Impact of Vietnam War on American History

The Vietnam War had a significant role in shaping the history of America. At the time when America was fighting for equality and freedom abroad, Black Americans were fighting for the same rights in the same country. These events were all aired on the television depicting the violence and the atrocities that were being committed during these events. It is from this point that the counterculture began to grow. It was this war that catalyzed and enabled various groups to come together and initiate changes. This, on a larger note, impacted America to present age. This essay will highlight the effects of the Vietnam War on American culture.

This advancement was not without effects to both the Vietnam and the American soldiers. The American troops bombed southern Vietnam mercilessly. The soldiers never minded about civilians. They completely disregarded the lives of the locals. There was a series of incidences when the American soldiers took it as a light matter to conduct several atrocities to the locals. They discredited human rights and the media went forth to present these scenes on American television. These horrific images, and the several accounts of lives lost went forward to the shaping of public opinion (Isserman & Bowman, 2003).

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To begin with, the events that led to the advancement of the war are highlighted here. So as to curb the spread of communism, the government developed a policy of containment and a doctrine named Truman doctrine that offered help to any nation that was subject to it. In 1961, President Kennedy was sworn into power.

Kennedy began secretly sending troops to Vietnam. He also arranged for their withdrawal just before he was assassinated in 1963 (Tichenor & Harris, 2010). President Lyndon Baines Johnson ascended into presidency as the 36th President of the United States immediately after the assassination of President Kennedy. President Lyndon Baines Johnson expanded the involvement into the Vietnamese war greatly through making a resolution on the Gulf of Tonkin conflict (Tichenor & Harris, 2010). In the March of 1965, two U.S battalions waded to the shore of Danang. It was the first time for U.S to dispatch these 3,500 soldiers to Vietnam in support of the Saigon government in the efforts curbing communism.

The mission of these troops involved protecting the airbase that the Americans were using in a series of bombing activities in Vietnam. President Kennedy fitted in the shoes of President Truman and Dwight, who diligently fought against communism. By his rising to the power, Lyndon did not have any alternative other than proceed with the intents of his former. Kennedy did this without a formal consent from the Congress. A bombing campaign then followed in which the Northern Vietnam began destroying the enemy. This war involved burning up of villages and killing men, women and girls. The process involved destroying churches and temples that were considered as safe.

To make matters worse, then war and its effects were aired for American families to behold. As mentioned earlier, this resulted in horrific images of the war. This shaped the opinions of the many Americans as never before. The massacre at My Lai dominated the scenes in the American Television as one of the most horrific scenes done on the civilians during the war. There were various protests all over from 1965 in different colleges and the major cities. By the end of 1968, every corner of the country had felt the effects of the war (Flores, 2014).

A counterculture ensued in the 1960’s that rejected the social norms in America from 1950’s. The movement was in conflict with the America’s involvement in the Vietnamese war. It lasted eight years, from 1964 to 1972. The youths in America could no longer agree with the cultural standing of their parents, especially the racial segregation and the support for the war in Vietnam. The culture conducted themselves on the basis of the premises of free sex, antiwar, and lots of drugs. This was not what Americans advocated for. It was turned to be ironical that the soldiers supported for peace and yet the treatment they gave to the civilians was contrary to what they professed.

This movement divided the country. For some of the Americans, these attributes made a sharp reflection on the ideals of America on equality, world peace, free speech and the pursuit of happiness. For others, this counterculture movement showed an America that was self-indulgent, rebellious, unpatriotic assault on the traditional moral order of America.

Rejection of the mainstream culture was reflected in the many other genres of music, pop-art, and explorations in spirituality. Music became an integral part in spreading the counterculture majorly in the large outdoor festival, especially the Woodstock music.

Most significant was the emergence of civil right activist, Martin Luther King, Jr, in 1967 that came out in full support for this movement for moral reasons and elaborated his views in a church in Riverside, New York. Martin Luther asserted that the war was draining resources on home programs. Luther as well pointed concerns about the percentage of black American casualties concerning the total population (Hasday, 2007). King’s sentences voiced the black American activists as the cause for the antiwar and, therefore, established a new dimension to moral objections of the activism.

Upon election to office, President Nixon began withdrawing American troops from Vietnam in the June of 1969 and made a replacement of the military draft using lottery by the ending of that year (Tichenor ; Harris, 2010). In the December of 1972, America began a series of large-scale bombing of North Vietnam after peace talks did not materialize. These attacks led to the Congressional Democrats to demand to an end America’s involvement in Southern Asia in the January of 1973 (Isserman ; Bowman, 2003).

The war undermined many other liberal reforms. There was increased inflation because President Johnson did not raise taxes to fund the war. This severely affected the U.S economy. This made many Americans lose trust in the government. Several decades later, the American remains torn between the meanings of the conflict. Before 1980s, America went through a period of what can be called social change (Hall, 2009). The war went ahead in changing the attitudes and beliefs of the people of America. This has impacted American culture permanently to this present age.

In his book, Fitz-Gerald discusses matters arising from the involvement of America in the Vietnam War and the failed efforts by Richard M .Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson the U.S Presidents in bringing about the withdrawal of America from that conflict in the period of 1960s. After President Richard M .Nixon in June 1969, the troops of America were withdrawn from Vietnam.

The article further discusses the large scale bombing of Vietnam in the north by the United States, without any sympathy or care for the lives of the civilians. At the same time the media coverage was uncensored in that it was broadcasting and showing horrific images on American Television, regarding to the accounts of those who lost lives and shaping public opinion. Due to this the U.S. involvement in the South-East Asia was called off by the Congressional Democrats and in 1973, a ceasefire agreement was signed by Viet Cong, the United states, South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Later United States withdrew from South Vietnam willingly.

According to Gerald, the program of “Vietnamization” initiated by Nixon is looked unto in details in the article and this plan had its repercussions: for instance, drug abuse increased until it was no longer considered wrong, the combat units of U.S ended up devastating casualties, racial tensions erupted, individual groups refused combats and their troops killed several officers. At home things were not good either; people went on the streets of the cities demonstrating as the antiwar campaign gained support from people (FitzGerald, 2009).

The book by Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, third volume, details an American historical account regarding Martin Luther King Jr., a history account which is read widely and regarded highly in terms of the United States civil rights movement. Upon some extensive primary research Michael Kazin, a history professor at George Town University, reviewed Taylor’s book. In the review, the author mentions the King’s tragedy and his movement as that of the lack of readiness of Americans to embrace his goals, though in the end after his death they were willing, as a means of honoring the eloquence with which he presented them with.

Michael Kazin further outlines the state of things in 1960s, a time when the white citizens had unprecedented prosperity starting from the lower middle class and the working class. Yet most of them were not secure in their jobs, their cultural status, their homes which were affected, or even dominated by the War, higher tax rates and the requirements of King’s policies on solidarity based on ethnic class (Kazin, 2009).

Additionally, A history of the U.S. political system: Ideas, interests, and institutions, by Daniel J. Tichenor and Richard A. Harris examines the ideas, the policies and institutions that have impacted the American Politics and Government throughout the history and are looking at the how the ideologies of U.S. have developed. The authors document the state of America after the World War II, which marks the beginning of emergence of United States as an International Power, something that would have brought profound implications on how Americans viewed the Government. With the former President working against the racial tensions, the author talks of the beginning of the anti-war emotions concerning Vietnam after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and how the involvement of America conflicted president Johnson. The author further speaks of the movements on civil rights at home and the coming of the counter culture (Tichenor & Harris, 2010).

Furthermore, America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives by Daum et al., 2003 introduces the war as having essentially changed the political and the social spheres of America. The book however argues that the war was not only involving America and Vietnam but also had the interest of the entire world. Several chapters of this volume link the various reverberations identified there as having traces in Europe, Asia and South Pacific Region.

The chapters also look at the various political and cultural conflicts that Vietnam caused in the allies of America. This chapter too looks at the various dynamics of various alliances as the source of sparking the war. The authors have the mind of exposing the effects of the war as all originating from Vietnam (Daum et al., 2003). This book therefore seeks justice to explain the impact of the war on many parts of the world and its impacts to both social and political factors of America and the world.

Lastly, Franklin speaks about Vietnam War being the first television war representing the atrocities committed on the civilians in Vietnam and the impacts of the war to shaping the political and the social phases of America in Vietnam and other American fantasies. The book presents the irony behind the war. American soldiers commit crimes against humanity that cause the civilians’ endless woes. The soldiers are ruthless. They go ahead to torture even monks in a church. To the monks, these soldiers appear harmless and without ill intentions. They later torture them with both women and girls (Franklin, 2000).


Flores, D. (2014). Memories of War: Sources of Vietnam Veteran Pro- and Antiwar Political Attitudes. 29 (1), 98-119.

Hall, M. K. (2009). Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Hasday, J. L. (2007). The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation. New York: Chelsea House.

Isserman, M., ; Bowman, J. S. (2003). Vietnam War. New York: Facts on File.

Tichenor, D. J., ; Harris, R. A. (2010). A history of the U.S. political system: Ideas, interests, and institutions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

FitzGerald, F. (2009). Vietnam.56 (1), 53-57.

Kazin, M. (2009). Martin Luther King, Jr. and the meanings of the 1960s. 114 (4), 980-989.

Tichenor, D. J., ; Harris, R. A. (2010). A history of the U.S. political system: Ideas, interests, and institutions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Daum, A. W., Gardner, L. C., ; Mausbach, W. (2003). America, the Vietnam War, and the world: Comparative and international perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Franklin, H. B. (2000). Vietnam and other American fantasies. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press.

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