The Agony of Vietnam

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5 The Agony of Vietnam

The Vietnam War (1954–75) was a war like no other in American history. It was America's longest war: military advisors were in the country from 1954 until 1975, and actual combat troops were in the country from 1965 to 1975. For those government and military strategists who designed U.S. Cold War policy, defending South Vietnam was crucial. According to their thinking, South Vietnam was the first in a strategic line of dominoes (a metaphor that referred to the game in which the first falling domino triggers a long line of collapsing dominoes). In their thinking, should Vietnam fall to Communism, it might trigger a similar political shift in other small Asian nations. Yet from the time that combat troops landed at the South Vietnamese port of Da Nang, American policy was directly challenged and questioned by the largest and most dramatic antiwar protest movement in American history. This movement questioned the ethics of Cold War international politics, and the movement contributed directly to the political downfall of the American president most closely associated with waging the war, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69). The politics involved in fighting and protesting the Vietnam War made it one of the most agonizing conflicts in American history, and the arguments over how, why, and who "lost" the war in Vietnam continued to influence American politics into the twenty-first century.

The Vietnam War was agonizing in other ways as well. It involved American soldiers in some of the most terrifying and demoralizing conditions known in modern warfare. Told that they were traveling to a country to protect friendly people desperate to be saved from communist oppressors, soldiers found that the South Vietnamese people hated their own government because it was generally brutal to them. Many South Vietnamese sided with the communist North Vietnamese, not out of political convictions about the superiority of Communism over democracy, but because the communists professed respect for the peasant farmers who made up the majority of the Vietnamese population. Thus American soldiers found themselves fighting both against a known enemy (the North Vietnamese army) and a shadowy enemy called the Vietcong (South Vietnamese people who supported the communist cause). The problem was that American soldiers could not distinguish enemies from friends in a tropical jungle nation where the very people who welcomed them to their villages during the day might fire upon them at night. Compound these difficulties with the lack of clear military objectives, and the stage was set for an ongoing string of disasters that left many soldiers bitter and disgusted with their own government.

A common term used to describe the Vietnam War is "quagmire"—a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It was certainly that. The United States got involved in the Vietnam civil war with the relatively uncomplicated goal of protecting South Vietnam from becoming Communist. But the realities of fighting a war against Communism in a distant land and with uncertain support from the South Vietnamese people put the entire mission at risk. Eventually, the United States withdrew and allowed the South Vietnamese government to fight its own war. Some called this withdrawal an honorable conclusion to a difficult situation; others called it the first military defeat in U.S. history.

Prelude to war

U.S. involvement in Vietnam can only be understood within the context of the Cold War (1945–91), the great ideological conflict between the United States and Soviet Union over whether Communism or democracy is the most effective form of government. At the end of World War II (1939–45), the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the two most powerful countries in the world. Though the two had been allies during the war, they had very different political and social systems. The United States was committed to democratic political systems, free-market economies, and freedom of religion and expression. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had a totalitarian political system (one in which powerful leaders made the important decisions without consulting citizens) and a communist economy. Communist Party leaders controlled all elements of Soviet life. Both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons, with the capacity to destroy each other and possibly the entire world if they ever went to war. Both sides were interested in extending what political theorists called their "sphere of influence," the number of countries who could be counted on to be loyal allies in economic and military affairs, and also in containing the spread of the other's sphere of influence. Each side was deeply, sometimes dangerously, suspicious of the other. Their decades-long battle to establish dominance saw some of its most dramatic episodes in the 1960s, including the diplomatic clash over the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba, the construction of a wall in the divided German city of Berlin, and—most importantly—the Vietnam War.

Vietnam became a Cold War battlefield through a twisting series of events that included a century of French colonization, brief Japanese control, and a communist leader who quoted the American Declaration of Independence. France had first established a colony in the Southeast Asian region known as Indochina in 1858, and by 1893 it had extended its control over all of French Indochina, an area that was later identified as the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Following the collapse of the French government at the beginning of World War II, Japan easily gained control of French Indochina. Yet Japanese control ended with the war, and on September 2, 1945, Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh (c. 1890–1969), who had led his people in fighting against the Japanese, declared the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in language that quoted directly from the American Declaration of Independence. He used this language because he sought the support of the United States for the newly founded nation. The French, however, had different ideas.

In theory, the United States might have supported Ho Chi Minh and his party, the Vietminh, in its attempts to establish Vietnamese independence. The United States supported the efforts of oppressed peoples in small countries to select their own forms of government. It also hoped that the war would bring an end to European colonization of distant countries (colonization involved establishing control over a distant country in order to extract natural resources and benefit the colonizing country), which it saw as hurtful to world peace. The United States followed its own principles when it granted independence to its former colony, the Philippines, on July 4, 1946. But the pressures of the Cold War kept the United States from supporting Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh. France wanted to regain control of its former colony, and France was an important U.S. ally in Europe. Therefore, when the French established a puppet government (one that supported French interests over South Vietnamese interests) and pointed to Ho Chi Minh's close ties to communist groups in the Soviet Union and (later) in China, the United States was only too happy to support what it characterized as the French fight against Communism in Asia. In the end, anti-Communism was more important than self-determination when it came to U.S. support for the Vietminh.

From 1945 to 1954, the French and their allies, supported by U.S. funds, fought a costly war against Vietminh forces for control of Vietnam. By 1954, however, the war was at a standstill, and the opposing forces signed an agreement at the Geneva Conference that divided the country in two, into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), or North Vietnam, and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), or South Vietnam. The agreement called for an election within two years to reunify the country under one government. But there was to be no election; instead, opposing groups concentrated on either side of the line dividing Vietnam. Pro-Communist forces gathered in the North behind Ho Chi Minh and pro-Western forces joined in the South behind the government of Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963).

For the next ten years, from 1954 to 1964, the opposing forces within Vietnam fought for control. From 1954, it was clear that the South Vietnamese government of Diem could not count on popular support. Diem was a Catholic in a nation dominated by Buddhism, and he placed harsh sanctions on Buddhist religious practices. He was also cruel to his political opponents, using torture and murder to achieve his ends. Though it had little public support, the South Vietnamese government had one great advantage: it was backed by the United States, which sent an ever-increasing flow of money and military advisors to stabilize South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese government possessed several advantages. Though it was less well equipped than its rival, it had a larger population and a larger army,. More important, it had the sympathy of the people, not just in the North but also in the South, where peasants joined in a secret organization called the National Liberation Front (NLF) to help destabilize the Diem government and speed Vietnamese unification. After 1960, the NLF developed into an armed force, which the South Vietnamese government and the Americans called the Vietcong. By late 1963, North Vietnamese forces, aided by the Vietcong, had grown quite strong, and South Vietnam seemed destined soon to fall.

Atrocities: The My Lai and Hue Massacres

War is dehumanizing: when men take up guns to kill other men, they begin to close themselves to the emotional horror of the act and become desensitized. In some cases, soldiers ignore the "rules" of warfare that bar soldiers from killing civilians, raping women, and destroying property unnecessarily. These war crimes, called atrocities, became particularly numerous in Vietnam. During the war there were countless stories of Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters rounding up and killing South Vietnamese civilians who did not support their cause, of South Vietnamese officials brutally torturing and killing suspected communists, and of American soldiers shooting women and children in what were called "free-fire zones," battle areas where soldiers were told they could shoot anything that moved. Two atrocities, however, stand out from the Vietnam War.

On March 16, 1968, a platoon of American soldiers led by Lt. William Calley was sent on a search-and-destroy mission near the South Vietnamese village of My Lai. Soldiers in the area had been sniped at, booby-trapped, and harassed by Vietcong fighters for days and were on edge when they entered the village. Though the village contained no enemy soldiers, the Americans went on a rampage, killing between 175 and 400 unarmed women and children, raping several women, and burning the village. Dennis Conti, a member of the company, recalled the orders he received from Lt. Calley in The Vietnam War: A History in Documents: "[Calley] said: 'Take care of them.' So we said: 'Okay.' And we sat there and watched them like we usually do. And [Calley] came back again, and he said: …'I mean kill them.'" Conti told of a fellow soldier gunning down women and children, tears flowing from his eyes. The massacre was hushed up for nearly a year, but a letter sent by Vietnam veteran Ronald Ridenhour led to a Congressional investigation and a highly publicized set of indictments and trials. In the end, only Lt. Calley was convicted of war crimes. Some felt that Calley was a vicious criminal, but many within the military thought that Calley had been made a scapegoat for poor leadership and a war in which U.S. soldiers could not avoid committing atrocities.

The worst known North Vietnamese/Vietcong atrocity occurred during the Tet Offensive. On January 31, 1968, NVA and Vietcong forces entered the sizable city of Hue, formerly the nation's capital. The communist forces began a systematic roundup of anyone believed to have ties to the South Vietnamese government or U.S. forces, including government officials, Roman Catholic priests, teachers, civil servants, women, and children. When U.S. and South Vietnamese forces retook the city a month later, they discovered mass graves containing the bodies of 2,800 people, some of whom had been buried alive. They also learned of 3,000 civilians who were never located.

By 1963, it had become clear to strategists in the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) that the Diem administration was so brutal to the people of South Vietnam that they would soon rise up and reunify the nation under communist rule. In early November 1963, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped sponsor a coup (violent overthrow of the government; pronounced "koo") against Diem. Counter to U.S. intentions, Diem and his brother were killed, and a string of unsuccessful governments followed until two military officers, Nguyen Van Theiu and Nguyen Cao Ky, took power in 1965. With South Vietnam destabilized by the coup, and the U.S. undergoing a transfer of power following Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, North Vietnam applied even greater military pressure throughout the South. President Johnson, eager to keep South Vietnam from falling to the communists, looked for ways to prop up the precarious and shifting regime.

Americans fight in Vietnam: A slowly escalating war

In early August of 1964, Johnson saw an opportunity to display America's continued commitment to supporting a pro-Western government in South Vietnam. American ships patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, alleged that they had been fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedoes (whether missiles were actually fired has never been determined). This "attack," claimed Johnson, gave the United States a clear rationale for increasing American power in the region. President Johnson asked Congress for authorization to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." In a very nearly unanimous show of support, on August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the United States found itself in a declared war against North Vietnam.

The war began slowly. It was not until February 6, 1965, when Vietcong forces attacked an American barracks in Pleiku, that American military forces first acted, sending air strikes on military bases in the north. Following another guerilla assault, Johnson ordered a military operation called Rolling Thunder, which called for successively stronger bombing raids to follow each North Vietnamese or Vietcong attack. These air strikes, and later the escalations in the number of ground troops sent into Vietnam, were part of a general policy of "sustained reprisal" that marked U.S. military engagement through 1968. This policy, first articulated by Johnson advisor McGeorge Bundy (1919–1996) in February of 1965, stated that every hostile action should be countered by a proportionately larger reaction. Bundy and others believed that this would deter further aggression and allow the United States to "save" South Vietnam without undue military action. They were wrong.

From the beginning, the policy of sustained reprisal had little effect on enemy activities. North Vietnamese army and Vietcong attacks only increased. The attacks were not direct frontal battles between organized armies. Instead, small groups of Vietcong soldiers typically sneaked into a South Vietnamese village, attacked their targets (perhaps a few American warplanes or South Vietnamese army officers), and disappeared into the night. Strategists did not know where to find and defeat the enemy, because the enemy did not gather in traditional mass camps. In order to deter enemy attacks, Americans dropped more bombs and sent more soldiers. By war's end, the Americans had dropped seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam (surpassing by far the two million tons of bombs dropped in World War II). The United States also increased the number of combat troops dramatically. From 23,000 American troops in Vietnam in 1964 (and most of these in an advisory capacity), troop strength grew to 184,000 by the end of 1965; 385,000 by the end of 1966; 486,000 by the end of 1967; and 536,000 by the end of 1968.

In the end, these increases reflected the core beliefs of the American military. What the Americans wanted was to punish the North Vietnamese enough to convince them to stop the attacks on South Vietnamese territory and to gain permanent recognition of the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government. They believed they could achieve this by pursuing a policy of attrition, through which the North Vietnamese and their sympathizers would be worn down by the superiority of American firepower. Armed with body counts—the number of combatants killed in military encounters—that showed (sometimes falsely, it was later learned) that the communists were absorbing huge losses to relatively few losses for the South Vietnamese and Americans, American generals reassured politicians and the public that it was only a matter of time before communist attacks halted. The end, U.S. commanding general William West-moreland (1914–) assured the president, was just around the corner; late in 1967, President Johnson assured Americans that he could see "the light at the end of the tunnel," as quoted in Lyndon Johnson's War.

The Tet Offensive

In late January of 1968, civilians and soldiers across North and South Vietnam enjoyed the peace and quiet of a cease-fire called in observation of the Vietnamese New Year. Then, on January 31, 1968, while those in the South still rested, the North Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies launched the largest assault of the entire war. On that day, about 84,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong troops launched simultaneous attacks on enemy positions across South Vietnam. According to Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War by Harry G. Summers Jr., the attacks were launched on 36 of 44 provincial capitals, 5 of the 6 major cities, 64 of the 242 district capitals, and another 50 hamlets (small villages). The hope of the North Vietnamese was that this major strike would so demoralize the South Vietnamese that their soldiers would abandon their armies and their civilians would rise up against their government. They hoped that this attack might bring the war to a speedy end and reunify Vietnam under communist rule.

In the end, Tet proved to be a major military defeat for the NVA and the Vietcong. The combined communist forces saw nearly one-third of their soldiers—45,000 men—killed in the various battles of the Tet Offensive, which lasted through March of 1968; the Americans lost just over 1,100 men. The campaign virtually destroyed the Vietcong as a fighting force. So thorough was the slaughter of the Vietcong that some historians have wondered whether the government of North Vietnam intended their slaughter so as to eliminate a potential political rival in the event of a unified Vietnam. Ironically, what might have been counted as a major South Vietnamese/American victory proved instead to be the stimulus for the United States to alter its policy toward the war. Thanks to Tet, policymakers who had believed that the North was near defeat, including General Westmoreland and President Johnson, had to acknowledge that the war was nowhere near over. According to Summers, the Tet Offensive "put an end to the illusion that U.S. intervention could result in an independent South Vietnam free of Communist aggression and was the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement."

The realization that the North was more than willing to continue to wage an offensive battle, combined with massive public protests in the United States against the war, led to major changes in U.S. policy. (For full coverage of the antiwar movement, see Chapter 6.) General Westmoreland asked for more American troops, but his request was denied, and he was ordered back to the United States. The policy of escalation ended, and beginning in 1968 the number of American troops in Vietnam began to decline, though bombing continued at an elevated rate. One political casualty of the Tet Offensive was the career of Lyndon Johnson. On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection as president.


Republican Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) won a hard fought and extremely close presidential election in 1968, and he brought with him real changes in American policy toward Vietnam. Nixon had campaigned on the promise that he would seek an honorable end to the war. Once he took office in January of 1969, he announced that he would pursue a policy he called "Vietnamization," which meant that he would let the Vietnamese fight the war. Under this policy, U.S. troops would be withdrawn. Nixon ordered 25,000 troops home in June of 1969 alone to prove his point. By the end of 1969, U.S. troops in Vietnam numbered 475,200; by the end of 1970, they stood at 334,600, declining to 156,800 by the end of 1971, 24,200 by the end of 1972, and just 50 troops in 1973 and 1974.

Vietnamization did not mean the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, however. Through 1969 and 1970, American troops remained engaged in intense battles to protect South Vietnamese territory from North Vietnamese attacks. Slowly, however, American troops were kept away from areas of intense fighting and concentrated on training and supplying South Vietnamese forces. North Vietnamese attacks slowed from 1969 through 1971, perhaps as the North waited for American troop strength to decline further.

Withdrawing troops solved one problem for the Nixon administration: it quieted those in the United States who questioned the value of sending American soldiers to die for a cause that looked increasingly desperate, and it soothed the increasingly vocal antiwar movement. But it also posed a problem, for Nixon feared that the communists would believe that the troop withdrawal indicated a lack of American resolve. To combat this potential problem, Nixon adopted a daring and, critics charged, dangerous strategy: he ordered the secret bombing of the neutral nation of Cambodia, which lay just to the west of South Vietnam. Vietcong and NVA troops had long used Cambodia as a refuge and a travel route to reach South Vietnamese battlefields, and Nixon believed he could show U.S. resolve by bombing these positions. In fact, information lated revealed by Nixon's aides revealed that this secret bombing and back-channel

A Soldier's War: The Difficulties of Fighting in Vietnam

In every war, soldiers must confront the horrors of facing death in a battle against a determined enemy. But the nature of the war in Vietnam—the lack of clear objectives and identifiable enemies, the youth and inexperience of the soldiers, the tactics of the enemy, and the difficult terrain—made this war particularly difficult for American soldiers.

When the first American combat soldiers crossed the Pacific to fight in Vietnam, many of them did so with the belief that they were fighting to combat the spread of Communism. That feeling of a patriotic mission kept morale high among many soldiers for the first real year of fighting, 1965, and combat missions remained relatively straightforward during that year. Soon, however, both the mission's definition and the actual fighting grew far more complicated. By 1966 the antiwar movement had succeeded in casting real doubt on U.S. motivations for going to war. Anti-war protestors argued that the U.S. was supporting a corrupt South Vietnamese regime and suppressing the will of the Vietnamese people. Many U.S. soldiers could see for themselves the truth of these claims: they saw how incompetent the South Vietnamese army was, and they knew that many South Vietnamese villagers resented the U.S. presence. In fact, because the enemy Vietcong recruited directly from the South Vietnamese population that the United States was charged with protecting, it became very difficult to distinguish the enemy from a friend.

Soldiers fighting in Vietnam were young. In World War II the average age of the U.S. soldier was twenty-six; in Vietnam, the average age was nineteen. Of the combat deaths among marines in Vietnam, 40 percent were teenagers. These inexperienced soldiers were often led by officers who themselves had little or no combat experience. As combat missions became increasingly dangerous, soldiers panicked in battle. Statistics compiled in the Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s show that of the 45,941 combat deaths recorded during the war, 40 percent occurred in the first three months of a one-year tour of duty, when soldiers were still "green." Only 6 percent of soldiers died in their last three months of a tour of duty.

The kinds of fighting faced by U.S. soldiers were stressful. In Vietnam, U.S. soldiers did not attack defined enemy positions with massive shows of force. Instead, they were forced to search out small bands of enemy soldiers in difficult terrain, including high grass, swamps, and thick jungles. A typical mission consisted of a small band of men, perhaps six to ten, sent out to flush out Vietcong and NVA soldiers. Soldiers called this work "humping the boonies." According to Richard L. Wormser, author of Three Faces of Vietnam: "[Soldiers] swept the countryside on search-and-destroy missions, set up ambushes, sought contact with the Vietcong.… The Vietcong would strike out of nowhere and then return into nowhere. They planted land mines and antipersonnel bombs that would explode without warning, killing men, blowing off their legs, sending shrapnel through their flesh. A man might see the head of his best friend blown off next to him or the soldier beside him lose his legs." Many soldiers grew to distrust the officers who sent them out on such suicidal missions, and the number of officers killed or wounded by their own men ("fragged" was the soldiers' term) in the Vietnam war was 1,017. American soldiers also turned to drugs in high numbers. Department of Defense figures indicate that 58.5 percent of American soldiers used marijuana; 22.68 percent heroin; 19.59 percent opium; and high percentages used drugs such as LSD, amphetamines, and barbiturates.

After the intensified fighting of 1967, accounts from soldiers indicate that many were more concerned with simply surviving the war than with accomplishing the objectives of their leaders. Desertion rates jumped from 14.7 per one thousand in 1966 to 73.5 per one thousand in 1971. Many of the soldiers who returned from Vietnam began to voice their opposition to the war and to tell stories of the atrocities they had seen. Some even joined veterans' groups opposed to the war, including the best-known group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

threats (secret messages sent to the North Vietnamese by foreign diplomats) to use nuclear weapons were part of Nixon's "madman" theory, which held that Nixon was so insanely determined to defeat the North Vietnamese he was capable of nearly anything, including starting a nuclear war.

The Paris Peace Accords

When the secret bombing of Cambodia became known in 1970 it prompted another upsurge in antiwar protests across the United States. In one of the most tragic occurrences of the period, four students were killed by National Guard soldiers during antiwar protests at Kent State University in May of 1970. But Nixon's use of aerial bombing continued until it reached his objective, which was to force the North Vietnamese to negotiate an end to the war. A negotiated settlement was not a new idea; Americans and Vietnamese on both sides had made attempts to negotiate since the beginning of the war, and Nixon had been pushing hard for a negotiated settlement since he took office. It was increasing desperation on both sides that finally brought them to the bargaining table. But that did not happen until after Nixon ordered the heaviest bombing attack of the entire war, when American planes dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam between December 18 and 29, 1972, in what are known as the Christmas Bombings.

On January 27, 1973, representatives from the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Vietcong sat at a table in Paris, France, and signed the document that ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The document, titled the "Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring the Peace in Vietnam" but generally known as the Paris Peace Accords, called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops within sixty days, the return of all U.S. prisoners, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The first two provisions of the Accords were observed: American troops and prisoners left the country, and Nixon declared that he had achieved "peace with honor," for there was still an intact pro-Western government in place in South Vietnam. In the United States, the troops were welcomed home amid general pleasure that the long war in Vietnam was finally over.

For the Vietnamese, however, the war was far from over. The Peace Accords had left 160,000 North Vietnamese troops in the South, and South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Theiu, who had led the government since 1967, announced that the Accords were "tantamount to surrender" for South Vietnam, according to Summers. The United States had promised to protect the South should North Vietnamese troops launch further attacks, but when those attacks came in the spring of 1975, the United States looked the other way. When the capital city of Saigon fell to the communists in April of 1975, frightened South Vietnamese refugees clung to the skids of the last helicopter that evacuated the American embassy. Saigon was soon renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the beloved communist leader of the North Vietnamese who had died in 1969, and the country was finally united under communist rule.

Judging the war

When President Nixon declared that the United States had attained "peace with honor" upon its withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, he was careful not to declare victory. But for Nixon, for Americans at the time, and for historians in the decades that followed, the question was how to judge the American experience in Vietnam. Arguments raged over every element of American policy and action with regard to Vietnam. Some of the arguments concerned the larger strategic questions posed by the Cold War: How did the United States judge which steps it should take to contain the spread of Communism? Did America compromise its ideals when it supported South Vietnamese governments that were clearly corrupt and brutal? What was the appropriate stance for the United States to take toward popularly based nationalist movements that happened to be communist?

Other controversies surround the way the United States waged the war in Vietnam. From the very beginning of U.S. involvement in the country, it was clear that strategists saw the situation in unrealistic terms. For American planners, Vietnam was a test case for the idea that Communism must be stopped. Vietnam was one domino in a great political game, not a complex country filled with people who desperately wished to determine their own national destiny. As historian David Farber noted in The Age of Great Dreams, "Vietnam was less a war to be won than a demonstration project illustrating how the United States could shape a Third World revolutionary struggle." To wage all-out war in Vietnam would have been to risk a direct confrontation with the Chinese supporters of North Vietnam and potentially a nuclear war. Thus military planners used just enough American force to prop up the South Vietnamese government, but never enough to win the war. The results were disastrous for the country of Vietnam, for the moderate levels of American involvement likely made the war last far longer than it would have otherwise. They were also a disaster for American soldiers, who either lost their lives in a brutal war that lacked clear objectives or who returned to a country where their service was not appreciated.

For More Information


Anderson, David L. The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam. New York: Norton, 1989.

Detzer, David. An Asian Tragedy: America and Vietnam. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.

Farber, David. The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Farber, David, and Beth Bailey, with others. The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. 2nd ed. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Lens, Sidney. Vietnam: A War on Two Fronts. New York: Lodestar Books, 1990.

Summers, Harry G. Jr. Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Tucker, Spencer C. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. 3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.

Wormser, Richard. Three Faces of Vietnam. New York: F. Watts, 1993.

Young, Marilyn B., John J. Fitzgerald, and A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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"Sixties Project: Primary Document Archive," The Sixties Project. (accessed on April 1, 2004).

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Vietnam Veterans Against the (accessed on April 2, 2004).

Vietnam Veterans of (accessed on June 22, 2004).

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The Agony of Vietnam

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The Agony of Vietnam