In 1985, Richard M. Nixon described the Vietnam War as the most “misunderstood event in the history of America” (“The Ultimate Resource for the Vietnam War”). True enough, unifying a nation into a single unit became a very tumultuous task for the Viets. Not only did it intensify the separation between the North and the South regions but it also instigated a war with the world’s wealthiest nation, United States of America. And just like any war that ever occurred, the death toll of soldiers and civilians were countless with recorded deaths of Viets, Americans, South Koreans, Thais, New Zealanders and Australians (“Vietnam War”). The neighboring countries were also affected by the negative effects of war in terms of economic stability and national security. The Vietnam War can be considered the longest war that America has ever been involved in spanning almost six different presidents from 1950 until 1975. It is very easy to think there were many different decisions made about the Vietnam War between those years and that only a few of them led to ceasing fire with the Vietnamese troops.
The question lies as to how the United States of America became involved in a war being staged half way around the world that even lasted longer than a decade. Vietnam became separated into the communist North and the French South caused by the resistance of the Viets against France. The United States assisted the South of Vietnam’s fight for freedom and the possible collapse of its government due to the communists. In short, America became the strongest ally of the South that fought against the North with the help of other allied countries. Up to the present, America has fought for democracy and assisted other countries such as Iraq.
America’s foreign policy is affected at a great scale due to the Vietnam War and even the wars that preceded it. The U.S. Department of State has enumerated the major contributions of the Vietnam War on different institutional settings and also in terms of what was significant during those times. For the period of 1953-1960, the effect of the Soviet Union’s Cold War remained a stigma for the people of America that the occurrence of communism was almost always not permitted. President Eisenhower called for the increased research on nuclear activity to top that of the Soviet Union as a preparation for possible attacks. The President also exercised his power in terms of the Cold War policies made which intensified the need to develop improved foreign relations (“Entrenchment of a Bipolar Foreign Policy”). This period showed a really important phase in foreign policymaking especially since the Eisenhower Doctrine signed during this time became very influential for the countries under resistance. This doctrine addressed the need of countries under siege of communist countries especially the Soviet Union which is national independence rather than communist domination (Modern History Sourcebook). From this period, it became very evident that most of the foreign policies created were in response to the major problems of that time which is the communist Soviet.
In 1961-1968, the effects of the Cold War on the created policies were still very noticeable since the free United States is greatly against the communist Soviets. The country got involved in not only one war but engaged in another as far out into the Pacific. Since Vietnam is under siege of the North led by Ho Chi Minh, it is a very good opportunity for the United States to exercise military power to overthrow the communists (“Entangling Alliances”).
More troops were sent to Vietnam until there was an extensive presence of military aid both in Vietnam and neighboring Asian countries. Most Americans considered this move very costly for the country and stirred a lot of controversy caused by an alarming increase in deaths and the negative effects to the economy. An Anti- Vietnam War was even initiated by different sectors which involved students, teachers and politicians (“Vietnam War”).
Nixon and Vietnamization became the next big thing. This involved the decreased involvement of troops in South Vietnam but the continuous bombing of the North. With the incessant movements against the Vietnam War, policies led to the end of the war and instigated peace talks with North Vietnam. Diplomatic relations also opened for the United States and the Soviet Union. Concisely, the ultimate objective of the United States to overthrow the communist North Vietnam was defeated. North and South Vietnam became unified after the Vietnam War (“Détente”).
Penna (2007) has enumerated different ways of analyzing the effects of the Vietnam War on policymaking. Firstly, from what was learned during the World War II, the country should be prepared against aggression. There was widespread belief that communism is an immoral type of governance and should be eradicated or thwarted. In terms of the United States Foreign Policy, Penna also believed that the Vietnam War caused credibility issues to the United States and that the Congress became more judicial with the President’s judgments and decisions. This is a result of the careless establishment of policies during the Vietnam War.
Jimmy Carter’s administration, that which followed the war, learned from his predecessors’ mistakes and expanded the foreign policies to include the significance of promoting human rights (“The Quest for Peace”). As compared to the other Vietnam War presidents, Carter established peace with European countries and did not contribute to the violent approach instead continued peace talks with the Arab nations.
A very good insight into the negative effect of the Vietnam War is the devastation of livelihood in the affected areas by the war. Also, the succeeding administrations after the end of the Vietnam War had to follow the same foreign policies. For instance, El Salvador during the term of President Jimmy Carter, had issues similar to that of South Vietnam. Only, the United States started killing and destroying the country again as an excuse of bringing it back up on its feet again. This happened during Jimmy Carter’s time, which ironically supposed to be a time to intensify consciousness of human rights (Chomsky 1985).
Involvement and intervention of the United States with the resistance in Vietnam was addressed by the policies made in Eisenhower’s administration. The main objective, which is to fight communism and assist South Vietnam was not fulfilled in the end of the Vietnam War. Policies created were mere response to the needs of the times and were not aimed to prevent war rather escalate violence and death. With the increased controversy involved in the persistence of the war, Nixon’s administration pushed into making peace talks and ending the war by 1975.
In summary, the foreign policies created by the United States, in the course and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. is directly affected. Not a single war was won after it; there was an increased demand for hard-hitting foreign policies and United States intervention with other countries continued. The latter is still under scrutiny, since learning from the history itself, no intervention was ever successful and even led to a worse situation. Currently, the effects of these unwise foreign policies, as a result of Vietnam War or even the preceding wars, can be clearly seen with what is happening to the United States and Iraq. Iraq can become the present-day Vietnam, devastated and totally robbed of their judgments in their own land. Iraq may be a wrongful repeat in the threads of history but unlike during the Vietnam War, America and its people have learned their lessons and have since tried to stop another war.
- Chomsky, Noam. American Foreign Policy. Delivered at Harvard University, 1985. Web.
- “Détente”. Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History. U.S. Department of State. 2007
- “Entangling Alliances”. Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History. U.S. Department of State. 2007
- “Entrenchment of a Bipolar Foreign Policy”. Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History. U.S. Department of State. 2007
- Modern History Sourcebook. President Eisenhower: The Eisenhower Doctrine on the Middle
- East, A Message to Congress, 1957. The Department of State Bulletin, XXXV1, No. 917 (1957), pp. 83-87. Web.
- Penna, David. American Foreign Policy: The Vietnam War. 2006. Gallaudet University.
- Penna, David. Implications of Vietnam. 2006. Gallaudet University. 2007
- “The Quest for Peace”. Timeline of U.S. Diplomatic History. U.S. Department of State. 2007
- “Vietnam War”. Encyclopædia Brittanica. 2007. Encyclopædia Brittanica Online.