About the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War is a crucial event in U.S. history and still stands today as a turning point in how Americans viewed the military and trust in the government. [1] The war itself technically began in 1954, but American combat involvement did not begin until President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a series of airstrikes on North Vietnamese targets in 1964 and ordered American troops to protect an American airbase in 1965. This escalation in conflict was informed by a part of American foreign policy known as the “Domino Theory." [1] This theory was a byproduct of the ongoing Cold War the U.S. had been engaged in with the Soviet Union and illustrated an extreme fear of the spread of communism. Specifically, Americans feared that if Vietnam was overtaken by communist powers, there would be a consequential unchecked spread of communism throughout the rest of Asia. 

Another unpopular aspect of the Vietnam War was that Americans feared the continuing cost of American lives was not worth the expressed reasons for joining the war. By November of 1967, there were over 15,000 American casualties, and American troops began to doubt the government’s claim that they were winning the war. [2]

Eventually, the war efforts began to decrease as American troops were pulled out of Vietnam. In 1973, the United States, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam officially agreed to the Paris Peace Accords to end the war and U.S. troops were drawn out afterwards. However, South Vietnam and North Vietnam continued to fight until 1975 when the North Vietnamese conquered Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. 

In all, this deadly war left its mark on Vietnam and the world: over two million Vietnamese were killed and another twelve million became refugees due to the war. Additionally, around 58,000 American troops were killed during the American involvement in Vietnam. Outside of the death toll, the emotional impact of the war deteriorated American trust in its government and foreign policy decisions. Throughout the war effort, protests erupted on college campuses and in Washington D.C., and these activist efforts can be examined as American and college reactions to the war effort. In particular, our project examines sources from 1968 as American involvement had been escalating until 1975 after the fall of Saigon. This context is beneficial to better understanding why students were writing the way they were and potentially reacting to major events during the Vietnam war. By no means is this a complete timeline or presentation of the Vietnam war. Nonetheless, these events and attitudes are useful in understanding the context of the sources and their respective years presented on this website. 

1. McNamara, Robert. "Why Did the US Enter the Vietnam War?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, thoughtco.com/why-did-us-enter-vietnam-war-195158.

2. History.com Editors. “Vietnam War.” History, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history.