“One learns more many times from one’s mistakes than one learns from one’s successes” (Furlong), Stephen Furlong quotes James Redwood, college professor and noncombatant of the Vietnam War, saying. People should never forget about the Vietnam War, especially the soldiers who fought and still remember, since, a nation can learn more from its mistakes in war, than from its victories. This war, in particular, was one of which America did not win and one of which many individuals wanted to forget.
The draft of the Vietnam War began in 1970. It was a completely random process by which they chose the men to fight in war. It was called the draft lottery. Basically, the lottery was held in December of 1969 and it was a televised event where they had the numbers 1 to 366, that represent each day of the year, to draw from. The pool consisted of men that were born in 1944 to 1950 and the numbers corresponded to the men’s birthdays. In the end, males with “lottery numbers greater than 195 were not called for induction, while males with numbers of 195 or below were called to report for possible induction” (Bergan).
On the Battlefield
The battlefield in Vietnam was a gruesome and horrific place to be in. Soldiers were surrounded by gore and death, and were forced to make decisions that exposed their inner self and integrity. Many of the books and movies produced about the Vietnam War shows what happens on the battlefield in the war from the perspectives of soldiers, generals, and lieutenants. In war, every little thing happens right before their eyes. Suddenly everything is real and they’re more aware than anything. The film directed by Randall Wallace, We Were Soldiers, is based on the book written by Lieutenant General Hal Moore during the Ia Drang battles, who had to make difficult decisions on what his cavalry will do next in battle. In this film, people are not people in war; they become targets. In every battle shown, the soldiers shoot at every single moving object that isn’t American (We Were Soldiers). However, that only happened when the Vietnamese were expected to come out at them. Other times, they had to be aware of other attacks such as booby traps and airborne bombs: “The Viet Cong guerillas extensively used booby traps such as hidden pits with stakes in them (known as punji pits) or hand grenades or other explosives attached to trip wires” (“Booby Traps”). Over ten percent of all the American casualties from the war were caused by these booby traps, and the other ninety percent, from being shot in battle, diseases, infections, suicide, or an accident (“Statistics”).
From South Vietnam
The perspective from the South Vietnamese citizens, though, was not good either. American troops had practically barged onto their land, and destroyed all their rice paddies, beautiful green grassland, and their villages with herbicides and bombings. Julie Forsythe, a civilian relief worker for the injured Vietnamese people (note: not for the Americans), saw the effects that the South Vietnam was destroyed by the Viet Cong and Americans had on how innocent Vietnamese lived: “We messed up the fields and left Agent Orange in the hills, so every spring there were floods. Yeah, all the wells were messed up, too—you can’t just wreck an environment the way we did and not leave a lot of nasty footprints. Typhus. Bubonic plague. Polio. All kinds of diseases from lack of public health and a completely destroyed economy” (“Forsythe”). Everything the Vietnam War caused was horrible and to some extent, frightening. The one thing that really got to me, personally, was that the American army was so rude about the South Vietnamese citizens’ well-being, when one of their main purposes in Vietnam was to protect them. In their defense, though, most of the soldiers were drafted into war and were their to fight for the United States. Most of them suffered from PTSD coming back from the war and when they came back, there was no congratulatory party to welcome them back home.
Women During the War
Along with the men, women also held a role during the war. Most of the women in Vietnam for the American army were nurses, but others worked as clerks, typists, information officers, air traffic controllers, map-makers, decoders, and photographers.
Now Julie Forsythe, mentioned earlier, was basically a nurse for the South Vietnamese citizens, so her experiences differed from most other nurses. In an interview, she related what she went through and witnessed treating her patients:
“I wasn’t prepared for a lot of things I saw… Once I was in surgery and they were doing amputations—this was right after I got to Quang Ngai—and I nearly passed out. Horrible. But the kids were the worst. Up to 40 percent of our patients were kids—we saw about a thousand people a year—because the kids are the ones who take the ducks out and take the water buffalo down to the river. And some yo-yo leaves a landmine in the path and—pop! That’s it. No, I wasn’t prepared for how many kids were so badly damaged. A lot of them came in with no arms and legs. And we saw kids with neck injuries from shrapnel, so that they were entirely paralyzed. At times we took over the hospital’s burn unit, where we saw the kids who’d been napalmed” (“Forsythe”).
She goes on talking about what she saw in Vietnam and it just gets worse and worse. Just like a lot of the soldiers, these nurses also suffered from PTSD and raging emotions from the war, and many individuals back home in America didn’t support the women of the war quite as much as they supported the men (“Forsythe”).
American soldiers went through a lot for their country but in the end, the North Vietnamese party took the victory because of their motivation, courage, and perseverance. Before this war, any individuals hadn’t even heard of Vietnam or where in the world it is located, but now, the U.S. has come to respect them in sort of the way that the British came to respect the U.S. For Vietnam however, they haven’t been independent since before 111 B.C. Both sides of the war lost a lot in their life and experienced horrible things. After more than two decades of fighting, it took a lot to rebuild Vietnam, and still they’re not completely stable. Overall, the Vietnam War was not one of the most popular wars in both American history and Vietnamese history, but the Vietnamese finally has their independence and where they take it could turn into something incredible.
Bergan, Daniel E. “The Draft Lottery And Attitudes Towards The Vietnam War.” Public Opinion Quarterly 73.2 (2009): 379. TOPICsearch. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
“Booby Traps.” Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996. World History in Context. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
“Forsythe, Julie.” Vietnam War Reference Library. Vol. 4: Primary Sources. Detroit: UXL, 2001. 165-177. World History in Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
Furlong, Stephen. “Interview With James Redwood.” Chariton Review 37.2 (2014): 69-71. Literary Reference Center. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
“Statistical Information about Casualties of the Vietnam War.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, Aug. 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
We Were Soldiers. Dir. Randall Wallace. Perf. Mel Gibson and Madeleine Stowe. Paramount, 2002. Online.