It actually dates back to the 30's; if you look back far enough, you'll see it more as Vietnam's War of Independence - an attempt to shake off foreign occupiers, be it France, Japan, or, later, the US. Lost in all the Cold War FUD and Domino Theories is Ho Chi Minh's pro-Americanism; he was an admirer of the Declaration of Independence, and once thought that gaining US Commonwealth status (like Puerto Rico) was the best way to transition Vietnam to nationhood.

The Vietnam War was one of the most complicated political situations in recent history. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the basic situation, so I will include here a few interesting facts that I found in my amateur studies of it.


Of all the countries that had been European colonies but were subsequently conquered by the Japanese in the WWII period, Vietnam, or French Indochina, was the only one not granted independence by the United States of America. As a contrast, The Phillippines, or the Dutch East Indies, was made sovereign. Vietnam was returned to French rule.


The Geneva Convention divided up Vietnam into North and South Vietnam and gave provisions for French withdrawl. France almost immediatley got involved in another colonial independence war in North Africa.


Erroneously or not, Communism was viewed in this time as a vast worldwide conspiracy that radiated from Moscow. Chairman Mao in China, the Pathet Lao in Laos, the Vietcong and Fidel Castro were all looked upon as being united against us under Russia. It seems goofy in retrospect, considering that the Soviets and the PRC were bitter enemies from the time of my birth until the collapse of the USSR.


A pattern becomes clear in US policy and execution over the course of the war: A general or diplomat will observe an opportunity to accomplish something, but whatever action they might take is more-or-less gutted by some other member or branch of the Government. For example: There was a massive bombing campaign conducted against North Vietnam during the middle and late stages of the war, but the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong and the Chinese border zone were strictly off-limits to avoid provoking China or the Soviet Union. North Vietnam caught on to this real quick. In this way, the bombing campaign was reduced to marginal effect at best. This is especially characteristic of President Lyndon Johnson's policies.


From the point in time of the Geneva Conventions to the fall of Saigon to Communist forces, there was never a comprehensive, effective native government in the South. The strongest leader South Vietnam produced during the course of the war was Ngo Dinh Diem, who was by any account a prejudicial, corrupt and indecisive leader. South Vietnam endured invasion and insurgency from North Vietnam, a civil war, a Buddhist uprising and a student's uprising. This was one of the factors that created the biggest political and military tar baby of all time.


Approximately fifty percent of all American casualties, KIA and wounded included, were not from bullets or mortars, but from booby traps. After a few large-scale battles, combat forensics teams determined that about one-third to one-half of American soldiers had died with a jammed M-16.

President Lyndon Johnson, or LBJ for short, was never known for his good manners or poise while he was in office. It is a common fact that he forced his advisors into the bathroom each morning to discuss politics while he took a shit. He is commonly quoted as saying horribly offensive things and generally not caring what the response would be, a trait that gives us historians interesting stories to tell.

There is one little known story that really sums up LBJ's personality. One evening in 1965, Johnson was being interviewed by several reporters. They were asking him the usual questions about current events, but toward the end, one of them asked the important question: "Why are we still in Vietnam?" Johnson, having answered this question countless times in the year and a half that he'd been in office, finally cracked. The president stood up, faced the reporters, unzipped his fly, pulled out his dick, and said, "This is why we're still in Vietnam."

Needless to say, the interview was over at this time. You see, President Clinton wasn't the only president to whip it out for the benefit of the nation.

The Vietnam War was a watershed event in both American and Vietnamese History.

As pingouin pointed out, for Vietnam it was just a continuation of their ongoing war for independence. After being liberated from Japan at the end of World War Two, the Vietnamese turned to America to support their independence goals. However, France reasserted their colonial rule. This led to a guerilla war throughout the 50s, and France's eventual withdrawal. The newly liberated Vietnam was partitioned into two nations, a North Vietnam, led by Marxist Ho Chi Minh, who was the leader of the struggle against the French, and South Vietnam, an American puppet state with little public support.

The reasons for US intervention in Vietnam were tied to the cold war and fears of communism. The domino theory posited that if one nation in a region became communist, others would follow. While many have cited this as justification for meddling in the affairs of other nations, especially Vietnam, what gave the US the right to dictate an economic system for them? For some, there was the specter of Soviet influence gaining power, but not all communist nations were necessarily Soviet allies, for instance China and Yugoslavia. The idea of spreading Soviet influence may have been a mere scare tactic to justify intervention to prevent something the elites in the US really feared: an example of democratic communism being established somewhere. Indeed, a Ho Chi Minh led Vietnam was a likely candidate, given his admiration of the Founding Fathers of the US.

The war raged from the early 60s through 1975, with the level of US intervention escalating through the late 60s. The fighting was mostly a stalemate, the superior fire power of the US and US supplied South Vietnamese forces being balanced by the guerilla fighting tactics of the North and their allies in the south, the Viet Cong.

In the US there was considerable opposition to the war. Many opposed US involvement in the war because they saw it for the imperialist effort that it was. Others were total pacifists and still others simply did not want to be drafted to fight in it. All of these are valid viewpoints. There were serious confrontations in the US as the anti-war movement and other related leftist movements surged, including the Kent State Massacre.

Unfortunately, in recent years, this formidable opposition to the Vietnam War of a generation ago, in an Orwellian feat, has been rewritten mostly as opposition to the tactics of the war, and not the war itself. People lament about the folly of fighting an 'unwinnable' war, not about the folly of fighting an imperialist war to prevent a country's people from deciding their own future. Even an uncle of mine, himself a draft-dodger, now maintains the position that US policy was essentially correct, it was just the tactics of the war that were wrong.

Minorities and the poor were disproportionately drafted for the war. Initially local draft boards were responsible for providing a certain number of young men from their community, and naturally sent the ones whose parents had the least influence. Exemptions could be granted for everything from college to allergies. Later the draft was moved to a fairer lottery system.

As wrenching as the war was for the US, it was infinitely worse for Vietnam, which lost a million people. As the Nixon presidency continued through the 70s, the US engaged in massive bombing campaigns against the North as well as deforestation campaigns with deadly toxic agents such as Agent Orange that devastated civilian populations. Under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, himself a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, the air campaigns were carried to civilian areas of Laos which were supposed to be bases of operation for the Viet Cong.

The US gradually withdrew troops in the 70s, and ended operations in 1975, officially with the war being a stalemate, but evacuating personnel from Saigon as North Vietnamese troops were entering the city.

In the US, healing from the war was gradual, with president Carter pardoning all who had evaded the draft, and the Vietnam Memorial being completed in 1982. Vietnam was a country devastated and has not recovered to this day. The regime of Vietnam has for the most part embraced capitalism in recent years.

Was US intervention in Vietnam justified?



INTRODUCTION

On December 21, 1965, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring that no state has the right to intervene in the affairs of another state and condemning armed intervention. This declared, "Every state has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another state." Yet, at the same time the USA was embroiled in some of the bloodiest political fighting that the world has ever seen. This paradoxical intervention arose out of the American belief that to fight against communism in the name of freedom was justified at any cost. The intervention of the United States in Vietnam is the most important single embodiment of the power and purposes of American foreign policy since the Second World War, and no other crisis reveals so much of the basic motivating forces and objectives - and weaknesses - of American global politics.

Vietnam illustrates, as well, the nature of the American internal political process and decision-making structure when it opposes the views of a major sector of the people, for no other event of our generation has turned such a large proportion of the nation against its government’s policy or so profoundly alienated its youth. And at no time has the government conceded so little to democratic sentiment, pursuing as it has a policy of escalation that reveals that its policy is formulated not with an eye to democratic sanctions and compromises but rather the attainment of specific interests and goals scarcely shared by the vast majority of the nation.

Much of the reasoning that led America to its ultimately disastrous intervention in Vietnam was a direct result of the jockeying for position that was such an integral part of the Cold War and a desire to punish the French for their collaboration during the Second World War. This culminated in the Truman Doctrine, which set forth a policy that was applied directly to Vietnam and was presented at roughly the same time as the scale of conflict in Vietnam was escalating. American involvement in Vietnam began in the late 1940s, long before the 1965 military intervention as a result of the timing and the message of the Truman Doctrine.



BACKGROUND

In 1947, Harry Truman gave a speech before Congress, which contained a clear although not explicitly stated message. Truman referred to a society "based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority ... terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms." Calling for an anti-communist foreign policy, Truman said, "One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion." The Truman Doctrine, in essence, said three things. Communism was seen as a threat to freedom. A threat to freedom anywhere represented a threat to freedom everywhere and therefore the United States had to protect freedom and halt the spread of communism.

Vietnam along with Laos and Cambodia was part of the French colony of Indochina. Although U.S. involvement in Vietnam is largely seen as having taken place during the 1960s, America had in fact been diplomatically involved in Vietnam since Roosevelt's presidency when a trusteeship was suggested for Indochina. This idea was, however, rejected because America felt that a trusteeship should only occur with French permission and with the creation of similar trusteeships in British and Dutch colonies in Asia.

In the late 1940s, the situation in Vietnam became increasingly complicated as the Vietnamese people rallied around Ho Chi Minh’s populist communism. The growing conflict therefore revolved around the twin issues of independence and communism. France, especially early on, was determined to keep Vietnam. For France, "any kind of non-Communist government was desirable, a complete French withdrawal was unrealistic, and no French government, ... could survive the granting of complete Vietnamese independence." However, this view was in opposition to the populace only 15% of whom supported military intervention.

The communist threat in Vietnam invoked the Truman Doctrine, and this brought the domino theory into play. For the United States, the greatest fear was not of Vietnam becoming communist, but that it would cause other nations to fall to communism, a hypothesis that determined much of American policy regarding Vietnam.

In 1950, the U.S. considered its role in Vietnam in a statement of U.S. policy in Indochina. Years before the American military were involved, it was felt that "the U.S. should use its influence, wherever appropriate, to promote close relations and firm understandings, in political, military and economic fields." Therefore, involvement was a natural decision for the superpower of the Western world. The defeat of communism and the flouting of the domino effect could not be accomplished without Western assistance.

The risks, in both financial and populist terms, were readily apparent, but they were outweighed by American fear of communism. For the U.S. the ultimate goal was the defeat of communism, and therefore America made the decision to become involved in Vietnam for the glory of defeating communism and through the perceived necessity for this defeat.

Looking back, it seems apparent that involvement in Vietnam was a mistake. However, the involvement began with the simple ideas of the Truman Doctrine. At the time, American views on communism forced involvement with Vietnam; it was the only logical action. The Vietnam War was largely seen as a war against communism, which it was. From the very beginning, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was centred around anti-communism. For this reason, it can accurately be said that early U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the Truman Doctrine were inextricably linked.



POLITICAL JUSTIFICATION

In summary, there were four main reasons for American intervention in Vietnam. The most important of these, from the governmental point of view was to protect the free world from communism. The reasoning behind this was that if Vietnam were to fall then the domino effect would lead to a flush of communist regimes in South East Asia. To a lesser extent is was also believed that if a French colony were to become communist, then communism would have an entry to Europe through a weakened France. In practice, this was never a viable theory, since any European communist revolution would need a wide-ranging support from the populace that was not present. Indeed many attempted revolutions had failed miserably, such as that in Munich in the 1920s.

The next reason for intervention was a self-serving one: to emphasise American military might and global importance. By becoming militarily involved in Vietnam, America hoped that it would soon be able to crush the revolution and reaffirm its own global importance. It was for this reason that the American administration were unperturbed by the lack of European aid as this would lead to greater glory for the successful government and would also serve the purely political aim of ensuring voter popularity. From a political point of view, therefore, the conflict needed to be short and decisively won and the necessity for victory encouraged America into throwing more and more resources into an already lost cause.

Both Eisenhower and Nixon put great value on the economic justification for war: the important resources of South-East Asia would be lost through the domino effect with the instigation of a communist regime in Vietnam. Malaya, in particular, with its vast reserves of copper, tin and rubber would have had an economic impact on America through its loss, but even this would not have been great and the utility of the Asian rice crop to America was minimal.

The reason for intervention stated in military propaganda was rather different, however, revolving as it did around the need to protect the freedom of the Vietnamese. The major problem with this reasoning was the fact it was impossible to convince the Vietnamese that their French oppressors and the largely racist Americans who followed them were the key to their freedom while their own compatriots who opposed the established authority were attempting to enslave them. This meant that American intervention on this front was a lost cause from the start



EXAMINATION OF THE MORAL ISSUES

The question of justification is more complicated than just the political reasons. A theory has been put forward which recognises seven principles of a just war and each of these should be considered in turn.

  • A war can only be defined as just if it is waged as a last resort, all non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified. Although the US did enter into negotiations initially, later presidents such as Nixon came into power on the back of a Vietnam intervention ticket. I consider that insufficient consideration was given to non-violent options and so the war cannot be justified in this way.
  • A just war can only be entered into by a recognised and legitimate authority, which the American government certainly was.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong and must have the righting of the wrong as its objective. The American intervention in Vietnam had the opposition of communism, as detailed in the Truman Doctrine, as its objective but this cannot be classified as the righting of a wrong only the implementation of a prejudice and so cannot justify the intervention.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable. Shortly after the beginning of the conflict it was obvious that there was no way in which the US would be able to win against the guerilla tactics of the Viet Cong and thus the government had a moral obligation to withdraw which they did not do until the mid 1970s.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. Although US wartime propaganda would have claimed that democracy is inherently preferable to communism they ignored the fact that the majority of the North Vietnamese population were either in favour of a communist government or were uninterested in whichever governmental system they had.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are must not use unnecessary force in order to attain the limited objective of redressing the injury suffered. Since the US never suffered any direct injury and even the threat of communisation only existed ‘in potentio’, it is difficult to justify the fact that force was used at all and especially atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target. The indiscriminate use of napalm by the US military during the later stages of the war was a deliberate policy that killed many civilians in order to turn the populace against the Viet Cong.


    CONCLUSION

    The reasons for the American intervention are, from an objective point of view, completely inadequate for the justification of war in a country in which America had only minimal involvement. The Vietnam War was ultimately instigated by politicians terrified of communism, which in the end would pose no significant threat. These men expended an enormous number of resources and sent hundreds of thousands of young soldiers to their deaths, even in the face of massive public protest at the pointlessness of the war and the use of napalm, in a vain attempt to enhance American world influence only withdrawing when they realised that the war was impossible to win. The war cannot be justified for any humanitarian, economic, moral or political reasons and thus must be seen to be unjustified.



    BIBLIOGRAPHY

    Accommodation and Resistance - The French Left, Indochina and the Cold War, 1944-1954 - Edward Rice-Maximin (Greenwood Press, 1986)

    Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decisions - Draft Statement of U.S. Policy on Indochina for National Security Council Consideration, October 11, 1950, (Earl M Coleman Enterprises, 1979)

    Age of Extremes – Eric Hobsbawm (Abacus, 1998)

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pol116/justwar.htm – Principles of a just war

  • Vietnam: Why was it such torture for American soldiers?

    This was an essay for a "America: A Historical Survey" class.

      Reality struck with the bomb. The first nuclear bomb in World War II was dropped on Japan. Human obsession had finally created something that could allegedly destroy themselves, and completely. Martin Heidegger would call this “technological thinking,” to historians known as the era of efficiency. In Vietnam, America carried that with her. It was an extension of the Cold War. The Cold War becoming Hot would be M.A.D. So, the United States would fight the battles elsewhere, a form of neo-colonialism that attempted to diminish the so-called domino effect. Soldiers didn’t know why they were in Vietnam. The old expression, “hindsight is 20/20” comes to mind. Now the analysis helps us to come to terms with the terrors of this war. Then, the soldiers only knew the horrors of napalm, tunnels, daily bombings, the burning of the rainforest, confusion and loss.

       For an American soldier, Vietnam was the equivalent of Hell. It was the complete opposite of nearly every aspect of the soldiers’ normal lives. War in itself can be frustrating, but Vietnam especially so, the main reason being that most of the soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for. They knew little about the conflict or the area, and ended up watching many of their comrades be killed. This became the reason to fight for many of them. Though they knew little of the politics behind the conflict, they at least knew that they had a family back home and already dead soldiers and friends to fight for.

       Why was it upsetting that they didn’t know what they were fighting for? Other than the obvious psychological trauma, the conditions in Vietnam were devastating. American soldiers were attempting to fight in unfamiliar territory, and territory that was difficult to maneuver in because of the lush trees and other jungle plants. For this reason, there were extensive tunnels that the North Vietnamese and Vietcong were familiar with. These groups used scorpions, rats, fire ants, and darkness to kill their enemy. The Americans had never even thought of conditions such that they would be fighting scorpions’ stings, nor in such thick jungle foliage. Being in the jungle even caused skin infections of which the only known cure was an impossibility: to get out of the jungle and back into sunlight. The United States attempted to clear some of this foliage by bombing and using napalm. This not only failed to clear all that was needed, but it also often backfired. The napalm was dropped on American bases as well as the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. Radio transmissions were intercepted; supplies were lost. Americans had the advantage of technology for a time, but due to such errors, they ended up fighting against their own decidedly formidable weaponry. They were also fighting an enemy that had acquired American uniforms, and posed as American soldiers.

       Another extreme frustration out of the conditions was the amount of booby traps set up by the opposing side. Even if a soldier noticed a trapped or injured friend or soldier, he wasn’t likely to pull him out and try and save him. No use being a hero in Vietnam. There were extensive traps set up, in the tunnels, in the jungles, and around captured or fallen American soldiers. A soldier could not do the right thing in saving a fellow soldier or friend, else risk getting himself or his platoon killed.

      The Vietnam Conflict was far away and misunderstood. It was the most gruesome and despairing war America had ever been apart of. And the soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for, and didn’t even know whether to agree with the cause. All of these conditions led to a maddeningly frustrating position for American soldiers in Vietnam.

    Whole libraries have been written about the Vietnam War, and I will not try to condense them into a thousand words. There is a massive and bloody historical debate over what the "lessons of Vietnam" are, especially because the lessons seem to have such urgent policy implications in an era where the United States is fighting more wars that appear to superficially resemble it.

    Everyone fights to avoid the blame for lost wars, and in the case of Vietnam we have even been subjected to the apparent absurdity of some people claiming that the war wasn't in fact lost at all, or rather, that the U.S. military didn't lose it, but the enemy just won it. The reason they won it, the reasoning goes, is because the U.S. civilian leadership wouldn't let the military do all they needed to do to win. This bears an eerie resemblance to Der Dolchstoß, the German army's "stab in the back" explanation for its loss in World War I, but it has a kernel of truth. A kernel. If I were to rail against my flatmates for not allowing me to burn down my flat to eliminate our rodent problem, I would have roughly as sensible a case.

    Understanding this gets us to the heart of what went wrong during the Vietnam War. The root of the war was the North Vietnamese desire to unify the entire of Vietnam under a Communist government ruled from Hanoi. To achieve this aim, they needed to take over South Vietnam, which at the time was ruled from Saigon. The U.S. intervened to help protect the government in the South from the North's attempts to destroy it. What the U.S. did not ever try to do was actually to overthrow the Communist government in Hanoi by invading the North of the country, which would have addressed the root of the problem. Instead, with the exception of brief incursions, U.S. forces had to remain in the South and absorb wave after wave of attacks from the North, which came in the form of guerrillas infiltrated across the border and, later, full-scale conventional attack.

    We are starting now to see the origins of the argument that if the U.S. military had been allowed a free hand, it could have won the war. And yet, there was a reason for these restrictions. Avid readers of Noung will know from my Korean War write-up that the reason the U.S. failed to achieve its goals in that war were because its invasion of North Korea sparked a Chinese counter-invasion; it was fear of a repetition of this event which kept American troops out of North Vietnam, for North Vietnam also borders China. The decision to forbid an invasion of North Vietnam was not just civilian squeamishness but a genuine fear of World War III against a nuclear China. China supported the Vietnamese Communists (although less than was thought in Washington at the time; they were more inclined to the Soviets), but even more importantly it did not want an American army anywhere near its border.

    This restriction on what the U.S. military could do in Vietnam is one reason it was a "limited war", one fought under restraints. From the position of the military commander in Vietnam, these restraints may have appeared absurd and designed to stop him accomplishing his goals; but from the vantage point of the country's leadership, they were essential to protect other, more important goals (i.e. avoiding World War III).

    Because they were unable to decisively invade the North and prevent it from continuing to attack the South, the U.S. leadership instead decided that it would try to destroy the political will of the North Vietnamese. The idea was to make them decide that actually national unification wasn't worth the hardship that the U.S. could inflict on them as they tried to pursue it. This strategy had a fatal flaw, which was that it ultimately required the co-operation of the enemy. If your strategy is to invade and destroy the enemy then he can be essentially passive in this process, but the U.S. strategy here required the North Vietnamese to react in certain ways. Their failure to comply - their failure to be cowed - was what doomed the strategy.

    There were three prongs to the strategy. The first was the commitment of more and more troops to South Vietnam. The gradual escalation under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations was understood by the civilian leadership not primarily as a military action, but as a political one. When they sent more troops, they didn't do so because they had decided that more troops were needed to achieve military goals, but because they wanted to signal to the North that they were serious and committed. This misuse of troops to send a diplomatic message rather than to implement a serious military strategy typified the U.S. approach to the whole war. In fact, as the Vietnamese Communists well understood, the constant escalation placed such strains on American society that it appeared more as the desperate flailing of a drowning man than as a confident reassurance.

    The second part of the strategy was the use of air power against the North. Through a series of bombing campaigns with names like Arc Light and Rolling Thunder, the U.S. tried to bomb the North so much that it would lose the will to continue. But the air campaigns never inflicted as much damage as Washington hoped, and the damage was never enough to do anything other than spark nationalist resentment and hatred of the U.S. This could have been predicted perfectly well by anyone who had studied the bombing campaigns that the Allies conducted against German cities during World War II. The bombings did not affect the capability of the North to attack the South, and they didn't persuade it to want to stop either.

    The third part of the strategy, and one which resonates now because of the war in Afghanistan, was to build up the South Vietnamese state to the point where it could defend itself without American help. Because it was obvious U.S. forces could not stay in South Vietnam for ever, Saigon had eventually to be capable of looking after itself. It also should have been obvious that the U.S. could not coerce the North and destroy its will to attack the South for ever (in fact, it couldn't do this at all), so the South had to be capable of militarily standing up to the North. This was the only possible exit strategy for the U.S., and the only true definition of victory: the U.S. could repeatedly beat off Northern attacks, but if the North was only going to come back and finish the job later, then this couldn't be called victory.

    And this is what eventually happened. American troops were gone by 1973, and South Vietnam was gone by 1975. Much has been made of the corruption, mismanagement and brutality of the South Vietnam regime, and it is obvious that the U.S. failed in its goal of establishing a durable regime there. It's worth remembering that the final defeat in Vietnam didn't come at the hands of pajama-clad guerrillas, but a full-scale, armoured conventional attack by the North; many people forget this, and hence exaggerate the potency of guerrilla warfare. The U.S. might have been able to protect the South against this assault with airpower and aid, as it had done against a similar attack in 1972, but it was Washington's political will that had been broken, not the North's. And even if this protection had been forthcoming, it would only have delayed the inevitable.

    The U.S. error in Vietnam was primarily to ignore the type of war it was fighting. The Vietnamese Communists were incredibly committed to their goals, for which they had suffered immensely through decades of occupation and war. They could not be deterred by anything that the Americans had in their power to throw at them, because the Americans were constrained in what they could do by the wider strategic situation - China and the Cold War. As happened so often during the Cold War, the superpower conflict was the original cause of escalation and then also the factor that ultimately constrained it and made it limited. But while the war was "limited" for Washington, it was "total" for Hanoi.

    America was committed to a war it could not win because policymakers failed to clearly recognize the nature of the war they were fighting. That so many had to suffer for something that was explicitly recognized as peripheral and of limited importance was the tragedy of Vietnam. The men who were drafted and sent to fight and die for a "limited" war had good reason to question their plight. Richard Nixon's response was to announce the Nixon Doctrine, which said that in future peripheral conflicts, the U.S. would expect its allies to provide the manpower for their own defence rather than expecting American boys to do it for them. This, along with the rest of his foreign policy of detente and moving closer to China, went a long way to restoring rationality and a sense of proportion to U.S. foreign policy; no longer would so many be asked to defend so little.

    Many years ago, when I was a young man 20 years of age, I was sent the draft card, and was brought by my country into the war in Vietnam. Reluctantly, I went ahead and served my duties in the armed forces. And, after several months in basic training, I nervously departed from my trainers in Fort Benning and into the conflict.

    As I left the aircraft, I stood outside my barracks, dressed fully in my fatigues in the heat and humidity of the oriental air. The sweat ran down the sides of my eyebrows and dropped upon my crisp new vest. My orders came soon enough, and I was placed into a small platoon of soldiers guarding the caravans that moved food and supplies across the warzone. Me and seven others sat guarding supply trucks from M113s. For the first few weeks, the job was actually rather peaceful. Not a single charlie fired a single bullet into our supply trucks.

    Then Tet came along.

    My friends and I were driving along the path as usual. It was a rather hot day, and many of us - including myself - did not bother wearing all our protective armor. We started down the dirt road again. It's a familiar road by now. The trees and smell of charred forest in the distance told us how far we were to our destination, a beautiful horror punctuated by the sounds of aircraft engines and the distant cries of screaming fauna.

    We were about 10 more minutes from our destination. What happened next was a blur. As I sat up to light a cigarette, the missile of a rocket propelled grenade hit the caravan in front of me. A brilliant explosion of fuel and shrapnel rushed up from in front of me, and I was blown aback with force.

    When I woke up, I was lying on the side of the road, and the squad medic was at my side, tending to my wounds with his gauze. There were some gunshots in the distance. A hot piece of metal, approximately one inch in size, was sticking out of my chest. Blood was pouring out of the wound everywhere. The wind was gone from my lungs, and I could barely speak. Laboured, I asked him, "Am I going to make it, doc? Am I going to make it?"

    He said, calm and confidently "Yes. You're good. Don't worry. We're getting you out of here. A Huey's on its way. Just stay with me. Stay with me."

    He placed my head atop of my helmet, and left me to tend to my other squadmates. I was advised not to move my neck; my vision was restricted to a small arc. But the smell of blood and gasoline did not hint of positive outcome. I began to black out again.

    A strange state came over me. In the blackness I felt nothing. There was a serenity and peace which pervaded throughout my body, and for those brief moments it felt as though I was living in eternal bliss.

    I awakened in the Huey next to two of my squadmates, the chopping of the rotor blades overpowering every sensation but the throbbing pain that coursed through my body. The bliss was gone, and the reality was here.

    The medic, sitting near my stretcher, noticed me waking up. He was smoking, staring down at us. We both smiled warmly knowing that we were alive.

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