Vietnam War | Teen Ink

Vietnam War

May 8, 2021
By serenapei123 PLATINUM, San Jose, California
serenapei123 PLATINUM, San Jose, California
24 articles 5 photos 0 comments

From the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was already in the process of changing its foreign policy from its original isolationist ideology. After World War I, the United States entered into a period of independent internationalism, maintaining economic and political involvement with other nations but refraining from permanent military allies. As the anti-communism sentiment grew, however, America began to take greater measures to ensure the security of Western ideology. The Vietnam War significantly heightened social and political tensions in the United States as evidenced by the increase of cynicism toward the government, polarization of opinion, and societal involvement of citizens.

A new rise of suspicion against federal actions followed the Vietnam War and led to increased tensions between American citizens and the government. In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the President to use military means to restore peace in Southeast Asia (Doc 1). Congress believed that it was necessary at the time to take violent steps to suppress the communist threat after a North Vietnamese armed attack on American ships. As a result, President Johnson called for more ground troops to join the fight in Vietnam, angering the people who found it unnecessary for Americans to sacrifice themselves for a distant country. Joe McDonald expressed his view against United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War through his music, where he used satire to condone the enlistment of young men for a pointless war (Doc 2). McDonald was only one of many Americans who held doubts about the government’s aggressive approach toward the war, because he believed that the enlisted men would die in vain. President Johnson’s order for enlistment clearly created a split between the people and government in the United States, as both sides had different ideas about the sacrifice they were willing to offer as well as the true goals of the war. Towards the end of the war, Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973 to limit the power of the executive branch to control the United States’ military (Doc 7). This act was passed in response to President Johnson aggressive use of troops and Nixon’s involvement in Cambodia during the war and almost directly contradicted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Americans became even more irritated because so many American soldiers were lost in the war already, and it seemed as if the government had corrected its mistakes only after the tragedy had occurred. These disagreements between citizens and the government led to increased political tensions.

Not only did citizens disagree with government actions, they also disagreed amongst themselves about the war. A political cartoon by Bill Mauldin demonstrates the tension between two opposing sides: those who were willing to sacrifice anything for victory in the war and those who refused to acknowledge the issue in Vietnam altogether (Doc 3). The separation of opinions led to the polarization of the people in the country as war supporters and anti-war demonstrators clashed. James Fallows, a student from Harvard University, believed that it was morally wrong that innocent young boys were being forced into a deadly war while other people avoided the draft easily through their social or economic status (Doc 5). The fact that someone who attended a prestigious university and held a relatively high position in society felt the need to expose the unfairness of the draft shows how severe and widespread the problem really was. The inequity of draft caused tensions between men of different social standings because they received different treatment. Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke out in 1967 to his fellow African Americans, telling them that they had no obligation to fight for another country when they had not yet obtained freedom themselves (Doc 4). Again, his speech brought more awareness to the long-standing African American oppression, which had always been a controversial social issue for Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. re-introduced social tensions by reminding people about the injustice that the African American race still faced even in times of war. The polarization created during the war caused greater societal tensions among the people. 

The war effort also led to an increase of public activism by the younger generation. Protest were largely caused by the advancement in media technology during the time, as real pictures could be taken on war ground and be published nationally. For example, media exposure of the My Lai Massacre aggravated many Americans because troops murdered innocent children and women in the small town for no apparent reason. As a result, people began to question the morality of the war and initiated protests around the country. Another photograph highlights the gruel sight of a student activist against the Vietnam War from Kent State University who shot down during a protest (Doc 6). The devastating scene expressed the point of view that the police had violated the freedom of speech of protestors, which only sparked more activism among Americans who were frustrated by the disrespect they faced. The increase in media coverage exposed the violent and immoral sides of war and ultimately led to an increase in activism in the United States.

The Vietnam War caused suspicions against government actions, a division between society, and activism against the war effort, which heightened social and political tensions significantly. Similar to the Vietnam War, the fear of communism sentiment in the US pushed the government to remain active to establish an international presence during the Cold War, the costliest war in American history. During the Cold War, the US exhausted the intellect of citizens, the treasury, and other resources for the space race by enacting NASA, the Department of Defense, and the National Defense and Education Act, which encouraged a significant increase in STEM related subjects in school. They also introduced the deadly hydrogen bomb that would further the idea of massive retaliation. In the Cold War, the country saw a continuation of anti-communism sentiment and the willingness of the government to invest large amounts of manpower and resources to achieve their goals.

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