Popular Misconceptions of the Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War has always been a lightning rod of controversy ever since the anti-war movement broke out in the 1960s. For decades, various misconceptions have skewed the American public’s understanding and perception of a war fought halfway across the globe. Unfortunately, the men and women who risked and gave their lives for freedom and democracy continue to suffer from these misrepresentations. Let’s put some of the most common popular misconceptions to rest once and for all.

Most of the war was fought by draftees.

Somehow, the idea caught on that the majority of people fighting in Vietnam were forced into the conflict by the military draft. This was a convenient talking point for people who mischaracterized the war as something people thrust upon the American people without any sort of support. In reality, the overwhelming majority of fighters volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War for a variety of honorable motivations. Only around one-third of the fighters were drafted, contradicting the idea that the war was unpopular among all citizens. On top of that, 70% of those who perished in the war were volunteers, sparing the majority of draftees.

The US sent its youngest to battle.

Another unfounded yet popular claim about the Vietnam War is that it was primarily fought by young soldiers. When hearing about the conflict, many people envision young men in their late teens being forced into battle against their will to fight for a cause in which they don’t believe. We’ve already laid to rest the idea that most fighters were draftees, and we can easily disprove this idea that Vietnam War soldiers were the youngest of our armed forces. The average age of the service members sent over to Vietnam was actually 22. No enlisted grades had an average of less than 20.

The Vietnam War was an imperial effort.

One of the most modern misconceptions about the Vietnam War is that it was an imperial war waged by the colonially-motivated US against a helpless third-world country. This revisionist history couldn’t be further from the truth. At the time, Vietnam was embroiled in a bitter civil war. As communist North Vietnam threatened the freedoms of the South Vietnamese, the government reached out to request military and economic support from the US to fuel their effort. Our government was reluctant at first but eventually became fully involved with the goal of protecting the South from invasion.

The US lost the war.

The claim that the US lost the Vietnam War is perhaps the most pervasive and misleading misconception about the conflict. It’s an easy way for people to discount everything that was put on the line in pursuit of the effort. Unfortunately, it also discredits the sacrifices made by veterans. This point derives from a glaring misunderstanding of the US objectives for the intervention. Although it would have been ideal to keep Vietnam from falling into the hands of the communist North, the primary goal was to stymie the spread of communism on a global scale. Considering that there are only five communist countries in the world today, including Vietnam, it’s clear to see that the US achieved its main objective.

Fighting in WWII was more intense.

Unfortunately, the American public generally looks more favorably on the US intervention in WWII than the Vietnam War. Although there are a complex variety of factors causing this disparity, one of the reasons is the perceived intensity of the conflicts. People tend to know more about WWII from school, books, and media, making it easier to empathize with veterans. Due to prevalent misconceptions, people know much less about the brutality Vietnam veterans saw in action. The average soldier in Vietnam saw an unbelievable 240 days of combat per year which is 8x as much as the average infantryman in WWII.

Our Oregonian brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War deserve to be honored, celebrated, and memorialized. That’s exactly what the Oregon Vietnam Memorial Fund is on a mission to accomplish. Currently, we’re raising money to build a memorial in Oregon worthy of those who served in Vietnam. Show your appreciation to the brave veterans by donating to bring this memorial to life.