The Vietnam War was debated by many people now and then. If it were not for the Vietnam War and the world to would be a different place. The War itself changed America.
The Vietnam War began in 1957 and ended in 1975, it was the longest war in which the United States took part in (The World Book Encyclopedia). Vietnam is a small country in Southeast Asia; it is about the size of the state of California with a population during the 1960s of more than 40 million people (Kent). During 1946, a war started between the French and Vietminh, where on December 19, the French bombed the northern city of Haiphong killing some six thousand Vietnamese soldiers and civilians (Kent). May 8, 1954 the Geneva Conference, Vietnam was divided into the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam, also known as North Vietnam, and the non-Communist Republic, called the South. The Vietnam War is also called the Indochina War or Second Indochina War (The Encyclopedia Americana – International ed). In 1955 the United States started sending money to South Vietnam. President Eisenhower also agreed to help train the army. The War had several stages. From 1957 to 1963, the North aided rebels opposed to the government of the south headed by President Ngo Dinh Diem. On Nov. 1st The South generals overthrew the Diem and he was killed on Nov. 2 1963. From 1694 to 1969 North Vietnam and the United States did much of the fighting. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in U.S. Marines into Da Nang, they were the first ground troops to arrive. Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand also helped South Vietnam. In 1969 the United States had more than 543,000 troops. From 1966-1969 the United States paid $28.8 billion a year in war related costs. In June of 1969 President Nixon announced that the U.S. troops would begin to withdraw (The World Book Encyclopedia). In January 1973, a cease-fire was arranged and the last of the American ground troops left Vietnam during the next two months (The World Book Encyclopedia). The war did not end here, for two more years the North and South continued to fight until Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975. A total of 57,605 Americans lost their lives in combat. South Vietnamese military lost 220,357 and the North Vietnamese 499,000 people. An additional 303,700 US military personnel were wounded in the battle (The Encyclopedia Americana – International ed). Many people were torn about the war. Some felt that the United States needed to be involved and that it was noble of them. Many others called it cruel, unnecessary, and wrong. This debate still goes on today Americans still do not agree on the goals, conduct, and lessons of the U.S. participation in the war. There were many horror stories from the war, many in which the army tried to hide. In the village of My Lai, soldiers searching for Vietcong suspects, ended up dashing from hut to hut murdering everyone they found. As many as four hundred people died in this spree of senseless violence (Kent). The veterans of most American wars returned as heroes. This was not so with this war. The soldiers that were returning home from Vietnam received no heroes’ welcome. These soldiers were seen as unbalanced or potential criminals. Other saw them as the unfortunate victims of America’s terrible mistake (Kent).
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One form of art that came from the Vietnam War was the Memorial. The Vietnam veterans Memorial was designed by Maya Ying Lin, and was created to help heal the emotional and spiritual wounds which the war left as its legacy. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial officially opened on November 11, 1982 almost ten years after the end of the war. In the first five years, it received 20 million visitors (Kent). Still today thousands of people visit the V-shaped monument of glossy black granite which stands on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. The wall, covered with the names of the U.S. men and women who died. In 1966 the Artists Protest Committee organized the Peace Tower, which stood at the corner of Sunset and La Cienega Boulevards. Artist covered the sculpture with over 400 small panels submitted by artist from all around the world. Each panel was an artistic antiwar statement, and artists who submitted works include Philip Evergood, Moses and Raphael Soyer, Robert Motherwell, Jim Rosenquist, Philip Pearlstein, Arnold Meshes, and Judy Chicago. In May of 1970 nearly 2,000 artist gathered at New York University to organize a day long Art Strike. On May 22nd the actual day of the shutdown, the Jewish Museum, the Whitney Museum, and fifty private galleries shut their doors. The Museum of Modern Art stayed open but ran an antiwar film festival free of charge. Frank Stella closed his exhibit for the strike. The Guggenheim Museum remained open- but waved entry fees and removed all paintings from its walls. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had been targeted for a major demonstration by artists for refusing to participate in the Art Strike. For nearly the entire day, hundreds of artists carrying signs reading “Art Strike Against Racism, War, Repression.” (Vallen)
Music can say a lot about an era. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the traditional outlets in classical, instrumental, ballads, swing, jazz, country, folk and pop, as well as the new soul, Motown, rock and roll, and many other sounds. Many of the musical artists from this era are still popular or well know today. The 1960 was another great year for Elvis. In 1961 Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis was the number one hit of the year. Dave Brubeck delivered some of the best jazz ever. Then in 1962 came many dance song still played today, Mashed Potato, Twist and Shout, and Loco-motion by Little Eva. In 1963 the world saw new genres of music when pop came out with the Beach Boys with Surfin’, Little Stevie Wonder and Peter, Paul, and Mary. The Birth of the Beatles came in 1964. The Fab Four changed the scene of music in America by introducing the Mersey sound and band like Manfred Mann started to be heard as a result. The Supremes and the Four Seasons also started Motown. The number one hit in 1965 went to The Rolling Stones with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, while the Beatles stayed strong with the number two spot. 1965 also saw Bob Dylan and Sonny and Cher. The number one hit in 1966 was Ballad of the Green Berets, sung by Sgt. Barry Sadler. This song was a reflection of America’s growing involvement in Vietnam. The Monkees also hit the charts this year and the power of the media was soon to sweep away the power of patriotism. 1967 was a wild and wooley year in music. There was a huge mix of styles ranging from ballads to rock to Motown to psychedelia. Aretha Franklin wanted to get a little R-e-s-p-e-c-t. We were born to be wild in 1968 with Steppenwolf. We also saw Simon and Garfunkel go from lyrical strength to catchy strength. No one could forget about the Beatles, as every song they seemed to write would rise right to the top. 1969’s number one went to The Fifth Dimension with Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. Sugar, Sugar took the number two spot, while the top ten also included the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Doors. 1970 was absolutely huge on the pop music scene, and much of its popularity is still strong today with heaps of real classics from Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Aretha and B.B. King still on the pop airwaves. (Vietnam era music top ten hits from each year of the war).
During the War many soldiers wrote poetry based on their experiences during the war. Here are a few of my favorites.
Before war starts
In early morning
The land is breath taking.
The low, blazing, ruby sun
Melts the night-shadow pools
Creating an ethereal appearance.
Each miniature house and tree
Sprouts its, long, thin shadow
Stretching long on dewy ground.
The countryside is panoramic maze,
Jungle, hamlets, hills and waterways,
Bomb-craters, paddies, broken-backed bridges.
Rice fields glow sky-sheens,
Flat, calm, mirrored lakes
Reflect the morning peace.
The patchwork quilted earth,
Slashed by snaking tree-lines,
Slumbers in dawn’s blue light.
Sharp, rugged mountain peaks
Sleep in a soft rolling blanket
Of clinging, slippery, misty fog.
Effortlessly, languidly, it flows
Shyly spreading wispy tentacles out
To embrace the earth with velvet arms.
Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003
This shows me what it was that the soldiers saw when they first got to Vietnam; the land was beautiful until the bombs came and burned down everything.
When hungry bullets
Chew into soft airplane bodies
Sending dials and gauges
Spinning in whirling circlesâ€¦
When the little red warning lights
Scream in alarm, “blink-red”, “blink-red”, “blink-red”!
It is then you discover
The beauty of profanity!
And the need to know all the words!
But in no particular order.
Copyright Curt Bennett © 2003
This poem takes me to the moment this soldier thinks that he might die. His airplane has been hit with gun fire and he knows that he will go down; he is going to pay with his life for my freedom.
BEFORE THE WAR
I wonder what’s the matter with him.
He’s not the way he was before.
He’s not the way he used to be.
The way he was before the war.
He had no way of knowing
What horrors were in store.
Then communication ceased
When he went off to war.
He left while only in his teens.
Now he’s so much older.
The warmth of his youth is gone.
His spirit’s so much colder.
His eyes look deeply haunted.
He has no joy anymore.
He doesn’t laugh and rarely smiles.
He stares down at the floor.
He speaks in cryptic code.
He talks of blood and gore.
Then lapses into silence
Since he came back from war.
I wonder what he saw there
That fills his eyes with fright.
All those unknown terrors
Keep him awake at night.
Certain sounds will startle him
And send him out the door.
Will he ever have peace again,
As he had before the war?
He turns away from mirrors.
Who he sees must frighten him.
There’s no respite in his mind
Because all his thoughts are grim.
I don’t know what to say to him.
I can’t talk as I did before.
He’s not the person that I knew
Before he went to war.
He doesn’t even look the same,
So pale and so thin.
It’s like another person
Came back inside his skin.
He used to be such fun,
So easy to adore.
It’s like he disappeared
When he returned from war.
I wonder what became of him.
I never see him anymore.
He’s not the person he once was.
I mean, before the war.
Copyright 2003 Penny Rock All Rights Reserved.
With this poem I can really see the boy that left to go in to war, he was young and ready to show the world that he was a man. And that he did, but like so many that returned home from the war he change. The fear of death, killing people, seeing friends and fellow American Soldiers die can take a big toll and a person, they will never be the same again.
I might not have been alive during the Vietnam War, but though poetry, art and music I can live the experience without leaving my own home. I can get a feel for the way the world was and how it has change as a result of the war.
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