political science paper


Subject: World Politics, Department Of Government And International Relations Topic: American Society and The Us Decision To Retreat From Vietnam (1968-1973)

Assignment extract:

Second Analytical Assignment GOVT 1202, First semester, 2010
Dr. Merom, Ms. Lateef, Dr. Young, Ms. Bredehoeft, Dr. Kim

Due: Your tutorial in lecture week 10 (starting 10 May)

Complete a 2,300-word analytical essay on the following topic.

American society and the US decision to retreat from Vietnam (1968-1973).

The essay must conform to the objectives, structure, and requirements detailed below.

1) To demonstrate a sound command of the theoretical framework
2) To critically analyze the case with the help of theory, using its internal concepts and logic
3) To demonstrate the utility (and possible limits) of theory
4) To consider theory in light of rival explanations
5) To marshal the necessary empirical evidence in support of analysis, findings, and conclusions
6) To present logically coherent conclusions that fit the analysis and discuss the potential benefit from the insight gained

• A title that captures the essence of the work rather than providing crude provocation or journalistic flair.
• Introduction (~300-350 words): a presentation of the issue, the puzzle, the theoretical context, the general line of reasoning, and an outline of the structure of the essay.
• A few main sections, each with a title of the student’s choice that concisely reflects the content (about 3-6 sections, ~1500-1700 words). Each section should discuss some aspect of the overarching thesis of the essay, be it theoretical, empirical, or both. Each section should begin with a clear thesis statement and be guided by a distinct set of concepts, arguments, and logic. Finally, each should also reflect, in your own words, your interpretation, application, and insight concerning the theory and its relationship with the data.
• Conclusion (~300-350 words) should include the findings in a ���nutshell’ (a brief overview of the most important points of the essay), the gained insight, and the potential gain/implications of the essay.

• The assignment must contain a collated, completed and signed Assignment Cover Sheet, which can be collected from the Government and IR office (Merewether Bldg. Room 269).
• The assignment should be 2,300 words in length.
• It must be typewritten in font 12, double spaced, on one side of the paper only, and with generous margins (3cm at least).
• All pages must be numbered.
• The assignment must be based largely on printed literature (i.e., books, articles in academic journals), rather than materials sourced from the Internet. Fail grades will be automatically given to assignments where the majority of sources are web-based.
• All work consulted must be properly noted, fully cited, and included in the bibliography.
• A duplicate copy of the assignment must be kept by the student.
• The assignment must conform to academic standards of reasoning and to the strict ethical rules in academia. It must be an original product of the independent and individual work of the submitting student, and should not have been submitted previously for assessment in any other unit. Before submitting their assignment, students must refer to the University’s policies on academic dishonesty and plagiarism, available on eLearning
• The submission deadline is during your tutorial lecture week 10 (starting 10 May). The assignment must be submitted in person.
• The assignment comprises 35% of the final assessment and will be graded on a scale of 0-35.


Student’s Name:

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The American anti-Vietnam War movement: Why the Americans were against the Vietnam War. 4

Why the US retreated from Vietnam?. 6

 Vietnam’s situation. 7

 evaluations of the level of governmental performance exist. 8

References. 13


The opposition to the war by American society began to manifest itself as early as 1968. In fact, President Nixon had campaigned on a platform of helping the U.S disengage from Vietnam without causing defeat to the American troops. When in 1972, President Nixon authorized massive bombing in North Vietnam without first consulting the congress, the opposition grew from mild to fierce. On April 15, the U.S bombed Hanoi and Haiphong Harbors. On 19 April, in a hasty retaliation measure, the North Vietnamese Army attacked An Loc.


            Krepinevich (1988, p. 109), states that the extent of disorganization in the war leadership became evident again when on May 8, 1972, President Nixon, once again, without first consulting with the U.S Congress, ordered another attack, this time aiming all North Vietnamese ports. His explanation was that this decision was a necessary countermeasure against the flow of arms into North Korea until the American prisoners of war had been returned. Additionally, the president argued that North Vietnam was refusing to agree to an internationally agreed ceasefire.

The United States received a very bad press in 1972. Images of children, some of them naked, others with their clothes on fire, running down the road, while American soldiers casually walked closely behind, were very disturbing to many Americans. The Americans soldiers were supposed to be ‘the good guys’; therefore, it was not clear to Americans why they were dropping napalm on children.

Throughout the Vietnam War, the Americans used the nation-building theory to justify the war. However, this theory seems to fail the test of a dispassionate analysis. To begin with, the commitment of the U.S to the Vietnam course was more of a cold war strategy than a genuine motive propelled by the theory of nation-building. As President Truman had said in 1950, when the Korean War was beginning, the U.S attack on Korea “this attack made it plainly clear that communism is already past the use of subversion in a bid to conquer independent nations and it is going to use war and armed invasion”. For the next 25 since these remarks, containment of Communist expansion across South East Asia was going to be the bedrock of the country’s national and military policy for the next twenty-five years.

In 1974, observes Page & Brody (1972, p. 988), trends in politics and war in the U.S were taking a strange twist; pressure was mounting on Nixon’s government after the Watergate Scandal came to light. Two years earlier, Congress had voted 7-2 in favor of proceedings to question the legality of the Vietnam War. This was a clear manifestation of the extent to which the U.S government was facing dissent from the citizens.

The American anti-Vietnam War movement: Why the Americans were against the Vietnam War

The American anti-Vietnam War movement is arguably the most successful campaign against the war in U.S history (Walton 2002, p. 290). It played a very critical role in creating constraints on the war during Johnson’s administration. It was also very influential in forcing the administration to reverse policy changes in 1968. During Nixon’s rule, it was critical in hastening the withdrawal of troops and led to the deterioration of discipline and morale among U.S troops.

According to Wells (2005, p. 5) the U.S congress sided with the government’s strategy because even if a withdrawal from Vietnam was to take place, there were many interests to be safeguarded. These included (a) the hasty release of American prisoners of war, (b) avoidance of a formal capitulation and eventual loss of the war, (c) preservation of the U.S credibility in the country’s Cold War strategy against Communist countries. At the same time, North Vietnam was pursuing its goals: (a) getting the Americans out of Vietnam, (b) preserving the Communist government in North Vietnam and (c) paving way for a possible reunification between North and Vietnam under Communist rule.

McAdam& Su (2002, p. 698) use time-series analysis to assess the relationship between anti-Vietnam War protests and congressional voting. Public opinion shift, signaling, and disruptive protests had a profound influence in the way U.S Congress voted on various issues relating to the Vietnam War. Direct, disruptive protests had a positive effect on voting patterns while signaling had an indirect effect on the positive patterns that were observed whenever the Congress met to vote (McAdam& Su 2002, p. 712).

Persuasive forms of protests such as massive demonstrations, while appearing to increase the voting pace, harbored a potent danger of depressing the likelihood of outcomes that would lead to the end of the Vietnam War (Vsquez 1976, p. 302). The anti-war movement made use of all these approaches, the most significant of which appeared to be the exposure of the Watergate Scandal. This scandal was very significant in leading to the end of the war since it undermined Nixon’s authority, eventually resulting in his impeachment as U.S president (Heinemann 1994, p. 254).

Small (1987, p. 186) argues that although a lot has been written on the issue of foreign policy dissent among people in the United States, very little is known concerning the relative effectiveness of various dissenting tactics. Dissenting voices reached Nixon’s Oval Office during Vietnam through the president’s advisors. As Gibbons (1995, 171) points out, the voices of anti-war campaigners had a very significant influence on the measures that the administration adopted in dealing with the Vietnam issue.

The Vietnam War period was characterized by public petitioning, mass demonstrations, face-to-face meetings, and letter writing, all of which captured the attention of Nixon’s administration (Ang 2004, p. 116). Small (1987, p. 189) argues that several large demonstrations had a very significant influence on the way the American policy on Vietnam was formulated in the when the war had reached the climax.

The anti-Vietnam War sentiments were taking place in parallel with peace negotiations in Paris. At the same time, the Vietnamization process was continually reducing the number of American forces in Vietnam. Between 1969 and 1972, the number of U.S servicemen in Vietnam dropped from 540,000 to 135,000. As the Vietnam War wore on, the most frequently asked question among American citizens was ‘what are we fighting for?’ It appears they did not accept the nation-building approach that the nation was pursuing as part of the Cold War strategy (McAdam, & Su 2002, p. 699).

Schreiber (1976, p. 228) argues that demonstrations did not have any measurable effect in bringing about an end to the Vietnam War. The short-run causes of this scenario included war-related initiatives and presidential policy initiatives. The dislike for the war among the American public seemed to have been shaped more by the media. The influence of public demonstrations, according to Schreiber, was experienced only through the publicity that they were given by the media (p. 229).

Why the US retreated from Vietnam?

            Schreiber (1976, p.111) notes that owing to pressure from home, the process of the Paris Peace Accords, an impending election, and associated maneuvers, a draft agreement was made in October 1972. President Nixon was willing to sign this draft. But South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu was opposed to any provisions that were going to freeze a large number of enemy forces in various positions within South Vietnam. This positioning was necessary in case South Vietnam intended to continue with the fight after the withdrawal of the American forces. U.S negotiators tried in vain to re-open discussions on these provisions. North Vietnam responded by revising their own demands, a situation that led to the collapse of the talks.


            Park (1975, p. 24) states that President Nixon, who had been re-elected as president, demanded that the Paris Peace talks resume. When they failed to resume, he launched an air offensive against key North Vietnam targets, whereby the focus was mainly put on Hanoi-Haiphong regions. By December 28, 1972, talks had already resumed in Paris and the renewed energy and vigor in the peace process yielded an agreement, which, unfortunately, neither restored the peace nor ended the war.

            Page & Brody (1972, p. 982) state that most of the theories which hold that the policymaking process is affected by preferences of the public are always predicated on the core assumption that elections constitute an important link between opinions and policies. In turn, electoral links are thought to be dependent upon the citizens’ ability to take into consideration, their policy preferences when they are deciding on whom to vote. This is the main reason why ‘issue voting’ has been an interest research area for those who raise any concerns relating to the empirical democratic theory, especially with regard to Vietnam’s situation.

            Previous research relating to American voting behavior with regard to the Vietnam War issue does not seem to have been kind to the democratic theory. Rather, it has been observed to support two main propositions: (a) policy voting is rare (b) the infrequency of policy voting arises as a result of shortcomings of the citizens (Page & Brody 1972, p. 982), (Andrade 2008, p. 167).

            According to Chomsky, (1993, p. 187), democratic theory research indicates that voters lack the involvement, attention and information, something that saps their own ability to choose candidates on the basis of the preferences they have. In short, voters are simply of policy rationality. Before a final judgment can be made, though, it is important for several challenges to be thrown in the way of this proposition, with the aim of testing it. One of these challenges, according to Page & Brody (1972, p. 982), alters any grounds for a discussion of the democratic theory as it is normally applied by researchers to describe the end of the Vietnam War. Page and Brody argue that no matter how little prospective policy voting that occurs, the various requirements of democratic theories can still be met if retrospective evaluations of the level of governmental performance exist.

            The year 1968, says Buzzanco (1999, p. 311), was a very chaotic one for the U.S. the main policy issue that shaped the campaigns was the Vietnam War. For Nixon, this was a time to bring about a new face and character, an approach that some people credit to his ascension to power once again, for a second term. He argued that this was time for a change, whereby he promised to bring to an end the domestic violence that was taking place at home and the Vietnam War (Schulzinger 1997, p. 209).           

Small (2004, p. 196) observes that Nixon’s presidential reelection campaign was largely media-based, whereby he used the available platforms to emphasize on the need for “law and order” and “peace with honor”. He did not seem to encounter any significant obstacles in getting the Republican nomination.

Wong (1995, p. 24) indicates that as if in proof of the democratic theory, where scholars claim that it is rare for electorates to vote based on policies, Nixon was re-elected as president despite giving ambiguous positions and statements on the Vietnam War. He claimed that “the war must be ended in order for peace to be won” yet de did not explain how he intended to end it. He merely referred to a plan of ensuring that it was ended honorably. He failed to explain the plan on the ground that any further elaboration might interfere with the efforts that the Johnson administration had made to reach a settlement. Additionally, he insisted that any elaboration might also weaken his bargaining power once he became president. At a personal level, Nixon was becoming increasingly assertive about the Vietnam issue; especially with regard to the negotiations that President Johnson had initiated with North Korea (Herzog 2005, p. 116).

Lind (1999, p. 293) contends that Whichever way in which one looks at the U.S’s position in Vietnam, there were many ways in which the country would have dealt with the proliferation of communism in South Vietnam without having to suffer a humiliating defeat. Additionally, aside from the pervasive problem that the U.S suffered from by way of poor strategic planning, there were absolutely no true showstoppers to stand in the way of the country’s success (Werner & Hunt1993, p. 121)

Berkowitz (1973, p. 12) thinks that the most crucial factor in the Vietnam War that the Nixon administration failed to understand was the asymmetry of political control capacity and social mobilization within Vietnam. No U.S efforts could succeed in making up for asymmetry in mobilization, political motivation, and managing a structured organization between Vietnamese communists and non-communists. Therefore, the implication was that this war would only be won by the U.S at a hefty price, in which case, a highly thought-out strategy was needed as well.

Much of the heated on-off-on debate relating to the ballistic missile defense reveals a very persisting terrain of divergent views, in which case, according to American scholars, Vietnam is a firmly settled country (Foley 2003, p. 21). Most of these scholars agree that the U.S committed a fatal mistake of partaking to defend Saigon. However, most of these arguments and judgments are based on the outcome of the war rather than a test of various theories of war and politics.

The proposition that the US efforts in Vietnam were preordained to failure seems to lack validity considering that the odds for success by the U.S in Vietnam would not have been very high if history was anything to go by. On the other hand, presumptions that historians often make is that a communist victory was always going to be an easy one to achieve, no matter the military might of the United States; that for one reason or the other, it was going to be impossible for the U.S to guarantee the survival of a non-communist South Vietnam.

Even in the cases where authors, with their academic tidiness reinforced by the democratic theory, allow that the U.S may have prevailed in the war, they often tend to extend the argument by saying that a consistent application of various counterinsurgency techniques would have made a very significant change in the results of the war.

The bedrock of all these arguments is that a win for the US would have taken the form of a long-term political autonomy of South Vietnam, and the maintenance of non-communist regime that would stand the test of aggression by North Vietnam, just as it happened in South Korea (Tierney 2005, p. 7).

Throughout the Vietnam War, the position of the U.S was that of a world superpower that possessed enormous financial and diplomatic resources, in addition to a copiously equipped and well-trained army. The other capabilities include tactical airpower, strategic positioning and a host of other military resources. In other words, in material terms, the U.S had staggering advantages over her North Vietnam rival. This relative power was acknowledged implicitly by President Richard Nixon, when he said in 1969 that “North Vietnam can never humiliate or defeat the U.S, only Americans can to that”. In other words, all that the U.S policymakers needed to do was make a massive miscalculation in order for North Vietnam to get the victory, which they did.

It is not usual for a country to take pride in such an overwhelming material advantage over a weak opponent, only to suffer a humiliating defeat. Washington had the ability to shape its long-term involvement in Indochina to a very high degree (Mandelbaum 1982, p. 213). Hall (2001, p.11) indicates that the US military was not only superior compared to its North Vietnamese adversaries, but it also had a much stronger intervening power, in that it had absolute control over the tempo and the manner in which it was involved in the entire war. The U.S military could launch combat at a time of its choosing. Additionally, it could freely choose whether or not to continue with operations in Cambodia, Laos, and/or North Vietnam.

In conclusion, the defeat of the U.S military was not as a result of being outsmarted by North Vietnam and the communists; rather it was caused by the Americans themselves. The opposition that was led by the anti-Vietnam War Movement campaigners contributed greatly in killing the morale of the American forces. These findings are supported by both the democratic theory and the nation-building theory.  As President Richard Nixon noted, the defeat of the US in Vietnam was caused by Americans, not the North Vietnamese.


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