The Vietnam War became one of the pivotal moments of American history. It became an epitome of painful failure, a pointless effort, which led only to death, destruction, and division of the American people. On February 7, 1965, Viet Cong attacked a U.S. military base in Pleiku, and President Lyndon Johnson responded with retaliatory air strikes (Goldfield et al., 2017). By 1968 Johnson increased the U.S. military presence in Vietnam to over 500,000 troops (Goldfield et al., 2017). Instead of backing South Vietnam, American soldiers, marines, and pilots essentially carried the brunt of the fight on themselves.
As the number of U.S. battle deaths climbed, the popular support for the war effort dwindled. The “search and destroy” strategy implemented by general William Westmoreland had limited success against South Vietnamese guerrillas, as they were difficult to detect among the Vietnamese civilians (Goldfield et al., 2017). Eventually, the U.S. troops left Vietnam by the end of 1973, and the South Vietnamese regime collapsed in 1975 under the strikes of the battle-hardened North Vietnamese Army. American troops did not suffer significant defeats on the battlefield; however, the Vietnam War ended in a total disaster from the political and social perspectives.
Considering the modern knowledge about the Vietnam War, it seems almost outrageous to justify the government’s actions during its course or the reasons behind it. However, in the Vietnam case, a hindsight bias plays a significant role because it is difficult to stand for something that ended so badly. Therefore, I will try to look at Vietnam War from the perspective of the 1960s college student. That approach will make my answer more reasonable and justified, instead of simply supporting the protesters because of the negative image of war.
President Kennedy famously said, “ask what you can do for your country,” and his words influenced the American nation. I can see that backing up the military and political ally could be considered a just, even a noble goal. Many people could view the initial stages of the Vietnam War as an opportunity to pay a due to their country, to do something for it. The military draft system existed in the 1960s, but many people volunteered to fight in Vietnam. Like their fathers in WWII, those young men could have been following their patriotic duty.
In addition, back in the 1960s, people had limited access to information besides television, newspapers, books, and personal acquaintances. Therefore, many Americans were unaware of the political situation in Vietnam. For them, the troops were protecting South Vietnamese allies in their struggle against Communist aggression. I doubt that the majority of Americans knew much about Vietnamese history. The nation probably did not realize that the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong just continued their struggle for national unity and viewed South Vietnam as an American puppet. Given the circumstances, I would have supported the initial war efforts of the government. I would have liked that we did not abandon the allies and respected the courage of young Americans who went to fight for the country.
However, my attitude to Vietnam War would have changed significantly after several events. First of all, the Tet Offensive of 1968 would have caused me to question the military success. An allegedly defeated enemy mounted a full-scale offensive operation, attacking Saigon and thirty-six of forty-four provincial capitals (Goldfield et al., 2017). I would have asked myself: “How are we winning if the North Vietnamese can still gather so many forces?”. Media coverage and the growing number of dead American troops in 1968 would have planted the seeds of disillusionment in me.
By the end of 1969, I would have turned into a war protester from the moderate war supporter. The final drop would be the revelation about the My Lai massacre of 1968, where American troops killed hundreds of civilians (Goldfield et al., 2017). I would have started to think that My Lai was not a single case, and the troops routinely killed civilians when they needed to increase the body count.
Overall, I would have made a way from supporting the war to protesting against it. I would have started to think that the “search and destroy” strategy turns American soldiers into mindless killers. I am not trying to blame Vietnam veterans; on the contrary, I have the utmost respect for those who fought in Vietnamese jungles. The loss or destruction of young men’s lives for nothing would be the reason behind my opposition to the Vietnam War.
Goldfield, D., Abbott, C., Anderson, V.D., Argersinger, J.A.E., Argersinger, P.H., & Barney, W.M. (2017). The American journey: A history of the United States, volume 2 (since 1865). 8th ed., Pearson.