50 years of the Vietnam War
In 2012, President Obama signed a presidential proclamation, designating March 29 as the National Vietnam War Veterans Day to ‘thank and honour’ the US Army Vietnam Veterans for their sacrifice. By virtue of this proclamation, the Vietnam War Remembrance will continue over a 13-year period till November 11, 2025.
On this day in March 1973, the last American troops returned back from Vietnam.
The Vietnam War (1955 to 1975) was one of the longest and most divisive wars in modern history.
As a mark of respect for the slain soldiers’ President Obama officially inaugurated this commemoration at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 28, 2012. President Trump went a step further by bringing in the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 to commemorate the 50th anniversary over a 13-year period.
The Vietnam War (1955 to 1975) was one of the longest and most divisive wars in modern history. The United States supported South Vietnam, which was fighting against North Vietnam, which was backed by the Soviet Union and China.
Almost 3 million Vietnamese and about 60,000 American soldiers, died in the war which remains a sensitive subject, with different explanations about its likely cause and consequences.
One of the primary causes was the Cold War, which saw the United States and its allies seeking to contain the spread of communism, particularly in Southeast Asia as a direct threat to its strategic interests.
Another factor that contributed to the Vietnam War was the political instability and lack of unity in the newly independent Vietnam (Vietnam got independence from France in 1954). Vietnam was divided into two states. The United States supported the unpopular South Vietnamese government in the war against North Vietnam supported by the communist regimes.
There was a lack of consensus about the war even within the United States. President Lyndon B. Johnson was totally in favour of sending U.S. troops to Vietnam despite public criticism and anti-war protests, but Richard Nixon did not like the idea and withdrew the U.S. troops in 1973.
The Vietnam War had a significant impact on U.S. military strategy, with many lessons that shaped military doctrine and tactics for decades to come.
Significance of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War is significant in a number of ways:
Historical significance: The Vietnam War was a defining moment in U.S. history, marking the first time that the United States had been involved in a major conflict that it did not win. The war was also significant for its impact on American society and culture, including the rise of the anti-war movement and the emergence of a generation of young Americans who were sceptical of government and authority.
Strategic significance: The Vietnam War had a significant impact on U.S. military strategy, with many lessons that shaped military doctrine and tactics for decades to come. The war also highlighted the inability of the military to achieve political objectives and highlighted the need for greater emphasis on diplomacy and political solutions.
Humanitarian significance: The Vietnam War led to considerable civilian casualties and damage to the infrastructure and environment. The conflict also led to the large-scale displacement of millions of people, including refugees who fled the war-torn country.
Global significance: The Vietnam War was part of a larger global struggle between communism and democracy, and eventually became a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The war had significant implications for U.S. foreign policy, which influenced America’s approach to global conflicts for decades to come.
The Vietnam War is significant in modern warfare history for several reasons:
Guerilla Warfare: The Vietnam War was characterized by guerilla warfare tactics employed by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. This type of warfare, which involves small groups of fighters using hit-and-run tactics, was difficult for the U.S. military to counter and highlighted the limitations of conventional warfare.
Some of the key characteristics of the Vietnam War include:
Chemical and biological warfare: The Vietnam War was neither the first nor the last war in which chemical and biological weapons were used. The U.S. military used many toxic herbicides and defoliant chemicals like Agent Orange, Agent Purple, Agent White, Agent Blue, and Agent Green named after the colour-coded stripe on the barrels used to store them. These contained various combinations of chemicals, like 2,4-dichloro phenoxy acetic acid (2,4-D), 2,4,5-trichloro phenoxy acetic acid (2,4,5-T), picloram, and cacodylic acid. They were all used for a specific purpose to defoliate the jungle so that the enemy could not hide behind trees and bushes and lay an ambush.
According to an estimate, almost 4.8 million Vietnamese and 3 million U.S. military personnel and their families were also exposed to these chemicals leading to serious health problems…
Agent Orange was the most widely used herbicide, but even the other herbicides were used in different parts of the country. Agent Purple was used primarily in the central highlands region of Vietnam, while Agent White was used mainly in the Mekong Delta. Agent Blue was used primarily to destroy rice crops, while Agent Green was used to defoliating areas around U.S. military bases.
According to an estimate, almost 4.8 million Vietnamese and 3 million U.S. military personnel and their families were also exposed to these chemicals leading to serious health problems like cancer, birth defects, and other long-term health effects. This gave rise to many international efforts to ban their use as well as a number of lawsuits and compensation claims worth around $180 million by the U.S. military veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the war.
The use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War proved to be a landmark in the history of chemical warfare and continues to impact the lives of people directly or indirectly affected by it. Even today, the legacy of Agent Orange continues to cast its spell on the Vietnamese and U.S. veterans and their families. The long-term health effects of exposure to the chemical are still being studied to provide medical care and compensation for those affected by its use.
Asymmetric Warfare: The Vietnam War was an example of asymmetric warfare, in which a weaker opponent employs unconventional tactics to offset a stronger opponent’s advantages in technology, firepower, and resources. The Vietnam War demonstrated the challenges that asymmetric warfare poses for a conventional military force, and highlighted the importance of understanding and adapting to the tactics of the enemy.
The Vietnam War was an example of asymmetric warfare, in which one side has a significant military advantage over the other. In the case of the Vietnam War, the United States and South Vietnam had a much larger and better-equipped military than the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. However, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were able to use guerrilla warfare tactics and other asymmetric strategies to offset the U.S. military’s advantage. This included attacking soft targets such as civilians, using landmines and booby traps to cause casualties, and blending in with the local population to avoid detection. The asymmetric nature of the conflict made it difficult for the U.S. military to achieve a decisive victory and contributed to the protracted and ultimately unsuccessful U.S. involvement in the war.
Public Opinion: The Vietnam War was the first major conflict to be widely covered by the media, and this coverage had a significant impact on public opinion. The anti-war movement, which was fueled by images of the war’s human toll and the perceived lack of progress, had a significant impact on U.S. policy and demonstrated the importance of public support for military interventions.
The Vietnam War was the first major conflict in which technology played a significant role, with the use of helicopters, napalm, and other advanced weapons.
The Vietnam War was the first major conflict to be widely covered by the media, especially television news. The war was televised nightly, and images of the conflict were broadcast into people’s homes across the United States and around the world. This was a new phenomenon in the history of warfare, as previous conflicts had not been covered to the same extent by the media. The media coverage of the Vietnam War had a significant impact on public opinion, both in the United States and globally. It allowed people to see the human cost of the conflict and contributed to growing opposition to the war. The media coverage also highlighted the limitations of the U.S. military’s involvement in the conflict and helped to bring about a shift in public opinion that ultimately led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.
Role of Technology: The Vietnam War was the first major conflict in which technology played a significant role, with the use of helicopters, napalm, and other advanced weapons. The war demonstrated the potential of technology to revolutionize warfare but also highlighted its limitations in the face of unconventional tactics.
While the Vietnam War was not the first major conflict to use technology, it was the first war in which advanced technology played a significant role in military operations. The United States employed a range of advanced technologies during the conflict, including helicopters, jet fighters, and sophisticated weapons systems. These technologies allowed the U.S. military to carry out complex operations and maintain a significant advantage over the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. However, the use of technology also presented challenges, as the difficult terrain and unpredictable weather in Vietnam made it difficult to operate advanced equipment effectively. Additionally, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were able to use guerrilla tactics to offset the U.S. military’s advantage and demonstrated the limits of technology in winning a war. The Vietnam War highlighted the importance of adapting technology to the specific challenges of a conflict and balancing the use of advanced equipment with effective tactics and strategies.
What happened thereafter?
The end of the prolonged War resulted in the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule, with Hanoi as the capital. It was also a turning point in the history of Vietnam which underwent major changes in the years that followed.
One of the most immediate consequences of the war was widespread destruction and loss of life. The war took such a heavy toll on Vietnam’s infrastructure and economy, that it took many-many years to rebuild and restore the country from imminent disaster. The government implemented a range of policies like land reforms, industrialization, and foreign investment for rebuilding the country.
Vietnam still faces a range of challenges, including political repression, environmental degradation, and ongoing tensions with neighbouring countries.
Vietnam also faced a range of internal issues like political unrest and social upheaval after the war. Though the government tried to promote national unity and restore stability, these efforts met with stiff resistance.
Despite these challenges, Vietnam progressed in the post-war period and emerged as a major regional power in Southeast Asia. It is today a major exporter of goods such as textiles, electronics, and agricultural products.
Vietnam has continued to modernize and expand its economy, attracting significant foreign investment and becoming increasingly integrated into the global economy. However, the country still faces a range of challenges, including political repression, environmental degradation, and ongoing tensions with neighbouring countries.