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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
South Vietnamese Popular Force Members
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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"
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.
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
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
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.
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.
References: 15) Most of the People Fighting in Vietnam Volunteered, 13)
Soldiers Saw More Active Combat in Vietnam than in World War II
US Wings (Vietnam War: Facts, Stats & Myths – statistics and information
about military personnel in Vietnam)