The Vietnam War was a polarizing conflict that completely changed the culture of the United States of America. Not only did it have a lasting effect on the political climate, but it also changed the culture of the people in this country. To properly illustrate these points we must look first at the war as a whole and what led up to it, and then we need to take a look at both sides of the conflict here in the United States. This will give us great insight into why the culture of this country has changed so drastically. The Vietnam War was an interesting conflict, one that arose when the French lost control of their colonies in Indochina. Vietnam came out of that conflict as two separate countries, North Vietnam (communist) and South Vietnam (noncommunist). The U.S. began to support the South in order to stop the spread of communism from the North. By the end of the 50s there was growing dissatisfaction and widespread support for communism in South Vietnam.
War eventually broke out between the North and the South in 1959. During this time the U.S. was involved in a conflict with the U.S.S.R. known as the Cold War. Because of the tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. the Kennedy administration escalated our involvement in the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communism to the South. Throughout the 60s the U.S. began conducting airstrikes on North Vietnamese positions followed by the deployment of ground troops, despite all of this the United States never made a formal declaration of war. By the late 60s, it had become apparent that the U.S. could not achieve victory in the region. Negotiations failed to resolve the conflict, meanwhile secret U.S. bombing campaigns on Viet Cong positions continued to fuel the conflict. Finally, in 1973 a ceasefire was agreed upon and the U.S. withdrew its forces. In that same year the South fell to the communist forces from the North, and the two countries were united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
There are two major views on the Vietnam War that we will look into, we will start with the more prominent of them. By far that most mainstream view of the Vietnam War is that the U.S. should not have been involved. Protests against the war broke out in the mid-60s and grew larger as the war went on. Universities were the main stages for this antiwar movement. The movement began to gain support from the American counterculture, religious groups, and intellectuals associated with the left. Eventually, support from the general public waned. This can be attributed to the rising number of American casualties, reports from the war zone, and a growing sense of the futility of the war.
Along with these feelings came the feeling that the war was immoral. The American public believed that the U.S. was ignoring the will of the Vietnamese people, and that we were only there to maintain a political presence in Asia. In 1971, an event occurred that further eroded the public support of the war and damaged the reputation of the Nixon administration. This was the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000 page document, to the New York Times. This document revealed some U.S. military decisions that the public thought to be questionable as well as revealing that the U.S. was involved in the region much earlier than previously thought. This seemed to be the final straw for the public, eliminating nearly all support for the war, a feeling which to this day is still prominent among the American public.
As I said before there are two sides to this conflict. There are those that are for it and those that are against it. We’ve already looked at the arguments against the war, so now let’s look at the arguments for it. As I alluded to earlier, this is definitely the lesser of the two viewpoints. However, there are still a large number of people that support the United States decision to enter into the Vietnam War. Supporters of the war have one main argument for entering the conflict. They believe that without this move, the Soviet Union and China would have more aggressively moved into the region trying to spread the communist agenda. A lack of interest in Southeast Asia may have been perceived as weakness and could have led to a larger spread communism throughout the world.
A lot of supporters point to the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets as a direct response to the weak U.S. posture in the post-Vietnam era. In contrast, supports use the Korean War as an example of how U.S. involvement saved a country from totally falling to communism. It is a common belief that if the U.S. had taken a more assertive stance in the Vietnam War and been will to nation-build, then perhaps South Vietnam would still exist today as a free nation. Now those that opposed the war argue that it is not the job of the U.S. to be the “world police” and that we have no right to stop the spread of communism to Vietnam if that’s what the people truly wanted. However, what that argument fails to address is that at the time we were in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviets.
Neither side wanted to enter into actual combat, fearing that doing so would quickly escalate into an all-out nuclear war. Supporters of the Vietnam War argue that the only way to avoid nuclear war and still fight the Soviet Union was to fight against the spread of its ideals. Thus, they believe that the Vietnam War was a justified war, because even though we effectively lost the war, we still stood against communism, and thus showing our resolve to fighting for the interests of our nation. Now that we have a better understanding of the war as a whole, and the two major views held by the American public concerning the war, we can now dive into how this war changed the culture of the United States. To start off I would like to point out that it wasn’t the supporting view that changed the culture, it was the view that opposed it that ultimately changed it. I personally agree with the notion that the Vietnam War was a necessary conflict to involve ourselves with.
I think that it was a matter of nation interest that we had to defend. I still believe that the government’s one and only job is to defend our borders and our rights. Some would argue that defending those things doesn’t involve getting involved in foreign wars. However, logic would stand to argue that as long as we keep our enemies at bay in other parts of the world (our enemy at the time being the Soviets and the spread of communism) we won’t have to fight them on our home soil. Those that are opposed to the war unfortunately don’t see it that way, all they see is a bigger country imposing its will on a smaller one. In their minds, communism would only spread to the countries that wanted it, and would simply stop when a country said that they didn’t it. They refuse to see that the spread of communism threatened the way of life that they had grown to love.
In fact, what they failed to realize is that if they were in a communist nation they wouldn’t be afforded the luxury to disagree with the decisions of the government. Where there once was a sense of national pride, there was now disdain for one’s own country. Where there was once patriotism and loyalty, there was now rebellion. The movement against the Vietnam War was no longer just simple protests, it was a war on the values that built this nation. No longer was it considered an honor to fight for this country, increasingly draft dodging became the norm. The majority opinion was that the U.S. government was simply a bully that had to be stopped. The media became the minion to the left, which was the driving force behind the antiwar movement. The climate in the United States became increasingly unpatriotic, and the once great nation began its slow yet lasting fall from glory.
Fast forward to today and we can see that lasting effects of this sudden turn from patriotism. In my opinion, the response to the Vietnam War by the American public was a crucial turning point in our nation’s history. The people at one time respected the government and the values that it was built upon. The attitude taken towards the government during the Vietnam War has led to the erosion of the government today. In the past, the government looked to uphold the constitution, today they wipe their feet on it. The values that we once held dear, now mean nothing to our government. The government of today looks to take away the rights of many because they are afraid of offending a few.
This is due to the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. The antiwar movement in general had a very selfish mindset, a mindset which has trickled down through the generations. Today this selfish attitude has evolved into an entitlement sort of attitude, which we can see in an increasing abundance in our culture. It is always a “me first” mentality and everyone else after that. In the past it was more of an everyone first and myself last mentality. People used to understand that it took great sacrifice to make this country great, but now they demand that the country sacrifice greatly in order to elevate themselves. This was evident in the antiwar movement by the fact that they were unable to see that the war was in the interest of the entire nation and this was demonstrated by the constant “draft dodging” that began in that time.
We can see this entitlement even easier now because we have a $16 trillion debt in this nation and no one is willing to sacrifice anything in order to pay the debt. This kind of entitlement attitude was not the norm before the Vietnam war, but unfortunately it is today. There are many other ways that the Vietnam War produced change in our culture. However, I think that I covered the big ones. I think it is truly remarkable that an event can have such a huge impact on a nation. There is little doubt in my mind that the war was justified. However, I cannot claim that it had no negative impacts on the United States. These changes to our culture seem to be here to stay. The constant disregard for the foundations of our government, like the Constitution, is appalling, and I understand that it probably didn’t start with the Vietnam War era, but it certainly gained a foothold at that time. I hope that someday the United States of America can return to its roots and become the hub freedom that we once were.
1. Badertscher, E & Goodwin, C. (2013). EBSCOhost. In The United States’ Involvement in the Vietnam War Was Justified. Retrieved May, 29 2013, from http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.devry.edu/pov/detail?sid=e6c76047-cd5d-422c-b3a0-a8179f540446%40sessionmgr14&vid=1&hid=26&bdata=JnNpdGU9cG92LWxpdmU%3d#db=pwh&AN=12462298. 2. Anderson, T & Bourassa, C. (2013). EBSCOhost. In The U.S. Should not Have Involved Itself in the Vietnam War. Retrieved May, 29 2013, from http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.devry.edu/pov/detail?sid=75920cfb-39bb-4186-86f6-abbb84e2199d%40sessionmgr13&vid=1&hid=26&bdata=JnNpdGU9cG92LWxpdmU%3d#db=pwh&AN=12462294. 3. Aliprandini, M & Moreno-Riano, G. (2013). EBSCOhost. In Vietnam: An Overview. . Retrieved May, 29 2013, from http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.devry.edu/pov/detail?sid=46054e8e-d423-4985-8b77-6805a0c83515%40sessionmgr14&vid=1&hid=26&bdata=JnNpdGU9cG92LWxpdmU%3d#db=pwh&AN=23416472.