Vietnam War and Democracy
Before America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Vietnam had been involved in a war with the French for decades and China for centuries for their independence. During the US war with Vietnam, North Vietnam was supported by communist countries, while South Vietnam was supported by countries against communism- which was the reason given to Americans as to why we were joining the battle. This proxy war ended in 1975 when Nixon finally pulled the US out due to its unpopularity and the turmoil it caused on American soil. Thanks in part of its first of a kind media coverage which was broadcasted on the television, ordinary Americans who first supported the war joined intellectuals and students in anti-war marches and protests that escalated and cost the lives of students, and ultimately, convinced the president of the United States to end the war in Vietnam.
The French occupied Vietnam to exploit them for cheap labor, but eventually Vietnam nationalists were able to take back their country thanks Ho Chi Minh who was a communist and loved by the people. The French government left Vietnam and free elections were to be held in two years. The US was concerned that Ho Chi Minh would be victorious and would bring the south and north parts of Vietnam together as a communist country. Despite Ho being a Nationalist and having the support of the Vietnam people, the US set up their own puppet in South Vietnam by providing Ngo Dinh Diem with financial and public relations support because of their concerns of communism spreading.
What I have learned from this, is that we meddled in their election, instead of helping Vietnam become democratic, we rigged their system and placed someone in power that, had we not meddled, may have not been elected. Our American ideals clouded our judgement, and instead of truly being the world’s peacekeeper, we have been the world’s Grim Reaper. If the majority of people want a communist leader, have they not democratically made their choice? Do we only support democracy when people make the choice we want them to make? Placing Dinh in power failed because it was not organic, and appointing yourself as a referee, you need to be sure that you are honest enough to not have favorites, and not help your favorite team win. This war was not about doing the right thing for Vietnam, this was a power-struggle between big countries using Vietnam soil. China and the Soviet Union were supportive to Ho Chi Mingh, and the US did not care that the people supported Ho, they were simply against Vietnam becoming a communist country.
Government was free to report war news to its citizens as they chose before the Vietnam War. Television stations now had the capacity to broadcast coverage on their news channels to show its audience what was actually happening. Though some soldiers were told to tell their stories differently than how they truly happened, Americans were now getting more pieces of the truth than they had before. War was now “real” and the glory of war had now been unmasked, showing the horror that it truly is. Television showed the soldiers behaving in the same ways that the enemy behaved, doing the same atrocities that we looked down on our enemy for.
For those married to, or parents of someone in combat, seeing these images of war was especially stressful, though that coverage was also stressful for men who fell into the age bracket who were eligible to be drafted. This coverage gave citizens the reason to protest an unwinnable and costly war.
The war being televised is important because it gave people a glimpse of the truth. Freedom of the press is crucial in keeping citizens informed, and is crucial to our checks and balances to keep Government honest. Despite Government trying to spin the war and hide the fact that not only were we not winning, but there seemed no end in sight. The images gave men who were drafted a glimpse of what was waiting for them, and the rest of the country what we were exposing our youth to.
The antiwar movement originally started with a small group of intellectuals in college campuses, but grew in size when the war escalated and seemed unwinnable. College students, who are encouraged to rationalize scrutinize everything and think for themselves, did not agree to a war that had no clear objectives, had taken many lives on all sides, and men were being recruited to die for something they did not believe in.
When the movement first happened, these protesters were seen as un-American, communists, and cowards. “Kids” were supposed to listen to authority, they were supposed to do as they were told, they were expected to follow orders, and they were expected to be soldiers off the field in their mentality. Finally, the war took too long, the coverage you saw on the television became too real, and the draft threatened your safety, or the safety of someone you cared for. Some men fled to Canada to avoid going to Vietnam, others burned their draft cards and risked being imprisoned. The draft became a social issue since men from wealthy families could get deferments; most of the men that were drafted were working class and poor. “American forces in Vietnam included twenty-five percent poor, fifty-five percent working-class, twenty percent middle-class men, but very few came from upper-classes families” (Valentine). Finally, when enough people protested and marched, democracy finally won and Nixon formally ended the war in Vietnam.
The freedom of assembly was violated then and it continues to be now. Activists is what has made America the country that it is today. We have power in protests, we must make our voices heard, and changes need to be made when the majority have spoken. That is what a democracy is. Allowing something to happen simply because it is the law is cowardly, in order to live in a country we can be proud of, we must keep it accountable, and we must not be afraid to face harm for speaking our mind. While the United States intervened in making Vietnam a democratic country, we failed to keep our standards of democracy on our own land. We brought war onto our schools, and made the draft-eligible students our enemy.
War, unfortunately, is a necessary evil, however it must be used only when there isn’t any other way, once diplomacy has been exhausted and sanctions have proven to be useless. We must allow countries to rise up and find their voice, and help where needed, but we cannot and should not interfere and rig their elections. If the United States has placed itself as an example of a democratic Nation, we must hold ourselves to a much higher standard. Shooting at those who protest is a violation to our rights. Peacefully and even slightly aggressively protesting should not end in death, it is our civic right, duty and our responsibility as American citizens. Maurice Zeitlin (Kenner) said it best:
I have only respect for the men who fought in that war, because they didn’t make the war, they didn’t choose to fight in that war, but they accepted a responsibility that they thought was theirs as an American citizen, okay? They carried the burden of being an American citizen. When they were sent to war, they fought. And I carried the burden, not at all comparable, of being an American citizen by opposing that war. And I had the choice and they didn’t. And, for that, I was privileged and they weren’t, but we were both doing our duty.