The Myths Of Vietnam Essay

5552 words - 22 pages

Contending versions of the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement began to develop even before the war ended. The hawks' version, then and now, holds that the war was winnable, but the press, micromanaging civilian game theorists in the Pentagon, and antiwar hippies lost it. . . . The doves' version, contrarily, remains that the war was unwise and unwinnable no matter what strategy was employed or how much firepower was used. . . Both of these versions of the war and the antiwar movement as they have come down to us are better termed myths than versions of history because they function less as explanations of reality than as new justifications of old positions and the emotional investments that attended them (Garfinkle, 7).

Pro-war or Anti- war. In the generation alive during the 1960s and 1970s, few, if any, Americans could avoid taking a position on the United States' role in Southeast Asia. As the above quotation from Adam Garfinkle suggests, positions taken in the 1990s, over twenty years after hostilities ended, serve both as an explanation for the U.S. defeat and justification for the positions taken during the war. The hawks' view justifies those who served in Vietnam and appears to give meaning to the deaths of the 58,000 Americans who died there. Those who protested the war or evaded the draft can tell themselves that their actions were justified because the war was immoral, unwinnable and just plain stupid.

American combat involvement ended in 1973. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. Even though the U.S. military forces pulled out of Vietnam 25 years ago, the United States continues to be haunted by the specter of Vietnam. Even the most cursory review of the 1980s and 1990s reveals shadows of Vietnam. A few brief examples:

- Controversy over the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D. C.
- Frequent references to Afghanistan as the U.S.S.R.'s Vietnam.
- George Bush's promise not to make Kuwait "another Vietnam" in 1991.
- Bill Clinton's attempts to avoid military service and whether those attempts were
justified.
- Comparisons between Gulf War Syndrome and Agent Orange-related health problems among
veterans.
- Continuing questions about whether N.A.T.O. involvement in the former Yugoslavia
could become "another Vietnam."

While the controversy over the war has often been reduced to simplistic pro-war or anti-war arguments as illustrated in the opening quotation, a more nuanced reading of post-war literature shows many more areas of controversy. All of these controversies cross over from hawks to doves and back again. Much of the post-war controversy over Vietnam can be summarized in four "myths".

The first myth is that the micormanaging civilians in Washington lost an otherwise winnable conflict. A second myth deals with the degree to which the radical, countercultural anti-war movement forced President Nixon to end the war. A third is the "Rambo" myth which claims that...

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