I In – Victimm. Memorial, Waih ingioi i D. C.
Otic of the landmarks of Washington, D. C., is a massive building of white marble. It is a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. Close by, almost hidden in a hollow in the ground, stands another memorial. This memorial is not to one man but to many. It is a long wall of polished black marble and on it are carved many thousands of names. !he names arc those of young Americans who died in the Vietnam War.
Vietnam is in Southeast Asia. Once it was ruled by France. But in 1954 the French were driven out by the soldiers of a communist leader named Flo Chi Minh. Like Korea, Vietnam was then divided in two. Comnmnists ruled the North and non-com піші і sts the South.
The next step was supposed to be the election of one government for the whole country. But the election never took place—mainly because the government of South Vietnam feared that Ho Chi Minh and his communists would win. I Io Chi Minh set out to unite Vietnam by war. He ordered sabotage and terrorism against South Vietnam. As part of their worldwide plan to contain communism, the Americans had already helped the French againsr I lo. Now they sent weapons and advisers to the government of South Vietnam.
Containment was especially important to the Americans in Vietnam. This was because of an idea that President Eisenhower called the “domino theory.” The domino theory went like this: Asia has a lot of unsettled countries. If one of them —Vietnam, say— fell under communist rule, others would follow. They would be knocked over one by one, like a line of falling dominoes.
Americans were especially afraid that communist China might try to take control in Southeast Asia as the Soviet Union had done in eastern Europe. So, in the 1950s and early 1960s, first President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy poured American money and weapons into South Vietnam, Kennedy sent soldiers, too-not to fight, themselves, but to advise and train the South Vietnamese forces.
By the early 1960s, however, it was dear that the government of South Vietnam was losing the war. 1-Го Chi Minh had a guerilla army of 100,000 men fighting in South Vietnam by then. These guerillas were called the Vietcong. Many were communists from the North who had marched into the South along secret jungle trails. By 1965 the Vietcong controlled large areas of South Vietnam. The country’s American-backed government was dose to collapse.
By now the United States had a new leader,
President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson faced a difficult choice. I le could leave Vietnam and let the communists take over, or he could send in American soldiers to try to stop them. Johnson was too worried about the domino theory —and too proud-to make the first choice. He had already ordered American aircraft to bomb railways and bridges in North Vietnam. Now he sent in American soldiers. By 1968 over 500,000 were fighting in South Vietnam. The Russians and the Chinese sent more weapons and supplies to Ho Chi Minh. Thousands more of his communist troops marched south to do battle with the Americans.
The Vietnam War was one of ambushes and sudden attacks. After an attack the Vietcong would melt away in the jungle, or turn into peaceful villagers. Ordinary villagers helped and protected the Vietcong. Sometimes they did this out of fear, sometimes out of sympathy. “The people are the water, our armies arc the fish,” one Vietcong leader said.
A guerilla war like this meant that the Americans often had no enemy to strike back at. As one soldier put it, to find the Vietcong was “like trying to identify tears in a bucket of water. ”
American fighting men grew angry and frustrated. They sprayed vast areas of countryside with deadly chemicals to destroy the Vietcong’s supply trails. They burned down villages which were suspected of sheltering Vietcong soldiers. But the fighting went on. It continued even when Johnson stepped up or “escalated” the war by bombing cities in North Vietnam to try to force the communists to make peace.
Film reports of the suffering in Vietnam were shown all over the world on television. For the first time in history people far away from any fighting were able to see in their own homes the horror and cruelty of modern war. Millions began to believe that the Americans were cruel and bullying monsters.
The war caused bitter disagreements in the United States. Countless families lost sons, brothers, and
husbands in Vietnam. By the end of the 1960s many Americans were sick and ashamed of the killing and the destruction. “L. B.J., L. B.j., how many kids have you killed today?” shouted angry demonstrators.
President Johnson saw that by sending American soldiers to fight in Vietnam he had led the United States into a trap. The war was destroying his country’s good name in the world and setting its people against one another, in 1968 lie stopped the bombing of North Vietnam and started to look for ways of making peace.
In 1969 Richard Nixon was elected to replace Johnson as President. Likcjohnson, he wanted to end the Vietnam War. But he, too, wanted to do so w’ithout the Americans looking as if they had been beaten.