult for them to live under Communist rule. These people worried that they would be persecuted (harassed or attacked because of their beliefs) by the new government. Finally, some people fled
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Excerpt from a statement about his
experiences as a refugee, 1975–76
Published in Hearts of Sorrow: Vietnamese-American
Lives, edited by James Freeman, 1989
"When we set out on our journey, we had no idea what would happen to us or what country would allow us to land. All we knew was that we had to get out, even at the risk of losing our lives."
After the Vietnam War ended in a North Vietnamese victory in 1975, huge numbers of South Vietnamese people began leaving the country. Some of these people had supported the South Vietnamese government or its American allies. They worried that the country's new leaders would consider them enemies and take revenge on them. Other people wanted to leave Vietnam because they held religious or political views that would make it difficult for them to live under Communist rule. These people worried that they would be persecuted (harassed or attacked because of their beliefs) by the new government. Finally, some people fled because they believed that Vietnam would suffer widespread poverty as it struggled to recover from the destruction of the war.
Many people immigrate to foreign countries in search of opportunities to provide a better life for their families. But the people who decided to leave Vietnam after the...
(The entire section is 6324 words.)
Linda Phillips Palo
Letter left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, July 20, 1985
Published in Shrapnel in the Heart, edited by Laura Palmer, 1987
"I learned that the pain and loss never goes away. It just changes."
When American Vietnam veterans returned home to the United States, many of them felt ignored and rejected by their country. The Vietnam War had caused so much pain and unhappiness that most Americans seemed to want to forget that the conflict had ever taken place. As a result, neither the nation's surviving veterans nor those soldiers who were killed in Vietnam received any meaningful recognition outside of their small circle of family and friends. In 1982, however, their sacrifices and service were finally recognized by their nation with the formal dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The idea for the memorial originated with Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam combat veteran. In 1979 he founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to raise money for the construction of a monument honoring the men and women who gave their lives in the war. As Scruggs began his fund-raising efforts, he emphasized that he had no wish to make any political statements about American involvement in the war. He simply wanted a memorial that would pay tribute to the 58,000 Americans who were...
(The entire section is 3679 words.)