What Were The Long Term International Effects Of The Vietnam War? History Essay

4401 words - 18 pages

What were the long-term international effects of the Vietnam War? Analyse with respect to America’s experience.
This essay explores the long-term impact of the Vietnam War (1955-75) on America’s role in the international system. This 20-year conflict had a catastrophic total death toll of over two million and caused the deaths of 58,000 American soldiers, with 150,000 wounded and many more psychologically harmed; it toppled a president, altered American foreign policy, and reshaped the entire American zeitgeist and national self-image.[footnoteRef:1] It has been etched into the country’s history and the collective consciousness of its people, causing more controversy and debate than perhaps any other war in American history among the public, the political establishment, and the academic community. For historians, it is widely believed that the conflict initiated a cascade of social, economic, and political consequences with respect to America’s international position. This essay examines these from a long-term perspective, taking “long term”, which is a concept that lacks a clear definition and is explored in the analysis, to mean a period of time ranging from years to decades. It is structured both thematically and chronologically: the first sections discuss how public discontent over the length, cost, and conduct of the war drove political change domestically, which was then expressed as a new foreign policy approach; the following sections consider the geopolitical consequences of this as well as its impact on America’s economy on the world stage. The final section concludes, considering the legacy of each of these offshoots of the conflict, and whether any have persisted into the present day. [1: John Prados, Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War (University Press of Kansas, 2009), 11-21.]
The Vietnam War had an important indirect impact on American foreign policy, causing a surge of anti-war sentiment among the population. Discontent had been fomenting during the late 1960s, coming to a head in 1970 with a large, violent protest at Kent State University in which four students were killed.[footnoteRef:2] This continued in subsequent years, with a violent protest in Jackson State University and further loss of life. The movement gathered support from a diverse array of people, ranging from scholars such as Noam Chomsky to factory workers and religious figures, with ranks bolstered by popular celebrities like Mohammed Ali. Opposition to the war was partly due to the costly, protracted nature of the conflict, but also the manner in which it was conducted. There was considerable public anger over efforts to conceal information or mislead the public, beginning with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (1964), which was arguably fabricated in order to justify military escalation, and culminating with the revelation in the leaked Pentagon Papers (1971) that the war was considered unwinnable.[footnoteRef:3] These events led pundits to begin using the...

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