HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS: The VIETNAM War Revisited
by CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR
It has been 25 years since the United States withdrew from South Vietnam. Some individuals, in both the media and in politics have questioned why, after such a long period of time, Vietnam Veterans can not let the War slide into the past. The irony is that the Veterans from the era are not allowed to forget. With the anniversary, on April 30th, of the fall of Saigon, news agencies covered the "American loss" and the celebrations of Vietnam's freed people. Talking heads discussed the subject in Sunday discourse. Public Television, Arts and Entertainment, and the History Channel continually broadcast an analysis of this "conflict". The media continues to beat the drum of contrition into the ears of the Vietnam Vet.
This presentation by the Press and Hollywood is factually and historically incorrect. The "Vietnam Conflict" has been presented by many members in the media as a war of liberation for Vietnam, where the U.S. soldier, marine, sailor, or airman was the aggressor. It has also trumpeted by these elements that Vietnam was the first war lost by the United States. This is a rewrite of actual events.
To truly understand how the Vietnam War should be actually viewed, perhaps we should seek sources outside the United States.
I was on a flight from Singapore to Madras, India in May 1981, where I read an article by an English author in the Singapore Airlines' Flight Magazine. The author stated that "the United States won the War in Vietnam."
As a Vietnam Vet, this article caught my attention. My only regret today, is that I can not give the author the credit due, as my copy of this article has since been lost.
The author's position was that the United States attained its national security objectives in Vietnam. In the10 years that we fought "in country", the U.S. weakened the military strength of North Vietnam, and we delayed its domination over the Saigon Government. During this period, the United States bough time that was precious to Thailand, Indonesia, and other surrounding nations. These governments had a chance to stabilize and strengthen themselves enough economically to reproach any North Vietnam aggression.
During our time in Vietnam, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) became a regional alliance between six independent nations. It provided an economic coalition, which contained North Vietnam. ASEAN denied membership to Vietnam while the Vietnamese continued military offensiveness. In the late 1980's and early 1990's ASEAN played an important role medicating the civil war in Cambodia.
While the premise echoes of the old domino theory, which former Secretary of Defense MacNamara still tries to discount, the position of the article's author is not invalid. While the motivation may not have been a worldwide monolithic communism, the domino theory in South East Asia is still valid. North Vietnam had the ambition to expand beyond its borders. Their invasion into Cambodia and Laos is evident, with Thai soldiers becoming involved in skirmishes along the western border of Cambodia.
The author's point is positive reinforcement that many others don't share with what is put on the air by American media. I personally take pride in our accomplishments in Vietnam. While the generals may not have been allowed to correctly fight the war, the soldiers in the field did their jobs well. The United States never lost a battle in Vietnam. Even the Tet Offensive was a United States victory, despite media presentation otherwise. At Tet, the Viet Cong were broken as an organization. The war then shifted to an adversarial force dominated by the North Vietnamese.
If the left wing cannot acknowledge the U.S. victories in Vietnam, they should not credit victory to the North. If anything, the Vietnam War was a lose/lose situation. While the U.S. carries psychological scars, Vietnam's economy has been stifled for twenty-five years. The losers of WWII have done far better than the "victor" in Vietnam. The economic strength in Vietnam has centered around Saigon, where black marketeers continue to practice the U.S. legacy of capitalism. The Communist North still is pocked with the damages of the war. Ironically, Vietnam's economy is only now improving with the injection of Western investments, including venture from the United States.
What was wrong in Vietnam was that the war was micro-managed by politicians. From this experience, the military has even learned. The mistakes made in Vietnam have been studied over and over. Curriculums at military schools, like the Naval War College, were revamped to train the current and future leadership of all four commissioned services. The lessons learned from this political war benefited the veterans in Desert Storm and are being used as standards in further conflicts. The Vietnam Veteran can take pride in his or her accomplishments, and in the sacrifices made by friends, and colleagues.
While certain individuals still claim that the United States did not send its "Best or its Brightest", the Vietnam Vet championed our nation in war, changed the course of history, and left a lesson and endowment to the leadership of the United States Military. It's a shame that some of our politicians and many in the media haven't learned the lesson, and begrudge the military veteran any credit of accomplishment. While the "brightest" may have avoided duty to their country, and squirreled their way into business, media, and government management, the BEST of that era did military service; many volunteering for duty in Vietnam.
2. Some interesting numbers courtesy of CAPT Scott Beaton...
These are results of a new survey from THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL FUND Wash DC.
It plays with preconceptions we may have about who Vietnam Veterans really are.
A STATISTICAL PROFILE IN UNIFORM AND IN COUNTRY
* Vietnam Vets: 9.7% of their generation. 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam era (Aug 5, 1964-May 7, 1975).
* 8,744,000 GIs were on active duty during the war (Aug 5, 1964-March 28, 1973).
* 3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the Southeast Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand, and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters).
* 2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (Jan 1, 1965-March 28, 1973).
* Another 50,000 served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964.
* Of the 2.6 million, between 1-1.6 million (40-60%) either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.
* 7,484 women (6,250 or 83.5% were nurses) served in Vietnam.
* Peak troop strength in Vietnam: 543,482 (April 30, 1969).
* Hostile deaths: 47,378.
* Non-hostile deaths: 10,800.
* Total: 58,202 (includes formerly classified as MIA and Mayaquez casualties), subsequently died of wounds account for the hanging total.
* 8 nurses died-1 was KIA.
* Married men killed: 17,539.
* 61% of the men killed were 21 or younger.
* Highest state death rate: West Virginia- 84.1 (national average 58.9 for every 100,000 males in 1970).
* Wounded: 303,704-153,329 hospitalized + 150,375 injured requiring no hospital care.
* Severely disabled: 75,000-23,214 100% disabled; 5,283 lost limbs; 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.
* Amputation or crippling wounds to the lower extremities were 300% higher than in WWII and 70% higher than in Korea.
* Multiple amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4% compared to 5.7% in WWII.
* Missing in Action: 2,338.
* POWs: 766 (114 died in captivity).
DRAFTEES VS. VOLUNTEERS
* 25% (648,500) of total forces in country were draftees. (66% of US armed forces members were drafted during WWII).
* Draftees accounted for 30.4% (17,725) of combat deaths in Vietnam.
* Reservists killed: 5,977.
* National Guard: 6,140 served, 101 died.
* Total draftees (1965-73) 1,728,344.
* Actually served in Vietnam 38%.
* Marine Corps drafted: 42,633.
* Last draftee: June 30, 1973.
RACE AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND
* 88.4% of those who actually served in Vietnam were Caucasian.
* 10.6% were black.
* 1% belonged to other races.
* 86.3% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasian (includes Hispanics)
* 12.5% (7,241) were black
* 1.2% belonged to other races.
* 170,000 Hispanics served in Vietnam; 3,070 (5.2% of total) died there.
* 70% of enlisted men killed were of Northwest European descent.
* 86.8% of the men who were killed as a result of hostile action were Caucasian
* 12.1% (5,711) were black
* 1.1% belonged to other races.
* 14.6% (1,530) of non-combat deaths were among blacks.
* 34% of blacks that enlisted, volunteered for the combat arms.
* Overall, blacks suffered 12.5% of the deaths in Vietnam at a time when the percentage of blacks of military age was 13.5% of the total population.
RELIGION OF DEAD
* 76% of the men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle and working class
* 3/4ths had family incomes above the poverty level; 50% were from middle income backgrounds.
* Some 23% of Vietnam vets had fathers with professional, managerial or technical occupations.
* 79% who served had a high school education or better. 63% of Korean War
and only 45% of WWII vets had completed high school upon separation).
DEATHS BY REGION PER 100,000 OF POPULATION:
WINNING AND LOSING
* 82% of vets who saw heavy combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will.
* Nearly 75% of the public agrees it was a failure of political will, not arms.
* 97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged.
* 91% of actual Vietnam War veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served their country.
* 66% of Vietnam vets say they would serve again if called upon.
* 87% of the public now holds Vietnam veterans in high esteem.