Looking back at the Vietnam War we can ask ourselves several questions – Did we win or lose? Who do we blame? When should have we gotten out? Or maybe the biggest question of all is whether we should have gotten involved in the first place. In the year 1973 the last troops left Vietnam as part of the Paris Peace Accords. Although, the exit of the last troops brought an end to the war period, the war itself stands as a perfect example of how American intervention has caused more problems than it has solved in the last century.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Henry Kissinger prepared a report entitled “The Lessons of the Vietnam War” at President Gerald Ford’s request. Within the report, Kissinger mentions several lessons that can be taken away from the war and can be applied today.One of the lessons involved the importance of honest and objective reporting from both parties- the Government and the Media. The first series of inaccurate reports came from the White House itself, who felt optimistic and certain about the winning prospects in Vietnam. However, they failed to report the possible longevity of the war or resilient nature of the Viet Cong.
As the war grew uglier, so did the public support for the war and as it escalated, the public support for the war dwindled after the release of reports focusing on civilian and military casualties. The falsehood surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where President Johnson claimed hostile actions against the U.S were taken on high seas, started the war. This is similar to waging war with Iraq, part of the war on terrorism, under false pretenses and statements released by the Bush administration.
Additional events like the My Lai Massacre tarnished the reputation of the military. Pessimistic reports began gaining more trust and credibility by a skeptical public who felt they were being misled by the government. The war, being depicted as a failure for the U.S, became the shared perspective amongst the public.This is relevant to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq today. We have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade and polls show a split public for the war effort.
People want to pull troops and bring them back home. Although today, there is transparency of facts on the current situation of this war. It’s better to stay true to the American Public and gain domestic support like Kissinger states. Another point Kissinger mentions is how our own personal remarks of the war fueled anti-war and anti-government sentiment amongst the public. People back at home based their opinions on what they saw on the surface, but, not the real underlying problem. Kissinger goes on to cite specific examples of how the public criticized the Phoenix program, a CIA operation that tortured and killed Viet Cong operatives, but, did not criticize the brutal tactics of the Viet Cong. In addition, he mentions of the repetitive discourse of President Thieu’s failure to gain political support, but, not the fact that it was the North Vietnamese who didn’t support free elections, something that our government advocates for, and used military intervention to obtain power. To sum up, the war debates at home focused on the faults of us as a country abroad but, not the enemy.
He argues that not everything is out there and there is more information than what’s shown your television screen at night. I agree with this statement because don’t get to see every aspect of the war. We need to focus on the enemy, not on our faults (that doesn’t mean ignore our faults completely) because once we lose sight of what is important, our commitment and effort waivers. Kissinger fears how the government will take tougher stances to restore public faith in the military and most importantly in itself and by doing so, will put itself in situations as complex as Vietnam. This lesson indirectly states that it is imperative that, if we do wage war, we have an exit strategy that follows. The Vietnam war lasted through four presidencies, with each president struggling to withdraw troops. Today, instead of communism being the enemy, we have shifted ourselves to terrorism instead.
U.S involvement in Iraq to fight ISIS, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and terrorism in other parts of the middle east are not easy battles. But, we are better prepared to withdraw troops than we were able to to in Vietnam. We still, however, need to come up with better exit strategies and plans for Afghanistan and Iraq because we still aren’t as prepared.Personally the most important lesson is to not undermine the enemy.
America had established itself as a powerful nation in the world and its pride contributed to a loss in Vietnam. The U.S underestimated the North Vietnamese and felt that this was a war that they could easily win with their advanced weapons and bombs.
Except, they did not understand the resilience and determination of the Viet Cong. Much like the U.S during the American Revolution, the North Vietnamese were ready to fight for their freedom, no matter how many lives they’d have to sacrifice to do so. The U.S should understand this better than anybody, they fought independence from foreign invaders just like the way the North Vietnamese was doing then.
In addition, the U.S were unaware that they were fighting national insurgents not some communist plot created by the Soviets or China. Of course, today, we still have the strongest military and are the most powerful nation in the free world, but, looking back at the Vietnam war, it’s important to understand that war is unpredictable and so is the winner. A lesson from the Vietnam war that I believe we have definitely learned and applied today is the elimination of the draft.
Not only does it serve us better in terms of being a more qualified military, but, it boosts morale and commitment. During the Vietnam war, more than two million men were drafted out of twenty seven million. While some didn’t mind serving, some believed the draft to be a death sentence. They would have to fight for a war they did not support and instead of increasing support for the war, the draft added to the anti war movements led by college students. In 1964, students burned draft cards as a symbol of defiance and wrote letters to the White House stating that they would not fight. As the drafters increased from 3,000 in February to 33,000 in October so did the momentum of these protests held on University campuses. The secret selective service reported 206,000 of these draft resisters, but, it was impractical to punish or imprison all these people. President Carter would later grant amnesty to those who fled abroad to places like Canada to escape the draft and allow them to return to the country.
With our involvement in Iraq, to combat the war on terror, we don’t see huge peace protests down the street possibly because there is no more draft. People are serving voluntarily. There are about 5000 casualties from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, while there are ten times that in Vietnam.
All in all, Soldiers who actually want to serve will undoubtedly do better than those who’ve been drafted, keeping the casualty rates low. Lastly, we learn wars are easier to start than to end. President Eisenhower felt confident in Vietnam and would do anything to prevent a domino effect from taking place. This concept was accepted by Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, but, their commitment to the war grew weak. Talks of withdrawing troops were present during each presidency to de-escalate the Vietnam situation. As time went on, it became more difficult to withdraw troops and the opposite happened. Similarly today, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, one of the longest running wars since Vietnam, seems to have no end in sight.
Troops are still being sent in and the presence of terror groups like ISIS are as prominent as ever, arguably even more so, since our military involvement in 2001.Although our enemies in the Vietnam war differ from our current war with Afghanistan, and other countries, one being communism and the other being terrorism, we cannot overlook similarities between the two. We learn various lessons from the Vietnam war,but, this does not necessarily mean that we haven’t repeated old mistakes.