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The Cost Of Vietnam Essay, Research Paper

During the post war period of 1955 to 1992 the United States? was characterized by the occurrence of the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Both these events marked America?s dedication to remaining the sole super power. Resulting in the expression of the people and how they view the legitimacy of national interest.

When Lyndon Johnson took office in November of 1963, there were sixteen thousand United States military personnel in Vietnam as advisors to the South Vietnam army. The president said that he would be committed to a noncommunist government in Saigon and viewed Vietnam as a test for the United States as to how active they would be in fighting communism. President Johnson believed it was in the national interest of the United States to ensure that South Vietnam would not fall to the Communist coup that had overthrown and assassinated Ngo Dinh Diem. The president?s fear was that the collapse of South Vietnam would result in expanded power to China. Second, Johnson?s advisors believed that abandoning South Vietnam stirred doubts in their allies about Washington?s reliability. Secretary of State Dean Rusk posed the question to Johnson that if the United States allowed a take over in Vietnam how could NATO trust Washington?s pledge to West Berlin?# Another reason to take action in Vietnam was economic opportunity. Walt Rostow was vocal about developing the Third World. He believed that by allowing these countries to flourish economically, democracy could be sustained. The situation in Asia remained clear to Johnson, if the United States was going to win the Cold War it would begin in the jungles of Vietnam.

Johnson knew that Vietnam would be a risk in which he could lose support for his landmark legislation ?The Great Society.? With his legacy on the line, Johnson began to protect South Vietnam in 1964. Johnson started with air strikes against the North Vietnamese, which laid the groundwork for a full-scale war, which resulted in the Gulf of Tokin Act. This would follow with Operation Rolling Thunder of 1965. Calling for a large-scale bombing campaign organized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.# To build public support for this operation Johnson would cite recent Vietcong attacks on United States Military installations, including one at the Pleiku in Vietnam?s central highlands responsible for nine American deaths. This still proved to be ineffective in selling the war effort to the public.

The question that American posed to the Johnson Administration was what would constitute victory? According to the president?s advisors the goal of the attacks was not to receive North Vietnam?s surrender or to overthrow their government but to inflict as much damage as possible on Hanoi. Johnson felt this would be the sure way to show that America was not soft on Communism. His agenda was outlined by three steps. The first was a large show of force that would persuade Hanoi to give up the struggle, the second, to prove that a noncommunist government could be established in Saigon, and the last to have the support of the American people long enough for the first two to be achieved. As Johnson would later learn none of these principles would prove sound with the American public and failed in their execution. Johnson?s miscalculations resulted not only in a foreign policy failure but a cultural upheaval that would pave the way for distrust in government.

In Vietnam, the national interest of the United States was to stop the spread of Communism, prevent China from increasing their power in Asia, and to promote democracy through economic opportunity in the Third World. The Johnson Administration set out with good intentions to achieve these goals but failed to show that the plan of action was worthy of execution. The problems in Vietnam rested not only in the legitimacy of the war but with the support of the American people and the media. As Johnson found it difficult to sell the war, the American people continued to reject the United States? involvement.

After Vietnam, Americans could no longer unquestioningly accept certitudes about the nation?s benign world role. Stanley Hoffman, professor of government at Harvard, looked back on the ordeal in 1979. He wrote, ?At the root of this tree of evils one finds an extraordinary arrogance, a self-intoxicating confidence in our capacity to manipulate our societies.? Through the Vietnam experience, as a theologian put it, America lost its innocence and learned the meaning of sin.# This idea that America?s national interests were undermined through the involvement of the Vietnam War were not uncommon. It explained the cultural change that swept through the United States and changed social history forever.

In the Gulf War of 1991, President George Bush would learn from the failures of Vietnam and make sure that the American people could recognize America?s national interest. Unlike the Vietnam War, the enemy of the United States would be clearly defined in Saddam Hussein. Dubbed as the ?Second Coming of Hitler? by President George Bush it was evident to the world that the United States must do something to stop this dictator for many reasons. The first would be a unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council for the withdrawal from Kuwait and authorized member states to use all means necessary to achieve this end. Second the humanitarian rights of the people of Kuwait were in jeopardy with control of a dictator like Hussein. Saddam had roused fears with his anti-Israel threats, his hostility to other Arab states, and his nuclear-and chemical-weapons research. However, the most important concern of the United States was energy. Since Kuwait controlled 63% of the United States? oil production it could not risk the loss of this essential commodity. President Bush proved that involvement in defending the tiny nation of Kuwait would be in the national interest of the United States.

President Bush?s approval from the American people was due from the lessons he had learned from Vietnam. The war played very well on TV. Unlike the shots from Vietnam that depicted death or human suffering, the Pentagon restricted press access to only shots of abandoned Iraqi equipment and edited shots of bombs exploding on distant targets. These well-crafted images would solidify the national interest in the Gulf War with the American people and bury the miscalculations of the Vietnam.

Both wars pointed out the importance of the American people and how they determine what is best for the national interest of the country. Even though Lyndon Johnson and George Bush helped begin the war, the American public decided if it is worth fighting. Through media and technology their opinions were formed. Whether the Gulf War was actually more justifiable than the Vietnam War remains in question. What remains true is that the interest of a nation can be determined at will and most of the time is manipulated for the attainment of a political agenda. Both wars pose the question of what really constitutes a true national interest? This is a question that may never be answered.


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