The Vietnam War, like any war, was one of the most memorable events in the history of the world. It is often referred to simply as a military conflict in Vietnam for the reason that the United States of America has never made a declaration of war as such. On one level, the Vietnam War was fought between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (communist North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). On the other level, however, “it was drawn into the international politics of the Cold War and became a proxy war between the United States (and its allies) and North Vietnam’s communist allies, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China” (Carlisle & Golson, 2007, p. 65). Nevertheless, the war is believed to have started because of the struggle between the South and the North Vietnamese governments after the two countries’ unification in 1954. The war was initiated by North Vietnam which sent its troops into South Vietnam in the middle of the 1960s. In the early 1960s, the United States was involved in the war as well to prevent the spread of communism over South Vietnam (which was a part of its containment strategy).
America’s Longest War
Vietnam War is known as the longest war in American history, though it was not “as long as the War on Drugs or the perpetual war that the War on Terrorism promises to be” (Mabry, 2009, para.15). Apart from this, it is also the only war in which the United States did not achieve any of its objectives. It is also regarded as the first large-scale conflict in which America “confronted an opponent who by and large refused to fight in the manner of European-style warfare on which the American military tradition is based” (Snow, 2000, p. 261). Though America entered the war in the early 1960s, the peak of its involvement was in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, a military campaign of the Vietcong (or National Liberation Front, as it is often called). Despite all the political achievements, Vietcong suffered heavy losses and its numerous organizations were destroyed by the Accelerated Pacification Program launched by the U.S. and South Vietnam (Marr, 2001). The Americans began exiting the war only between 1973 and 1975 with U.S. troops starting to be removed from the region already in 1971. The few remaining Americans were evacuated from Saigon in 1975.
The Vietnam War is also often referred to as Johnson’s War because of the 36th President of the United States’ contribution to it. His role in this war is believed to have begun long before Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. When the situation in Vietnam could no longer be controlled by the USA, Johnson took decisive action which consisted in “first a bombing campaign in North Vietnam, then sending in U.S. ground forces, and eventually committing large forces of U.S. troops” (Dalrymple, 1997, para. 9). These decisions, however, were not made by Johnson in isolation. He got support from the public, Congress, and the media before beginning to fulfill his plans. The primary objective set by Johnson was to stop the spreading of communism over the world, because he, like most of the Americans, believed in the Cold War consensus and, though he knew that the losses in the war he was involving the country into would be significant, “he understood that you had to pay a price to preserve containment” (Dalrymple, 1997, para. 12).
The Credibility Gap
The term ‘credibility gap’ has been coined in the period of the Vietnam War to characterize President Johnson’s administration. Back then this phrase “represented an accumulation of a wide variety of reporters’ grievances against the president, some of which had started as minor irritants when Johnson entered the Oval Office” (Vaughn, 2007, p. 123). This term was used to describe statements and policies of the president’s administration regarding the Vietnam War. It was first used in the New York Herald Tribune (March 1965) to criticize Johnson’s explanation of why America became so much involved in the Vietnam War. By this, the newspaper meant that there was a considerable gap between the real state of affairs and declarations about military and political events which the president’s administration made.
The accomplishments of the war were different from those which the USA and its allies have expected. The main outcome of the war was that the Communists attained their goal, namely putting the end to the Saigon regime. This, however, was done at a high price because both parties suffered significant losses. A million and a half Vietnamese were killed and another three million were wounded. The only thing which the USA has “gained” was the combat experience; after the war, the voting age was lowered in the country from 21 to 18. With regards to America, the country lost its confidence for some time, though already in several years it restored its glory and powers.
- Carlisle, R.P. & Golson, J.G. 2007). America in Revolt during the 1960s and 1970s. London: ABC-CLIO.
- Dalrymple, M. (1997). LBJ’s War. Endeavors Magazine Web.
- Mabry, D.J. (2009). Vietnam War. The Historical Text Archive.
- Marr, D.G. (2001). Feature Review: Bringing the National Liberation Front Back into the History of the Vietnam War”. Diplomatic History, 25(3), 525-528.
- Snow, D.M. (2000). The Eagle’s Talons: the American Experience at War. London: DIANE Publishing.
- Vaughn, S.L. (2007). Encyclopedia of American Journalism. London: CRC Press.