Aftermath Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The denouement of the conflict in Vietnam was as tragic as any event in the war. Although a presumed peace had been achieved in January 1973 and the Americans had pulled out with their “honor” intact, all was not as it seemed. Almost immediately after the peace accords, South Vietnam faced renewed military challenges from the North and from its enemies in the South—as many observers had predicted would happen. The difference now was that South Vietnam was on its own. Within two years communist oppositional forces were encircling Saigon and threatening the country's survival. A request was made by President Gerald Ford for congressional authorization of additional funds, the case being made personally before Congress by Henry Kissinger. But to no avail—the request was denied. A last-ditch effort was made to remove the last Americans from the capital along with hundreds of Vietnamese who had supported the United States. It was a tense time, but in the end the US embassy was abandoned and Saigon fell to the communists. Although the Vietnamese nation was once again unified, it had been devastated by decades of war. The idea of the United States having exited the scene “with honor” seemed more dubious than ever.

The denouement of the conflict in Vietnam was as tragic as any event in the war. Although a presumed peace had been achieved in January 1973 and the Americans had pulled out with their “honor” intact, all was not as it seemed. Almost immediately after the peace accords, South Vietnam faced renewed military challenges from the North and from its enemies in the South—as many observers had predicted would happen. The difference now was that South Vietnam was on its own. Within two years communist oppositional forces were encircling Saigon and threatening the country's survival. A request was made by President Gerald Ford for congressional authorization of additional funds, the case being made personally before Congress by Henry Kissinger. But to no avail—the request was denied. A last-ditch effort was made to remove the last Americans from the capital along with hundreds of Vietnamese who had supported the United States. It was a tense time, but in the end the US embassy was abandoned and Saigon fell to the communists. Although the Vietnamese nation was once again unified, it had been devastated by decades of war. The idea of the United States having exited the scene “with honor” seemed more dubious than ever.

Back home in the United States, however, the war was already something that most Americans were happy to forget. The need to change the narrative to something more positive soon extended to those who had evaded the draft during the war years. First, in September 1974, President Ford issued an amnesty offer to draft avoiders, allowing them to serve in alternative programs if they declared themselves; then, in January 1977, President Jimmy Carter authorized a full pardon of evaders. The move caused consternation among the war's supporters, but the general consensus was that it was the right thing to do. In addition, many came to feel that it was time to honor those who had lost their lives fighting in the war. War veteran Jan Scruggs put forth the idea of erecting a national monument. Yet, like almost everything else concerning Vietnam, that project too proved controversial. The design chosen for the memorial, created by a young Chinese American named Maya Lin, seemed too severe in the eyes of many. A compromise was agreed to that saw Lin's original monument erected along with a pair of more traditional statuary works. Over the years, however, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial came to be widely revered and today remains one of the most visited sites in Washington, D.C.

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