Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part IX

Lon Nol

That's part nine for those of you that struggle with Roman numerals.

If 1969 had seemed like a step in the wrong direction to the soldiers in Vietnam, 1970 was going to see the consequences of that step. Bringing units home under Nixon’s policy was good for those men, and bad for the army in general. The draft and the fixed tours of duty men served impacted the war in a negative way. Being forced to serve only one year, if the soldier lived, was nice on an individual basis. However, the light at the end of the tunnel for draftees was the end of their tour, not the end of the war. By fixing the tours of duty to one year, there was no motivation for men to fight the war to win; it was to fight the war in order to stay alive. The enemy, on the other hand, was in the war for however long it took.

Unlike the North Vietnamese, the U.S. soldiers were not all volunteers, and this coupled with a lack of solidarity in the military as a result of one year tours made U.S. victory uncertain for the first time in the nation’s history. Conflict over service was rampant in the U.S. like never before, “I couldn’t make up my mind. I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile...I feared ridicule and censure.” Even though this quote is from a novel, Patrick O’Brien perfectly captures the dilemma of so many men who could not, and yet still did fight in Vietnam. The U.S. government did not understand this dilemma, and pressed on as if it did not exist. The price of ignorance would prove to be high, and success would not come, even with the promise of a new opportunity.

With a change of power in Cambodia in March of 1970 came a chance for Nixon and the war effort to make real strides toward victory. The new leader, Lon Nol, was more supportive of the U.S., and that allowed for a U.S. and ARVN “incursion” into a country which had been harboring Viet Cong soldiers and spies throughout the war. Having not been allowed over the border into Cambodia, the U.S. military’s hands were tied in pursuing much of the enemy force. Nixon had now given his men the opportunity to chase the Viet Cong into its hiding place and eliminate them. By doing so, many men saw a chance to take care of the enemy once and for all and win the war.

The war was being widened temporarily in order to shorten the length of American involvement. In a letter to his hometown paper, Gregory Lusco wrote, “We cheered Nixon when he sent troops to Cambodia- we are praying we’ll also see Laos.” Lusco, like many other men were happy finally to be allowed to fight in Cambodia, but like other operations deemed successes by the U.S. the Viet Cong received advanced warning about the U.S. offensive, and moved into Western Cambodia. At each turn the enemy always seemed to catch a small break.

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