The U.S. war in Vietnam eventually became the nation's longest--and also the first war in which the United States failed to achieve its military objective. "What went wrong?" Critics of the war argue that the U.S. failed in Vietnam because nether the government nor the military understood the nature of the war. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon viewed the conflict strictly in Cold War terms as an act of aggression by the Communist "monolith" to take over another part of the world, instead of a civil war in which a former colony was trying to gain its independence from Western colonialism. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara...laments that members of the Johnson administration lacked Asian experts to advise them on the formulation of Vietnam policy.
Another conclusion was advanced by General William Westmoreland and other military leaders of the era. They blamed the civilian government for placing restrictions on the conduct of the war that prevented the military from winning it. In their view, the war could have been won if only the U.S. military had been permitted to take the offensive and bring the war to a swift conclusion. The generals blamed the media for turning the American people against the war.
Many observers have attempted to extract lessons from Vietnam, hoping that the mistakes of the past can be avoided in the future. To many critics of the war, it appeared that the most important mistake was attempting to impose an unsatisfactory regime on a country of no clear importance to U.S. interests...Another possible lesson is that the president and the Congress should not lead the nation into war unless they are confident that they can rally and sustain the support of the American people behind the effort.
In an article in the journal Foreign Affairs (Spring 1985), David Fromkin and James Chace reviewed the full range of lessons that supposedly could be derived from the Vietnam disaster. They concluded that the Vietnam experience...was so complex and unique that it provided no reliable lessons for future policy makers in deciding whether or not to intervene militarily in another country.
Adapted from United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination by John J. Newman and John M. Schmalbach
Three premises form the basis of our study; premises for which you will need to provide the specific evidence as we discuss the Vietnam War.
1. The history of Vietnam is a history of conflict and occupation.
2. The war in Vietnam failed due to political, not military, incompetency.
3. The U.S. learned/failed to learn the lessons Vietnam provided.
Be alert for the support of these statements as you read, listen, and discuss.
First of all, read the textbook pages (Appleby, Joyce, et al. The American Vision. McGraw-Hill/Glencoe: N.p. 2010). Complete the reading guide/question sheet. Compare/contrast two perspectives on the protest movement: "The Port Huron Statement" and Mr. Kennan's response.
Now, read this handout to learn about the counterculture movement. Listen to these songs (lyrics). Complete the worksheet "War Songs" - it deals specifically with the last two, but applies to the others as well.
Introduction to Vietnam worksheet. Be sure you complete the second page, lessons and evidence from the War in Vietnam. It will be good preparation for the test.