Consider for just a moment the following scenario: the United States finds itself embroiled in a war for which no foreseeable end is in sight. The president finds himself on the low end of the approval polls and the American people are staging protests against the war that the president is dedicated to waging. While this sounds like it was taken from the headlines of today, and indeed it could be, but it just as well applies to the era of president Richard Nixon and the age of the Vietnam War. This essay will focus on several facets of Nixon, the war he led, and the scandal that ultimately ended his administration, but created echoes that are heard even today.
Political and Social Outcomes of the End of the War in Vietnam
The Vietnam War, of course created all of the sadness, caution and concern that all wars throughout history have created. Additionally, there are definite political and social outcomes from the war that still echo in the American psyche decades after the official end to the war itself. Politically, Vietnam was a rude awakening for the American political/military machine because this war represented the first time that the US was engaged in a war that it did not win. While there is lingering debate as to whether the Vietnam War was lost, few can debate that the war was not decisively won by US troops.
From this political fallout came several social consequences for the American people. With the potential that the US could not defeat Communism in any specific way, the American people began to doubt the effectiveness of their government more so than at any other time in history. Not all people doubted the government’s potency, however, and this gave rise to two sides that would start to debate one another starting in the Vietnam era and continuing into the present day (Gilbert, 2001).
Lastly, the end of Vietnam led to a general distrust of the government as a whole, as stories began to leak out about the backroom military planning, lack of accurate information being released to the public, and what many saw as a war that was lost not because of an undefeatable enemy but because of an American military that was too mired in political infighting and self interest to win any war.
A Comparison of Nixon’s Policies of Engagement and Cold War Strategies
During the Cold War, Richard Nixon held true to one overriding philosophy- “Peace with Honor”. This simple statement has far reaching implications because of several considerations about the Vietnamese War. Eventually, Nixon came to realization that the war was one that could not be won for several reasons. First, American troops were utilizing conventional military techniques in an unconventional war, fought against an enemy that used hidden tunnels, soldiers without noticeable uniforms, and primitive forms of terrorism such as suicide bombers who would detonate explosives in the midst of American soldiers, killing them by the dozens at a time. Second, what was really being fought in Vietnam was not another army, but a massive social and political machine called Communism.
The forces behind Communism stretched far beyond the borders of Vietnam and represented a foe that would never really be defeated in conventional battle. What these facts meant for Nixon, and indeed for the entire nation was that while it may be possible for the United States to be able to withdraw from the war in Vietnam, there really was no way for the war to be won or for Communism to be defeated in the way that physical enemies are neutralized (Katz, 1997). Nixon’s mindset was indicative of the Cold War strategies used both before and after the years that Nixon led the nation. It was long acknowledged that Communism was a force that was not able to be fought and defeated like an army might be able to be fought and defeated, but that it would have to compete against and democracy protected and promoted, likewise bringing about “Peace with Honor” as Nixon advocated.
Measure the Impact of the Watergate Scandal on Public Perception of Government Power
President Richard Nixon, in the early 1970s, found himself entangled in the Vietnam War but also faced with the possibility that he would not be re-elected to the presidency in the upcoming election. With the pursuit of that re-election in mind, it now is apparent that Nixon was involved in planning, and trying to cover up, the burglary of the Democratic national headquarters in the scandal that would come to be known as Watergate. In the aftermath of Watergate, public perception of government power was changed forever. During the 1970s, much of the general public, in particular those of college age, did not trust the government because of what they saw as an unjust war in Vietnam and the accompanying withholding of information about the war itself which was viewed by many as a government conspiracy to deliberately mislead the public in the pursuit of self interests on the part of government officials, from the president himself and downward into the ranks of the US government (Genovese, 2004). This distrust led to the mantra “don’t trust anyone over the age of 30”, as young Americans viewed their elders as selfish power grabbers who were using the blood of the youth to serve their own means.
The mistrust of the government likewise had effects on the presidency that has repeated itself in almost every subsequent administration since Nixon resigned in the heat of Watergate. Whether one looks at the Clinton, Reagan, or Bush(es) administrations, there are examples where the Nixon-era suspicion of the government comes out, as allegations are made that the president is more concerned with public approval and his own well-being than he is in being honest and forthcoming with the citizens of the nation (Genovese, 2004). Skepticism can of course be healthy or destructive, especially in evaluating the government. The trick, going forward, will be for Americans to recognize the difference between being aware of the government’s actions and petty criticisms that are driven by political self interest and not what is best for the nation as a whole.
In this essay, the past and present has been brought together. This linking of history’s events makes it possible to realize that the more things change, the more that they seem to remain the same. It also makes it possible to understand that events do not take place in isolation from other events that came before them, but there is an historic influence of the past on the events of the present and will eventually affect the events of the future. This also brings about the old adage that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. If political leaders and even the average person on the street fail to pay attention to what has happened before and do something better, no good will come of it.