Why Soldiers Fought

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When looking back at a war as controversial as America's involvement in Vietnam, it is difficult to understand why soldiers would choose to fight and why they kept fighting for so long. Through a series of letters written by the soldiers themselves, one can see multiple motivations for soldiers in Vietnam, such as believing in the cause, self-preservation, and comradary amongst the men. This is all brought together in Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, an adequate volume edited by Bernard Edelman for the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission.

First, there were many soldiers, at least in the beginning, who believed in the cause. The American government began this police action to keep communism from spreading, to preserve democracy in the world; throughout the military ranks, men could identify with this. As Specialist Fourth Class George Olsen wrote to a college friend, "I'm where I want to be, quite voluntarily doing what I think is right" (42). Many GI's were immersed with a sense of mission and purpose. Even if they didn't completely agree with the war, it was their job as a solider. Even though Second Lieutenant Frederick Downs, Jr. is worn, he writes, "…And yet it is my job, and I do it willingly, knowing that war is a constant factor in this world and has been here since the beginning of man" (61). Likewise, "I am a Marine," (81) writes Corporal Kevin Macaulay, who was at the combat base at Khe Sanh during the siege. When Private First Class Richard E. Marks wrote up his Last Will and Testament, he also clearly stated he was in Vietnam due to his own desire, that he had always wanted to be a Marine. He didn't like being over there, but he was "doing a job that must be done" (123).

Another motivation pushing soldiers in Vietnam was self-preservation: protecting themselves from harm with an innate desire to stay alive. These men greatly wanted to go home in one piece, sooner rather than later, so that they could enjoy mid-summer barbecues,...
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