There were many important reasons for why the peace movement grew so rapidly in the USA. The main reason was they learnt of all the atrocities taking place in Vietnam and what they men were doing. Many soldiers sent out were little older than 19, and many never returned. One of the worst war crimes that was discovered was in My Lai, on 16th March 1968. A platoon led by Sergeant William Calley was on a Search and Destroy mission, having been told there was a Vietcong headquarters and 200 Vietcong in My Lai. They were told all the villagers would be out at market so any people found would be Vietcong. The orders were to destroy all livestock, housing, old people, babies, children and women found as being suspected Vietcong. In the four hours from when the 9 gun ships touched down in My Lai, 175-500 people were shot to pieces and left where they lay. Most were working in the fields; many were killed by machine gun. Hardly any one escaped. After killing all the citizens, the soldiers searched the village but no Vietcong were found and a mere three weapons were all that were found. When this got back to America, the public were deeply shocked, and Sergeant William Calley was imprisoned for life. It was the clearest evidence the war had gone wrong.
The Vietcong used guerrilla warfare from the start of the war to the end. The Americans weren’t at all used to this method of fighting, they preferred to fight hidden wars were they never came face to face with the enemy but instead fought using planes and bombs, as in WW2. To try and reveal the Vietcong who hid in the jungles, they used a variety of tactics. At first the parachuted radios down into the jungle and listened in on them to try and pick up Vietcong movement, but this was unsuccessful, since the radios usually broke. Instead, they developed a new method, and fought with chemical weapons like Napalm and Agent Orange. Napalm was a chemical of jelly consistency, which stuck to anything it touched and spread a blanket of fire over that object. It was designed to hurt people, but the trouble with it was that it hurt civilians and Vietcong equally. This meant it was effective as a weapon, since it fulfilled it’s target to harm people, but ineffective since when the American public discovered what it did, it was deeply unpopular and had a counterproductive effect on the war where public opinion was concerned.
Agent Orange was similar to Napalm, in that it harmed people and was counterproductive on public opinion but it had different intentions for use. It was a liquid substance and was designed to kill all plant life and trees so any hiding Vietcong could be revealed and to hit at food resources. This worked, since it did kill all vegetation and nothing would grow for many years where it had been sprayed. From 1962 until 1972, 14% of Vietnam’s forests and 5% of agricultural land was sprayed, sometimes more than once and 44 million litres of Agent Orange was dropped. Of all the toxic herbicides, Agent Orange was the worst, since only it contained the dangerous poison, Dioxin. However, although effective, Agent Orange created havoc amongst any humans. It polluted all of the countryside and if you didn’t die when it was sprayed directly on you, you would probably breathe it in. If it was taken in, you could develop cancer and your offspring risked being deformed because of the radiation given off. This didn’t only affect the Vietnamese; it affected US soldiers in equal measures. Many veterans who returned to the USA suffered illnesses and newborn babies were deformed. America took many lawsuits for damages as a result of these disabilities.
Another tactic the Americans used was blanket bombing, where big bombs were lined up so they would drop in sequence, like a blanket or carpet. It was used by America, but if they weren’t sure where the Vietcong were and couldn’t find their target, they just bombed the whole area. It was very effective for either public opinion or as a weapon, since each bomb had a limited range; meaning huge gaps were left between each one. The public hated it, since it was seen as unnecessary and cruel and cost al lot of money, for something that wasn’t successful and often didn’t hit a target.
Each soldier who was conscripted to Vietnam often had a 1 year service period. During this time they often suffered terrible atrocities, both mentally and physically and at the end of the year many returned a totally different character to before they left. Many went on to commit suicide, more dying of that than the deaths in Vietnam. They were often addicted to drugs and when the public back home began to learn of all the terrible things their husbands and sons had to do and suffer, opinion started to change very quickly. The soldiers who were able to told of the injuries they had to suffer, the many attacks, often from nowhere, the perils of jungle fighting, the tiring regime, the horrific crimes, the many booby traps and how many were disabled by them. They would tell of how they would be the victims of a guerrilla attack one moment, then a while later they would burn entire villages down with Zippo cigarettes lighters and shoot innocent citizens. The public found it extremely hard to take all this in and very quickly learnt the war was not right. Letters appeared in newspapers, thousands more joined in peace protests, veterans threw their medals away. The public began to awake to what their men were doing.
From the beginning of the war through to the end of the war, in 1973, anti war protests took place. At first, only a few protests took place, mostly made up of college students. Anti war protests really took off in 1965 when conscription was introduced. People attempted to put off conscription by faking illness, going away or marrying but really it boiled down to one thing. The richer you were the easier it was to dodge conscription. If you had money or were at college, you could put off your service duty, so most of the original soldiers were from poor backgrounds and very inexperienced. As bad news of events in Vietnam seeped back to America and the war wore on, more and more began to join in. This was helped by the return of the young men whose lives had been ruined because Vietnam and there were mass protests. The Hippie movement developed with it’s messages of peace and love. Still many people continued to believe the war was good and necessary to defend freedom. This led to violent clashes.
In 1968 Nixon got elected mainly because of his promise to get out of Vietnam but as more years wore on and there was no end to the war, the protests started up again. In May 1970 a protest was held at Kent University in Ohio. It was against the law and the governor sent in the National Guard to break it up. The National Guard used tear gas, then opened fire, killing 4 and wounded 9. The dead weren’t even involved in the demo; they were only passing and were aged between 19-20years old. Such violence shocked the world but did nothing to stop the protests, they continued both in America and many other European countries until the end of the war.
These reasons all helped the growth of the peace movement in America. The peace movements started growing from the return of veterans, but only after My Lai and the stories of soldiers who lived, did the war become deeply unpopular. It was a deeply controversial war, from start to end, and as America’s spirits became more and more dampened after the Tet Offensive, then My Lai, then the thousands of deaths, so did the popularity of the war. There were other reasons, such as the Tet Offensive on 30th January 1968, but these were some of the main ones.
After the war in Vietnam, the people faced problems for years. The American citizens had to live with the long-term effects as well and since then until today, American politics has been affected.
Even though Vietnam won the war, they faced far more problems, in a way, than the Americans, since it was their country in which the war had been fought. The environmental effects in Vietnam were mainly due to chemical warfare. Agent Orange in particular, as well as Agent White and Agent Blue wiped out vast quantities of forest and land. Between 1962 and 1972, 14% of Vietnam’s forests and 5% of the agricultural land was sprayed, sometimes more than once with defoliants and totally destroyed. 72 million litres of Agent Orange, Blue and White was dropped on Vietnam and where it was dropped much of the foliage would never grow again.
Another environmental consequence was the number of booby traps left unsprung and mines left untriggered. Eventually, even the people who set them with their own hands were going to forget where they placed them, and even the oldest Vietnamese couldn’t remember their way round all the jungles. When the new generation were born and growing up, some were bound to discover a mine or trap without meaning to and the effects would be catastrophic.
The psychological effects are also bad. Constant war left huge effects on Vietnam and even today there are some children who are the product of a GI and Vietnamese woman’s relationship. These don’t fit in anywhere-the are unwanted in Vietnamese society and not welcome in America. That’s if the child is born at all. The war left its physical marks on Vietnam also. As a result of all the chemical weapons, many people who were exposed to their radiation suffered from cancer or deformities in their sex cells so any offspring produced was deformed. This was particularly harsh since husbands and wives who hadn’t seen each other for years as a result of the war would meet, but the babies produced as a result of this reunion would be deformed.
After the Vietnam War, the country was left in poverty. Vietnam had been transformed from a main provider of rice to a country that couldn’t even feed itself. There were huge problems after the South joined to the North in 1975 because the Communist government controlled all the farming and industry. This was unpopular and the harvests were poor. All talented and professional people fled abroad. In 1978 Vietnam entered into a war with Cambodia, then China. The economy grew worst and people followed the talented abroad, in anything they could find that floated. Many died and the few who managed to reach Hong Kong or Malaysia had a poor welcome. Thousands were placed in camps and left there whilst the authorities took years deciding what to do with them. Years later, many leave and go to America.
The problems are still continuing today. In 1987 the inflation was running at 700% and in 1991 the Russian aid stopped. The Americans kept their trade ban until 1993. Only in the late 1990s has Vietnam begun to recover from the war.
America has been affected badly too. There were many psychological and physical effects on the troops-many lost limbs and disabled for life. Booby traps, guerrilla attacks, mines and chemical bombing had left their mark and many who were exposed to the chemical bombs for long periods developed cancer or had damaged sex cells, leading to deformed babies. The USA was subjected to many lawsuits for damages as a result of these genetic disabilities.
Some suffered shell shock and found it impossible to erase all the memories they had of the horrors committed. They felt guilty that they didn’t stop any of these horrors, or protest against them and remembered what they had done and helped with. Some had the added guilt because they helped kill their officers. Relationships between the enlisted and their officers were notoriously difficult, since the officers were career soldiers, who lived for fighting and were ambitious for promotion. The enlisted just wanted to do their year then return home. More than 700 officers died (or were ‘fragged’) under the hands of their own men during 1970 to 1971.
The veterans would have nightmares and came back addicted to drugs, which were their only way to deal with everything whilst in Vietnam. The drugs became very much an aspect of Vietnam life for the GIs and many took marijuana in particular. In 1971 5000 men were treated for war wounds, but 20,000 were treated for drug abuse.
Many couldn’t comprehend the American attitudes when they returned. They had been forced to fight by conscription and came back as controversial figures of which the public disapproved. Some were destroyed, mentally and physically. Marriages broke up, men who seemed well struggled to get jobs, and some were upset by the failure of the war. Thousands of veterans went on to commit suicide-far more than actually died in Vietnam.
It took many years to come to terms with Vietnam, helped by films and documentaries. Now, there is a stronger questioning of the authorities and many are disillusioned with politics and governments. The Vietnam War affected the status of America as a defender of freedom and their failure in the war shook their confidence.
Vietnam was originally a part of South-east Asia called Indo-China (so named because it was near China). Indo-China was made up of 3 countries-Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam and it was taken over by the French in the early 19th century. During the time when it was ruled by the French, an independent movement started because some in Vietnam wanted independence of the French and attempted to get rid of them using Communism.
In 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, took over Hong Kong, and took control of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. This put France in a difficult position because in 1940 France was taken over by Germany and the North and West of France were directly ruled by the Nazis. However, South France operated in a different manner, using a puppet-government of French Collaborators who supported the Nazis. This was run under Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval and was named Vichy France. It was the only French government from 1940 until 1944. However, because the Vichy government supported Germany, and Japan was a German Ally, France couldn’t resist Japan when it tried to take over Indo-China, so the French were forced to pull out of its colony. The people of Indo-China felt deserted and greatly resented this move. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and began a resistance movement in Vietnam named the Vietminh. It was led by a Communist, named Ho-Chi Minh, and repelled the Japanese control. They did this by fighting a guerrilla war against them from 1941 until 1945.
In 1945 the Japanese left Indo-China, as a combined result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They believed if they were going to have this much trouble in Vietnam, it wasn’t worth the effort. Once they had left the French returned. The Vietminh, who were led by Ho Chi Minh, turned against them and repelled them instead, in an attempt to drive them out. They believed the French had no right to be in control if they had refused to help with the Japanese, and continued their guerrilla war, only this time against the French.
Finally, in 1954, things came to a head. The Vietnamese realized they had almost beaten the French, but they needed to take them on in head to head war to finish things off. This they did, in Dien Bien Phu and won. In the same year the French began the Geneva Peace talks, leading to their withdrawal from Vietnam. This left Vietnam split in two temporarily until elections could be held. The North became Communist under Ho Chi Minh, whilst the South remained non-Communist under heavy pressure from the USA. However, Ho Chi Minh did not agree with this-he wanted control of all of Vietnam. He began a guerrilla war against the South.
The Vietnam wars were just one group of wars that took place in the Cold War. The basic opponents in each war were the USA against both the USSR and China. The USA were fighting against Communism and trying to stop it, whilst China and the USSR, both Communist countries, were trying to encourage communism. The three countries exercised their might by backing conflicts against and for Communism around the world.
The war in Vietnam all started with events taking place in 1949. In 1949 China had become Communist, inspired by Russia’s success in 1917. At first the USA had supported Chiang, the leader of an anti-Communist party who was trying to extinguish Communism in China, but in 1949 they stopped and China became Communist whilst Chiang fled to Taiwan. Mao, the Communist leader of China seemed to threaten all of South East Asia. Most of the countries in South East Asia were still newly independent and the USA feared one little push could send them all toppling down, like dominoes. This was called the Domino Theory and the little push could come from Mao’s success in China, so the USA felt for their own defence they needed to keep the navy in control of the West Pacific.
In 1954 they decided to stop the Communists by propping up the next domino-South Vietnam. The Vietminh had just changed their name to the Vietcong, and were planning to take over all of Vietnam and make it a Communist country. South Vietnam was weaker than its Communist North, so the Americans felt they needed that extra bit of support to keep it non-Communist. From 1954 until 1964 the USA did everything they could to keep South Vietnam non-Communist, apart from sending in troops. They gave money; weapons and political advice to an anti-Communist politician named Ngo Dinh Diem and helped him to form a government. However, Diem was not popular in South Vietnam because he represented only his rich friends and relations and didn’t care for his people. He stayed in power using brutality and corruption, whilst in the countryside and neighbouring countries, the Vietcong could move among the peasants safely. They continued their war started against the French but this time against the South Vietnamese by making guerrilla attacks on Diem’s forces. Gradually they gained the support of the peasants. Diem’s reaction to this was to force the peasants to move to fortified villages, but this only succeeded in encouraging the peasants to support the Vietcong even more.
In 1960 to 1961 the USA, under John F Kennedy, started to become more and more involved. The USA was aware of how unpopular Diem was, and in 1963 advised the Vietnamese army to overthrow him and give Government to the army generals. At this time President Kennedy and the USA desperately needed success in the Cold War. Cuba, just 90 miles from the USA, had gone over to Communism, under their new Communist leader, Fidel Castro. All the attempts to overthrow him had failed miserably but Kennedy wanted to show the US power and determination to defend the world against Communism. He promised South Vietnam greatly increased support. In the meantime, North Vietnam was given support by the USSR and China
In 1964 North Vietnam sent troops to help the Vietcong in the South. They did this by sending their troops through the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia, along little trodden paths. These paths eventually became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Back in the USA, Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963. His successor, Lyndon Johnson knew that in 1964 he had an election to fight and knew a tough policy in Vietnam would be very popular in the States. His generals told him the best way to defeat the Communists in the South would be to attack North Vietnam, and so he did. In 1965 marines were dispatched to Vietnam; conscription was introduced and 1/2 million Americans sent off to fight openly in the South and Operation Rolling Thunder began-that is the massive bombing project on North Vietnam. He bombed factories, supply routes and cut off the Vietcong lifeline there as well. He was certain that his modern forces and hi-tech weapons would soon crush the basic forces of North Vietnam and the Vietcong. He sent the most high-tech, modern weapons available that would kill men easily, with the press of a button. The Vietnamese weapons were nothing in comparison to the American ones and it seemed there was no doubt America would win. With that, the war had begun. What had started as a plan by the North Vietnamese to conquer the South had developed into a war between America and a united USSR and China. This is how America grew more and more involved in the affairs of a small country, Vietnam, between 1954 and 1965.
The Vietcong and Americans used a variety of tactics from 1956 through to 1968. From the start of the war right through to the end, the main tactic the Vietcong used was guerrilla warfare. All their tactics revolved very much around it and it had been used before, when resisting the French and Japanese takeovers. It was very effective partly because so much of Vietnam was covered in dense jungle and because it gave the Vietcong the advantage. They knew the jungle far better than their enemy and knew who were their fellow Vietcong and who were peasants. The Americans didn’t, and would kill peasants as well as Vietcong, making the peasants support Vietcong and feed and shelter them. Furthermore, the Americans had large troop numbers and a lot of weapons, whereas the Vietcong operated in small groups, meaning they could attack suddenly and slip away into the jungle undetected just as quickly. This ensured American troops never won a definite battle and demoralised troops. They felt the enemy was everywhere and this meant they were far harsher than necessary on suspected Vietcong and violently over-reacted. The public saw this back in America and this helped opinion turn against the war.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was also created for use in guerrilla warfare. It was an essential link to the success of guerrilla warfare and ran from North to South through dense jungle and paddy fields. The US attacked the trail with bombs and chemical weapons but it always reopened to allow food, soldiers and weapons to reach fighting areas.
Another important part of guerrilla warfare were tunnels. Tunnels were built to hide and make attacks from and many ran for up to 20 miles. These tunnels could contain a large number of rooms-they were used as shelters, hospitals, sleeping rooms, cooking rooms, conference chambers, escape routes, storage. Therefore, guerrilla warfare was a very successful tactic for the Vietcong and they were highly skilled in it.
The North Vietnamese and Vietcong also used booby traps as a tactic. 11% of Americans died as a result of them and the designs varied. They could be made up of trip wire linked to mines or grenades; or hidden wires, which made you trip and fall on sharpened spikes; or pits that were covered over and had bamboo spikes underneath. One of the most popular was nicknamed the ‘Bouncing Betty’ and when triggered exploded up to 1 metre over the ground. This blew genitals and legs off or killed you outright. Many booby traps would be placed on the ground above tunnels, so if the Americans found a tunnel, they would be attacked by effective booby traps.
The Tet Offensive could also be called a tactic, since it was planned for a purpose. It happened in 1968, when 500,000 US troops were in Vietnam and consisted of 100 simultaneous attacks being launched on cities and US sites by the North Vietnamese. A suicide squad separately got into Saigon and attacked the US embassy stationed there. Eventually, after 1 week, they were driven back by 11,000 soldiers. The American troops realised it had done more to damage the Vietcong than the Americans, but the media didn’t see it this way. It was very demoralizing for Americans back at home, since so many bombs had been flown over and so many men had died, but after all that time, the Vietcong were still a significant enemy to launch such a large scale attack. It was after this event that the anti war protests grew greatly in size.
One of the first tactics used by the Americans was Operation Rolling Thunder. This came by as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident on 13th July 1968 where Vietcong commandos attacked radar stations on the Gulf of Tonkin and 3 torpedo boats attacked the Maddox. The Maddox was an American destroyer, which monitored and found signals of Vietcong movement and it successfully destroyed one boat and damaged the other 2. It fired its guns at an unseen enemy for 4 hours after that. America’s response was to destroy 25 torpedo bases but in December 1964 2 ambushes were led by the Vietcong. Johnson felt this meant the war needed to be stepped up a bit and declared Operation Rolling Thunder officially underway in February 1965. Operation Rolling Thunder was a code name used to describe the tactic of bombing Vietnam regularly. It was a huge escalation in the war-in March 3500 troops were sent as defence for air bases and by the end of 1965 200,000 men had been drafted for service in Vietnam. The public were told in would last 8 weeks and was necessary so as to defend freedom in South-east Asia. Many believed what they heard. Operation Rolling Thunder lasted 3 and 1/2 years during which time more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than all the bombs dropped in World War Two and all for nothing-the bombing harmed more civilians than military targets, since the targets were so few and so well hid. Operation Rolling Thunder was a tried and used tactic, and had failed.
After the failure of Operation Rolling Thunder a new tactic was introduced, called Search and Destroy. The public were told the men patrolled up to 80 kilometres each day around airbases and airports, but as an actual fact the soldiers would go into villages, spray the huts with napalm, a flammable chemical and burn them all. These were called Zippo raids, nicknamed after the cigarette lighter used to light the wooden huts. Any people found would usually be killed as suspected Vietcong and Vietcong allies. This is what happened in My Lai on 16th March 1968, where a platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley was sent in. They had been informed that 200 Vietcong and their headquarters would be situated there whilst the civilians were out at market and they were told to destroy any dwellings, houses, villagers, men, women, children, animals or babies found as being Vietcong or Vietcong supporters. The dead were shot to pieces, some whilst working in paddy fields, many by machine gun, and were left where they fell. Hardly anyone escaped, but 175-500 people were estimated dead. No Vietcong were found, just a mere 3 weapons. Calley was put on trial after the war and sentenced to life imprisonment but was released after 3 years. My Lai deeply shocked America when the media finally found out and displayed the terrible images and it was the clearest evidence the war had gone wrong.
A further tactic used by the Americans was Napalm attacks. Napalm was a chemical with a jelly consistency that stuck to anything it touched and stayed there. It spread a blanket of fire over the object it was stuck to and couldn’t be removed, even in water. It was dropped from air and was targeted at people. The problem with it was, although the Vietcong were the target, it also harmed the civilians and the US allies, and helped turn them against the Americans and change sides to support Vietcong, since they did more to help the civilians. As a weapon it was very effective, but when used for propaganda it was the opposite, since it helped turn Americans against the war.
The final tactic involved decoy patrols being sent out to look for the enemy in the dense jungle foliage. When the enemy attacked, the patrol group would retreat then from safety, call in air strikes of bombs or delifoliants such as Agent Orange. This was a fairly successful tactic, but didn’t always work- the patrol groups could be reluctant to go out on patrol, seeing as one of there group, if not more, would probably be killed. They might all be killed since the Vietcong wouldn’t just give in when they started to retreat, or the strike planes could lose the target area easily.
These are all some of the main tactics in use by either Americans or Vietcong. Some were successful, some not so successful. Many failed miserably, mostly American tactics. In a way, the Vietcong had a strong advantage, because they concentrated on a main tactic, guerrilla warfare, and all their other tactics were based around this. The Americans tried many different tactics, but didn’t really stop to work on one if it failed first time around.