Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part IV

Here is part four in my series about the Vietnam War.

Despite the inability to make major gains in the war, 1966 saw no real dip in support of the war even as the body count grew. By early 1967, 400,000 men were stationed in Vietnam with the flow of soldiers and equipment continuing to grow. General Westmoreland’s tactics changed in 1967 in order to give everyone the victory that America sought. Instead of using limited operations and South Vietnamese troops, Westmoreland began his “Search and Destroy” policy which involved major offensives by U.S. troops. 

The change in method altered the course of the war, and began a downhill slide for the U.S. military. Public support and troop morale would never again be the same. Letters home reflected the change in America’s views on Vietnam. “The spirit of the men in Vietnam is overwhelming, for most every man believes he is doing an important job...they are your countrymen, and, believe it or not they have been fighting for you.” Rodney Baldra of 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry wrote this to his hometown newspaper in Berkeley, California, hoping to rally public support for what he was fighting for. His sentiments reflect the growing public skepticism that men in Vietnam began to get wind of in 1967. Public opinion was growing less supportive of the war, and many soldiers like Baldra saw that as a slap in the face. The reasons for fighting in Vietnam seemed very plain to some, and unclear to others. The latter group continued to grow as 1967 wore on.

Many soldiers stationed in Vietnam in 1967 viewed themselves as better than the Viet Cong forces, and this attitude got them through tough times. As Captain Robert F. Radcliffe observed in 1967, the men were, “Armed...with the knowledge that they were members of the most powerful and best prepared army in the world, they were psychologically prepared to meet the enemy.” Radcliffe and men like him saw the U.S. Army’s will and power as greater than the enemy, and that there was no logical reason a small band of communists could defeat them.

While that line of thinking was not theoretically incorrect, the war in Vietnam made the U.S. begin to doubt its military might for the first time. Simply adding troops and equipment to the battle did not guarantee victory as in previous wars. In his final letter home PFC Stephen Pickett talks about the beginnings of anti-war sentiment back in the U.S. “We were well informed here about the demonstrations on both sides...I realize...that an immediate pullout is out of the would mean going back on everything that we have done.”  Like Radcliffe, Pickett saw while he was in Vietnam in 1967 that too many men had died to just give up, and that the U.S. was still doing the right thing, even if not everyone understood that. By doing the right thing Pickett lost his life in December of 1967 on a Search and Destroy mission.

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