By 1973, over two-thirds of the U.S. population believed that the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War had been a mistake according to Peter Sperlich and William Lunch. This is because America faced many problems as it attempted to conduct the war in Vietnam. These problems ranged from the difficult combat conditions to growing anti-war sentiment stateside. Ultimately, these problems forced the US to withdraw its troops from Vietnam, resulting in the ultimate victory of Communist forces in Vietnam.
During the Cold War, presidents from Truman to Reagan felt it necessary to stop the spread of communism wherever it could be found. Consequently, when President Lyndon B. Johnson finally committed troops to Vietnam in 1965, he was doing so because of a political and moral imperative to rid the Vietnam peninsula of Communism. According to U.S. thinking, this was a war that would not end until the U.S. was victorious. This Cold War mentality meant the U.S. entered into a war from which there was only one possible exit: the defeat of Communism in Vietnam. This caused American leadership to keep troops in Vietnam long past the point at which such a victory was an attainable goal.
The Vietnam War was hugely unpopular in America for a number of reasons. First, many objected to America’s interventionist policy. Such people felt sending U.S. troops into a foreign country that did not pose an immediate military threat to U.S. citizens was inappropriate. Additionally, many objected to the war on ethical grounds. They viewed some of the actions of the war as horrifying atrocities. A prime example of this is the My Lai massacre in which U.S. troops murdered between 300 and 500 unarmed Vietnamese citizens in the small village of Son My. The war's unpopularity sparked numerous protests, which put pressure on elected officials to end the war or be voted out of office. Prime among these officials was President Johnson, who was often the direct target of protesters' chants such as "Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?"
On the ground in Vietnam, U.S. forces faced challenging environmental conditions as they tried to engage an elusive enemy. Much of the fighting in Vietnam took place in hot, wet jungle terrain. Soldiers suffered from heat stroke, malaria, trench foot, fungal infections and other ailments brought about by hot, humid conditions. America's opponent -- the Vietcong -- were well-trained in guerilla warfare and extremely knowledgeable of the country’s terrain, being native Vietnamese.
Media coverage of the Vietnam war was extensive, making it one of the most publicized wars U.S. history, according to the University of Texas' "Reimagining the Vietnam War." While this expanded coverage resulted in a better-informed public, it also meant that US citizens could actually witness the horrors of war. Television news programs broadcast images of soldiers engaged in combat. Sometimes it would show wounded soldiers, or caskets filled with soldiers killed in action. These images added fuel to the already burning fire of anti-Vietnam sentiments.
- A People's History of the United States: The Impossible Victory: Vietnam; Howard Zinn
- People Power Over War Amendment Proposed 1971; Ernest Bolt
- History Today: "Turning Points in the Vietnam War" by Viv Sanders
- University of Texas Open Websites: Reimagining the Vietnam War: Media Coverage
- University of Texas Open Websites: Reimagining the Vietnam War: Anti-War
- Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images