Vietnam Essay

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The Vietnam War shook the nation to its core. Ever since the end of World War II, American Presidents tried to stop the rise of communism in Southeast Asia. This effort grew to considerable proportions in the 1960s. Eventually, the United States sent three million soldiers to Vietnam, losing nearly 60,000 of them. The United States dropped three times more bomb tonnage on Vietnam than all sides had used in World War II. This enormous display of military power did not bring victory. Moreover, the war had other, dreadful costs—a divided opinion at home, a loss of respect for elected leaders, and a tarnished image abroad. The painful truth was that it was the United States’ longest war and its first defeat. Throughout the war, the determination of their Vietnamese foes had amazed American leaders. Had they had paid more attention to Vietnamese history, and geography, American policymakers might have been less surprised.

Those who supported American involvement in Vietnam stressed the importance of continuing the long-standing policy of containment. The Hawks (supporters) saw the war as part of the worldwide struggle against communism. In defending South Vietnam, the United States would protect all of Southeast Asia from communism. It would also prove itself a trustworthy ally to the rest of the non-Communist world. To the Hawks, defending South Vietnam meant pursuing a military victory. They criticized President Johnson for fighting a limited war. They wanted him to use every bit of man-power and firepower to achieve victory.

Opponents of the war, known as Doves, saw the war simply as a civil war among the Vietnamese people, a conflict in which the United States had no business intervening. The Doves pointed out that, instead of freedom, the United States was supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Saigon. The war had brought dishonesty to Washington. Doves charged Johnson with lying about the size and purpose of the troop buildup, and the progress of the...
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