|The War's Consequences
|Digital History ID 3469|
The Vietnam War had far-reaching consequences for the United States. It led Congress to replace the military draft with an all-volunteer force and the country to reduce the voting age to 18. It also inspired Congress to attack the "imperial" presidency through the War Powers Act, restricting a president's ability to send American forces into combat without explicit Congressional approval. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees have helped restore blighted urban neighborhoods.
The Vietnam War severely damaged the U.S. economy. Unwilling to raise taxes to pay for the war, President Johnson unleashed a cycle of inflation.
The war also weakened U.S. military morale and undermined, for a time, the U.S. commitment to internationalism. The public was convinced that the Pentagon had inflated enemy casualty figures, disguising the fact that the country was engaged in a military stalemate. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States was wary of getting involved anywhere else in the world out of fear of another Vietnam. Since then, the public's aversion to casualties inspired strict guidelines for the commitment of forces abroad and a heavy reliance on air power to project American military power.
The war in Vietnam deeply split the Democratic Party. As late as 1964, over 60 percent of those surveyed identified themselves in opinion polls as Democrats. The party had won seven of the previous nine presidential elections. But the prosecution of the war alienated many blue-collar Democrats, many of whom became political independents or Republicans. To be sure, other issues--such as urban riots, affirmative action, and inflation--also weakened the Democratic Party. Many former party supporters viewed the party as dominated by its anti-war faction, weak in the area of foreign policy, and uncertain about America's proper role in the world.
Equally important, the war undermined liberal reform and made many Americans deeply suspicious of government. President Johnson's Great Society programs competed with the war for scarce resources, and constituencies who might have supported liberal social programs turned against the president as a result of the war. The war also made Americans, especially the baby boomer generation, more cynical and less trusting of government and of authority.
Today, decades after the war ended, the American people remain deeply divided over the conflict's meaning. A Gallup Poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed believe that the war was "a well intentioned mistake," while 43 percent believe it was "fundamentally wrong and immoral."
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