On the 30th of April, 1975, the Vietnam War officially ends; the United States military has lost over fifty-eight thousand troops, The Viet Cong has “lost” the battle between democracy and communism, and families across the U.S and Southern Vietnam are at home mourning their loved ones. Throughout the course of American history, the declaration of war has only been used as a last resort to protect, defend, and serve the people of the United States; however, in the case of the Vietnamese war this sentiment was untrue. Instead of protecting U.S soldiers and citizens and ensuring their safety, the government risked the lives of numerous Americans in hopes of preventing communism in a country where American ideals were distant thoughts from another world. However, Rather than instilling a magnificent mosaic of patriots battling for democracy, the government painted a calamitous caricature ridden with undertones of confusion, regret, and miscalculation; as a result, the detrimental effects on both the soldiers and public were ever lasting.
Often an American infantry soldier is put through 10-16 weeks of basic training and then is placed through countless drills, military exercises, and several mental evaluations; however, when drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, teenagers were given no more than a month’s worth of training. From the beginning and up until the very end of the Vietnam war, inexperienced, ill-prepared young men were drafted to fight in a war that they did not support. This lack of skill and knowledge was ultimately the mental undoing of the majority of American forces. While giving testimony on behalf of the veterans of Vietnam, John Kerry claimed that the American soldiers “raped, cut off ears, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, and randomly shot citizens” (Kery ). The pressure of war combined with the severity of life or death circumstances caused many of the soldiers in Vietnam to commit heinous acts of violence and engage in activities that one could describe as out of character. While many soldiers became mentally unstable during the war, they were not the only ones affected by the atmosphere of Vietnam. In Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, Mary Anne, a quiet, sweet, and generally innocent young girl is helicoptered out to a medical reserve to live with her high-school sweetheart Mark Fossie. However, after meeting a group of cut-throat soldiers known as the greenies, Mary Anne loses her innocence and ultimately becomes “one with Vietnam” (O’Brien, Chapter: Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong). This development and change of character in Mary Anne is ultimately representative of the potential influence war can have on an average citizen’s psychological state.
After President Nixon, alongside diplomats from South Vietnam, Viet Cong, and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, the Vietnam war finally came to a close. However, after being exposed to the negativity that encompassed the Vietnam conflict on a daily basis for several years, mass society wasn’t very accepting to the return of most American soldiers; consequently, this caused the soldiers returning from Vietnam to feel neglected, unappreciated, and withheld from the rest of the public. This feeling of disrespect ultimately placed a strain on the public’s perception of the average Vietnam soldier, and vice versa. In the HBO premiere movie, Dear America: Letters from Home, a soldier bitterly describes this social tension between the public and soldiers claiming, “We’re fighting, dying for a people who resent our being over here” (Dear America). While there were many people who were understanding of the situation and circumstances of some of the soldiers in Vietnam, a multitude of like-minded individuals believed otherwise, placing the blame of the war on the soldiers’ hands and which ultimately forced the Vietnam soldiers to feel as if they were “fighting for misfits” (Kerry). Because the Vietnam soldiers felt like mass society didn’t care about them, it ultimately resulted in a strained relationship between the two entities.
Although numerous people blame the Vietnam War on the soldiers, a select few placed the blame on a hierarchy of rash-minded officials: the United States government. In his “Peace without Conquest” speech, President Johnson discussed that the United States government is going to further their involvement in the Vietnam war, Johnson states that it was the U.S government’s pledge to “help South Vietnam defend its independence… and it’s freedom” (LBJ). Protecting the people of Vietnam was not necessarily the U.S. citizen’s agenda but rather the government’s. This shift in policy, from protecting the people of the United States freedom, to becoming policemen for the rest of the world, fundamentally resulted in the realization that the war of Vietnam is truly a gilded war. In a testimony he gave on April of 1971, John Kerry addresses the feelings of veterans of Vietnam, and through this testimony he discusses how the soldiers, with whom he was acquainted, felt as if the war in Vietnam was the government’s fault, claiming Nixon was too worried about being the “first president to lose a war.” (Kerry) While wartime is a time of chaos and confusion, it is the government’s responsibility to always have their citizens best interest in mind.
In times of warfare both soldiers and citizens are affected psychologically and socially. However, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the security and independence of its nations people. Throughout the entirety of the Vietnam war, thousands of innocent lives were lost at the cost of “freedom,” citizens back in the United States held riots protesting the very soldiers who were giving their lives to protect their freedom, and the U.S president remained steadfast in his declaration of war and refused to withdraw American forces from Vietnam. Despite the public’s harsh opinion in regards to the soldiers that fought in the Vietnam War, we must remember that these men were involuntarily selected to fight on our behalf. The blame should not go to the soldiers but to the lawmakers who unilaterally decided to entangle the United States in a war between an undeserving country that would affect citizens for years to come.
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