Vietnam: Years of Glory and Grief
A new millennium has put the war in Vietnam even more into the category of the distant past. Forty years separate us from those troubled times. That period of history stands out for many reasons. It seemed to be a time of maturing for the people of the United States. Many idealistic concepts were swept away while others made an diligent even if sometimes misguided effort to change mankind. Racial unrest, the search for universal peace, the untimely demise of beloved leaders in this country all created a spirit of unrest, or uncertainty. This was compounded even more with a war so far away from home that it seemed to be little or meaning to the citizens of the U.S.
This particular conflict, however, occupies a special place in history for a number of reasons. First, it was the longest period of conflict in which the United States was ever involved. Depending on how one counts, earliest involvement in the form of US advisors began in 1959. The last US combat troops left Vietnam at the end of 1972. Most count the war as lasting 12 years, or three times as long as World War II. More than one young boy watched his father go off to Vietnam and six years or so later was preparing to do the same. What was supposed to be a quick intervention went on like a bad dream without end.
1965 – A U.S. Marine comes ashore in South Vietnam
It was also a politically controlled war. Politicians and military leaders have always had problems on deciding what national and military goals were and how they should be achieved. In Vietnam, however, the two groups were poles apart. The military wanted a resounding victory. The politicians wanted a situation in which America would have a “controlled victory.”
Such an attitude meant simply that there could be no total victory as many conceived it. It was a conflict that the military forces of the United States and other free countries could not win, no matter how much equipment and manpower were utilized. This time there would be no total victory, with an unconditional surrender from the enemy, as had been witnessed in World War II. As far as the politicians were concerned, the enemy could still be the enemy, just as long as he would go back to his own back yard. Perhaps no lesson so is so bitter as that without total victory, there is no victory.
It was also a time in which public dissension brought great division in our country. The length of the war, the duplicity of those in public office, and the seeming ineptitude of some military leaders coupled with the new age philosophy of thinking that permeated the United States eventually led to most of the American public being disgusted with the whole affair.
Instead of being a national effort, Vietnam was a nuisance, a distant problem that had very little impact on this country. The Press brought the war to America’s living room in graphic photographs and video clips of the horrors of modern war in most negative fashion. Since there was no clear purpose in Vietnam, and it was exacting such a horrid toll in the young men of the country, people were of the opinion that the best thing to be done was to get out.
Even in the midst of such negative elements, it should not be forgotten, however, that the military, hampered as it was, showed great courage and nobility in the frustrating effort to be "good Americans." It cannot be said that those who died gave their lives in vain. The years afterward have demonstrated. One dominant factor: if the country is involved, winning decisively is imperative. There can be no half-stepping in war. It must be fought strongly, with the utilization of all assets needed for victory, and must be carried to the enemy with determination.
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