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.