Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives

Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives

Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives

Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives


An insightful look into the immediate and long-term impact of the Vietnam War on a wide range of people and social groups, both Americans and refugees here and in Vietnam.


No event in the past half-century of American history has commanded a more prominent place in the public consciousness than the Vietnam War. The first baby boomers turned draft age just as America’s military escalation demanded its first commitment of combat troops, and the war became that generation’s defining issue. Ultimately, America’s Vietnam experience touched nearly every aspect of life. It affected the economy, influenced college enrollments and careers, challenged citizens to reassess their values, and played a key role in the downfall of two presidential administrations. A person’s view on Vietnam helped define his or her political and cultural views for a lifetime, setting the stage for the “culture wars” that have been part of American society for decades.

Interest in this era has persisted beyond the Vietnam generation. College courses on the war continue to draw large numbers of students, who are often intrigued by the war’s impact on their own family histories. Vietnam appears regularly in motion pictures and books and remains a favorite reference point in foreign policy debates. National political candidates such as Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and John Kerry had to field difficult questions about their wartime attitudes and experiences.

Analysis of the war has played out at various levels. Historical scholarship has passed through different phases, but a consensus has existed since the early 1980s. George Herring stated this position clearly and concisely in his highly regarded America’s Longest War, concluding that “I do not believe that the war could have been won in any meaningful sense or at a moral or material price Americans would—or should—have been willing to pay” (Herring 2002, xiv). Despite the dominance of this view, challenges continue from both within and outside academe.

The typical American is probably more familiar with popular arguments, regularly exposed in cultural and political discussions and spread widely through such films as The Deer Hunter (1978), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), and Platoon (1986). This public analysis has reached no comparable consensus. One strongly held view among many conservatives is the belief that the U.S. military could have won the war had it not been “stabbed in the back” by some group of Americans at home, with the media, the antiwar movement, or the government the most popular targets of blame.

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