Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part II

Here now is part two of my Undergrad thesis on the Vietnam War.

As with any war there will always be a contingent of men, however large or small that will fight any place, anytime for their country. The Vietnam War began just like all of the American wars that came before. Gung-ho young men went to do their American duty by serving as soldiers to defend their nation. Following the overwhelming American success in World War II, many young men went to Vietnam with a rosy outlook and deeply romantic feelings about the nature of war. “Dear Mom and Dad, Everything here is just fine- in fact it’s better than I thought it would be...All the talk I hear from the guys who have been here awhile make it sound pretty easy over here." This excerpt from a letter written by PFC John Debonka illustrates the innocence of the soldiers who came to Vietnam early on in the war. Debonka arrived in Vietnam in late 1966, and was killed in February of 1967. It was not as easy as he or many Americans thought at the time.

The reasons that the American people were given made those who served more eager than they might have been. President Lyndon Johnson’s original reasons for sending in ground troops in the Spring of 1965 was to protect U.S. military installations, not to attack the Vietnamese directly. The entire operation in Vietnam stemmed from the fear of communism, and by June it had become clear that the army was not solely there to defend, as reports came out about offensive moves by U.S. troops.

The public was not overly concerned, but the horrors of the war could not escape the young men, who, while patriotic, were not ready for what they experienced. As escalation occurred throughout 1965, Johnson and his advisors attempted to maintain popular support, and get young men involved in the cause. Student leaders were brought to Washington D.C. for seminars, and young soldiers toured college campuses in a project known as “Target: College Campuses.” Initiatives like these were effective, but Johnson had already committed 100,000 more troops to the cause in Vietnam by the end of 1965 at the request of General William Westmoreland and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The stage for long-term involvement in Vietnam had been set, and the men that were to fight had to deal with the consequences of their Government’s actions.

There was a sense of duty for many of the soldiers, who, while still uneasy about the war, felt compelled to stop the spread of communism. PFC Richard Marks wrote in a letter home in December 1965 that “I don’t like being over here, but I am doing a job that must be done- I am fighting an inevitable enemy that must be fought- now or later.” This attitude reflects the patriotism that many felt, while still being uncertain as to whether or not Vietnam was the right war at the right time. A commonality among many of the soldiers was a feeling that if communism in Vietnam was not stopped here and now, then the threat might move closer to home. The idea was to head off communism before the Russians and their client states could gain a legitimate foothold on territory, and we should help keep those countries free.

The idea of “helping” the Vietnamese to evade communism was central to the motus operandi of the war. Lt. Thomas Bird talks about helping, and how the military had no real clue about how to treat the Vietnamese people. This is only one aspect of how under prepared the U.S. military was to fight this war, and how the soldiers who were there had no chance of beating their enemy.“We had a strong indoctrination in “help”...We all had a tremendous big brother ego, everybody gave the kids something to eat.” David Parks wrote in his journal in March of 1967, “I’m not sure the native people are with us. They smile at us in the daytime, and their sons shoot us at night. It’s hard to spot the real enemy.” Life for G.I.s was difficult because of this, and the government was not equipped to prepare them for it.

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