The previous posts were really strong. One reason why the war was perceived so differently was that its escalation was a direct contradiction to specific cultural values of the time. The 1960's being a period of massive social change and upheaval on a domestic level did not lend itself to complete escalation of a war effort in another nation. Given the fact that a part of this social change was the development of the idea of peace and tranquility, a war of the magnitude of Vietnam stood in direct opposition to these premises. Additionally, the primary casualties of the war were soldiers of young age, confirming to the generational gap in perceptions at the time. I would also submit that the lack of direct focus as to why the war was being fought helped to feed the belief that the government's efforts were not being executed in the name of the public interest, contributing to a negative view of the war.
I do not agree with most of the points made in the first two answers. They are true, but they do not make the Vietnam War different than other wars.
The war was not the first one that was vigorously opposed by people within the country. The War of 1812 led to talk of secession in New England. The Mexican-American War was strongly opposed by Abraham Lincoln and most other Northerners who opposed the spread of slavery. The draft in the Civil War caused riots so big in New York City that troops who had just finished fighting at Gettysburg were rushed to the city to suppress them (and there were other riots as well).
Propaganda was on both sides during the Revolution, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War.
To me, the third answer is most correct. This was the first war fought under both of two conditions:
- The war was not "necessary" in that the US had not been attacked (unlike WWII)
- More importantly, US society was much more individualistic and self-centered than it had been before.
When you combine these two (along with the TV aspect cited in the first answer) you get discontent. The mass of Americans were, by this time, much more aggressive about personal rights and privileges than they ever had been before and that is why the protest was so much more widespread than in any other war.
It was the first war televised: the first time civilians saw the images of war on a daily basis. More importantly, it occurred during the Civil Rights/Women's liberation movement. So, the country was already polarized on many issues. The war became another. Those on the left saw the war as an imperial endeavor to spread American ideology, whereas the right saw the war as a necessary step in halting the spread of communism. Also, there was a draft. The Civil Rights movements were all about individual freedom, some militant, some peaceful. A draft inhibits a person's physical and mental freedom. When the government told people they had to go fight a war that they didn't believe in, they naturally rebelled and protested. In addition to the militant rebels, who were against the war for ideological or social reasons, there was the peace movement (hippies) who were against war of any kind. The Vietnam War was publicized - on t.v. all the time - and as it was in the public consciousness, those in favor or against the war, had to constantly persuade the public of their viewpoint. Propaganda, on both sides, was constant. The first ubiquitously public war in the modern era. And it occurred during a time when domestic debates were more public and prolific than ever before.
The Vietnam War was also the longest war in American history.
Vietnam War resulted in the loss of millions of human lives, with serious damages and unprecedented environmental disasters, human destiny broken and a new disease occurrence in the collective mind: Vietnamese syndrome.
In South-East Asian jungles, America recorded a historic military defeat.
In Washington, in residential headquarter, is a unique monument in the world: Memorial dedicated to the 58,000 American troops fallen for their country, on a battle field, at tens of thousands of miles away from home. The monument is unique because, unlike others, is not built aiming the sky, but was built below the ground level.
Vietnam War came, at a time, to split until the climax, the American society, trained in a wide debate with pros and cons, and made an American president, Lyndon Johnson, to lose the battle for renewal of presidential election.