A Vietnam War Brief

A Vietnam War Brief

(1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975)

By Beverly Bandler



vietnam warWhat We and Others Might Have Been Spared Had JFK Lived

Various timelines are offered for the Vietnam War, a war of mind-boggling complexity, a blood bath of valor and brutality, ideals and corruption, determination and banality—a war that revealed Americans at their best and at their very worst.

In its entirety, states historian Paul Boyer, the war lasted from 1946 to 1975. [1] Professor George Herring calls the Vietnam War “America’s longest war,” dating it from 1950, the year after China fell to communism, with the fateful U.S. pledge of $15 million worth of military aid to France to help them fight in Vietnam, to 1975, with the fall of Saigon.[3] A commonly used beginning date: 1959, whith  North Vietnam’s first guerilla attacks against the South. 

The official American phase: 1964-1973 dates the beginning of the war from the U.S. Congress response to the debated Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964. The first U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam March 8, 1965; U.S. military personnel in Vietnam peaked in 1969 with more than 500,000. U.S. forces withdrew in 1973.

The number of American casualties: 211,454 – 58,209 dead and 153,245 wounded (2,489 missing).[7] The government of Vietnam’s official estimate for their dead: three million, including two million civilians. One estimate suggests the total Vietnamese dead and wounded is as high as eight million. Between 1961 and 1975 an estimated 10% of the people living in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos died in deaths related to the conflict. 

The U.S. dropped 8 million tons of bombs on Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. This was over three times the amount of bombs dropped throughout the whole of the Second World War and worked out at approximately 300 tons for every man, woman and child living in Vietnam.[5]      The monetary cost to the United States: between 1965-1975: $111 billion, 738 billion in constant FY2011$.[2]

“The Vietnam War was convulsive and traumatic,” wrote historian George C. Herring in 1991, “It set the U.S. economy on a downward spiral. It left America’s foreign policy at least temporarily in disarray, discrediting the postwar policy of containment and undermining the consensus that supported it. It divided the American people as no other since their own Civil War…It battered their collective soul.”[3, 1991]

Filmmaker, author and Vietnam vet Oliver Stone stated in a recent interview: “A recent poll showed that 51 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds now think that the Vietnam War was worth fighting, see the Vietnam War as an American interest. Those people our age, about 70 percent say the Vietnam War was a mistake or even worse.”

The distortion of history is not surprising in a nation that English writer and political activist George Monbiot says makes “a virtue of ignorance.” He writes: “In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves around the earth; only 26% accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government; the math skills of 15 year-olds in the US are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries of the OECD.” [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [4]

As Gore Vidal once mourned: “We learn nothing because we remember nothing.” 


Sources/Vietnam Brief

[1] Boyer, Paul S. Ed. The Oxford Companion to United States History (Oxford Companions). Oxford University Press, USA (July 4, 2001).

[2] Daggett, Stephen.  “Costs of Major U.S. Wars.” Congressional Research Service, 2010-06-29. www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA524288

[3] Herring, GeorgeAmerica’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. McGraw-HillHumanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 5 edition (September 4, 2013).

__“America and Vietnam: The Unending War.” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1991.

__VIDEO: Why We Failed in Vietnam. Washington and Lee University. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlh3b2xX_A8

[4] Monbiot, George.  “The Triumph of Ignorance.” Why morons succeed in US politics. Monbiot, 2008-10-28. http://www.monbiot.com/2008/10/28/the-triumph-of-ignorance/

[5] Simkin, John. “The Vietnam War.” Spartacushttp://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VietnamWar.htm  See also, John Simkin’s excellent history educational website, Spartacus Educational, and  Simkin’s takes on JFK, Allen Dulles, Robert McNamara, Bay of Tonkin.

[6] Stone, Oliver.  “Oliver Stone on 50th Anniversary of JFK Assassination & the Untold History of the United States.” Democracy Now/Alternet,   2013-11-06. http://www.alternet.org/investigations/oliver-stone-50th-anniversary-jfk-assassination-untold-history-united-states

[7] Wikipedia. United States military casualties of war. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war

(ED. NOTE: Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. Bandler attended Sarah Lawrence College (‘59) and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from George Washington University– ‘82)



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