The Pentagon Papers

The Pentagon Papers was the name given to a secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, prepared at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967. As the Vietnam War dragged on and the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam increased to more than 500,000 troops by 1968, the military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (who had worked on the study) came to oppose the war, and decided that the information contained in the Pentagon Papers should be more widely available to the American public. He secretly photocopied the report and in March 1971 gave the copy to The New York Times, which subsequently published a series of articles based on the report’s findings. Amid the national and international uproar that followed, the federal government tried unsuccessfully to block publication of the Pentagon Papers on grounds of national security. Continue reading

William Westmoreland

President Lyndon Johnson chose William Westmoreland, a distinguished veteran of World War II and the Korean War, to command the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV) in June 1964. Over the next four years, the general directed much of U.S. military strategy during the Vietnam War, spearheading the buildup of American troops in the region from 16,000 to more than 500,000. His strategy of attrition aimed to inflict heavy losses on North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces using superior U.S. firepower, but resulted in a costly stalemate by late 1967.

The enemy’s ambitious Tet Offensive in early 1968 cast serious doubt on Westmoreland’s claims of progress in the war effort, even as he called for some 200,000 more troops. Growing antiwar sentiment on the home front led President Johnson to halt bombing attacks on North Vietnam in March 1968, and in June he replaced Westmoreland in command of the MACV. Back in the United States, Westmoreland fought off criticisms of his conduct of the war (including a libel lawsuit against CBS News) and became a dedicated supporter of Vietnam veterans. Continue reading

Famous American Vietnam Vets

Of the nearly 1 million Americans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War era (1964-75), many were or went on to become famous in diverse fields such as politics, entertainment, sports and journalism. The young Navy pilot John McCain, son of a four-star admiral, spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before going on to become a longtime senator from Arizona and a Republican presidential candidate. Oliver Stone, who served in an infantry division in Vietnam for 15 months, drew on his experience in the war for films like “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), both of which earned him Academy Awards for Best Director. These men are just two of the most famous American veterans of the Vietnam War. Continue reading

Weapons of the Vietnam War

From air power to infantry to chemicals, the weapons used in the Vietnam War were more devastating than those of any previous conflict. United States and South Vietnamese forces relied heavily on their superior air power, including B-52 bombers and other aircraft that dropped thousands of pounds of explosives over North Vietnam and Communist targets in South Vietnam. While U.S. troops and their allies used mainly American-manufactured weapons, Communist forces used weapons manufactured in the Soviet Union and China. In addition to artillery and infantry weapons, both sides utilized a variety of tools to further their war aims, including highly toxic chemical defoliants or herbicides (on the U.S. side) and inventive booby traps using sharpened bamboo sticks or crossbows triggered by tripwires (on the North Vietnamese-Viet Cong side). Continue reading