Statesmen versus Warlords
Perhaps no event in recent history has so profoundly affected the political, sociological, and philosophical outlook of the American people as the Vietnam War. George Bell, Undersecretary of State from 1961 through 1966, called Vietnam the “greatest single error that America has made in its national history” (Legacies). As the first war the United States had ever lost, Vietnam shattered American confidence in its military supremacy and engendered a new wave of isolationist sentiment in the country. Mistrusting their government and retreating into a state of general disillusionment, the public demanded to know what went wrong. The people needed a scapegoat. Some groups blamed the military commanders for…show more content…
In refusing to allow an invasion of North Vietnam, Washington placed its military in a very dangerous situation, “an untenable strategic position where the enemy’s territory was inviolable while the territory of [its] ally was open to attack” (Summers 69).
Men like Ulysses Sharp, Commander and Chief of United States Naval Operations in the Pacific from 1964 through 1968, pushed for a widening of United States bombing targets and a show of greater force, but Washington would not comply “for fear of Chinese and Soviet reactions in support of North Vietnam” (“Vietnam War” 13). Sharp and his contemporaries were encountering the same problem that Douglas MacArthur had faced a decade earlier in the Korean War: “the concept that when you use force, you can limit that force” (qtd. in Millis 481). This idea was as alien to commanders in Vietnam as it had been to MacArthur, who warned “if you hit soft, if you practice appeasement in the use of force, you are doomed to disaster” (qtd. in Millis 482). In his book Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect, Sharp echoes MacArthur’s words, saying, “The application of military, war-making power is an ugly thing—stark, harsh and demanding—and it