The Vietnam War was a long, protracted war fought between 1955 and 1975. The war had a profound effect on the United States and the American psyche and remains a much debated topic to this day. It was the longest war ever fought by the U.S. and indeed the only war Americans ever lost — something which resulted in a temporary loss of American pride and self-confidence.
Four American presidents – Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon – held office during the Vietnam War years.
During the war years, the involvement of the United States in Vietnam sparked a huge domestic anti-war movement. The movement started small and mostly among students on college campuses, but gained huge support as the war dragged on, ultimately resulting in violent protests in Washington D.C. and around the United States.
In fact it is said that the huge anti-war sentiment was the reason President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968. Johnson was succeeded by Richard M. Nixon, who introduced the first draft lottery since World War II – a move which caused great controversy.
After the war, the public’s faith in government was hugely undermined. Many citizens lost respect for and became distrustful of both the government and the armed forces. The term “Vietnam Syndrome” refers to the American public’s reluctance to engage in protracted wars overseas. The war cost the country upwards of 120 billion dollars which resulted in tax increases and a reduction in spending on social programs.
In 1972, the War Powers Resolution was passed and stated that no president could send armed forces into action without the approval of Congress. This was a direct result of presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon doing just that in Vietnam.
Upon their return from Vietnam, not much was done to honor the thousands of men and women who had lost their lives in brutal combat and it was not until 1982, after the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington D.C., that Americans really began to acknowledge the suffering of those who had been part of the gruesome war.
In total, over 58,000 Americans died, and over 150,000 were wounded in battle. Many who fought in the war suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, drug and alcohol addictions upon returning home to the United States and thousands committed suicide. In addition to this, veterans were exposed to harmful chemicals and herbicides while fighting the war, particularly Agent Orange, used by the United States to clear plants from areas that might have provided cover for the enemy. This exposure caused many long-term problems and effects for veterans and their families, including cancer, disabilities, and defects of the immune and nervous system. These malformations and defects were also inherited by some of the children of veterans, so is still an ongoing issue.
To this day, the memory of Vietnam and subsequent protracted wars (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq) has made many Americans reluctant to support U.S. intervention in disputes around the world.