It all started in 1967, with six Vietnam veterans marching together in a peace demonstration. Now, thirty-nine years later, VVAW is still going strong-- continuing its fight for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans.
The Vietnam War started in 1946 when French troops tried to reestablish their colonial power but received open resistence by Ho Chi Minh and his people who wanted an independant Vietnam. In this first phase of the war the USA had not been engaged, having enough trouble with the Cold War and Korea (1950-53). As Vietnam has been a former colony of France the Vietnam Conflict at the beginning was thought to be a 'domestic problem.'
This changed in 1954 when on April 7 President Eisenhower voiced his Domino-theory. Here he compared Southeast-Asia to a game of domino: If one stone falls, all the other stones will eventually fall as well; hence if one south-east-Asian state is communist, the other states would become communist, too.
According to this theory the USA suddenly faced two enemies: the nationalistic communist Vietminh under Ho Chi Minh and the Chinese Communists who had actually supported the Vietminh since 1949.
This threat became even more dangerous in that same year, when only a month later France was defeated in the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu somewhere in the jungle. As a consequence Col. Lansdale from the CIA was sent to Saigon to start paramilitary operations combined with a psychological warfare. This included sabotage, publication fake VM leaflets and the possession of two teams of VMese agents. Still Eisenhower refused to talk about war, 'suffering' too much from Korea. All he did was sending military advisers that helped the building of a native army.
In 1955 the French troops were exchanged against American ones.
When Kennedy became president in 1960 he pointed out the significance of Vietnam, referring to a formal call for help by the SVNese government in 1954. Together with Gen. Taylor he introduced a special warfare, having expected a 'nation building' and brushfire wars. This special warfare contained of counterinsurgency, meaning defense against revolutionary VNese with the help of military, police, administration, economic and social actions. Additional to that it existed of psychological warfare, being psychological-political-ideological counterpropaganda and of unconventional warfare, a guerrilla tactic where 'own' partisans 'live' among the natives. Later he introduced a kill-ratio of three VNese to five VC, but similar to the special warfare no lasting effect had been acchieved.
Against protests by the Army Kennedy also reestablished the Green Berets. They were founded in 1952, connected to the CIA, and thus hated by the regular army. Their motto was 'De oppresse liber' (to free from oppression); their symbol was a sword crossed by arrows on a green barret (hat). Kennedy called them the symbol for striving for perfection, a sign of courage, a seal of distinction in the fight for liberty and freedom. As they were part of the Special Forces they were trained in SVN and then simply dropped over NVN to observe supply routes and destroy them. Though they have been admired a lot the Green Berets soon became known for sadistically outliving insults they had received at home and during childhood.
In 1961 Vice-president Johnson gave a motive for the war, being defending freedom. None-the-less, under the prospect of Thailand and other Southeast-Asian states becoming communist the USA thought that it would be cheaper to interact then than waiting, eventhough conditions were especially unfavourite in VN. Last it had been considered to be a test for America's reliability and alliance-value.
On Nov.1 1963 SVN's president Diem was killed. He had suppressed opposition which had become more violent and open. It even formed an army, FNL, consisting of farmers, monks and others, devoted to fight against Diem and US soldiers. Diem had become a growing threat to the American interests. In Aug.1963 Kennedy ordered the ambassador to VN to organise the putsch of 'President Diem, but tried a series of economic cut-offs first. Then on that day when Diem asked the US ambassador about the attidude of the US; Lodge only replied that he is not 'well enough informed.' He then promised Diem safe-conduct out of the country, but Diem got shot.
21 days later Kennedy was assasinated, leaving behind 15 000 soldiers in VN, 47 dead. They could not have died for nothing, the war went on.
His strategy became known as the indirect American strategy with a policy of building solid, nationalist states with an American security guarantee.
On 4 Aug.1964 the US-ship 'Maddox' was hit by torpedos in the Tonkin-Bay. This event was followed by a resolution passed through Congress. It allowed President Johnson to do all that is necessary to stop aggressive acts by the NVNese. What in fact happened can be suspected as followed: the 'Maddox' was hit once, the Americans tried to provocate the VC, that failed, they put up a spectacle of their own ships, not involving a foreign one, and then claimed to have been attacked.
To Johnson that was part of his election campaign because he needed to look strong against his republican opponent. Though he always put emphasis on no further interference
("We don't want our American boys to fight instead of the Asian boys.") he sent more troops.
In June 1965, justified by the law of nations, the UN-Charta and other responsibilities he started open interference by means of air-war, although there had been no declaration of such.
Other reasons given to the public were to reestablish trust into US-alliance, to heighten the fighting moral, to make it easier for soldiers to land at the front and to punish NVN and make it willing to negotiate.
In fact Johnson did both, fighting and negotiating.
In Dec 1967 he proclaimed solemnly "the enemy cannot win, now, in Vietnam". A month later they were attacked by NVNes and VC-troops. It was the month called TET, and it was the TET-Offensive which caused a trauma in the American nation though it had failed.
Two months later Johnson refused to be reelected and started peace-talks in Paris.
In 1969 Nixon took power. With the help of a secret peace-plan he wanted a 'peace with honour' similar to that with the Koreans. Still when after one and a half years there was no sign of an end people started calling it the 'Mr Nixon War'. Nixon even intesified the war by introducing the 'operation Phoenix' (the village eldest was forced to perform killing quotas per month, even though many had not been VCs), invading Cambodia and Laos. The fighting moral sunk more and more and reports about drug abuse and mutinies came up.
The situation escalated in 1972 with the 'christmas bombings.' Nixon had been fighting and negotiating at the same time. With this bombing he had tried to force President Thieu into an agreement. More bombs were dropped than in the previous three years together.
On Jan. 21, 1973 they agreed on a unified Vietnam.
3.4 mio American soldiers served in the war, 47-57 000 died, 300-153 000 injured
2 mio Vietnames died, 3 mio. injured, 12 mio lost their home
use of Napalm and deforesting chemicals caused ecological catastrophies
costs: highest during LBJ, about $2 billion per month
Vietnam became a synomym for illigitimate violence and use of force
traumatic experience of being the bad guys, lasted until 1981, when Reagan announced that the 'era of self-doubt is over'
historians 'found out' that the moral was on their side and that they did not lose because of the failed TET-Offensive