The Vietnam War was a monumental event at the time, and still has widespread effects today. The Vietnam War is a very controversial topic. Some people believe that it was not our fight. Some think that America was extending a helping hand, though they are in the minority. What most people ignore is how, exactly, the Vietnam War affected those involved, their families, and all of the American and Vietnamese people in the world today. The Vietnam War affected both those involved and those in future generations in many ways, including but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), complications from Agent Orange, and changes in perception and operation of the United States government.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the biggest problems plaguing Vietnam veterans and their loved ones even today. PTSD, as it is more commonly known, is a physiological reaction to trauma. Oftentimes symptoms include other physiological complications like depression, anxiety and anger management issues. People with PTSD also experience intense flashbacks, sometimes in the form of nightmares, hypersensitivity, and emotional coldness (Gibson; L’Huillier). Another extremely common symptom is purposeful distancing. Veterans or others who experienced traumatic events often try to avoid having friends in order to protect both themselves and the other person, and they also have trouble expressing their love to their families. Vietnam was an extremely traumatic experience for any and all involved. It shattered some people internally, watching their friends and those that they served alongside lying on the ground, dead (Keating). It was very hard to readjust back into society after spending over a year in the rough jungles and frequent gunfire of the Vietnam War. In short, PTSD had a widespread effect on both veterans and their families.
PTSD causes many side effects which makes those who suffer from it hard to live with sometimes. It makes you “… scared to have friends,” (Keating). Vietnam veterans try to distance themselves from those around them in order to emotionally protect themselves in case their loved ones die like the majority of their friends did in Vietnam. This can actually hurt their families emotionally instead of protecting them. “I used to think he didn’t like me because he never once said that he loved me,” (Weeks). Veterans with PTSD also can be subject to fits of rage (Weeks). Since veterans rarely relate their experiences to their families, these fits often come as a surprise, and family members may not know the cause (Hochgesang, Lawyer, Stevenson). PTSD, as hard as it is on veterans themselves, affects their spouses, children, and other loved ones.
Although having PTSD is quite the struggle for veterans, a wayward herbicide used in the war might have had even more disastrous effects. Agent Orange was a chemical mixture of half dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and half trichlorophenoxyacetic acid which resulted in a dangerous chemical called a dioxin (Agent). “… [Agent Orange] is linked to type 2 diabetes, immune system dysfunction, nerve disorders, muscular dysfunction, hormone disruption and heart disease” (Agent). Milton Farris, a Vietnam veteran and former employer of Mr. and Mrs. Sim Weeks, passed away in 2019 as a result of a cancer caused by Agent Orange. He also had diabetes, heart problems, and a son with severe mental and physical disabilities. Agent Orange also causes birth defects and miscarriages (Agent). Around 13 percent of veterans reported having a child with birth defects. Agent Orange has many effects, from chloracne (a serious skin disease) to birth defects to death, which are hard on those who live with and care about Vietnam veterans. Agent Orange can carry over into future generations via birth defects, and the death of a loved one is hard on those who are relatives of a veteran, but it also caused the entire country of Vietnam to suffer.
Agent Orange did not just complicate the lives of individuals involved in the Vietnam war as well as their families’, but this extremely powerful herbicide also wiped out the majority of Vietnam’s vegetation and poisoned the majority of the fish, their main protein source. “An estimated 72.4 million litres or 100,000 tons of herbicides were sprayed on South Vietnam” (Vietnam). People in Vietnam relied on rice paddies for their main source of food, and the fish that lived in the marsh-like habitat provided them with the majority of the protein in their diet (Vietnam). The purpose of Agent Orange was to destroy these areas so that the Viet Cong would not be able to access them for food (Agent). They also used Agent Orange to eliminate brush so that the Northern Vietnamese soldiers wouldn’t have any good cover (Agent). Agent Orange did the job it was intended to do, and a whole lot more. It completely destroyed Vietnam’s ecosystems. Though it seems probably that forests could just grow back, they cannot (Vietnam). In fact, very few plants survived, but among those that did are bamboo and an Asian grass called cogongrass (Vietnam). The fish were poisoned, and actually transmitted the dioxin found in Agent Orange to those who did not come into contact with it during the war (Vietnam). By being too good at what it was made to do, Agent Orange wiped out an entire county’s ecosystems as well as one of their major sources of protein which continues to affect them today.
The Vietnam War didn’t just destroy the ecosystems of entire countries, it destroyed American trust in the government. The thought that American officials would lie to their people used to be uncommon (Marlantes). Before Vietnam, the majority of Americans believed that politicians had their best interests in mind, and that they were completely honest (Marlantes). Nowadays, it’s not even newsworthy when a politician’s facts don’t add up (Marlantes). Nobody really trusts the government. Americans today, even those in elementary school, distrust our politicians. Vietnam has led American citizens to have a great distrust in their government because they have seen the problems in government and the exposition of political lies.
The United States Government changed a few of its policies after the occurrence of the Vietnam war. Before Vietnam, America’s voting age was 21. After Vietnam ended, America realized the ridiculousness of having citizens who weren’t allowed to vote, yet were able to be drafted (deLeon) . Thus, they changed the voting age to 18 (deLeon). The government also decided to permanently stop drafting (deLeon). “Richard Nixon moved to abolish the draft and shifted to an all-volunteer force before the 1972 election.” (deLeon).
PTSD and Agent Orange had many effects on people, as well as Vietnam, and the American government learned from their mistakes, even though they lost the people’s trust. PTSD is a physiological disorder caused by exposure to trauma (Gibson; L’Huillier). It changes a person, and can pull them away from society. Agent Orange is a harmful herbicide that can cause many problems, including birth defects and death, in those who were exposed to it. It also destroys ecosystems, like those in Vietnam. The American Government lost the trust of the people. They also changed some policies for the better. Vietnam, though it tore two countries apart, caused a few benefits.
“Agent Orange.” History, A&E Television Networks, LLC, May 16, 2019,
deLeon, Rudy. “5 Ways the Vietnam War Changed America.” CNN, Cable News
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