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The Reasons Why the Vietnam War Lasted So Long

It is said that the U. S. has never gotten over the Vietnam War and it is still a controversial war, these are the reasons why the Vietnam War lasted so long. In 1973, the United States and North Vietnam signed a treaty called the Paris Peace Agreement; this was the beginning of the withdrawal of all remaining U. S. forces from Vietnam which was mandated by the treaty (“Vietnam War,” 1991). Also in the agreement was the return of U. S. prisoners of war, and a cease-fire (1991). The war was not over though until 1975 when the North Vietnamese stormed Saigon (1991).

While the war ended, the bad feelings would linger. One example of this is the continued relevance in respect to whether or not candidates “served in the military, or dodged the draft, or smoked pot, or dabbled in radical politics, or engaged in the more promiscuous activities of the sexual revolution” (McDougall, 1995, p. 478). Some say that men were put into harm’s way without thoughtful consideration. Vandemark (1995) claims that from the outset, the U. S. was doomed. It would never complete the mission successfully and Johnson and his cronies knew this (Vandemark 1995).

If that is the case, it would explain why there are still conflicting ideas about Vietnam. And while there were people who knew that the U. S. would not win, and that too many of the nation’s sons would be lost, there were many who were idealistic, who thought themselves to be freedom fighters and who fought for freedom. It was a pie in the sky idea, a glimpse of the future that saw a free world without the blood, and without the body bags. It was a war that never should have been fought. While much of this has been supported by the literature, the United States withdrew its forces from Vietnam in 1973.

Some wonder why it took so long to withdraw and why this did not happen earlier. It is a difficult question to answer, but the Vietnam debacle was not something quick or clear. It was a situation that mushroomed. The actual goal was to preserve an independent, noncommunist government in South Vietnam, but by April of 1975, the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) ruled the entire country (“Vietnam War,” 1991). The mission was not accomplished but the goal did emanate from paranoia about communism and a fear of the domino effect.

This reactive policy, whereby the United States would fight for democracy, was known as containment (1991). The chief military target was Ho Chi Minh and his cronies (1991). But there were complications. While President Truman and other American leaders favored Vietnamese independence, there was expanding communist control of Eastern Europe and China’s civil war also ended in favor of communism (“Vietnam War,” 1991). France agreed to a somewhat independent Vietnam under Emperor Bao Dai instead of Ho’s DRV and the United States supported that position (“Vietnam War,” 1991).

One criticism of the war was that the U. S. largely looked at the war as a fight against communism rather than treating it as a conflict within a nation; thus, the social and political ramifications were not considered (“Vietnam War,” 1991). What then happened was that the U. S. ignored anything having to do with social structure and simply sent more men to do battle (“Vietnam War,” 1991). Why it did not end sooner is hard to say. It is perhaps the case that from the start, it really was not a war. It was a military action to help a part of a state that did not want communism.

The U. S. is noted for doing such things but clearly the anti-war movement, inclusive of the Kent State fiasco and the significant change in public opinion would overwhelm a nation. The war would have to end at some point. When faced with a dilemma, sometimes it pays to cut one’s losses and leave. That is what the United States did in 1973. All of the primary factors inclusive of public opinion, strength of the Vietcong, and the cost of the war took its toll. It could have happened earlier, but it was a war that escalated slowly.

Just as one gets into debt one credit card at a time, or gains weight one pound at a time, Vietnam was a situation that slowly accelerated. It was not an all or nothing idea. James Wirtz (“Vietnam War,”1991) contends that the Tet Offensive was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that it was the one thing that contradicted claims of progress that the Johnson administration so gleefully claimed. Based on the information presented, one can certainly see that from 1963 through 1968, the public was somewhat supportive of Johnson’s decisions. Ideologically, again, they thought the U. S. was doing something good.

The Vietnam War after all sprung from the cold war. There was the idea that communism must be fought and this was at any cost. There was also the idea that communism must be fought in order to save the free world. In retrospect, Vietnam was a lost cause. Further, communism would not be the horror many predicted. By the time the 1990s would roll around, many communist countries would admit that the experiment failed. Still, at the time, the mentality was that the United States was doing a good thing. In retrospect, Johnson should have not escalated the war, but hindsight as they say is always 20-20.

Alternate scenarios again are superfluous. Gavin (2002) theorizes that Kennedy was not committed to escalation after the coup against Diem. Yet, no one knows what Kennedy would have done had he lived. It was simply a conflict that the U. S. should not have entered. If the mission was a success, it is possible that people would look back upon Vietnam as a good thing. It sometimes appears that the ends justify the means. In the case of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, both the ends and means were rather pathetic and regrettable.

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