American Society and the US Decision to Retreat From Vietnam 1968-1973 Essay

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American society and the U.S. decision to retreat from Vietnam (1968-1973).

Retreat from Vietnam

American Society and the U.S. Decision to Retreat from Vietnam (1968-1973).

The significance and the impact of the Vietnam War on the social fabric and the people of the United States is a subject of continual discussion and media analysis. For example, one critic notes the following; "For many Americans, the Vietnam War is ancient history, notorious but irrelevant. Yet the war and its consequences affected foreign policy for years, and still do…the deployment to Bosnia, bombing of Serbia, and deployment to Kosovo again raised fears of "another Vietnam." (Attarian 2000, p. 288) This is indicative of the way that this war impacted he national psyche for many years and affected the way that Americans saw themselves and their role in the international arena. This is linked to the perceived defeat or rather the failure of United States to achieve a decisive victory in this regional conflict.

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As will be discussed in this paper, there are a wide range of differing and often antagonistic views about the reasons and causes of the American withdrawal from Vietnam. This debate is closely linked to the arguments for and against America's involvement in the region in the first pace. While some critics view the reason for the eventual defeat of the U.S. forces and the retreat from Vietnam as a direct consequence of social and public pressure and movements at home, others deny that this was the central reason for the decision to leave Vietnam.

There is a general consensus in scholarly research that the decision to leave Vietnam was much more complex than just one main cause. From one point-of-view the central causative factors were political in nature and there was a fear of escalating the Vietnam War in an already tense and over-heated cold war environment. Others see party politics and fears about coming elections as factors in the decision to reduce military action.

Essay on American Society and the US Decision to Retreat From Vietnam 1968-1973 Assignment

While these arguments and debates will be examined in this paper, it becomes clear from the literature that the reasons for America's actions in the final years of the war were in reality the result of a combination of factors, influences and pressures; as well as forward and future projections of a continuation and necessary escalation of the conflict. However, this paper will focus on American society and the U.S. decision to retreat from Vietnam. In other words, while all factors, influences and motivations must be taken into account, the focus in this paper will be on the central role that the American society played in the military and governmental decision to cease operations in Vietnam

2. Overview

The way in which the Vietnam War divided the nation and created areas of opposition and approval in the country has been well documented in many articles and in the popular media. As Attarian ( 2000) states;

For the first time, America had lost a war -- a war that had divided the country, inflicted traumatizing casualties, and wrecked America's army. A sense of defeat, disillusion, futility, and revulsion for foreign wars lingered. Most Americans came to believe that Vietnam was a war America should have avoided yet could have won, but for constraints on the military. (Attarian 2000, p. 288)

This quotation succinctly summarizes the general views at the time; from the sense of approval and disappointment in some quarters and, from other quarters, resentment at the government's decision to become involved in the first place. The retreat from Vietnam should therefore be understood against the complex and intertwining fabric of the emotions and feelings in society at the time.

The literature points to a number of political reasons for the decision to retreat. However, there are possibly two cardinal aspects that had a decisive effect on political or policy initiatives in government; these are the expression of opposition to the war by the American people and the pervasive influence of the media.

2. Brief Background

While space does not permit an extensive analysis of the major events in the war that led up to the decision to retreat, a few major events and factors should be noted -- especially with regard to their impact on public perception of the course and direction of the war. One of the most visible perceived cracks in U.S. resolve and for the hope of a rapid victory in the region was Tet offensive in 1968. As Attarian ( 2000) states;

As fighting intensified, American battle deaths soared, from 1,369 in 1965 to 14,592 in 1968, the year of the Tet offensive (Tet being the Vietnamese lunar New Year holiday), in which communist troops attacked throughout South Vietnam. Although repulsed with staggering losses, the offensive made the war seem unwinnable." (Attarian, 2000, p. 288)

This was to result in a growing discontent with the war on the part of the American public. "American discontent with the war, which had been rising, surged." (Attarian, 2000, p. 288) While there was a resurgence of hope of a political solution to the conflict after Nixon became President and talks with the North Vietnamese were entered into, these hopes were dashed and the only possible outcome seemed to be an escalation of the conflict and further American involvement.

We could summarize the main events after the involvement of the Nixon administration as follows. Nixon began to withdraw troops and increase negotiation efforts. There was a sign of possible success in major U.S. offences in 1972 and this was to lead to the above-mentioned negation; which resulted in a cease-fire in 1973 but eventually broke down. The important aspect that should be emphasized is that, while many arguments may be put forward about the complexity of the situation and the efforts to combine force with negations, the perception of the American public was that more Americans were being killed each month with little or no sign of victory. The pressure of this public perception was to play a vital role in the departure of American troops and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.

3. Causative Factors

The decision to retreat from Vietnam has many social as well as political causative factors as Michael Lind notes in Vietnam: The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict ( 1999;

The matter turned on America's sensitivity to casualties; the danger was that rising losses would make Americans unwilling to wage the Cold War. If saving South Vietnam was too costly, then we should have abandoned the effort. As it turned out, he argues, our high losses destroyed our will and led to our defeat. (Lind 1999, p.34)

The above view connects to an important cause of the decision to leave Vietnam; namely, the will of the people and the effect that this factor had on the political decision by government. One also has to take into account internal political doubts about the progress of the war -- which in turn were fueled by increasing negative public sentiment and the anti-war movement in the country. For example, Lind ( 1999) refers to President Johnson's fears that, "…saturation bombing or invasion of the North would provoke Soviet or Chinese intervention, risking superpower confrontation." ( Lind 1999, p. 83) Critics also refer to the view that fear and indecision on the part of government were part of the reason for the eventual failure of the war effort in Vietnam.

… anxieties to prevent communist superpower intervention and North Vietnamese civilian casualties; protect America's image overseas; avoid calling public attention to the war; and preserve moneys for Great Society social programs tightly constrained the war effort. Sheer indecision also hurt.

(Attarian, 2000, p. 288)

However, it should also be realized that these fears and doubts were to a great extent driven by the public views and perceptions of the war and especially by the opposition from the various anti-war organizations.

4. American Society and the Anti-War Movement

As noted above, the Tet offensive was instrumental in negatively affecting public support for the war, which increased social disproval of the direction and continuance of the war. This can be seen in the fact that before the Tet offensive public approval ratings of the war was between forty and fifty percent, but dropped to less than twenty percent after the offensive. (Attarian, 2000, p. 288) While some felt that the war should be more aggressively fought, there was also a large and voluble percentage of the society who were vociferous in their condemnation of the war and its progress. The diverse anti-war movement therefore represented a growing opposition to the war that was to have a profound impact on later decisions in the campaign.

This public and social opposition to the war can be measured by the fact that while the anti-war movement began as a relatively low- key form of social protest, it was to develop into a movement that opposed the war in an increasingly active and aggressive way. This can be seen as a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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