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The Vietnam War commenced on the first day of November in the year 1955. It lasted for twenty years, ending on the thirtieth day of April in the year 1975, after Saigon fell from power. The war took place in Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos. However, there are those who feel that it started in 1959 after Ho Chi Minh’s homecoming. This war has other names such as the Vietnam Conflict, the Second Indochina War, Resistance War Against the Americans and American War in Vietnam (Tucker 43). It is also significant that these references apply to diverse regions globally. For example, its reference as the resistance war comes from China and the Vietnam War comes from Vietnam and other parts of the world. This war took place after the end of the First Indochina War. The main parties in this war included the people in North Vietnam with the countries supporting communism and the South Vietnam government with the support of countries against communism. Since this war did not have any way to win it, the leaders in the United States lost the faith of the American people. The Americans use this war as a reference when considering things to avoid in future conflicts, in foreign lands.

The War’s Events

As identified, this war was about a conflict between North Vietnam unifying Vietnam under the communist leadership with the aid of other countries that were in support of communism and the South Vietnamese people with the aid of the Unites States Army. The communist force in North Vietnam was known as The Vietnam People’s Army. This army controlled South Vietnam, which was led by a small party known as Viet Cong. The other name for this party was NLF (National Liberation Front). Initially, the army in the North took part in large guerilla wars against the countries opposing communism. In this war, it used more conventional ways. It committed large army troops to the battle field, thus intimidating the opposing side. On the other hand, the army in South Vietnam and the U.S army depended on overwhelming firepower and air superiority for the search and destructive operations (Anderson 38). They engaged airstrikes, artillery and ground forces.

Many studies try to establish the real cause of the Vietnam War. However, many, if not all, have never identified the war’s trigger. Although many attribute it to the conflict between the supporters and the anti-supporters of communism as stated earlier, other professionals feel that there must be other reasons that propelled this cause. Many reasons attribute to the United States’ entry into Vietnam in support of South Vietnam. The United States army entered the war in a couple of steps from 1950 to 1965 (Tucker 68). The president in power, President Harry Truman, made an authorization allowing the incorporation of programs that would provide the French government with military and economic support. This was in 1950, a time when France was in the fight with the aim to maintain its Indochina colony including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

In 1954 at Dienbienphu, the army formed by Ho Chi Minh (Vietminh army), Vietnamese Nationalist, conquered the French (Nguyen 135). As a move in an attempt to stay powerful, the French made the north of Vietnam as a communist region while leaving the south to non-communists. The communist region was known as the 17th parallel. However, the U.S government failed to concur with the French. Instead, the Eisenhower administration chose to make a country from South Vietnam, a spurious political unit. The Eisenhower administration did this by establishing a government in South Vietnam, which took the control from the French. It also released the military force so that it could train the army in South Vietnam. It also released the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) to carry out mental warfare against the Northern region of Vietnam.

In 1961, President Kennedy made another input that changes the course of the war. The president sent four hundred special operation forces secretly to train the soldiers in South Vietnam on ways of fighting. This was known as the counterinsurgency war against the guerrillas in the forces supporting communism in South Vietnam (Anderson 55). By the president’s death in 1963, South Vietnam had over 16,000 United States advisers in the military. Unfortunately, the Americans had incurred more than one hundred deaths by this time. The succeeding president, Lyndon Johnson, declared that the United States was in the war fully. In 1964, a functional declaration was secured by the Congress. However, this was not an actual one (Anderson 56). March of 1965 comprised of another level of war. President Johnson authorized the bombing of the regions which were on the northern side of the seventeenth parallel. Additionally, the government released another 3,500 Marines to the Southern part of Vietnam.


The United States involvement in the war takes place because of a couple of reasons. However, the reasons kept on shifting as time progressed. One of the main reasons identified is that the United States government, regardless of the president in power, perceived Ho Chi Minh (leading North Vietnam through Vietminh) and NLF, as communists’ agents, globally. The Americans (with the leadership of U.S policy makers) saw communism, as contrasting of what they believed in (Rotter). Communists detested democracy. They also went against the rights of the people, used military antagonism and developed closed economies, which did little trade with the countries in support of capitalism. In view of Americans, communism was like a contagious disease. If it entered one country, other countries in the periphery would easily adopt it. When the Communist Party emerged in China in 1949, Washington was afraid that Vietnam was the following Asian domino. This is why Truman made his decision in 1950, thus lending the French a hand in fighting the Vietminh army (Kissinger 58).

Another reason leading to the American’s involvement in the war, thus establishing the war’s progress entailed control. The Americans did not want communism to spread to other regions that were not already under communist rule. America saw that the destiny of these countries, from a leadership perspective, was tied to the outcome of the leadership in Vietnam and other countries under communist rule. Furthermore, free world control of the area offered trade regions for Japan, restructuring using the American support post the war in the Pacific region (Kissinger 49). The U.S. role in Vietnam helped the Britons to be at peace. The Britons owe their after-war economy resurgence to the restoration of the Malayan tin and rubber. Malayan was one of Britain’s colonies and a neighbor to Vietnam. At another level, the help from the United States allowed the French to concentrate on recuperating their economic situation back in France. Additionally, the French would recall their officer in Indochina to supervise another protection of West Germany. They took this action in order to averse a cold war in the process. All these aims ensured the Americans to have another reason of going into war in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, the Americans forgot many of these aims as every president in power committed a portion of the country into war over the years. Instead of the aims acting as the driving force towards winning the war, inertia became the driving force. The Americans developed resistance for retreating from the war. The Americans wanted to prove that they were a superpower and that they were unbeatable. Washington believed that their retreat would mean that the countries supporting communism were the winners. In Eisenhower’s statement, if the elections took place as planned in 1956, Minh would have won by an eighty percent majority. The presidents from the Democrats such as Kennedy and Johnson were afraid that their loss to the communist countries would provoke the criticisms of the Republicans. This happened as they pondered ion the Republican’s question asking “Who lost China?” regardless of the party from which the president came from, all presidents were afraid of losing to the communists (Rotter). The loss would deteriorate the U.S. attempts to eliminate communism in the global community. Additionally, it would turn the Americans into failures in the perception of other countries that looked up to them. All presidents who got into power during this period had one common declaration. They would always support the allies in support of South Vietnam.

Besides the bigger ideological and structural grounds of this war, the temperament, personality and experience of the individual presidents had a role to play in extension of the U.S. commitment to war. Eisenhower had his doubts on U.S ability to win a war on the land in Southeast Asia. These fears came from his experience as a commander to troops in the battlefield in the previous years. In order to cut this risk, he restrained the nation’s involvement. Kennedy was more youthful than the other presidents and so he felt that he had to prove something. First, he wanted to prove his resolution to the people in America and other communist oppositions. He wanted to redeem his administration from the negative outcome of previous failed foreign policies. At another level, Johnson perceived this war as an exam testing his determination and courage. As a man and a southerner, he encouraged the soldiers to “nail the coonskin to the wall” (Rotter) in war, as he likened winning the war to successful hunting.

Johnson wanted to undertake a restricted war when he first threw a bomb in North Vietnam then sent the Marines in 1965. The president and his advisers had a concern over the lavish use of firepower. They saw as if this use would attract China into the conflict. The Americans did not expect that NLF and North Vietnam would hold on that long (Rotter). Even with this progress the policymakers in the United States did not manage to fit military strategy in America’s aims, in the war. The effect of the massive bombing was quite limited. It did not play the intended aim of shaking North Vietnam’s decentralized economy. Kennedy supported counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. On the other hand, Johnson implemented this strategy although it was only the political aspect that was put in action. The aim of winning the minds and the hearts of the people in Vietnam did not come to its full revelation. The presidents showed reluctance in mobilizing the American people to the part where the generals thought essential to conquer the rivals.

A few people raised their concern on the war in 1965 as the country fully went into war. In Johnson’s period, in power, George Ball (the undersecretary of state) expressed his views and stated that South Vietnam was a functional unknown (Mohir). In this regard, the country (U.S.) could not sustain this region even with its utmost efforts. Other protest groups arose in various colleges and universities. One of the major ones was the Students for a Democratic Society group. However, the protests were not so severe until 1966. In the year 1965, the people supported their government since they felt that it had a modest course in fighting communism (Chronology). The people did not have any concerns about this issue and so they continued with their lives. However, as they felt that the course of the war was now heading a different direction, the diverse protest groups and other actions to stop the war came into being.

Effects of the War

The war had impacted every aspect of life including the economical, physical, social, psychological, and environmental, amongst other aspects. Many people died during those two decades of war. Unfortunately, the information available on the losses (death and casualties) is not as accurate as it ought to be. A lot of the statistical information provided fails to include the people in the forces of South Vietnam. This was in the final campaign. Other reports do not include armed forces of Royal Lao, deaths in Thai and Laotian irregulars and the civilians of Lao who lost their lives during this period. These reports also fail to include the millions of Cambodian lives lost in the civil war or the genocide following the victory in Khmer Rouge.

The loss of lives adds up to 2 million civilians in Vietnam, 1.1 million troops from North Vietnam, 200,000 troops from South Vietnam and 58,000 troops from the United States. The number of Vietnamese wounded in combat added up to 600,000. The bomb thrown by the United States caused 52,000 to 182,000 deaths (Tucker 105). Unfortunately, these are only estimates as there were miscalculations due to a number of reasons. For example, missing people not counted in the dead or casualty list. Additionally, the conflicts of the war and other activities made it hard to proper collect the data relating to deaths, casualties and missing people.

The other evident effect was on the country in which the war took place. These were the effects of war in Vietnam. After the war ended, South and North Vietnam merged to make up Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This was in 1976. Millions of people ended up in re-education camps where there were more than 165,000 deaths. An approximation of 200,000 people from South Vietnam died through execution. Other statistics show that almost 50,000 people from South Vietnam died while doing hard labor in the regions termed as New Economic Zones. These regions received 1 million South Vietnamese. The Khmer rouge ended with the death of approximately 2.5 million Cambodians. In retaliation, China invaded Vietnam in 1979. The emerging war is the Sino-Vietnamese War. This made 45,000 Chinese people leave China through the use of boats into other safer countries (Tucker 110-111).

At the end of 1975, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic took over Lao. This is after Pathet Lao, a communist, took the seat from the Lao royalist government. The conflict between Pathet and Hmong rebels continued for a longer time. There are reports accusing the Lao government of committing genocide against Hmong. The number of deaths arising from this genocide adds up to 100,000. This was between 1975 and 1996. The United States tried to resettle some refugees from Lao in Thailand. These were 250,000 people. There were other 130,000 Hmongs. The number of people fleeing to other countries from Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam added up to 3 million. Unfortunately, most countries in Asia were not willing to accommodate refugees. An estimate of 1.4 million people took settlement in the United States with the help of the U.S government as from 1975. Australia, Canada and France took another 500,000. As a result of this war as it happens after other wars, there was a severe famine in 1988. This famine affected millions of people in Vietnam (Tucker 120).

It is clear that Vietnam and other surrounding regions suffered drastic demographic reduction during and after the warring period. The demographics reduced through the deaths or immigration, whether legal, or otherwise. The war also affected the country’s economic status. Prior the war, South Vietnam was not strong economically. After the war, both North and South became worse. The North had exhausted its resources during the warring activities. Since warring regions hardly take part in effective, economic activities due to security issues, the economy dropped immensely. The wars after the Vietnam War deteriorated the economy further. Unfortunately, these regions have never fully recovered from the war. Vietnam is still part of the third world countries.

The war also had its effects on the United States. First, Johnson’s credibility as a president came down. Since he lied during the warring period, the people lost faith in him and so he did not vie for a second term. Secondly, the Americans learned a few lessons of their own. They leant that they had to let other countries to take control of their destinies. They resolved to engage less in the affairs of other countries whether in conflict or otherwise. Additionally, they learnt to assess their strengths and weaknesses and they assessed those of their opponents before entering into any conflicts or issues. General Maxwell Taylor admitted that the country thought that it was taking part in another Korean War. It did not think that the rivals would hold on that long. In a secret memo to President Ford, Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary, stated that the U.S. military could not tackle this kind of war. The Special Forces designed for such wars could not handle the war too. The country’s inability to bomb Hanoi into surrendering proved that the United States’ miscalculations were too many. They had not taken the time to learn about Minh, and they also underestimated the hardened state of the communities in North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh once stated, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours…But even at these odds, you will lose and I will win” (Kissinger 54).

Like other countries, the war cost the United States its economy. Within a period of a decade, from 1965 to 1975, the country spent approximately $111 billion on matters relating to the war. This amount brought a sizeable deficit in the federal budget. A total of 3 million people in America took part in the war. The ones in combat were approximately 1.5 million. By 1968, the military personnel from America in Vietnam added up to 543,000. However, the personnel in troops were only 80,000. At the time of its conclusion, there were 58,000 dead American troops and 150,000 casualties. Out of the wounded, 21,000 obtained permanent disabilities. The average age of those who died in combat was 23.11 years. The constituent of those who died included 86.3% from the white race, 12.5% from the black race and the remaining percentage from other races (Tucker 135).

The most effect was on the remaining families of those who lost their lives and the returning combat from the war. This was not only a physical effect, but also a psychological one. Unfortunately, most of the Vietnam veterans did not receive the medical attention that they ought to have received after the war. The physical and psychological trauma led to more deaths even after the war. Many veterans could not handle living the normal lives after the war. They could not blend in with the society and more so their loved ones. Although those who are alive today state that they managed to handle these effects, they appreciate that they still experience them in terms of nightmares even in their old age (Brooks, Laditka, and Laditka 571). Unfortunately, some could not do normal jobs as the other family members.

However, diverse organizations and other institutions emerged, thus helping the veterans with these post-traumatic disorders. The people in combat during this war had trouble in settling back into society. Fortunately, through counseling and other forms of physical and therapeutic treatments, the ex-combats managed to settle and move on with their lives. This forms of treatment not only applied to the ex-combats, but it also applied to other personnel partaking the war. They included the medical personnel taking care of the wounded people and other forms of personnel. Many people from the war declared that their main effects comprised of nightmares and difficulty in blending with the rest of society. It is clear that there were many suicides related to the post-traumatic experiences. The families which lost their loved ones in war also had their share of turmoil.

The chemical defoliation is another controversial effect of the war. The Americans greatly used chemical defoliants from 1961 to 1971. These chemicals played the role of defoliating the countryside. Since then, the chemicals continue to alter the landscape in Vietnam, which causes birth defects, diseases and the poisoning of food chains. This strategy of defoliating areas resulted from the perception that enemies were hiding under the triple canopy jungle. The main reference to this expedition is Operation Ranch Hand. The main corporations used to develop herbicides for these tasks included Monsato and Dow Chemical Company. The defoliants included Agent Orange, Agent White, Agent Blue, Agent Purple, Agent Green and agent Pink. These herbicides were put in drums marked with the mentioned color codes. The most famous of the defoliants is Agent Orange. It contained dioxin. This was a by-product. In Southeast Asia, the American troops sprayed at least 45,000,000 liters (2 million gallons) of Agent Orange.

Another authorization of using chemicals in the destruction of rice crops took place in 1961 and 1962. President Kennedy initiated this authorization. The military sprayed 75,700,000 liters (20 million gallons) of the chemical from 1961 to 1967. The effect was on more than six million acres of land. This is approximately 13% of the land in South Vietnam. Approximately 42% of the chemicals sprayed landed on food crops. Another reason of spraying these areas was to drive the civilians into controlled areas. Since these sprays, the government in Vietnam states that there are more than 4,000,000 poisonings from the dioxin by-product. Although the government in U.S. denies that there is any connection between the chemical in Agent Orange and the dioxin by-product, it is clear that these chemicals caused harm to the people in Vietnam even after the war (Anderson 65-68).

The chemical effects of the bombs affected the people even after the end of the war. Generations born after the war not only hear about the war, but they also experience its effects, at first hand. Just like the people in the United States, the people in these countries continue to experience their physical and psychological effects even today. Many people lost their parents and other family members during this time. Additionally, the effects of the sprayed chemicals not only affect the land, but it also affects the water and other environmental factors. It is essential for organizations and other institutions to take an initiative in dealing with these aftermath effects so that people can lead their lives normally (Nguyen 138). As evident, the war did not end when it did.

At a global perspective, the war affected other countries, as well. The countries in Asia felt threatened by the war as they felt that it posed economic and conflict risks to them. Additionally, the Europeans were also threatened by the war. The Britons and the French were initially involved in this war in one way or another. Even though the retracted at some point, they were still afraid of the extension (Mohir) of the war to other countries. As the years progressed, other nations saw that the war was no longer about fighting communism, but a war of American’s stubbornness. Other countries engaging in trade with countries in Asia and Europe were also not as confident as after the war’s end.


The war started with an essential course but ended in a deterred course. While the American public supported the war at first, the deterred course turned the public against the government. However, the nation was able to learn its lessons in matters concerning future conflicts. People still experience the effects of the war to this day, especially the chemical-related effects. One cannot forget the physical and psychological effects of the same. The most significant aspect of the war is to make proper assessments in order to avoid future conflicts. World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War are only few of many other wars that prove the destructive effects of wars. The effect is not only in the conflicting countries, but also in other countries globally.

Works Cited

Anderson, David L. The Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.

Brooks, M.S, S.B Laditka, and J.N Laditka. "Long-term Effects of Military Service on Mental Health Among Veterans of the Vietnam War Era." Military Medicine : Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. 173.6 (2008): 570-575. Print.

“Chronology: Vietnam in Context.” The Washington Post, 1998. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Kissinger, Henry. Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. Print.

Mohir, Charles. “History and Hindsight: Lessons From Vietnam” New York Times, 1985. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Nguyen, Kim. ""without the Luxury of Historical Amnesia": the Model Postwar Immigrant Remembering the Vietnam War Through Anticommunist Protests." Journal of Communication Inquiry. 34.2 (2010): 134-150. Print.

Rotter, Andrew J. The Causes of the Vietnam War. Illinois education, 1999. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Tucker, Spencer. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Print.

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