Society - History
By: - at April 30, 2015

15 Fascinating Facts About the Vietnam War

The Vietnam war was the result of years of the foreign policy regarded as communist containment, and an incident that occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin where a U.S. naval vessel was allegedly attacked by the North Vietnamese communists. For years the United States had supported the South Vietnamese people in the form of troop training, supplying weapons, and financial contributions. The Vietnam War was the most unpopular, costly, and only foreign conflict where the United States ultimately pulled out, leaving the country to the communists.

vietnam

Collateral damage related to the conflict included more than 3 million people killed, including 58,000 Americans. During the conflict, the United States faced growing social turbulence at home where the Vietnam War was opposed by nearly all Americans. An active draft meant that only more and more people were going to be drafted, and many of them were going to be killed. The American presence in the region led to one of the most costly and active bombing campaigns in U.S. Air Force history, and the worst U.S. military conduct on record.

vietnam

Questionable behavior included ramped drug use and often brutal atrocities against helpless civilians. Below is a snapshot of some of the more fascinating facts about the Vietnam War.


15)  Most of the People Fighting in Vietnam Volunteered
One of the sights you will see a lot when looking back at the protests of the Vietnam War was countless young people ripping up their draft cards. There was in fact a national draft instituted to keep a constant supply of additional U.S. forces. The downside was if you were drafted, most likely you would be placed in the job that no one would volunteer for; ideal for someone entering the services against their will. During Vietnam the worst post was infantry either for the Marines or the Army. In an attempt to avoid being placed in a position that had a very quick life expectancy, in the case of a Huey gunship door gunner (helicopter) only 5 minutes, many volunteered before they were drafted.

door gunner

The way the draft worked was that every eligible draftee was assigned a number based on the day of birth they were born on. There was even a drawing on television very similar to the lottery, where television personalities would draw numbers out of a raffle drum and blindly select a number. All those born on the designated date would then report to their local draft office and face imminent deployment following basic training.

U.S. Tank Convoy
tank convoy

Volunteers could enter job-based positions requiring comprehensive training like aeronautical engineering or other highly technical fields like a naval aviator. Not only would they receive career training from the armed forces, they can also look forward to much safer war-time duties. Once the draft was instituted, droves of people went to their local draft office, signing up for positions that they felt they could perform best. Many Americans left the country either to Canada or Mexico. The number of "draft dodgers" was so significant, after Richard Nixon was forced to leave office due to the Watergate scandal and imminent impeachment, Gerald Ford made an executive order that exonerated any draft dodger as many perceived the war as a travesty.


14)  The Vietnam War Was Actually a Conflict
Even though in just about every history book, and in this article, it is called the Vietnam War, this is not what actually occurred with the conflict in Vietnam. A war is only a true war when it moves through the correct legislative channels. In this case that is through the legislative branch, specifically starting in the House of Representatives. A true war is defined via Constitutional interpretation as an act of congress that gives the president unlimited executive authority over the armed services. The president must first tell congress that they have a reason to go to war against a country, and there must be a vote to agree that the nation needs to go to war.

gunships

A declaration of war is enacted, and the country is officially at war with the opposing side. This is not what happened in Vietnam where the Tonkin Gulf resolution served as a quasi-declaration. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was hastily passed by congress immediately following the attack against the USS Maddox.


13)  Soldiers Saw More Active Combat in Vietnam than in World War II
One of the things that soldiers like the least about being in a conflict situation is to be face to face with the enemy. Every moment a soldier sees active combat, the potential for loss of life goes through the roof. Those serving in World War II did not like how much time they spent in active combat, but in essence, they had a picnic when compared to the soldiers in Vietnam. The average soldier in World War II only saw about 40 days of combat a year, thanks to having to travel from one location to another, on trains and ground vehicles, or by foot.

soldier civilian

In the Vietnam War, the average soldier saw about 240 days of combat a year. This is six times more active combat than the average soldier in World War II. One of the main reasons the soldiers in Vietnam saw so much more active combat was because of the use of the helicopter. It was quick, easy and inexpensive to place soldiers exactly where they were needed whenever they were needed.

inserting troops


12)  Not since the Civil War Has a President Been Assassinated During a War
The death of a president is a major loss to a country and the United States has not seen very many assassination attempts, let alone actual deaths of the American President. In fact, the loss of John F. Kennedy was a major blow to the United States for two reasons. Not only was JFK killed as an American President, but he was killed at a time when the nation was at war. This is something that hasn't happened since the Civil War and has not occurred since.

JFK During Debate with Nixon
JFK During Debate with Nixon

The death of JFK is still under investigation by many people, but to date nothing has come out to state that it is in any way attached to the Vietnam War, except that it happened while the war was going on. It is an interesting side note to mention that the man accused of killing JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, was trained as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Without the training that he received to serve as a soldier for the United States, he may not have had the ability to kill the president, because he would have lacked the skills to make such a shot.

Moments After Bullet Struck
JFK


11)  Vietnam War Was the Longest War in U.S. History
The United States has been involved in quite a few wars, and every single one seems as if it has gone on for an eternity, but none have lasted as long as the Vietnam War. It started on November 1, 1955 (though some say the agents on the ground preceded this date and that was the true start of the war). It ended on April 30, 1975, creating a span of 19 ½ years that the United States was at war with the North Vietnamese government. The majority of the fighting occurred in Vietnam, but Laos and Cambodia were also battle grounds that were involved.

Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
Vietnam War Memorial

Some families who had a father who went to war in Vietnam, had children who eventually grew up and also served in the war. No other war can make such a claim in the history of the United States. Even more interesting is the fact that Ho Chi Minh never wanted to go to war with the United States, and even mentioned that the war would last for 20 years before the first soldier was killed on the ground.

North Vietnamese Leader Ho Chi Minh
North Vietnamese Leader Ho Chi Minh





10)  Vietnam Vets Have Lower Criminal Rates
There have been many screen adaptations of Vietnam Vets being lawless individuals willing to break the law and fend for themselves. In fact, this is a less than honest way to portray any of the vets who served in Vietnam. Less than one half of one percent of Vietnam Vets has been jailed for any crimes. This has a lot to do with the fact that they also have much lower unemployment rates compared to those of the same age who did not serve during Vietnam.

vietnam veterans

Some historians believe Vietnam vets were, for the most part, law abiding citizens because of the time they spent in the war. Spending so much time in active combat, and seeing so many of your friends die next to you, makes you keenly aware of how precious your life is. You do not want to squander it living in a jail cell, so you make the most of the life you have in honor of those who will never be able to live another day. Most of the vets make a point of living their lives for those who died.

vietnam veterans


9)  South Vietnamese Government Had More Trouble Than They Admitted
Analysts looking into the Vietnam War have found that the South Vietnamese government led the United States government to believe that a difference could be made with its intervention. They talked about instability in the North Vietnamese government in addition to the growing strength of the Viet Cong, and a willingness to stand up to the communist regime if only they could get some help. While it was true that there were encroaching communist forces pressing down on the South Vietnamese government, what they did not tell the United States government was that Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, was already leaning towards communism and was not strong enough to say no to the powerful communist forces.

Viet Cong Terrorist Bombing in Saigon, South Vietnam
terrorism

Diem met with Eisenhower and other United States presidents and talked about the willingness to fight the communist powers, but at no time did it seem that there was any great desire to make a change. Instead, they were willing to just let the United States military take over the war and fight for them. While the conflict was going on, there was never a time in which the Vietnamese army was pulling its own weight. Even with repeated efforts to train and arm the Vietnamese army, the majority of the fight was left in the hands of the US military.

South Vietnamese Popular Force Members
South Vietnamese Popular Force


8)  Vietnam Vets Tend to Make More than Other Men Their Age
Another stereotype that has plagued Vietnam Vets is the indication that they are all homeless losers without the ability to hold down a steady job. In fact, the majority of those who fought in Vietnam are better off financially than those who did not serve. Not only did these soldiers have the ability to learn skills that they would not have learned anywhere else, but the camaraderie developed as a member of a fighting force is a bond that is not easily broken. Even those who did not serve in the same military branch or in the same area of the conflict are willing to supply jobs to those people who were involved in the conflict.

Close-up of Vietnam Veterans Memorial
vietnam veterans memorial
By Ingfbruno via Wikimedia Commons

Starting and growing a business is more likely with someone who served in Vietnam because they have more discipline and more backing. G.I. loans helped Vietnam Vets go to college upon returning from the war, and made it possible to create more professional careers than any other soldier in any other conflict up to that time. To date, the income of a Vietnam War Veteran exceeds those who did not get involved by a whopping 18 percent.

U.S. Troop Deployment
U.S. Troop Deployment


7)  The Majority of Vets Killed Were Under 21
Of the soldiers that were in active duty, the majority of those people who saw active combat were under 21. It is not shocking that the majority of the people killed during the conflict were that age. Of those killed, 61 percent who were killed were under 21. Keep in mind that the age of the draft was 18 years old, and many would lie about their age in order to get into the service even earlier than they were supposed to be allowed to join. Five of the men killed in Vietnam were only 16 years old at the time of their death. In deference to these statistics, the oldest man to have died in Vietnam was 62 years old.

US Soldiers

The fact that the war was run by those who were young made it easier to fight hard and to stay in the trenches even longer. The longer durations of active duty seen by these soldiers was a direct result of them all being so young and having the endurance to be able to withstand the longer fighting periods.

young gi

It was also the reason so many soldiers either ran or disappeared altogether. In 2004, there were still 1,875 Americans whose whereabouts were still unknown.


6)  The Heart of the Monk Who Set Himself on Fire Never Burned
The demonstrations in the United States were not the only demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. In fact, many of the monks in Vietnam declared that the war was terrible and wanted it to be stopped at all costs. In an effort to bring light to just how strongly the monks felt, one monk, Thich Quang Duc, took it upon himself to douse himself with gasoline and light himself on fire in a Saigon Street. It was the last straw in a series of battles between the monks and the Diem government. During the Versak holiday, the monks were not allowed to fly their flag. Instead, they were told that they had to fly the flag of the Vatican. It was more than the monks could bear.

monk
By Malcolm Browne via Wikimedia Commons

The most astonishing part of the protest was not only that the monk set himself on fire, but when he was dead, the only part of his body that did not burn was his heart. When the corpse was removed and later cremated, the heart still did not burn even though the rest of the body burned to ash. The heart is still kept by the monk order to which he served as a holy relic.

Heart of Thich Quang Duc
Thich Quang Duc Heart
By YellowMonkey via Wikimedia Commons


5)  JFK Was Never Told about Diem’s Assassination
The president of South Vietman, Diem, was judged by many of the generals that served under him to be incompetent. It was because of this that they wanted to assassinate him and put someone else in power to replace him. Rather than going ahead with their plan, and facing retaliation from the American government, the generals decided to try and talk their plan out with the CIA. Rather than talking with the United States President, John F. Kennedy about the assassination attempt, they brokered a deal in which there would be no retaliation for their coupe of the South Vietnamese government.

Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem

The assassination went ahead according to plan and Diem was soon dead. The CIA did not offer any assistance in killing the president, and they made sure that the US military did not retaliate for the strike against their own leader. Only after the fact was JFK told about the assassination attempt and that the CIA knew that it was going to take place. He was shocked that such a thing could go on without his knowledge, and was visibly upset that the CIA would keep him out of loop on such an important decision.


4)  The Helicopter Was a Key Element in the War
Every war has one new technology that can help to swing the war in the favor of one side or another. For the United States in the Vietnam War, the helicopter became one of the most integral pieces used. With the advances in the machine gun and airplanes, ground troops were given even more support than ever before, but it was the helicopter that really changed the way we fight wars. Thanks to it, soldiers did not have to air drop worrying about being shot as they dropped from the sky. They could put their boots on the ground within minutes from the time they were dispatched from their base.

helicopters

The helicopter also helped in providing air assistance with gunships and mounted heavy machine guns on the helicopters. This provided troops with the ability to get in and out of danger in a very short period of time.

helicopters

While this meant that the soldiers saw more active combat, it also meant that they would be able to get more assistance when they needed it. This was not something that the soldiers in other wars could say. This is because anything that they needed had to be airlifted into the areas rather than brought directly to where the soldiers needed it.


3)  More Than 75 Miles of Tunnels Existed from Saigon
One of the biggest problems that the US soldiers faced during the Vietnam War was the existence of tunnels throughout the country of Vietnam. The Viet Cong would be able to jump into tunnels and pop out in a more advantageous spot to get a better angle on the United States military forces. Inside these tunnels, the forces could hold out for hours, and even days, with food supplies, ammunition, and more. These tunnels were so extensive they led all the way into Saigon. In all, there were more than 75 miles of tunnels that existed throughout the countryside and during the war GIs called it the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Today Tourists Can View Portions of the Original Tunnels
ho chi minh trail

The tunnels were such an integral part of the defense and offensive solution for the Viet Cong that they have been preserved by the government. To this day, most of the tunnels exist and have been turned into a tourist attraction for any visitors who would like to see what life was like for the soldiers facing the United States military during the Vietnam War. The tunnels are tight and difficult to get through for anyone of a larger size, which is what made it so difficult for the United States military to oppose the forces once they went into their tunnels. One way of combating this threat was to have soldiers nicknamed "tunnel rats" to explore possible openings to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Australian Forces "Tunnel Rat"
Tunnel Rat


2)  ASEAN Countries Were Free from Communism Thanks to the Vietnam War
The countries of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These countries were all facing the possibility of being overrun with communism as well. It was because of the commitment of the United States Military in Vietnam that they were able to throw off the yokes of communism. In Indonesia, this was a major effort because they had to throw out the Soviets who were taking up camp within their country. These countries felt the strength to stand up against communism as a direct result of the United States intervening in Vietnam.

ASEAN Member countries

If it were not for the Vietnam War, it is possible that communism could have swept throughout the Asian countries all the way to Malacca Straits. This was a major turning point in the spread of communism throughout the world. These countries were able to remain free from communism, and it stopped other countries from being subject to this kind of government regime. This is one of the arguments which is used to remind everyone that the effort in Vietnam was not a waste of time or resources, because it stopped communism from spreading to more countries.


1)  The United States Did Not Lose the War
Those people who oppose the Vietnam War like to say that the United States lost the war. This is not entirely true. While the United States did not win the war, they were never defeated. The only thing that happened was that the United States chose to withdraw from the war effort. Saigon did not fall until nearly two years after the United States pulled out of Vietnam.

Last Americans Fleeing Saigon - Those Are People Begging to be Taken Along
fleeing saigon

saigon

Everything was done to give the Vietnamese fighting forces the weapons and training that they needed to defend themselves from the advancing North Vietnamese army, but they were ineffective in stopping the army from overtaking the city.

In fact, when looking at the conflict from a military standpoint, the United States military was victorious in its efforts there. The defeat of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army on just about every front should have ensured that the South Vietnamese had what they needed to maintain their independence. Only by remaining in the region indefinitely would it have been possible to keep Saigon from falling. Since the United States had no intention of occupying Vietnam, there was no reason to stay. The military forces left and removed their support. It was after this removal that the South Vietnamese government gave in.


Conclusion
The Vietnam War served as a very important lesson for the U.S. as far as knowing when to limit its reach into the affairs of foreign nations. What was learned was that the U.S. could never get completely involved in a war that did not threaten it directly. The shootings at Kent State University and the endless protests throughout the conflict, serve as a testimony to the fragility of social stability at home and how an undesirable war can push Americans over the edge.



 

 

 

 

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