American Public Opinion During Vietnam


American Public Opinion During Vietnam Essay, Research Paper

In the early sixties the public opinion was favourable towards USA‚s involvement in the war. From 64-65 a poll showed that 80 percent of the population agreed with Johnson and were for the war. America at this time saw it‚s-self as the “good guys” in the war, the ones who were there to defend the Vietnamese from the evils of communism. Baring in mind that the war occurred at the height of the cold war and the propaganda was quite strong; there was an overall distrust of communism and the East. The Domino theory was also very popular and so people were prepared to let Johnson stop it at nearly any cost. And besides America had won every war it had ever entered into, and so how much harm could a third world country full of peasants and farmers do? America had other reasons for being so confident; they had the best army and air force in the world, and at the time they were the richest country in the world. In 1967 Johnson introduced the Conscription Act. This was unpopular as people started to question why they were being sent hundreds of miles from home to fight a war that was nothing to do with America. Lots of people started to tear up their draft papers, even Bill Clinton destroyed his and refused to become part of the war. The Act for a period excluded people between the age of 18 and 21 and people who went to college. As this largely applied to the middle and upper class white section of society, this was seen as a deliberate act to fill the army with the lower classes and black people. This war became known as the T.V war. Unlike the Korean War and World War Two, the American government decided not to censor it and let the press have free access. The result of this was to bring home live uncensored pictures of scenes like small children being burned alive by American napalm. This shocked the Americans back home, and as practically every home owned a TV set, these shocking images bombarded the public, and sympathy for the war fell. The free press brought home the reality of the war and soon people were sick of it. One example of this was le Mai Lai massacre. This was the only war crime that was brought to trial by the courts, and this only happened because of pressure from some newspapers. Lieutenant William Calley was put on trail for the slaughter of 109 innocent civilians. He got life but served only three months. Critics said that it was hypocritical standing one man on trial for war crimes when the government had ordered the use of such weapons as Napalm and Agent Orange. The war was meant to be a “quick Kill” ˆ a quick victory, in and out with minimal American casualties. The reality was that it all lasted for far too long. As the body bags mounted up the Americans started to question their involvement. Wounded soldiers and veterans came home with stories of how they were encouraged to kill anything that moved. Returning soldiers were not given the hero‚s welcome, far from it, in fact, especially towards the end of the war they were generally shunned by the American Public. In the late sixties there was a huge movement among the young generation known as the hippie movement. The youth started to revolt against the ideals set by their parents in favour of a life of peace, love and copious amounts of marijuana, Timothy Leany who was a professor of philosophy summed it up with the quote “Turn on and drop out”. They saw the war as a thing they could fight against, and so held protests and peaceful demonstrations against the war. All over the country there were strikes and demonstrations at universities. From 1968 there were doubts of how the Americans could win the war. Top advisors were warning that there was little hope of winning the war, and this understandably undermined the morale of the soldiers and public. In November 1969 over 250,000 people staged a massive demonstration against the war. An opinion poll in 1969 showed that over half the country were against the war and less than 40 percent of the country was in favour of it. The black community made up about 10 percent of the population, but out of the war casualties they made up 25 percent. Their rights were not very good and segregation was still riding high in America. Many black leaders spoke out against the war saying, “They weren‚t going to fight in a white man‚s war”. They also saw the war as a thing to fight against. They weren‚t the only civil rights movement group to stand up against the war. Sections of the women‚s rights movements also dedicated themselves to the withdrawal of American troops in Vietnam. The war was also a great hindrance on America‚s economic stature. 13 percent of all government spending by 1968 was on Vietnam. This denied funds to America other needs such as hospitals, education and health. Black leaders such as Martin Luther King challenged the American spending, saying that they were neglecting the more pressing social issues, such as racism, social security and many other internal affairs that were bothering America at the time. This did not help win support for the war. Question 4 After 1968 it was clear to any one, even military advisors that the war was not going to be won by the Americans. If they were not going to retreat from Vietnam they would most certainly lose. The guerrilla style fighting was not what the Americans were used to, in fact the whole environment, fighting style and country was completely alien to them. Though they had of coarse fought in Korea, the difference there was that they won. In Vietnam no matter how many thousands of tons of bombs they dropped, the enemy was too elusive. The morale of the American troops was so low that in total, over 800 attempts at fragging (the name given to the action of trying to kill an officer with a hand grenade) unpopular officers were made. This was turning out to be a most unpopular war. Instead of the Americans seeing themselves as the good guys who were out to liberate the South Vietnamese, even the most patriotic were starting to realise that their presence was not wanted nor was helping anyone in Vietnam. The cost of the war was also too harsh to bear, around 28 billion dollars. Vital money that should have been used to renovate America‚s social ills (such as poverty and racism etc) was being used for the war. Strategic expenditure was also ineffective, the bombs did an approximate 500 million dollars worth of damage to the Vietnamese, but it cost the air force 900 million dollars to replace the planes that were shot down. The death toll was rising, not as much as previous wars but the combination of thousands of badly injured soldiers and press access was not at all appealing to the American population. The media showed everyone how the troops were inhumane and oblivious to the differences between the civilians and the NFL. The sickened public were appalled at these sights and stories and so a growing youth movement, among others started the protesting against Vietnam. The population towards the end of the sixties started to become pacifists or at least disagreed with the Vietnam War. The whole country had in the end become “war weary”. People were unwilling to fight and tore up their draft papers, support for the war was diminishing and people were tired of the endless stream of terrible images put on their TV sets by the media. In fact by 1968 when Kennedy was shot his successor, Nixon, got in on the express condition that he would give “peace with honour” and “bring back our boys”. Détente was the easing of international tensions. Previously China and USSR who were inseparable had fallen out over the easing of pressure on America. This turned the cold war into a three-way distrust from a two way one. All the countries had good reasons to want a warming of the cold war: America wanted to separate the USSR and China, as together they were too much of a threat to America. It could mean the end to the aid given by the USSR and China to Vietnam. America wanted to set up a working relationship between Moscow and Peking. The USSR wanted to have a peaceful co-existence. Détente was an ideal way to improve trade with the west, and reduce defence spending, improving living conditions in Russia. The USSR bid not want to be caught up in a two against one feud. Détente for China was not really a free decision, they were almost forced into it by the actions of the other two. China did not want to trust America as they had been hostile when it came to Korea and Vietnam. Détente did hold some possibilities such as isolating Russia and help the speeding up of their modernisation. Détente took on many forms, but started out with trivial things such as international ping-pong championships and the linking of the USSR and American space stations. In 1970 the number of troops started to fall and by 1972 there was only 47,000 troops compared to the 539,000 in 1969. This was a result of détente and Nixon‚s less aggressive stance towards the communists, but also the public‚s opinion. This was not to mean the cold war was over, the nuclear arms race with the USSR continued, but it did mean that the Vietnam War was drawing to an end.

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