After The War Essay, Research Paper
The American presence in Vietnam during the war had a profound impact on both
the political and social systems in both countries. Some of those changes are still being
felt today and will persist into the future.
In the fall of 1963, Diem, the president of Vietnam, was overthrown and killed in
a coup launched by his own generals. In the political confusion that followed, the security
situation in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, putting the Communists within reach
of victory. In early 1965, to prevent the total collapse of the Saigon regime, U.S.
President Lyndon Johnson approved regular intensive bombing of North Vietnam and the
dispatch of U.S. combat troops into the South.
The U.S. intervention cause sever problems for the Communists on the battlefield
and compelled them to send regular units of the North Vietnamese army into the South. It
did not persuade them to abandon the struggle, however, and in 1968, after the North s
bloody Tet offensive shook the new Saigon regime President Nguyen Van Thieu to its
foundations, the Johnson administration decided to pursue a negotiated settlement. Ho
Chi Minh died in 1969 and was succeeded by another leader of the revolution, Le Duan.
The new U.S. president, Richard Nixon, continued Johnson s policy while gradually
withdrawing U.S. troops. In January 1973 the war temporarily came to an end with the
signing of a peace agreement in Paris. The settlement provided for the total removal of
remaining U.S. troops, while Hanoi tacitly agreed to accept the Thieu regime in
preparation for the new national elections. The agreement soon fell apart, however, and in
early 1975 the Communists launched a military offensive. In six weeks, the resistance of
the Thieu regime collapsed, and on April 30 the Communists seized power in Saigon.
In 1976 the South was reunited with the North in a new Socialist Republic of
Vietnam. The conclusion of the war, however, did not end the violence. Border tension
with the Communist government in Cambodia escalated rapidly after the fall of Saigon,
and in early 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and installed a pro-Vietnamese
government. A few weeks later, Vietnam itself was attacked by its Communist neighbor
and erstwhile benefactor, China. In the mid-1980s, about 140,000 Vietnamese troops
were stationed in Cambodia and another 50,000 troops in Laos. Vietnam substantially
reduced its forces in Laos during 1988 and withdrew all its troops from Cambodia by
Within Vietnam, postwar economic and social problems were severe, and
reconstruction proceeded slowly. Efforts to collectivize agriculture and nationalize
business aroused hostility in the south. Disappointing harvests and the absorption of
resources by the military further retarded Vietnam s recovery. In the early 1990s the
government ended price controls on most agricultural production, encouraged foreign
investment, and sought to improve its foreign relations. In 1990 the European Community
established official diplomatic relations with Vietnam. The country signed a peace
agreement with Cambodia in 1991 and shortly thereafter restored diplomatic relations with
China. The peace agreement also forged the way for strengthening relations with the
members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In 1991 Vietnam signed a 1976
ASEAN agreement on regional amity and cooperation. Vietnam also established
diplomatic relations with South Korea. The United States in 1994 lifted a trade embargo
on Vietnam, and in July 1995 full diplomatic relations were established between the two
governments, thus ending more than two decades of hostilities. Later in July Vietnam
became the seventh, and first Communist, member of ASEAN. The other member nations
of ASEAN put increased pressure on Vietnam to repatriate the estimated 38,000
Vietnamese refugees in Southeast Asia, and in early 1996 Vietnam announced a plan to
expediate the repatriation process.
The Vietnam War marked a turning point in the history of modern conventional
warfare both in the extent of guerrilla and antiguerrilla combat involved and in the
increased reliance on helicopters, which afforded mobility in a difficult terrain. The
Vietnam War was essentially a people s war; because the guerrilla fighters were not easily
distinguished from noncombatants and because most civilians were mobilized into some
sort of active participation, the civilian populace of Vietnam suffered heavily, in
unprecedented numbers. The extensive use of napalm by U.S. forces maimed and killed
many thousands of civilians, and the employment of defoliants to destroy heavy ground
cover devastated the ecology of an essentially agricultural country.
As a result of more than eight years of these methods of warfare, it is estimated
that more than 2 million Vietnamese were killed, 3 million wounded, and hundreds of
thousands of children orphaned. It has been estimated that about 12 million Indochinese
people became refugees. Between April 1975 and July 1982, approximately 1,218,000
were resettled in more than 16 countries. About 500,000, the so-called boat people, tried
to flee Vietnam by sea; according to rough estimates, 10 to 15 percent of those died, and
those who survived the great hardships of their voyages were eventually faced with entry
ceilings in the countries that agreed to accept them for resettlement.
In the Vietnam War U.S. casualties rose to a total of 57,685 killed and about
153,303 wounded. At the time of the cease-fire agreement there were 587 U.S. military
and civilian prisoners of war, all of whom were subsequently released. A current
unofficial estimate puts the number of personnel still unaccounted for in the neighborhood
of 2500. Less measurable but still significant costs were the social conflicts within the
U.S. that were endangered by the war-the questioning of U.S. institutions by the American
people and a sense of self-doubt.
As you can see the Vietnam War had a very significant impact on both the United
States and Vietnam in almost all aspects of life. These impacts are still being felt today in
both countries. The only way to avoid another Vietnam happening is by studying what
happened and making sure that we do not make the same mistakes again.