Sunday, April 5, 2015

Week 2 - Mainstream History

Michelle Dang
Nicky Vu
Nancy Nguyen
Janet Supol

  • What were the main motivations for U.S. involvement in Viet Nam?
    • “Domino Theory” - To contain the “spread” of communism
    • Gulf of Tonkin Incident - Falsified attack on USS Maddox used to justify deployment of troops
  • What are the lasting consequences of the Viet Nam War?
    • Cynicism and harsh criticism of war and perceived US aggression
    • Protest culture - Now seen as accept to be critical of government in war
  • Why are these views still prevalent in the U.S.?
    • Negative views of U.S. involvement are still prevalent because the U.S. is still to this day participating in wars with other nations that may be better off left unaided
  • Who tends to adopt these views?
    • Those who adopt these views are the people who have seen and experienced the consequences of wars, such as the Viet Nam War in which U.S. involvement only resulted in more deaths than necessary

“The American Involvement” - Sucheng Chan

Sucheng Chan's article, "The American Involvement," examines the events of the Vietnam War in regards to U.S. involvement. American participation in Viet Nam actually dates back 20 years to the First Indochina War in which the U.S. funded France's military efforts (44). After the Korean War and the First Indochina War ended in military and political stalemates and Communists ruled China, American foreign policymakers feared Communist expansion in Asia (45). Thus, one of the main motivations for U.S. involvement in Viet Nam was the "Domino Theory" in which it was speculated that if one country was ruled by Communists, the neighboring countries would follow in a domino effect. In order to prevent the spread of communism, the U.S. supported Ngo Dinh Diem's non-communist regime in South Vietnam and became militarily and politically involved in Viet Nam. Another motivation for U.S. involvement was the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In July 1964, the U.S. increased surveillance efforts by using the U.S. destroyer, the Maddox, to sail to the Gulf of Tonkin and collect electronic surveillance data (49). However, the Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats and soon afterwards, President Johnson declared retaliatory attacks against North Vietnam (49). As a result, the U.S. began to drop bombs on Viet Nam—starting with the Ho Chi Minh Trail—along with napalm and defoliants (50).
However, it was not just the Vietnamese people who were dying; the number of deaths of American troops was increasing rapidly. In addition, the U.S. was spending two billion dollars per month on the war (53). Thus, President Nixon adopted "Vietnamization," which was the strategy of pulling American troops out of Viet Nam and training South Vietnamese troops to fight the war (53). However, since the Americans controlled the fighting of the war, once the U.S. withdrew its troops in 1973 and U.S. aid decreased, the South Vietnamese troops could not continue fighting (59). This was due to the fact  that it was difficult to fight an American-style war without all of the supplies and equipment necessary.
Eventually, the South Vietnamese government collapsed. General Cao Van Vien states that one of the reasons for South Vietnam's collapse was that the cutoff of U.S. military seriously affected the combat capability and morale of the troops and population (61). With the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, which marked the end of the Viet Nam War, the U.S. attempted to evacuate Americans and the Vietnamese people (61). U.S. officials had to find sponsors for the refugees and resettle the refugees (64). Even after the American evacuation and resettlement efforts ended, refugee-seekers continued to leave Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam by boat (65). They sought refuge in countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Hong Kong (68). Mainly, there were many refugees who escaped Viet Nam to come to America. The lasting consequences of the Viet Nam War is that there is cynicism and harsh criticism of war and perceived U.S. aggression. Protest culture has become popular in which it is now seen as acceptable to be critical of the government in times of war. These negative views of U.S. involvement are still prevalent because the U.S. is still to this day participating in wars with other nations that may be better off left unaided. Those who adopt these views are the people who have seen and experienced the consequences of wars, such as the Viet Nam War in which U.S. involvement only resulted in more deaths than necessary.

“Framing Vietnam” - Jenefer Shute

Jenefer Shute's "Framing Vietnam" explores multiple Hollywood films about the Viet Nam War. The films from the 1970s  and 1980s showed the Viet Nam War as a moral and psychological crisis (267). Cimino's The Deer Hunter fails to make a political connection between its Western iconography and the Vietnam War (268). It does not include much historical accuracy. In the film, Cimino "establishes no continuity between the society they inhabit and the society that sends them to Vietnam" and shows Vietnam as something that simply happens to them (268). Coppola's Apocalypse Now includes a lot of
mythic components and explores the continuity between Vietnam and the sixties culture back home (268). Stone's Platoon does not present the war as spectacle (269). Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, the most complex and analytical of these Viet Nam films, focuses on dismantling myths rather than restoring them (270). In Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams perceives the war as a big joke (273).
Ultimately, U.S. filmmakers seem to be unwilling or unable to confront the tragic reality of the Viet Nam War because they mainly rely on myth in their films (274). They do not consider the real political implications and the importance of historical accuracy. It may be that they do not want to highlight the faults of the U.S. and instead, want to emphasize the heroic behaviors of the American soldiers. In addition, the filmmakers are only showing the perspectives of Americans and not those of the Vietnamese people, so there is a bias that exists due to the lack of perspectives provided. The audience will thus be more inclined to express sympathy for Americans, even though the Vietnamese people suffered from the actions of the U.S. in Viet Nam. At the end of the article, the author points out that American Hollywood filmmakers may not be able to create a film that captures an accurate vision of the war; it can only be accurately envisioned and executed by the victims of the war—the Vietnamese people (274).

Robert McNamara’s “The Lessons of Vietnam”

In “The Lessons of Vietnam,” Robert McNamara questions whether the Soviet or Chinese behavior would be different if the United States had not entered the war in the 1960s (320). McNamara disagrees with the fact that the post-Cold War period would have been different from the past (321). He lists eleven major causes for the disaster in Vietnam (321-323). By acknowledging the conflicts of the Viet Nam War, this allows us to gain experience and apply it so that we do not make the same mistakes in the present and future. Many nations throughout the world have had a slow process in revising their policies and defenses because they are unsure about the future. McNamara indicates that in the future, nationalism is going to be a force to be reckoned with. There are many ongoing civil disputes among nations about racialism, religion, and ethnicity. Thus, it is important to effectively communicate with other nations, so that there is less room for miscommunication and conflicts. With these recent conflicts, the problems that occurred in the Third World long before the Cold War will have ended. However, conflicts among the nations will not disperse since it is a recurring theme in the past, present, and future. Overall, McNamara believes that the Viet Nam war was wrong and argues that by getting a better understanding of the past, we can avoid making the same mistakes and thus, make a change for a better future.

Documentary: The Fog of War

The documentary, The Fog of War, is a collection of reflections from the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who served during the Kennedy as well as the Johnson administrations. He was responsible for advising the President of the United states during both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
The video opens with Sec. McNamara speaking about an interview he had with the Cuban President, Fidel Castro in 1992 several years after they had negotiated the removal of ballistic missile warheads from Cuba. He states that while he believes that President Kennedy, Primer Kruschev, and President Castro are all rational human beings, the state of mind that comes with war had made them create a toxic atmosphere which led them into having a mindset that nearly led them to mutual destruction. In the interview, Castro states that at the time, he was willing to follow a recommendation from Kruschev to fire the missiles, despite knowing full well that it would result in his own death and possibly all of the lives of the people of his country.
He goes on to comment on the overuse of American bombing, particularly during World War II. He remarks that the use of firebombing on civilian Japanese cities and the dropping of the two atomic bombs were so disproportionate to what the war was trying to achieve, that if the Allied forces would have lost the war, the leadership of the United States would have been tried for war crimes. He adds that he truly believes that the leadership deserved to be tried for war crimes, including himself for his actions during the Vietnam War.
The message of the video seems to be that in times of war, rational people tend to act inhumane as a result of the conflict that they are in. Because of this, even the victors, or “the heroes” of the war, when thoroughly examined in retrospect, can be extremely brutal, violent, and unjustified. To avoid making these mistakes in the future, he recommends that people take the time to truly think about killing one another, and when it is truly ethical to do so. In his mind, he states that it is only justifiable to be an aggressor in war is when the damage created from doing so is proportionate to the goal attempting to be achieved.

5 Discussion Questions

  1. When is a war justified?
  2. Is it acceptable to lie if it means it can save lives?
  3. Is it ethical to kill other innocent people if it means saving your own innocent people?
  4. What should be the goal of war?
  5. Who is the “bad guy” in the Viet Nam War?

Documentary: Errols Morris dir. “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.” (2003)
Chan, Sucheng. “The American Involvement.” 
Shute, Jenefer. “Framing Vietnam.” 
McNamara, Robert S. with Brian VanDeMark. “The Lessons of Vietnam.”

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