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Autor: anton • December 5, 2010 • 1,769 Words (8 Pages) • 747 Views
The Vietnam War, which lasted for two decades (1955-1975), was probably the most problematic of all American wars. US involvement in Vietnam occurred within the larger context of the Cold War between the US and the USSR. It was, and remains, morally ambiguous and controversial. The Vietnam War was slated as both a war against Communism and a war aimed at suppressing dangerous nationalist self-determination. Christian G. Appy's book, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, is a graphic and perceptive portrayal of soldiers' experiences and the lasting effects the Vietnam War has had on the American culture and people. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, is an analytical work that has three major purposes: 1. to show that those who fought in Vietnam were predominantly from the working class 2. to convey the experiences of the soldiers who served in Vietnam and 3. to offer his own scathing commentary of American actions in Vietnam.
After World War II ended, Cold War alignments emerged. In 1946, Winston Churchill spoke against the USSR in his "Iron Curtain" speech. George Kennan's "Long Telegram" introduced the concept of containment, arguing that the US could keep communism from spreading by deterring Soviet expansion at critical points.
Critical occurrences in1949 brought American communist fears to an extreme level. The Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift, followed by Mao Zedong's triumph over Chiang Kai-Shek's Chinese Nationalist forces, and the successful atomic bomb tests of the USSR all contributed to the hysteria. America was gripped by paranoia, embodied by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy Communist witch hunts.
The escalation period of the Vietnam War, which lasted for a decade (1955-1965) reflected the Cold War conflict in which the US and USSR avoided direct combat and thus avoided the possibility of nuclear war. Instead, the two superpowers battled though puppet forces. While the US backed South Vietnamese government was weak and corrupt, the USSR backed North Vietnamese government was a proud and group of nationalists willing to fight fiercely for Vietnamese unification and against foreign influence. The US faced an enemy that believed deeply in its nationalist as well as communist cause and hated US, and for that matter any foreign intervention.
In Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, Appy estimates that approximately eighty percent of the soldiers who experienced combat in Vietnam were the sons of blue-collar workers. He presents his definition of working-class as descriptive rather than explicit: "the ninteen-year old children of waitresses, factory workers, truck drivers, secretaries, fire-fighters, carpenters, custodians, police officers, salespeople, clerks, mechanics, miners and farmworkers." He lists thirteen towns with populations of less than 550 which lost lives of five or more men in Vietnam, a rate far above the national average; he attributes this to socioeconomic factors: "Many men went to Vietnam from places like Dorchester, Massapequa, Empire, and Talladega...because those were the sorts of places where most poor and working-class people lived." "The wealthiest youth in those towns...were far less likely to either enlist or to be drafted." He argues that the same held true for the African American population as well.
The Vietnam War garnered much opposition because it was the first American war to be televised. The American press therefore played a crucial role in war's outcome. A combination of factors, including governmental mismanagement of the situation, the death of young Americans in a war against an enemy that did not threaten America directly, and the evidence - the videos, photographs, and literature - the American press helped to turn public sentiment against the war. Many Americans thus protested against Vietnam combatants as well, overlooking the psychological trauma both the war and the protesting was having on American soldiers . The experience of soldiers who are Appy's informants (Vietnam veterans), who serve as a continual source of disturbing anecdotes and painful recollections, is one of contempt. The are the victims of this contempt by many Americans who protested the war, but they are also the sources of contempt for such "hippies." The chapter "Am I Right or Wrong?" suggests a reconcilitation between the veterans and the activists under the umbrella of American brotherhood. One informant, however, characterized the activists as "arch-liberals from suburban communities...[who] never really worked in their lives... [who] went on marches and didn't have the slightest idea what was going on over there." The verbal and physical abuse also suffered by the veterans from drill instructors, coupled with the "numbness" they felt after witnessing the fields of dead and the hills of bodies in Vietnam, makes the reader easily understand the indignance of the veterans. After all, whether they agreed with the war or not, they were risking their lives to protect the American democratic way of life and were rewarded by literally being spit at by their fellow countrymen if these soldiers were even fortuitous enough to return to America. The extensive power of the media and public distrust of the government remain in our society today as vestiges of the Vietnam War.
Appy thus effectively details the lives of American soldiers in Vietnam: he conveys to the reader the soldiers' class backgrounds, military training, war experiences and their attempts to cope with the horrific events they lived through. His reflections on viewing the 58,152 names enscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. clearly convey his disallusionment towards the war. He presents the Vietnam War as the defining horrific mistake of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations and he portrays the War as arguably the most traumatic event America had endured since the Civil War.
John F. Kennedy was elected president in January of 1961. His administration represented itself as being composed of the "best and brightest." Appy offers to the reader the assertion that even such a highly touted administration made policy mistakes in Vietnam. The Strategic Hamlet program, for example, was a failure. Not only did it fail to destroy the Vietcong influence, it actually strengthened it by turning the opinions of 4.3 million peasants forced into the Hamlets become sympathetic to Communist messages.
Such mistakes were not limited to one administration, though. Lyndon B. Johnson did not want to be the person to lose the Vietnam War. Despite his