Essay About Vietnam War
During his Presidential announcement speech in 2003, John Kerry famously said “ I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.” Yes, a quote may be a very cliched way to begin an essay but It is important to include this before I begin my essay. The true meaning of patriotism, specifically in the USA, had been corrupted for a very long time. Throughout history, Americans had thought of fighting for their country as the only way of displaying true patriotism. The idea that the United States is always right and the enemy is always wrong had been deeply ingrained within minds for centuries but a shift of opinion was due to come. When America declared war on Vietnam, this idea of Patriotism was very much existent. The people, along with the government, thought that South Vietnam would fall to the communists due to the domino theory. The public opinion was that it is our duty to defend the South Vietnamese from communist aggression and help stop this “disease” from spreading. But, The Vietnam War because of it’s cruel and gruesome nature would initiate a shift in the blind patriotic altitude of Americans by creating the anti-war movement and create a sense of distrust in the government.
The anti-war movement had existed before the Vietnam war but with a very small following. The cold war had given some fuel to this movement but the growth was still very slender compared to what it would eventually become. “The escalating nuclear arms race led to the creation of National Committee for A Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) which represented a goal of reduction in nuclear weapons. Another group, the Student Peace of Union (SPU), emerged in 1959 with a goal that went beyond that of SANE. Unwilling to settle for fewer nuclear weapons, the students desired a wholesale restructuring of American society” (Barringer, 1999). Even after the Vietnam War began, the anti-war following had been too miniature for it to establish itself as a movement. Many Americans may have disagreed with going to war but they did respect the president’s decision and weren’t outspoken with their beliefs. The creation of SANE and SPU marked a new chapter for the Anti-War movement that would prove very effective later on in the 60s. These groups, especially SPU, wanted to change America’s perspective on war and the government. Although these groups were not able to carry out completely throughout the Vietnam War, they did inspire the creation of Students for a Democratic Society(SDS).
SDS was originally formed in 1960 and was based on civil rights effort but later changed its focus nationally to anti-war efforts. On April 17, 1965, SDS performed the first major national protest against the war on Vietnam in Washington. Between 15-25 thousand protesters showed up from all across the country to march against the war on Vietnam and put an end to it. At that time, this was the largest peace march in American History. In his speech during the protest, Carl Oglesby (President of SDS) said “Far from helping Americans deal with this truth, the anti-Communist ideology merely tries to disguise it so that things may stay the way they are. Thus, it depicts our presence in other lands not as a coercion, but a protection. It allows us even to say that napalm in Vietnam is only another aspect of our humanitarian love… So we say to the Vietnamese peasant… You are better dead than Red.” (Carl Oglesby, 1965) His message echoed what a lot of America was thinking at this time. This speech at the march had been a response to President Johnson escalating the war by increasing the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam. Oglesby refers to the anti-communism idea as a ploy to distract Americans from the real truth.
The idea that the US was in Vietnam as a form of protection was sincerely being questioned by Americans everywhere. It created a sense of mistrust in the government that had never existed before. Americans questioned why the Vietnamese were being treated like savages and how exactly were they protecting them from communism. This brings me back to my opening paragraph where I talk about Patriotism gaining a new meaning because for a long time It had meant the same thing. But now people were beginning to realize that Patriotism not only meant fighting for your country when it is right but also protesting when it is wrong. In an article called Vietnam: The War that Killed Trust, Karl Marlantes recalls of a time during the Vietnam war when he was in college. He remembers arguing with his friends about the war and one of them saying that President Johnson is lying to Americans about the war. Marlantes replies to his friend by saying that the president would never lie to the people. All his friends burst out laughing and later on in life when he told this story to his children, they all started laughing too. In the article, he states “Before the Vietnam War, most Americans were like me. After the Vietnam War, most Americans are like my children.” (Marlantes, 2017) I think it is very important to pay attention to this quote because it shows us the importance of the Anti-war movement during Vietnam and the effect it has till today. For a long time, the people looked to the government as the absolute truth and the Vietnam War changed that. The citizens questioned the legitimacy of the war and for the first time, there was a sense of doubt within the general public. They felt betrayed by the very government that they put their trust in since the country was founded. The people and the government were high school sweethearts who loved each other very much and one day, the people found out that the government had cheated on them. The Vietnam War taught the American people a very valuable lesson in that the Government must be held accountable by the people as it should never have the right to do as it pleases.
The movement was gaining a lot of support as more and more media personalities expressed their disapproval of the war. By 1967, The country was very divided over the war and people who supported the war and those that were against it were called Hawks and Doves respectively. The Doves questioned both the morality and cost of the war. The people that were neither Hawks or Doves were disgusted by both the wars and the protests. They believed that the protests were disrespectful to the soldiers that were fighting in the war. The first national figure to speak out against the war in Vietnam was Muhammad Ali who refused to be drafted. In his statement “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”