Vietnam: The Retrospect: What Are the Lessons of Vietnam?

The arrival of North Vietnamese troops in Saigon on April 30, 1975. Herve Gloaguen via manhhai/Flickr

When the helicopter rose in flight from the roof of the doomed U.S. embassy in Saigon a decade ago, Americans hoped they had finally left Vietnam behind them. For years afterward there was a widespread effort in the United States to put the Indochina experience out of mind. In the late 1970s, Mike Mansfield, the professor of Far Eastern studies who became U.S. Senate majority leader and then ambassador to Japan, told an English radio audience:

It seems to me the American people want to forget Vietnam and not even remember that it happened. But the cost was 55,000 dead, 303,000 wounded, $150 billion. With some of us it will never be forgotten because it was one of the most tragic, if not the most tragic, episodes in American history. It was unnecessary, uncalled for, it wasn’t tied to our security or a vital interest. It was just a misadventure

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