Lessons Of The Vietnam War Essay, Research Paper
Lessons of the Vietnam War
?American imperialism has suffered a stunning defeat in Indochina. But the same forces are engaged in another war, against a much less resilient enemy, the American people. Here, the prospects for sucess are much greater. The battleground is idealogical, not military. At stake are the lessons to be drawn from the American war in Indochina; the outcome will determine the course and character of new imperial ventures.?
(Noam Chomsky, 1975)
Quite often the lesson of history is that there’s no lesson. – when somebody, particularly a politician starts to tell you a “lesson” of history, pay attention – odds are you’re about to hear a lie, or something stupid.
So, what are the ?lessons? of Vietnam?
The assumption here is that there is almost something salvagable out of the whole mess, if only we can draw the right lessons from it. The United States Military has drawn three of these lessons from the Vietnam war. First, the military has drawn from Vietnam a reminder of the finite limits of American public support for US involvement in protracted conflict . . . Second, the military has taken from Vietnam a heightened awareness that civilian officials are responsive to influences other than the objective conditions on the battlefield . . . Finally, the military took from Vietnam a new recognition of the limits of military power in solving certain types of problems in world affairs. In particular, Vietnam planted doubts in many military minds about the ability of US forces to conduct successful large-scale counterinsurgencies.
Was the war right for American interests?
If we accept the logic of containment, it was right. But should we? It is clear in retrospect now that the Cold War is over, that American policymakers in the fifties and early 60s took that idea too literally, didn’t distinguish between different types of communists with enough precision, didn’t distinguish between essential and inessential American interests, took the idea of “national will” to absurd conclusions, proved to be completely incapable of making a decision to cut their losses, and in the case of Vietnam certainly, failed to understand that a communist could also be a nationalist first. Ho Chi Minh’s apparently sincere admiration for the Declaration of Independence stands as a reminder of an unexplored possibility.
Was the war winnable?
It may have been, if the U.S. acted early and decisively enough. However, there were many reasons why the U.S. government didn?t act decisively early- reasons like the lack of stable government in South Vietnam. Korea had already been proven to be a disaster, and the U.S. was worried about the reprecussions of their actions, the internal disagreement about whether Vietnam was really worth the effort in the first place, and of course the political considerations here in the United States. Think about the depth of Vietnamese nationalism, and the sucess of the communist party in directing that nationalism.
It seems as though the lessons mean nothing
Nevertheless, Vietnam changed a lot of things, and some of the “lessons”
are worth learning. The lesson of idealology is a big one. The great mistake of the anti-war movement was romanticizing the enemy, an enemy “who had little to teach us about how to conduct a modern democratic society.” The lesson of ideology is that it isn’t worth the death of millions of people. Containment wasn’t worth it. Make the spread of communism a political problem, not a militay one. The U.S. was certainly guilty of a kind of imperial arrogance – that we knew best what was best for what we saw as this dependent, backward, third world people. And the U.S. was certainly guilty of seeing the
Vietnamese not as themselves but as pawns in a larger game – what did the Russians and Chinese think? How was this playing in Europe? What did the latest poll numbers say? And U.S. leaders were certainly guilty of misleading the American people.
“This kind of moral corrosion has become all too familiar in the 20th century: the know-it-alls explain away all revolutionary abominations, try to turn the corner on utopian futures, and in the process become mirror-images of the absolutist authority they detest?. Even today, we hear voices on the left conjuring rationalizations for crimes?.”
As an individual, read these questions carefully. The class will then be asked to respond to them, and we will compare the ?answers? or suggestions.
Say a massive U.S. bombing and an invasion of North Vietnam had won a peace treaty in 1966- would it have lasted? Could it have?
Would U.S. policy have been different if Kennedy had lived? If watergate had not crippled Nixon?
Would U.S. society be more equal today if LBJ’s presidency had not been destroyed by Vietnam? Would it be less cynical if Nixon’s paranoia (largely due to protests against his war policies) had not led him into illegal activities? Would it be more united today if the anti-war movement had been more supportive of soldiers earlier?
Finally, was the war morally right? This was perhaps the most divisive question about the Vietnam War at the time and probably continues to be the most divisive.