Unlike previous Wars fought by the United States, the Vietnam War differed in that the conflict did not result in victory. In essence, this War was a proxy for a greater conflict in which the US was involved with the USSR, known as the “Cold War.” As opposed to the World Wars, the Vietnam conflict involved a small geographical area and was characterized by tremendous losses of life and an outcome that was undesirable: the country was divided into two separate nations, North and South Vietnam, the former which became a Communist state and the latter which was not. Generally, the impact of the Vietnam War had wide range of lasting consequences to the United States in the 20th century.
The economy in the United States was significantly damaged after the Vietnam War, following a period in which there was relatively low inflation, high employment rates, and a positive trade balance. Because President Lyndon Johnson made the decision to pay for his major social programs, i.e. the Great Society, at the same time that the War was being waged, and without a tax increase there was a tremendous acceleration of the inflation rate into double digits. At the same time, there were major policy changes that resulted from the War, including putting an end to the military draft in favor of using a army that was all volunteer; in addition, the age of voting was reduced from 21 to 18. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, restricting the president’s power to use American troops for combat purposes for more than three months without the specific consent of Congress.
One of the most lasting legacies of the Vietnam War, however, involved increasing mistrust of the US government and elected officials. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution driven by President Johnson, discovery of secret bombings waged in Cambodia, and the Watergate scandal were only a few of the events leading to the American public’s lack of confidence in the government. Many eyewitness accounts of the military contributed to the cynicism of Americans regarding the conflict. As one former soldier wrote, “I had come to Saigon thinking that we needed to take a stand against Russian and Chinese Communism as we had done in Korea… I began to see that for the Americans, the anti-colonial struggle was more important than Communism or anti-Communism” (Greenway.) In addition, the American public and its leaders had become very skeptical about becoming involved in the problems of other nations. There was no enthusiasm for participation in other foreign entanglements that would result in American deaths while completely sabotaging the prestige of the country.
Another result of the Vietnam War was the tremendous power that resulted from the anti-War movement. Initially, mostly college students and young people were involved in the protests and demonstrations about the War, but eventually major broadcasters and other respected figures took stands against it so that its unpopularity was widespread by the early 1970s. The horrors of that conflict, which essentially took place on American television, left a long-lasting impression on the public and led to an extreme reluctance to become involved in other such costly pursuits. The accounts of the fighting and its impact on Vietnam War veterans were vividly described in books such as Born on the Fourth Of July. In it, the author describes his strong motivation to join forces with people who were protesting against the War. The author wrote “… A group of vets had gone to Washington and thrown away their medals… I would have given anything to be there with them. The War had not ended. It was time for me to join forces with other vets” (Kovic.)
The aftermath of the Vietnam War involved growing resistance to becoming involved in foreign conflicts, and an active movement of American citizens loudly to protest such interventions. In addition, the War left a lasting cynicism about the truthfulness of government leaders and officials, which continues and has only intensified during the current administration.
- Greenway, HDS. “What I Saw in Vietnam.” 15 March 2017. the New York Times. Web. 13 May 2017.
- Kovic, Ron. Born on the Fourth Of July . New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976. Print.