Undeclared War Becomes Hauntingly Real
Vietnam is still with us. It has created doubts about American judgment, about American credibility, about American power..So we paid an exorbitant price for the decisions that were made in good faith and for good purpose.
- Henry Kissinger in Stanley Karnow's Vietnam : A History
Still No Clear Goals For Victory
By 1968, the resolvable Vietnam conflict had become an agonizing, maddening WAR. In a five-year period, troop numbers in South Vietnam rose from 16,000 to over 540,000 and President Johnson's approval rating plummeted from 83 to 39 percent. The superior U.S. war machine faced a new type of war in Vietnam . Isolated ground troops faced the ugly realities of guerilla warfare in tropical jungles. The random destruction of massive bombing campaigns morally distanced America from our allies and hardened North Vietnam 's determination to unite their country. Ultimately, the costs of the Vietnam War would split the nation apart.
Costs of War
Financial Cost: $150 million
Casualties: Of 1.5 million soldiers - 58,000 killed, 304,000 wounded, and 2,200 Missing In Action.
Disabilities: Over 75,000 Vietnam vets remain severely disabled. Health disorders include multiple cancers, diabetes, hepatitis C, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Outcome: In 1973, after America committed nearly 25 years to South Vietnam through advisory roles, troop buildups and bloody combat, President Nixon pulled out U.S. forces. Two years later, North and South Vietnam were reunited under Communist rule.
Servicemen Put to the Test
Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and
-Myra MacPherson, Long Time Passing:Vietnam and
A Young Man's War
Vietnam was an old man's war fought by the young - largely true for any war, but compounded by this war's statistics. The average "grunt" was 22 years old, four years younger than in World War II. Soldiers in Vietnam experienced 200 more days of combat each year than their WWII counterparts. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the 1960s armed forces were the most educated in U.S. history. Two-thirds of the men were volunteers, not draftees. Racial percentages of those who served in Vietnam were approximately 88% white, 11% black, 1% other. But statistics reveal only cold numbers.
A Young Man's Hell
Mutual support was a key to survival. Soldiers shared resources as well as the salvage of their comrades' broken bodies. They shared leech-filled rice paddies surrounded by thick, sharp elephant grass that could hide an entire enemy unit; stifling heat of tropical jungles; ceaseless red muck that never allowed feet to dry out. Pain and fear and isolation; C-rations, friendly fire, recon, R&R, pride and death - this, they all shared. The immense physical and psychological damage for Vietnam War vets is still being measured.
Pivotal Year 1968 Rocks America
January 23, U.S.S. Pueblo : North Korea captured the U.S.S. Pueblo , and held captive 82 Navy Intelligence crew members 11 months for violating territorial waters.
January 31, The Tet Offensive was launched by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who coordinated massive attacks on South Vietnamese targets. This campaign provoked angry reactions from Americans, betrayed by false government assurances of victory.
February 18, Casualties: The State Department announced the highest war casualties of any given week- 543 U.S. troops killed, 2,547 wounded.
March 16, At My Lai , in a search for Viet Cong, 30 American troops opened fire on unarmed men, women, and children. Over 350 civilians were slaughtered before other soldiers intervened. The military trial resulted in one murder conviction: a life sentence for Lieutenant William Calley. (He was released in 1974.)
May 3, Peace Talks: North Vietnam agreed to attend peace talks.
October 31, Bombing Halt: LBJ halted the bombing of North Vietnam .
November 26, Peace Talks: South Vietnam agreed to join peace talks.
Hundreds of U.S. airmen were captured after being shot down over North Vietnam . Their captors refused to allow Red Cross inspections nor the exchange of mail. In the most notorious prison known as Hanoi Hilton, prisoners suffered isolation, brutal torture, beatings, poor food and insufficient medical care.
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