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Vietnam War

Essay by   •  March 16, 2011  •  3,101 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,655 Views

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America’s involvement in Vietnam gradually escalated from 1945 to 1975. Historians debate over why America even got involved in Vietnam, however it is often explained by America believing it should fight against Vietnam because of what the Southeast Asian country stood for вЂ" Communism. Many believe if Vietnam fell to communism it would only be enforcing Eisenhower’s domino theory. Kennedy’s presidency saw an increased commitment to Vietnam with 12,000 advisors by 1962 and increased equipment. Under LBJ, Vietnam had around 200,000 US troops by 1965 . However, 1966 had increased domestic opposition to American involvement in Vietnam and as the war continued further, opposition to it grew. Although to what extent the lack of public support was the main factor to America вЂ?losing’ the war is greatly debated. Whilst public opinion can be argued to be the most important reason for initial troop withdrawal in June 1969 to quieten opposition , other factors remain important. This includes America’s military mistakes, North Vietnams strengths as opposed to South Vietnams weaknesses, and Presidential restraints and retreat.

Throughout the duration of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War, opposition existed within the home country. Sanders claims it is generally agreed that opposition to the war from the public and press was probably the main reason to why Johnson finally decided upon retreat. However the extent to which the public in America did oppose the war is greatly debated. Firstly, defining public opinion itself has problems. Polls conducted both by the government and the press found that the wordings of the question had dramatic effect on answers and what a respondent states in a hypothetical situation as opposed to a real situation can be very different. However, Mueller’s data repeatedly asked the question form 1965 to 1971; Do you think the US made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?’ The data showed that in 1965, 60% of the public approved of troops in Vietnam, this figure had halved to 30% in 3 years . This downhill trend demonstrates how public support for Vietnam fell from 1965 to 1971. Mueller’s sources on public opinion are regarded as very reliable, most of it coming from Roper Public Opinion Research Centre at Williams College, Massachusetts .

The extent that this affected the eventual US withdrawal is debated, although it is clear that the public opinion was greatly affected by the press. Vietnam was known as the �Photographers war’ in which journalists and photographers form all over the world flocked to Vietnam. Due to technology available, the press could bring images to the public eye as never before. Although, it was often misinterpretation of images that encouraged opposition at home. During the Tet Offensive 1968, a South Vietemese police chief executed a V.C. in Saigon . This image was shown worldwide however Sanders states it only emerged later that it was a death squad member who had just shot a relation of the general. The image damaged America’s faith in their side as the �good guys’.’ The images shown back home affected Americans because people knew relatives, family and friends who were dying like this. The extent to which the coverage upset the public contributed to eventual America withdrawal.

However whilst Mueller’s statistics on public opinion show a clear decline between 1965 to 1971, it can be questioned who the main opposition to the war came from. Higgins orthodox view claimed the main opponents of the war were young however evidence suggests they were in fact just the most vociferous group. Contrary to Higgins, Mueller states that in Nov. 1966, under 30’s were in fact the most supportive group of the war at 66% . Whilst the figure had dropped to 47% in Feb 1969, it still remained higher than the over 49’s Support at 31%. Karnow, an American journalist who visited Vietnam, also supports Mueller’s findings with a survey conducted in 1967 which found вЂ?endorsement of the war was strongest among the college educated, middle classes’ . Whilst in 1965 the opposition was a minority, it was a growing minority. Yet Johnson also suffered pressure from вЂ?hawks’ that criticised him for not escalating enough, stating America never used more than Ð'Ð... its tactical air power in Vietnam. Karnow also notes that hard liners such as Senator John Stennis who believed America should mobilise its full military, reflected a significant element of public opinion .

Nixon recognised the home front problem and used tactics to keep the opposition quiet. This included a withdrawal of 60,000 troops in 1969, Nixon believing he had little other choice. This demonstrates how public opposition to the war led foreign policy for the US and how public opinion was a strong influential factor for the eventual withdrawal. Examples of protest include Oct 1969, in which the largest anti war protest in American History took place. Protestors took to the streets in every major city. Radicals even waved VC flags. Nixon rightly claimed their �numbers were a minority, but their numbers were growing’ . Another example of protests was on the 5th May 1970 in which 4 students at Kent State University, Ohio were shot dead by National Guard . As a result, Nixon backed down and declared he would get American troops out of Cambodia by June. This demonstrates again how govt. policy was made in the streets. Although Sanders points out the pro-Nixon public, which in response to Nixon’s decision, totalled 100,000 in New York . However Nixon’s own views, like Johnson’s, hindered public view and encouraged the divide between war supporters and protestors. During the Cambodian Offensive Nixon told a Pentagon employee �the boys in Vietnam are the greatest, unlike the bums blowing up the campuses.’

Another area of opposition came from what Higgens referred to as �Black Power’ . Sanders claims black people resented the apparent disproportionate number of blacks on the front line and the high number of casualties. Martin Luther King became publicly critical in 1967 highlighting �the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school’s.’ It is understandable to see that a war that caused so much controversy was opposed to such an extent. The military were also furious that opposition was having such an effect on their involvement in Vietnam. However Karnow claims Westmoreland’s concept

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