The Vietnam War lasted just under a decade but conflict in the area had been seen for well over thirty years. It all started as a civil war between the South Vietnamese people and their government. As the government of Vietnam was struggling and fear of defeat was becoming more and more apparent, the US were called to help.
After this exhausting decade of non-stop fighting and controversy, the US withdrew in 1973. There were many reasons for this such as, media that was giving coverage of the war to around the world. Governmental pressures, what president would take the next move? Economic build up because the cost of the war was so great. Also guerrilla warfare tactics used by the southern Vietnamese to oppress the US being there.
In this essay I will aim to show a mix of media attention and governmental pressures as the main reasons for US withdrawal.
The most important reason was because of media coverage. This was the first full scale war to be seen worldwide, (especially in America). Television, newspaper and radio reports and broadcasts were not censored so the public saw near to every detail of the fighting. They saw the frustration of American soldiers when they didn’t understand the reasons for them being there and when they didn’t understand a word of the locals language. Americans back home also saw their US soldiers using an army tactic known as “search and destroy” this was used often to find any NLF soldiers. This was a mission, which did just that, search for any NLF either being successful, or unsuccessful they would destroy vital crops and many resources the locals needed. Also they burnt homes causing mass destruction, (can bee seen in the film made shortly after the war had finished, by an ex-soldier who fought in many Vietnamese battles: “PLATOON”) causing the South Vietnamese to turn against the US soldiers. Only few US soldiers actually gained any trust from the Southern Vietnamese. When Americans saw these events on television and read about them in headlined newspaper reports, even heard songs they turned against war and started to hate the fact that their government were forcing America to be so one sided.
While the fighting continued the southern Vietnamese were feeling the same as the US back home. They lived in fear and relied on the NLF troops, this causes guerrilla warfare being another main reason to why the American troops withdrew from Vietnam. The National Liberation Front, known as the NLF (or the Vietcong to the US) were celled groups of Southern Vietnamese people supplied by a leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Mihn. It was an encouragement of different armed and training groups to join together and become “a more powerful and effective resistance.” – ‘Vietnam war’ John Simpkin. They were well organised and weren’t really an army at all, they wore no uniform-perfect disguise, and were only cells of up to ten people so were quite ignorant of each other’s position but working to the same aim, bringing down their government. The reason I think guerrilla warfare tactics is a main reason is because I feel it wore down the offensive US. The tactics were to grind down the US by making them fight in Southern Vietnamese conditions, to adjust to a very different climate and totally unknown terrain
This put pressure on the US to do their very best but under these tough conditions they couldn’t so were starting to lose morale. This links with another reason to back up guerrilla warfare tactics wore down the American troops so they withdrew. The government saw the soldiers didn’t want to be there just as much as the American people didn’t want them there because of media coverage they saw few up’s but many down’s they had seen the war through the eyes of a soldier. This caused a mix of emotions in the government of the USA and the actual soldiers feelings.
As the soldiers stepped off the planes, half way around the world, the body bags of fellow soldiers were loaded on. And at only an average age of nineteen years old, being so far away from anyone they really loved caused their minds to ask why they were really there. Both soldiers and American publics no longer understood what they were fighting for and whom they were fighting for. But when one hundred and nine innocent Southern Vietnamese people were murdered at My Lai the Americans saw the pointlessness of giving into this evil cycle of killings. Media coverage again showed, sometimes live, on television broadcasts this brutality. The protests for peace now turned into riots causing the government to re-think sending more troops. At this time withdrawal was no option but was now starting to look as optimistic as ever.
This now links with governmental pressures being a main cause in the chain of withdrawal reasons, they had to step in. L.B Johnson was a president who didn’t keep his public promise; he sent more troops to fight when they weren’t necessarily needed. Americans saw him as more of a “fool” than a worthy president. This was his road to failure. When Johnson was forced to step down for the way he had ‘handled’ the situation, Richard Nixon was elected. He promised his people he would control the situation by slowly withdrawing troops and passing the responsibility to the South Vietnamese. ‘Vietnamisation’ had begun in 1969. This was very popular with the public and the media loved this new way of thinking, media attention was quite good toward him. Nixon’s next move was to try and stop, if not shortage the supply of Vietcong (NLF) by attacking the Ho Chi Mihn trail of tunnels in Cambodia. Large-scale bombs were used to destroy vital areas/links of the tunnels. The US thought that the bombs would turn southern Vietnamese mood sour.
The trails were also supplied by communist China, but the people back home now realised how little they cared about saving a country from communism that was so far from themselves. Americans knew that their economy from the second world war had improved so much that communism was no longer such a threat. Nixon had pulled out most troops by 1971; it then took only two years for all to withdraw. Peace was looking optimistic but America had still lost a chink of its dignity and not to mention the amount of money they had spent.
Economy was in no doubt a significant reason for alarm; it was struggling. This is another valid reason for withdrawal in 1973. The US government had spent way over “budget”. Taxes had to be raised to fuel expenses, as most weaponry had been stolen/captured by the Vietcong and used against them. Mainly the US had spent a lot on chemical weapons such as “agent orange” and “agent blue” these were to stop the Vietnamese growing crops so they would be more dependant on the US. This again didn’t swing the Southern Vietnamese vote. Unfortunately for US reputation, some of the money was spent on drugs and prostitution in Vietnam so the soldiers could try to get away from the horrors of killings etc. many were left mentally scared causing money after the war to be spent on their health. Well over $100 billion of US money was spent throughout the war.
The government felt yet again more pressure to hand over responsibility so vietnamisation was now the only option, making a link with governmental pressures. The media again had their say in this process, causing riotous mobs to from outside government building protesting about this tax increase therefore the US public were the ones who suffered when economics were concerned.
War with US involvement had now finished so the Southern Vietnamese now could liberate themselves and continue to fight their way using guerrilla warfare tactics. Possibly changing the Western World was not for them, neither being controlled by the USA.
To conclude I am going to answer the title question with media coverage and governmental pressures being the reasons why the US withdrew its forces from Vietnam by 1973. The reasons for me choosing both are because I think media triggered off pressure in the government of America. It showed the people of the US what was going on, with uncensored news reports being shown around the clock. This turned peoples view into bitter hatred toward the US soldiers being out there so the government had to step in to control the situation. By electing a new president the US could try to balance money and troops as well as start to propaganda-rise its media attention to sway Americans attention to what good they were actually doing.
Thanks to the power of cinema and film a worldwide public can see what really happened, even if it is glittered up for Hollywood the truth still comes out. For instance when I saw the film “PLATOON”, it made me realise the true extent to the soldiers frustration of not understanding a great deal about what they were doing out in Vietnam, not to mention because they didn’t understand a word of the Southern Vietnamese language. Senseless violence was the only alternative so the media latched on to it and showed the American public causing uproar.