The war with no winners

The Vietnam war differed from other wars that America had fought in up until this point in a number of different ways. Two of the biggest adjustments were that this was a war of attrition with no clear-cut battlegrounds, and, as Christian Appy argues, it was a “working-class” war. Almost 80 percent of the men who served in the war came from “working-class and poor backgrounds” (Appy). This can be attributed to the way that the military recruited and drafted their soldiers. Aside from the draft, the institutions that were most responsible for military recruiting were schools and the job market. Due to this, working-class children were directed to serve in the war, while their middle and upper-class peers were heading off to college. Thanks to their paths on to higher education, most young men from wealthy families were able to avoid the draft. Thus, the Vietnam war was mainly fought by children whose parents were already doing America’s dirty work. In both cases, they were under-appreciated for their sacrifices, whether in their jobs at home or fighting the nation’s most unpopular war abroad. On top of the armed forces coming from primarily working class families, enlistees were also taken from the “largest generation of young people in the nation’s history” (Appy). In WWII, the average American soldier was around 26 years old; in contrast, most soldiers in Vietnam were nineteen years old and fresh out of high school. 

Part of the reason that U.S. troops became demoralized by the late 1960s was because the soldiers didn’t feel like they were fighting for a real cause. It was very difficult to feel committed to the cause when the enemy was so elusive that the soldiers felt like they were making no progress. It was also hard for the soldiers because of the loss of support for the war from the people back in the U.S., which made the soldiers’ sacrifices seem even less noble and worthy. In addition to this, success in the war was measured mostly by body count since there wasn’t any one front they were trying to hold. This led to many soldiers feeling extremely desensitized to the horror all around them and they began to see the enemy in any Vietnamese person, whether they were VC or not. Despite the low morale that rapidly spread through the troops, they took the job of protecting each other very seriously. They may not have believed in the cause, but they believed in doing their best to get each other home alive. 

I think that there is still a class divide that exists in U.S. military service today. I feel like wealthy people continue to avoid serving in the army, whether that’s because they don’t volunteer, or because they have the means to avoid being drafted. The rich are much less susceptible to recruiting techniques than people from the lower classes because they aren’t in need of anything. When the military goes to schools and offers employment prospects or help financing college, it is the poor that are drawn in and continue to be pressured at much higher rates to serve in the armed forces. 

2 thoughts on “The war with no winners

  1. Great post. I thought you made really good points about the nature of soldiers and the U.S. military today. The point you made about how soldiers were not able to fight for a cause but just each other, really accurately reflected the nature of soldiers during Vietnam. I wonder if as many soldiers that enlisted would have enlisted if they knew that there was so little to actually fight for. I completely agree with your other point that the rich today are much less likely to give into recruiting tactics by the military because they have the money to easily afford college or other options entirely.


  2. I liked your post. It is interesting to think about how willing the government is to gear recruitment practices towards the poor and working class. We’ve all heard the stories of rich people buying their way out of the draft, it was merely more obvious during the Vietnam War. Clearly those whose solemn power it is to declare wars have a vested interest in ensuring too many wealthy donors don’t get drafted. It seems the national conversation around corruption writ large has been enveloped into partisan ideals.


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