In the decades since the end of the Vietnam War, while other wars have followed and the world has changed, discussion of the Vietnam War has not. In … After All These Years I look at why this might be. I invited Al Moore’s opinion and open the floor to others.
The United States government officially recognizes the Vietnam War as having taken place from February 1961 to May 1975. Approximately 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam during that fourteen-year period. If you could speak with each of these participants, you would likely hear 2.7 million opinions about the “whys” of the War. Why were we there? Why did we lose? Why were our leaders so wrong?
I contend that these questions can only be answered by the continuing to research and write about the Vietnam War.
Many factors contribute to the wide range of opinion on what should be simple questions. One of the primary reasons is the time scale and the evolution of the war effort. People who served in the early- to mid-sixties, generally had far different experiences from those who served in the late sixties to early seventies. Those who served from 1970 until our withdrawal had yet a different experience.
Geographical dispersion also contributed to different points of view. Americans who served in I-Corps, up against the North Vietnam border, saw a war much different from Americans in IV-Corps. Both the terrain and the enemy varied across these war zones, resulting in different tactics and interactions with the local civilian population.
Lastly, what you saw depended on what you did. That is to say, a clerk typist in Danang had a completely different view of the War from that of an Army “grunt” or Marine, hunting the Viet Cong (“VC”) and North Vietnamese Army (“NVA”) in the rural expanses of South Vietnam. Rear-echelon troops rarely had direct contact with enemy, with the exception of the occasional mortar attacks on their bases. Therefore, they could be removed from the action and tend to see the actual combat operations as remote. This could make it difficult to get a true sense of what the enemy was like.
Even those in a front-line combat units could develop different opinions, depending on whether their units operated independently, or in close cooperation with the Army of South Vietnam (“ARVN”). These various experiences could and did contribute to widely varied opinions, all of which were valid in the minds of the veterans who served.
Thousands of veterans are embittered by their Vietnam experiences. Millions of individuals suffered grave physical injuries during the War. The War killed millions of people, fifty-eight thousand Americans among them.
The presence of many strongly held opinions, some in total contradictions to others, makes the need for a better understanding of the War clear. With all of these different opinions in existence, how does our society, including Vietnam veterans, come to valid conclusions about the Vietnam War?
My suggestion is that we need to keep researching and writing about Vietnam. As we discover and validate more facts, a broader consensus will develop. Regardless of whether the writer is a former grunt with a high school education, or the holder of a PhD., their honest contributions to the debate deserve consideration. Only by writing about the factual war record can we put facts above feelings and arrive at a truly objective view of our Vietnam experience.
AJ Moore served as a Scout with the 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cavalry Regiment in 1969. When he enlisted in the US Army in 1967, he was a patriotic “true believer” in the war effort. His combat experience changed that. He is the author of Warpath: One Vietnam Veteran’s Journey through War, Disillusionment, Guilt and Recovery.