22 May 2015
Vietnam War Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions of the Vietnam War that vary from different topics such as:
the proportions of deaths, the way veterans were stereotyped and treated before and after the war,
and the level of suicide rates among Vietnam veterans. These misconceptions have led to many
Americans not recognizing the true circumstances surrounding this war.
Initially, there was a common belief that most Vietnam veterans were drafted. It turns out
that actually 2/3 of the men who served in the Vietnam War were volunteers (Hanson). Of the
58,193 US casualties in Vietnam, approximately 12.5% were African American, and 86% were
white (Wisniewski). Although, many African American men died fighting in the Vietnam War,
one misconception is that more African American soldiers were killed than Caucasian American
soldiers. However, in reality, the Vietnam War was anyone’s fight due to the change in locations
of where the war was taking place, and also due to what countries backed out and what countries
then assembled and came into action (Hanson).
A second misconception is that Vietnam soldiers were treated well before, during and after
their service in the Vietnam War. Many Americans harshly stereotyped Vietnam soldiers as poor
and uneducated men. These men were perceived to have a lower educational level compared to
the general population. Those who opposed the war went out of their way to discriminate against
the veterans. The veterans were treated with contempt, with some protestors spitting on the
veterans. After these attacks, the Vietnam veterans then vowed to, “Never allow US veterans to
be treated in the same manner again” (Moskos). The efforts by Vietnam veterans to enforce these
actions have become a revolutionary act. As a result, today’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are
treated with more respect (Moskos).
Unfortunately, due to the pressure and hatred these Vietnam veterans experienced after
discharge, many committed suicide. During this time period, the media reported that the amount
of suicides ranged from 50,000-100,000 (Hanson). However, there was only an estimated 9,000
suicides that actually occurred (Hanson). Although there was a misconception regarding the
number of suicides, Vietnam war veterans were actually 1.7 times more likely than non-Vietnam
veterans to commit suicide during the first 5 years of discharge (Hanson). There was a recent
report that was released by the CDC that was sponsored by ABC News (James, May 3 2012) that
shows an increase in Vietnam veteran suicides. Suicide rates among Vietnam veterans were
shown to be at the highest levels compared with any other groups.
It is apparent that the Vietnam War has had a major impact on the way we look at our
country’s soldiers today. It is unfortunate for America to have lost so many lives but hopefully
we can learn from our mistakes and look ahead to treating our soldiers with more respect and
honor for their great courage and sacrifice.
Hanson, Marshal. "Vietnam War Facts, Stats and Myths." US Wings. US Wings, n.d. Web. 21
James, Susan Donaldson. “Suicide Rates Spike in Vietnam Vets Who Won’t Seek Help.” ABC
News Network, 03 May 2012. Web. 22 May 2015.
Moskos, Charles C. "Vietnam Veterans Facts." Military Money Matters. Vietnam Veterans
Facts, n.d. Web. 21 May 2015.
Wisniewski, J. "10 Misconceptions About The Wars Of History -Listverse." Listverse, 17
Nov.2013. Web. 21 May 2015.
2015 Winning essays -16th Annual Chapter 800 Kevin O'Neil Annual Scholarship (Awarded June 2015)
Vietnam Veterans of America
Bergen County, NJ
Grandson of Albert Weigel
Attending Bergen Community College
Misconceptions of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a controversial and tumultuous war in American history. It was a very unpopular war and up to that point it was America’s longest war. Upon its conclusion many scholars and historians studied this war to try and understand its complexity. There are many misconceptions regarding the Vietnam War but the first that comes to mind is that America lost the Vietnam War militarily. This is incorrect; The United States military won every major battle that it participated in during the war.
General Westmoreland used a strategy of attrition to cause heavy casualties and grind down the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. If we look at Landing zone X-ray during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley the North Vietnamese forces lost an estimated 634-834 soldiers and the American 1st Calvary unit lost between 79 to 150 soldiers. The Siege of Khe Sahn produced the highest kill ratio by the Americans of any battle during the Vietnam War with an astonishing 50:1 kill ratio….50 of their soldiers for every 1 of ours and it is estimated that America lost 1,000 soldiers and the North Vietnamese lost between 10,000 and 15,000 soldiers. These two battle statistics alone prove that American military might was exercised all over Vietnam and even though America lost many soldiers, we gave a lot worse than we took.
Another common misconception was that fighting in the Vietnam War was not as intense as the fighting during World War II. The average infantryman in the South Pacific during WWII saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of a helicopter. 58,148 were killed, and 304,000 were wounded out of the 2.7 million that served. Although the percent that died is similar to other wars, amputations or crippling wounds were nearly 300% higher than in WWII. 75,000 Vietnam veterans were severely disabled (According to uswings.com/vietnamfacts). The average soldier in Vietnam saw 200 more days of combat on average than a soldier in the South Pacific during WWII.
There are many misconceptions that surround the Vietnam War, but there is one point that goes without question….American soldiers were brave and courageous. They fought for their country, fought for the South Vietnamese, and the most important point but the one that is so often overlooked…..they fought for each otherVietnam War Misconceptions