Monday, September 13, 2010

Vietnam Thesis- Part X

Part ten in my ongoing series on Vietnam.

ARVN forces were now baring the brunt of the casualties and action, including the operations in Cambodia. The incursion into Cambodia was labeled a success, with the U.S. and ARVN troops destroying V.C. supply lines and necessary materials. Also, it allowed the Americans to be replaced with ARVN soldiers along the border, now that the threat had been effectively neutralized. The success of the operation in Cambodia did come with a price, as protests in the United States led to deaths at Kent State where National Guard soldiers shot four students, and at Jackson State College where two people died. Some soldiers also were not happy about the short-lived escalation of the conflict, and saw the increasing ARVN deaths as a bad omen that the NVA and Viet Cong would have their way with them as soon as the U.S. had gone home.

The GIs had stopped caring as a result of Vietnamization to a certain degree. They knew that the Vietnamese could not survive without their help, but the way the war had played out so far made many unable to sympathize. William Kalwas wrote in late 1970, “I begin to realize the futility of it I participate as little as possible in all things army.” This growing apathy among U.S. soldiers during 1970 can be evidenced not only in comments like these, but in the rampant drug use in the American ranks. To dull the pain and disillusionment felt about the way the war was going, many men turned to illegal substances. 

In 1965 47 soldiers were found using drugs, and by 1970 the number had ballooned to 11,000. Of every one soldier caught using drugs it was said at the time by military intelligence that five others went undetected by the armed forces. U.S. soldier Fred Hickey said, “The majority of people were high all the time.” If a war were going well, would so many soldiers be turning to drugs? No, said the statistics of the time, as not only marijuana was available to GIs, but heroin and opium as well, with one third of the men stationed there thought to be addicted to heroin or opium. It is impossible to ignore facts like these when examining the Vietnam War. The U.S. government, while aware of these issues did not take them into account when asking men to die for their country. Drug abuse was symptomatic of things not going well, and in order to escape the harsh reality of war and of failure U.S. troops sank into a haze of smoke and altered perceptions.

Drug abuse was not the only thing affecting the performance of soldiers in Vietnam. Discipline had been on the decline ever since the initiation of Nixon’s withdrawal policy. Senior officers were increasingly met with opposition from their men, and in some cases it amounted to violence. “Fragging” became commonplace, as men killed or attempted to kill their commanders in the field. In 1970 alone, there were 2,000 fraggings. This violence and refusal to obey orders shows that the soldiers had no will to die for the cause, and saw the U.S. leadership as greatly flawed. Men were not ashamed of standing up against a superior if it meant saving lives rather than going to almost certain death, “The captain said ‘I told you to get your squad together and get out there...I just pulled out my .45 and pointed it to his head. I said, ‘Before I go out, sir, I will blow your...brains out.” These types of stories are haunting, and paint a grim picture of the chain of command in Vietnam of the 1970’s.

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