Vietnam — What most people don’t know — And similarities to Afghanistan

When the U.S. was in the process of losing its 20-year war in Afghanistan – one of the poorest nations on earth – I kept thinking of similarities with the U.S.’s ongoing cruelty and violence and war crimes in Vietnam from the 1940s to 1975.  (Vietnam also was a very poor nation, but Vietnam’s people defeated the world’s most powerful military decades before Afghanistan did that to the U.S.)

Mainstream U.S. news media have a very long record of kowtowing to U.S. foreign policy instead of reporting critical and true information.  Most schools’ history classes run behind schedule in the spring and fail to adequately cover recent history.  Whatever they do teach about Vietnam is certainly not accurate and – like other aspects of history courses – is biased in favor of the U.S. government’s propaganda.

When the U.S. was losing the Afghanistan war, I kept thinking that I’d like to write a blog post to inform people about what REALLY happened in the U.S.’s war in Vietnam.  Almost nobody – even people in my generation – know some of the basic facts.

Here are just a few of the realities that most Americans do now know:

— Vietnam had been France’s colony, but the Vietnamese people wanted independence.  Their great leader for independence was Ho Chi Minh.  He had asked U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt for help in achieving freedom, independence and democracy, but Roosevelt rebuffed him, so Ho Chi Minh asked the Soviet Union for help, and they agreed.  Only then did Ho Chi Minh support Communism.  This caused the U.S. – with our Cold War blinders – to see this as a Cold War issue instead of a nation’s people seeking independence and democracy.

— Japan seized Vietnam during World War II, but when World War II ended, France ended up with their colony again, and the U.S. – instead of helping the Vietnamese people achieve independence – helped France’s military continue its war against Vietnam.  When France finally lost at Dien Ben Phu in 1954, the U.S. was paying 80% of France’s war costs there.

— The ceasefire ended with a TEMPORARY line across the country so the combatants at each side could withdraw across that line.  The ceasefire agreement said it was ABSOLUTELY NOT to be construed as a national boundary line with separate nations on each side, but the U.S. violated that and treated North Vietnam and South Vietnam as separate nations.

— The U.S. militarily supported the South because the Communists had settled in the North.  But the South Vietnamese governments were extremely corrupt.  The U.S. started sending military “advisors” and then escalated into sending military troops.  Eventually, HALF A MILLION American troops were occupying South Vietnam and committing horrible war crimes against the people and their environment.


Congress might force women to register for the military draft:

In mid-2021 Congress is considering whether to force young women to join the U.S. army against their will through the military draft, which has been oppressing men since 1940 (except for a brief period from 1975 to 1980).  Men are required to register at age 18.  A recent federal court decision said that was discriminatory against women, so Congress must decide wither to oppress both sexes equally or to stop the draft law.  Nobody has been inducted into the army through the draft since 1975, but registration has continued.  The U.S. House Armed Services Committee passed a requirement for women to register.  If Congress passes it and the President signs it, young women living in the U.S. (including non-citizens) would be forced under penalty of law (5 years in prison and $250,000 fine) to sign up so the government could pull you out of college or pull you out of your job or out of your own private life and force you to be a soldier for several years.


The U.S. government kept LYING to us about Vietnam:

President Johnson lied to the American people and to Congress in order to get permission to escalate the U.S. war.  A Navy ship was actually in North Vietnam’s waters when a North Vietnamese ship attacked it, but Johnson lied and said it was in international waters.  I remember watching Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, speaking on TV about this.  They were lying.  The U.S. had violated international law and fooled Congress into giving him permission (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) for escalating the war without any limits.  This is similar to George W. Bush’s lies for the U.S. wars in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2002).

For many years the U.S. had been lying to us about getting into Vietnam, what we were actually doing there, and how the war was proceeding.  Daniel Ellsberg copied many, many documents that exposed their lies in what has been called “The Pentagon Papers.”  The U.S. government took legal action to prevent two newspapers from publishing them, but they were published anyway.

The government kept telling us we were making progress and winning the war, but we kept losing.  (I know people who were in the U.S. military in Vietnam, and they have told me stories of lies that were underway.)  This happened in Afghanistan too.


The U.S. did horrible things to Vietnamese people and their environment:

Most of the Vietnamese people did not want us there.  Some hid in the jungles and shot into the U.S. army bases.

A very close friend was drafted away from his job and his pregnant wife and forced into the army against his will.  The army trained him to conduct chemical warfare and sent him to Vietnam.  He job was to spread horribly toxic defoliants to kill all of the vegetation around U.S. army bases so the local people (whose nation the U.S. was illegally occupying) could not shoot onto our bases.

The U.S. spread enormous amounts of extremely toxic herbicides and other poisons widely throughout Vietnam.  Some of them (such as the one called “Agent Orange”) caused horrible medical problems to the U.S. service members as well as to Vietnamese people.  Many, many of the babies were born with horrible birth defects.  The toxics are persisting in the environment and in the gene pool, so many birth defects are still occurring there – in addition to the American babies born to fathers who had dealt with the chemicals.

Many areas within Vietnam had huge majorities who wanted the U.S. to get out of their country, so the U.S. declared some of those areas to be “free-fire zones,” and authorized U.S. troops to SHOOT AND KILL everything that was alive – including all farm animals and all people.  Some massacres occurred, including the one at My Lai, where a U.S. army unit slaughtered hundreds of people of all ages, including elderly people and babies.

President Nixon escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, even though those nations had been neutral.  Overall, the U.S. dropped more tons of bombs in the Vietnam war than ALL nations had dropped EVERYWHERE throughout World War II.


The U.S. did NOT learn the important lessons from Vietnam and launched a cruel “War on Terror.”

Just like Nixon escalated the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia against those nation’s wishes, so also the U.S. extended the “War on Terror” beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to many other nations throughout that region – and into a number of African nations, the Philippines and elsewhere.

President Johnson said we sought to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people, but his actions and Nixon’s actions did the opposite.  We killed more than 2 million people in that region, injured many more, burned down countless houses and villages, killed many farm animals, defoliated many square miles of crops, and spread venereal diseases among the women.  Is that how you win people’s “hearts and minds”?

The U.S. has committed horrible acts of violence throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.  When the U.S. sends drones to kill people in an Afghan wedding reception, does that win their “hearts and minds”?

Kennedy, Johnson and Congress accomplished much good work in the early-to-mid-1960s in promoting social and economic justice, including passing Civil Rights legislation and Medicare and much good effort to bring people out of poverty (e.g., many parts of the “War on Poverty”).  But Johnson cut far back in federal spending for those good things in order to use our tax dollars to fight his horribly expensive war in Vietnam.

Likewise, nowadays the U.S. needs to invest in health care, environmental cleanup, the Green New Deal, etc., but many politicians say we can’t afford those.  We spent trillions of dollars fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Martin Luther King, Jr., strongly opposed the Vietnam War for several reasons:

Martin Luther King, Jr., publicly opposed the Vietnam war for several reasons, including its blatant racism, its cruelty to African Americans in the military fighting (supposedly) for democracy there that they were prevented from practicing here in the U.S., and for the horrible cost that was taking money away from efforts to reduce poverty here.  I recommend reading his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech.  Exactly one year after he delivered this speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, he was murdered in Memphis (and many people believe that his assassination date was a direct retaliation by the U.S. government for having spoken out boldly against the war).These quotations from that speech and other occasions are powerful:

  • “One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society… shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.”
  • “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  …  A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’  A nation that continues year and year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
  • “For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born.  Our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered.  our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr., on p. 133 of his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here:  Chaos or Community?
  • “…And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”  This came from his April 4, 1967, “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City.  You can watch his powerful speech at this link:


Here are some more quotations from MLK about the Vietnam war:


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About GlenAnderson 1515 Articles
Since the late 1960s Glen Anderson has devoted his life to working as a volunteer for peace, nonviolence, social justice, and progressive political issues. He has worked through many existing organizations and started several. Over the years he has worked especially for such wide-ranging goals as making peace with Vietnam, eliminating nuclear weapons, converting from a military economy to a peacetime economy, abolishing the death penalty, promoting nonviolence at all levels throughout society, and helping people organize and strategize for grassroots movements to solve many kinds of problems. He writes, speaks, and conducts training workshops on a wide variety of topics. Since 1987 he has produced and hosted a one-hour cable TV interview program on many kinds of issues. Since 2017 he has blogged at He lives in Lacey near Olympia WA. You can reach him at (360) 491-9093