The people of Viet Nam, of course, call it “the American war”.
There’s been a lot of re-visiting of that era recently, as many pundits consider the U.S. loss to be the start of skepticism among American voters about the truthfulness of what our government tells us. There was also the stunning reality that the vaunted U.S. military — at its height in Viet Nam almost 500,000 strong — couldn’t defeat what some referred to at the time as “little men in pajamas” running through tunnels underground. I can’t remember the quote exactly and I couldn’t find the reference online, but I strongly suspect it was more apt to be “gooks in pajamas”, at least when reporters weren’t around.
Lyndon Johnson was furious that the Viet Cong wouldn’t stand and fight — but of course that was the point. Asymmetrical warfare works when you are vastly outgunned but are fighting for your homeland against the latest round of invaders.
I graduated from college in 1967, which was supposed to be the turning point for the U.S. in the war; big battles were to decimate Viet Cong forces. They never did. The Viet Cong suffered the loss of 10 fighters for every one of ours — plus countless civilians killed, villages razed, crops and water supplies destroyed by Agent Orange — but they took their losses and kept coming. The American public eventually turned against the war. Johnson said he wouldn’t run for president again. Nixon and Kissinger negotiated something marginally face-saving that they called a “peace”, and our troops came home. The Viet Namese were left to rebuild their country, and we were left with a powerful memorial in the nation’s capitol honoring our 58,000 dead.
If you forget about that era, or were too young to know much about it, this piece will be interesting. I do think the Viet Nam war has had long echoes in our society, and it behooves all of us to remember why.