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Lesson Learned: Vitnam And The Gulf War Essay, Research Paper

Lessons Learned: Vietnam and the Gulf War

No new taxes. This is a quote that most all of us remember from the 1992 presidential election. Along with it we remember that there were new taxes during that presidents term in office. There are a myriad of promises made and things done in a presidential election year that have questionable motives as to whether they are done in the best interest of the people or in the interests of the presidential candidate. These hidden interests are one of the biggest problems with the political aspects of government in modern society. One of the prime examples of this is the Vietnam War. Although South Vietnam asked for our help, which we had previously promised, the entire conflict was managed in order to meet personal political agendas and to remain politically correct in the world s eyes rather than to bring a quick and decisive end to the conflict. This can be seen in the selective bombing of Hanoi throughout the course of the Vietnam War. Politically this strategy looked very good. However, militarily it was ludicrous. War is the one arena in which politicians have no place. War is the military s sole purpose. Therefore, the U. S. Military should be allowed to conduct any war, conflict, or police action that it has been committed to without political interference or control because of the problems and hidden interests which are always present when dealing with political aspect of a situation.

United States involvement in the Vietnam War actually began in 1950 when the U. S. began to subsidize the French Army in South Vietnam. This involvement continued to escalate throughout the 1950 s and into the early 1960 s. On August 4, 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred in which American Naval Vessels in South Vietnamese waters were fired upon by North Vietnam. On August 5, 1964 President Johnson requested a resolution expressing the determination of the United Sates in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in southeast Asia ( Johnson ). On August 7, 1964, in response to the presidential request, Congress authorized President Johnson to take all necessary measures to repel any attack and to prevent aggression against the

U. S. in southeast Asia ( United States ). The selective bombing of North Vietnam began immediately in response to this resolution. In March of the following year U. S. troops began to arrive.

Although the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution specifically stated that we had no military, political, or territorial ambitions in southeast Asia, the interests back home were quite a different story ( Johnson ). The political involvement in Vietnam was about much more than just promised aid to a weak country in order to prevent the spread of communism. It was about money. After all, wars require equipment, guns, tools and machinery. Most of which was produced in the United States. It was about proving America s commitment to stop communism. Or rather to confine communism in its present boundaries But most of all it was about politics. The presidential political involvement in Vietnam had little to do with Vietnam at all. It was about China for Eisenhower, about Russia for Kennedy, about Washington D.C. for Johnson, and about himself for Nixon ( Post ). The last two of which were the major players in America s involvement in regards to U. S. Troops being used ( Wittman ).

The military involvement in Vietnam is directly related to the political management of the military throughout the war. The military controlled by the politicians. The micro management of the military by the White House for political gain is the primary reason for both the length and cost, both monetary and human, of the Vietnam War ( Pelland ). One of the largest problems was the lack of a clear objective in the war and the support to accomplish it. The predominant military opinion of the military s role in Vietnam in respect to the political involvement is seen in the following quote by General Colin Powell, If you re going to put into something then you owe the armed forces, you owe the American People, you owe just you re own desire to succeed, a clear statement of what political objective you re trying to achieve and then you put the sufficient force to that objective so that you know when you ve accomplished it. The politicians dictated the war in Vietnam, it was a limited war, the military was never allowed to fight the war in the manner that they thought that they needed to in order to win it ( Baker ).

To conclude on the Vietnam War, the political management of the war made it unwinnable. The military was at the mercy of politicians who knew very little about what needed to be done militarily in order to win the war. There is an enormous difference between political judgment and military judgment. This difference is the primary reason for the outcome of the Vietnam War ( Schwarzkopf ).

The Gulf War in the Middle East was almost the exact opposite in respect to the political influence on the war. In respect to the military objective of the war the two are relatively similar. The objective was to liberate a weaker country from their aggressor. The United Nation s resolution was explicit in its wording regarding military force in the Persian Gulf. The resolution specifically stated by all means necessary. ( Schwarzkopf ).

The President was very aware of the problems with political management of warfare throughout the war. He was very determined to let the military call the shots about how the war was conducted. He made a specific effort to prevent the suggestion that civilians were going to try to run the war ( Baker ). Painful lessons had been learned in the Vietnam War, which was still fresh on the minds of many of those involved in this war ( Baker ).

The military was given full control to use force as they saw fit. Many of the top military leaders had also been involved in the Vietnam War. These men exhibited a very strong never again attitude throughout the planning stages of this war. General Schwarzkopf made the following statement about the proposed bombing of Iraq in regards to the limited bombing in Vietnam, I had no doubt we would bomb Iraq if I was going to be the Military Commander. He went on to say that it would be absolutely stupid to go into a military campaign against his, Iraq s, forces who had a tremendous advantage on us on the ground, numbers wise. It would be ludicrous not to fight the war in the air as much, if not more, than on the ground ( Schwarzkopf ).

The result of the Gulf War in which the military was given control, as we know, was a quick, decisive victory. There were many other factors involved in this than just the military being given control, particularly in contrast to Vietnam, but the military having control played a major part in this victory.

In conclusion, although there are some major differences between the two conflicts one fact can be seen very clearly. That is the fact that the military is best suited for conducting wars. Politicians are not. It is not the place of a politicians to be involved in the decision making process in regards to war or military strategy. The White House has significant control in military matters. That control should be used to help the military in achieving its goals as it was in the Gulf War where George Bush said specifically to let the military do its job. The only alternative to this is to use political influence in the same way that it was used in Vietnam. If we do not learn from these lessons that are so obvious in the differences between these two conflicts then we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes. Lets just pray that it does not take the death of another 58,000 of America s men to learn that the politicians place is not in war but in peace ( Roush ).

Interview with General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander-in-Chief, Central Command. Frontline WGBH Educational Foundation. PBS, College Station. 9-10 Jan. 1996.

Interview with Secretary of State, James Baker. Frontline WGBH Educational Foundation. PBS, College Station. 9-10 Jan. 1996.

Johnson, Lyndon B. The Tonkin Gulf Incident. Message to Congress. Aug. 5, 1964. Department of State Bulletin 24 Aug. 1964: n.p.

Leyden, Andrew P. The Operation Desert Storm Debriefing Book Internet Page. University of Notre Dame Law School. 15 Feb. 1995.

Pelland, Paul. E-mail to the author. 25 June 1996.

Post, James N. E-mail to the author. 26 June 1996

Roush, Gary. Statistics about the Vietnam War Internet Page. Nov. 1993.

United States, Joint Resolution of Congress H. J. RES 1145. Aug. 7, 1964. Department of State Bulletin 24 Aug. 1965.

Wittman, Sandra M. Chronology of the Vietnam War. Vietnam: Yesterday and Today Oakton Community College. Skokie, Illinois. 16 May 1996: n.p.

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