The Vietnam War
People usually associate the sixties with the hippie movement, free love, drugs and rock-n-roll. It is really easier to think about multicolored fashion and to draw the sign of peace without trying to recall what was the reason for this cultural protest. However, the war in Vietnam became a serious disaster both for the Vietnamese and American people. The conflict continued for almost fifteen years, during which thousands of people were killed, and others still suffer from post-traumatic syndrome.
The reason for that war was fighting for the political influence and the rivalry between the United Stated and the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War. Vietnam was just unlucky to become the place where geopolitical issues were solved during a chess game of the two great countries. Nowadays, it is crucial to remember that the chess game was played with humans, who passed away for the ideas of Communism and Democracy. Only when these history lessons are understood, the mentioned painful experience might not repeat.
In the current essay the opposite viewpoints on the Vietnam War expressed in the articles of Jeffrey Kimball (1997) and Henry Kissinger (2003) are discussed. Kimball (1997) analyzes the reasons of the Soviet Union to participate in the Vietnam War, while Kissinger (2003) analyzes the issues from the American foreign policy. Although both authors write bold arguments to support the idea that their regimes were right, it is difficult to state in the end which article proves the point more effectively. Both of them describe the selfishness of diplomatic motifs of both sides, which caused the deaths of millions of people. It is possible to assume that the main thing that the discussed articles help to understand is that global politics costs much to ordinary people, and in fact the means by which the proclaimed ideas of the opponents were realized were very similar.
In the first article Nonfiction – Ending the Vietnam War: a History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War (Kissinger, 2003) the reasons and the results of the American participation in the Vietnam War are described. Kissinger had to make the American troops go away from Vietnam without losing their pride and even more people. He became the first foreign policy adviser during the presidency of Nixon and the main challenge for Kissinger became to justify thousands of killed American young men for the American society, to step back with dignity in the eyes of the international community and to overcome his own image of the person, who secretly influenced all the decisions of the Vietnam War.
The Cold War is the general theme that dominates the article of Kissinger. Even though the Soviet Union and the United Stated were fighting on one side against Nazi Germany during the World War II, their relationships were not that peaceful. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the USSR, was not content because the Americans refused to treat the new Communist country as the equal part of international community. In their turn, the American government was shocked by the violation of human rights in the tyrannical state of the Soviet Union. The expansion of the Communist ideas in the Eastern Europe and Africa created the feeling that the Soviets decided to control the world and create the “Red Empire”. The atmosphere of a never-ending conflict led to the decades of the arm race.
The Cold War started in 1947 and continued until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The fight between the Eastern Bloc, represented by the USSR, and the Western Bloc, represented by NEO forces and the United States, divided the Vietnam into two parts. Kissinger writes that the United States started to participate in the armed conflict partly from because of the idea of the American exceptionalism and partly from the desire to popularize the democracy even if no one asked them to do it. The communists seemed to be the absolute evil, that was opposite to the democratic West, that is why it was not hard for the American government to explain the reasons to kill thousands of American soldiers on the other side of the world.
The focus of the Cold War shifted from Europe to Asia in 1949, after the Communist party won in China. When France decided to leave its former colonies in Indochina in 1954, as it had no resources to support them anymore, the US got involved in the long-term civil conflict in Vietnam, thinking that it might reduce the spread of Communism in the region. The Northern part of Vietnam was fighting with the American troops, and their weapons and military technologies were superior to the ones of the Southern Communists .
The history of the war in Vietnam is rich in details about cruelty and war crimes. For example, the operation “Ranch Hand”is mentioned which is about making the Vietnamese run away from the jungles by using chemical weapons. Helicopters were supporting the American and the Northern Vietnamese troops during the operations in the jungle because helicopters do not need aerodromes unlike planes. Search and Destroy strategy was about going to the jungles, finding Communists and destroying them. The mission usually implied destroying entire villages, perhaps, not to let the young Communists grow up. Air attacks supported the ground troops and needed to destroy the bases and supply roots of the enemies. Of course, they did not care much about the number of civilians who were killed during bombing.
Kissinger was the first person to blame in the war crimes by the Americans. As the first secretary, he was considered to have immense powers and his personality was vilified. There were caricatures in the press of Kissinger standing behind the throne of the American president and leading secret diplomatic negotiations and secretly deciding to bomb the Vietnamese. In fact, Kissinger tries to fight with the critique for years and the article about ending the war in Vietnam is an attempt to make an excuse for himself and to show that the international politics did not depend upon him that much. Though, it is quite difficult to believe in such statement.
Kimball (1997) analyzes the participation of the Soviet Union in the Vietnam War from the Russian point of view in the article Russia’s Vietnam War. He states that the Western countries like France and then the United States were the first to invade Vietnam and the Soviet government could not leave the Vietnamese communist comrades. In addition, it was strategically right to support the communist regime in the world, because if one country will not receive help from the Soviet Union in difficult times, the others will lose their illusions about the communism. The main point of this article is to give an alternative perspective for the analysis of the Vietnam War, because people rarely study the opponent’s point of view. Though, it is impossible to find one absolutely right and one absolutely wrong side in the war, and everyone has its rationale.
Kimball (1997) writes that the war itself started from the French colonization in Vietnam. The first stage is the occupation of the Mekong delta and Saigon itself in 1859 and 1862. Then, the Tonkin region and Hanoi were annexed to the occupied territory in 1993. The French officials were not showing much courtesy towards the Vietnamese population and the natives were deprived of all civil rights. In addition, they paid numerous high taxes for the goods and for the support of the colonial administration. It is not strange that the nationalist protests against the colonizers arouse in the country, where people were turned into servants for no reason. Nonetheless, the time passed and a generation of the French-educated Vietnamese appeared. They had good jobs and the money the colonizers paid them; thus, they were not able to understand why the lower classes were not content with their lives. The economical and social gap increased, which led to an inevitable civil war.
Kissinger writes that the American nation tried to stop the popularization of the communist ideas. Kimball writes that the actions of the Soviet Union prevented the United States from achieving global hegemony. The Vietnamese were living in the conditions of civil war and social injustice under the occupation of France. Perhaps, the communism was not the worst solution for them in those conditions.
Why One Article is Better
The international politics does not know sentiments, regrets and humanism. Vietnam was nearly ruined both by the Soviet and American soldiers. Thousands of people ended their lives in the jungles for the ideas of winning in the Cold War, that was finished in the future. The question is why did they have to die and to kill the others, and the politics from both sides give their logical explanation to it. Kissinger, as the representative of the American viewpoint, writes that the US participated in the war because it was the question of the national self-esteem, the belief in their exceptional position among other nations and their right to give poor Vietnamese people democracy. Kimball wrote about the Soviet belief in their right to give oppressed Vietnamese equality and communism, in their exceptional position among the other nations and it was also a question of national esteem to the Soviets to help their red comrades.
I really doubt that people had to die for these ideas. They are nothing but words and both Kissinger and Kimball present the same ideas in the way that supports opposite sides. Every fallacy made thousands of people kill each other on the territory that is kilometers from their homes. It is necessary to analyze both sides of the propaganda to understand that the ways of making people go against their human nature are the same and are based on idealistic lies.
In fact, Vietnam managed to live without the help of their Soviet and American comrades, and to restore their country from the ruins of the Cold War. 1976 is the year when the two parts of Vietnam began their reunification process. The old way of managing social and economical life in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam turned out to be ineffective. That it why the government adopted a series of market-oriented reforms in the middle of 1980s, following the example of China, and moving away from the classical socialist system.
It is difficult to imagine how many square kilometers of terrain would be covered with corpses if all people who were killed in Vietnam lied there. The country suffered from the French colonization, civil war and Cold War during a comparatively short period of time. Even though many people know that there were numerous victims in those conflicts, the victims remain faceless in the statistics.
Kimball, Jeffrey P. “Russia’s Vietnam War.” Reviews in American History. 25.1 (1997): 157-162. Print.
Kissinger, Henry, and Evan Thomas. “Nonfiction – Ending the Vietnam War: a History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War.” The New York Times Book Review. (2003): 10. Print.