The Vietnam War was a disaster, and went on record as being the only war that the United States ever lost in the twentieth century. The immediate effect of the war on individuals, families, institutions and the American society was deep, and changed the perspective of Americans on the government radically. There was considerable opposition to the war in the United States, and the antiwar sentiment spread from being directed towards the government and the military to a drastic change in the culture of the American society. I will seek to investigate how this war impacted on the American culture at the war period, during the years that immediately followed American loss at the war up and its effects to date.
A research into the impact of the Vietnam War on the American culture is important. A review of a timeline of the cultural changes in the United States since the end of the Second World War is important to evaluate the trends in the cultural scenes of the American society. Such an in depth knowledge of the cultural trends would be useful in forecasting how certain social events would have an effect on the culture of the society.
The study will also be important in tracing the origins of some of the current popular culture that characterise the American way of life today. Such an understanding would be important in the development of policies by relevant institutions to develop and control industries in which they operate. It would also serve as an important resource to governance institutions in the management of information and evaluation of how policy changes would likely impact and possibly change the current way of life.
Extensive literature has been developed on the subject of the impact that the Vietnam War had on the American culture. This has taken several directions, with several authors taking different views on the particular effects of the war on the American culture.
According to Savich (2000) the cultural changes that resulted in the American society were due to the interpretation of the Vietnam War. It is a well established fact that the policy of the United States government that led to the war was ill informed and was a huge mistake. The conduct of the war itself was full of mistakes, glaring inefficiencies and miscalculations that were very costly in terms of human life and monetary input. The formation of public opinion during the war was mainly against a backdrop of this bad performance by the government and the military. Many people felt that the war was a bad mistake that could have been avoided if government policymakers had made objective evaluations of the strategic value of Vietnam to the United States. Understanding the interpretations that the society may have on any given policy actions by the government or public institutions is an important aspect that needs consideration at policy level formulation at all levels of governance (Savich, 2000).
The use of war propaganda on the American public by the government when conducting the war also played a key part in influencing cultural change (Herring, 1986). This propaganda was aimed at manipulating the opinions and attitudes of the American society. Propaganda, though it may from time to time contain some elements of truth, it is mostly fabricated using lies. Propaganda is used by authorities waging war as a standpoint for supporting the war. The propaganda machinery employed by the United States government was through a control of information. Through manipulation of information, the government was able to give its own skewed account of what was happening in the war. However, the propaganda machinery for the Vietnam War did not work out well as envisioned, and at some point during the war, it came upon the realisation of the American public that a true account of what was happening in the war was not being accurately reported, and more seriously, the government and its agencies has been deliberately providing misleading information. The reaction to this was a growing resentment and anger towards the government and its institutions. As a way of showing its dissatisfaction, the society reacted by developing a type of rebelliousness which ultimately resulted on the emergence of a new culture in the American society. A good example of this is the antiwar protests where young men developed into habits of usage of drugs, heavy alcoholic intakes and inhibited sexual practices as a way of rebelling against the established system of government which was not acting to their best interests. As such, a study into the effects of information sharing of government and its agencies is important since it enables the development of a system of information management which should not result into drastic societal changes. It also offers a study which can be used to control public opinion (Herring, 1986).
In the years that followed the end of the war, Hollywood sought to give a new perception of the war, through a depiction of the courage and heroism of the American soldiers who fought the war. Those who supported the war used this as a platform to show that the Americans did not waste such vast resources for no cause but were indeed fighting the spread of communism. Authors have admittedly agreed that though the war was destructive and horrific, it offered valuable lessons for America on the conduct of war, and this may well explain the long period that it took for America to reluctantly enter into the foray of the gulf way in the late 1980s.
The development of a public opinion on the Vietnam War was to a great extent influenced by television. During the mid 1960’s, the television had become the most powerful source of information to the American society. As the government made blunders in the conduct of the war, Americans turned to television as the main media source of information. Thus, from a war fought thousands of miles away, a television culture grew in leaps and bounds. A clear investigation of this growth in television media would be important in the prediction of popular media trends in the future and what possible turnarounds may occur in the future regarding the sharing of information. This is important, especially against today’s development of the internet and social networking platforms (Neuman, Just, Crigler, 1992).
According to Herring (1986) the anti war movement was a powerful force that developed as a result of the war, and to which most of the cultural changes that occurred can be attributed to. Famous personalities such as civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., boxing champion Muhammad Ali and actress Jane Fonda actively participated in these anti war protests. Also key to these protests were ex servicemen who had served in the Vietnam War. This anti war movement was composed of three major groups; the pacifists who opposed war at all cost and viewed it as immoral, a leftist group which viewed the war in Vietnam as a classic exploitation of the rich by the poor, and anti war liberals who viewed the war as a waste of resources which could be more beneficially employed at home. It is from these anti war movement that a new popular culture emerged. Many radical ideas that developed from these anti war protests became accepted and ingrained into the American way of life (American Cultural History 1970-1979). As a result, they were incorporated into American social life and the events of that time that represented the horrors of war became inspiration for literature, music, film production and fashion (Herman & Chomsky, 2002).
Savich, Carl K. (2008) "War, Journalism, and Propaganda ". Serbianna.com. 15th March 2013. .
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books.
Hallin, D. C. (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. Los Angeles: California University of California Press.
Anderegg, M. (1991). Inventing Vietnam - The War in Film and Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
McNamara, R. S. (2000). Argument without End. New York: West-view Press, New edition.