Military Draft in the Vietnam War
Vietnam was conquered in 1884. In true colonial fashion, France ruled Vietnam and the rest of Indochina for the benefit and grandeur of the French nation. All top positions in the government and armed forces were held by Frenchmen. All plantations, mines, banks, commercial firms, and shipping lines were owned by Frenchmen. And the Chinese minority controlled the rice trade and enjoyed more privileges than the Vietnamese natives. Although France introduced modern transport and communications, the Vietnamese resented the foreigners and longed for their independence (Shipway, 1996).
Gradually, the Vietnamese prepared to gain back their lost freedom. After World War I and the execution of leaders of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party, a fearless and tough crusader for independence appeared. The French returned to Indochina after World War II to find much of it under the control of the Vietminh, a nationalist movement founded in 1941 by Ho Chi Minh. Ho, a Communist, had set up a government in the northern part of Vietnam.
Unwilling to part with its colonies in Indochina, France set troops to fight against the nationalist army. Vietnamese peasants, who looked on the French as imperialists, gave help and supplies to Ho’s guerilla forces. Communist China also aided the Vietminh, while the United States helped France (Bradley, 2000). In March 1954, the Vietminh severely defeated the French troops at Dien Bien Phu, and the French left Indochina (Shipway, 1996).
The 1954 peace talks, held at Geneva, Switzerland, included representatives from North and South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, France, China, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. In the settlement, known as the Geneva Accords, France granted independence to Laos, and Vietnam was temporarily divided at the 17th parallel of latitude. North Vietnam became the communist enclave, with its capital at Hanoi, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, who dreamt of reuniting North and South Vietnam.
An exodus of one million Vietnamese, mostly the Catholics, upper classes, and non-communists, fled to the south. South Vietnam became the pro-Western counterpart, with its capital at Saigon, under the monarchy of Bo Dai, the playboy emperor. South Vietnam’s leaders refused to sign the Geneva Accords. They would not accept a divided nation, particularly one in which the Communist north was so much richer in industry, minerals, and farmland. South Vietnam’s leaders feared that since the division put a majority of Vietnamese under Communist rule, the Communists would win the 1956 elections. Ho Chi Minh and his Communist forces were nonetheless determined to reunite the nation under their leadership.
North Vietnamese soldiers crossed the 17th parallel to recruit and train South Vietnamese who were sympathetic to the north’s cause. These southerners became known as the Vietcong. By 1957, Vietcong forces were attacking villages in the south, and by 1960, they were strong enough to attack South Vietnamese army units. Meanwhile, Ngo Dinh Diem tried to restore the order. Diem resorted to harsh methods, jailing his opponents and ignoring the needs of his people. His support dwindling, Diem was overwhelmed by a military coup and murdered late in 1963 (Shipway, 1996).
The United States was gradually drawn into the war as part of its Cold War against international communism. The successes of the Vietcong and insatiability of South Vietnam worried United States leaders. Fear of the spread of communism in Asia as well as in Europe involved the United States in war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia as a whole. Successive American presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon poured more and more aid, troops and war equipment to keep the North from conquering South Vietnam (Berman, 1982).
Determined to prevent the spread of communism, the United States had set up the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. SEATO members pledged aid against aggression in the region. The treaty, which remained in effect until 1977, was signed by the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand (Berman, 1982). Fifty-one other free nations provided aid and sent troops or para-military personnel. As France lost control over its colonies in Indochina in the early 1950s, United States military advisers were sent to help Anti-Communist forces in Southeast Asia. In particular, as Vietcong strength increased, the United States added military advisers to the economic and military aid it had been giving to South Vietnam. South Vietnam’s dependence on United States support grew greater.
In 1964, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin (Donaldson, 1996). As a result, the United States Senates passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon B. Johnson the power to send United States forces to Vietnam. In 1965, American troops were sent to Vietnam following this reported Communist attack on the United States torpedo boat. From 1965 through 1967, Johnson continued to increase the number of troops and the frequency of bombing raids (Berman, 1991).
In January of 1968, during a Vietnamese religious holiday, Vietnamese and North Vietnamese forces struck at virtually all important cities and towns in the south. The attack became known as the Tet offensive, after the holiday. South Vietnam staggered under the attack. After the Tet offensive, people in the United States began to question whether South Vietnam had a chance of winning the war. The war was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States, and American leaders now considered withdrawing from Vietnam (Berman, 1982).
The case of Song My (also Mi Lai) Massacre proves that not all the time, leaders take the blame and even if the subordinate claims compliance as an excuse for a failure, he would still get condemned. On March 16, 1968 during the Vietnam War, when the Charlie Company leader Lt. William Calley had raped and massacred the Vietnamese at Song My, they thought they were the Viet Cong rebels. The Song My Massacre yielded a special case in war history that a subordinate couldn’t make allowances for himself in carrying out questionable orders as long as they were given by his leader. Sadly for Lt. William Calley, as a faithful follower with equally heavy-duty leadership qualities as those of Captain Ernest Medina, he took all the blame for the massacre. If he succeeded at superseding justice for the erroneous compliance, morally, he failed. Lt. William Calley was only doing his duty as a soldier but is this pardonable in the code of ethics?
Bound by this duty-based ethic, Lt. William Calley could be pictured having utter, intrinsic moral commitments to some external source to carry out certain actions, notwithstanding his particular situation and personal goals. The captain honored Lt. William Calley with the privilege of killing Vietnamese natives by his own leadership. If he refused, the captain might have questioned his loyalty. If he accepted, the objective of the Vietnam War to eliminate Viet Cong rebels will be achieved as well as the captain’s trust.
In the United States, civil rights leaders waged a struggle against discrimination and segregation. Leaders of the movement turned to the federal courts and were successful in overturning an 1896 Court decision that allowed “separate but equal” schools for black students. The court ordered schools to end segregation with “all deliberate speed.”
Indeed, one of the issues of increasing concern in the postwar years was the civil rights or the movement to gain equality for black Americans. Blacks had benefited from the nation’s growing prosperity, and urban blacks in particular had greater earning power and a wider choice of jobs. Indeed, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s had a substantial influence on the country’s economy but still, social and economic discrimination continued.
One of the leaders was a Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. when blacks in Alabama boycotted a bus system for its discriminatory policies, civil rights demonstrations continued and spread from the South to the North in the 1960s. In 1963, more than 200,000 Americans took part in a march on Washington, D.C., in support of the civil rights movement. While most protests were peaceful, devastating riots did break out in black areas of major cities between 1965 and 1967.
President Kennedy had proposed a new civil rights law but was assassinated in November of 1963, before the bill was passed. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, persuaded Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning discrimination in employment, access to public accommodations, and in the use of federal funds. A year later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which allowed federal workers to register voters who had been denied registration by the states. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination.
Peace and prosperity created changes in Black Americans’ ways of living. With their increased purchasing power, many people bought new homes, particularly in suburban areas around major cities. With easier transportation, suburban shopping centers became popular. Black Americans continued to buy consumer goods such as television sets, washers, dryers, dishwashers, and cameras.
Changes in ways of living reflected in changes in the nation’s population. The shift of population continued through the 1960s as Black Americans were attracted to the warm weather and expanding job opportunities of the Sunbelt, the states stretching from the southeast Atlantic coast to southern California. Although prosperity also led to higher standards of living, not all Black Americans benefited. Every major city had slum areas that housed the poor and unemployed, and declining farm incomes created rural poverty. Amid the growth and confidence of the postwar years, United States leaders initiated programs of aid to help people at home and abroad improve their way of life. Programs of domestic aid included funds for education, medical care for the poor, and urban renewal programs. International air programs begun soon after the war sought to help United States maintain economic and political stability.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the struggle for black equality led other groups to raise their voices against injustice. The nation’s economy remained strong, but growth was interrupted as heightened inflation during the late 1960s was combined with recession and unemployment. Presidents instituted various programs to solve economic problems.
Nixon lowered taxes and interest rates to stimulate business and, in 1971, imposed three-month controls on wages, prices, and rents to increase consumer buying. Inflation continued under President Jimmy Carter, and was made worse by rising world prices for oil. Indeed, although economic opportunities came to Black Americans, it did little good to the economic impact as a whole because of the interplay of external large-scale forces which Black Americans could not combat alone at the time.
The Vietnam War dragged on, involving hundreds of thousands of United States troops. By 1968, some Americans rejected the view that the war was vital to national security and that the United States had the responsibility to preserve order around the world. These dissenting Americans expressed their opinions in antiwar demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election but concentrated his efforts on achieving a ceasefire. At the end of March 1968, he halted much of the bombing of North Vietnam (Berman, 1991).
Peace talks began in Paris in 1968, but American troops remained in Vietnam for another five years. Also in this year, in his campaign for the presidency, Richard Nixon pledged to end the war honorably. Henry Kissinger, who served first as a national security adviser and then as Nixon’s Secretary of State, became a dominant figure in foreign policy decision in the Nixon era. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon, ordered the withdrawal of troops but continued bombing raids and ground fighting.
In an attempt to destroy Vietcong supply lines and sanctuaries, United States forces invaded Cambodia in 1970 and gave support to a South Vietnamese attack on Laos in 1971. A 1972 North Vietnamese offensive was answered by a major United States bombing campaign. The war, however, was draining the energy and morale of all sides. In October 1972, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam worked out a peace agreement, and on January 27, s1973, a peace settlement was signed. Within a few months, American troops left Vietnam. But the war continued, this time between North and South Vietnam alone. Finally, on April 30, 1975, Saigon surrendered to the invading forces from North Vietnam (Schulzinger, 1997).
The so-called Second Vietnam War (1954-1975) was significant led to America’s first defeat in a foreign war and ended American prestige as a world power (Brinkley, 1999). The United States, by deserting its ally, South Vietnam, in the darkest hour of its need, has lost face. The tall, rich but decadent Americans had lost to the small, poor but determined Asians (Schulzinger, 1997).
The Vietnam War was one of the costliest and deadliest wars in modern history. The costs of the war to the United States had been great; more than 56,000 Americans killed and about 300,00 wounded. In addition, many American soldiers remained missing in action by 1988. Six other countries that sent troops to Vietnam suffered 5,225 casualties. More than 1.3 million South Vietnamese died. More than 2 million North Vietnamese and Vietcong guerillas were killed. During the last days alone, some 5,595 South Vietnamese officials, army officers, and their families were airlifted to the United States (Brown, 2001).
Since the late 1980s, Vietnam became more open and peaceful. The Cold War had ended in Eastern Europe, and communism collapsed in Russia and Eastern Europe. Thus, Vietnam lost its former major international supporter. This made it eager to stop its aggressive policies and improve its relations with the West. The New Vietnam is now so different from the old. Vietnam has opened diplomatic relations with the United States, its former enemy, and other democratic countries (Brown, 2001).
When United States President George W. Bush dubbed the terrorist activities as “acts of war” and embarked on a “war on terrorism,” the ensuing events in Iraq become reminiscent of the Vietnam War. Dependence on the dazzling might of technology has blinded the alliance and made them terribly concur to a seemingly feasible end. NATO dramatically overestimated its destruction of enemy tanks, artillery pieces, and armor vehicles. A bold offensive flushed the army into the open so that a series of B-52 bomber strikes could inflict devastating casualties. Just like the enormous and erroneous fatality rate in the Vietnam War, by winning the war today in Iraq and losing the peace in the world as a whole, the Bush Administration failed and will always fail to make adequate contingency plans in the event the bombing did not work. He had made an unacceptable error of overlooking the amplified possibility of fatalities (Friedman, 2005). True enough, if there is any parallel to Vietnam in all of this, it is in the way in which the military is getting involved.
Today, the Vietnamese economy has been freed from communist policies and control. Foreign visitors are flocking to do business in Vietnam, including many ex-U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. English language schools, Western products, and capitalist traders and tourists are sprouting all over this former war-torn country (Brown, 2001). Many former communists have spoken, “Down with Communism! Give us McDonald’s, Coke, and blue jeans.” Besides, the idea that the United States is obligated to intervene militarily to stop human rights violations in certain countries raises troubling strategic and moral issues (Friedman, 2005). It raises questions about why some people’s human rights appear more important than those of others.
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