Viet Nam War and Its Comparison to Term Paper

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Viet Nam War and its comparison to several social theories. Using the war as a measuring stick theories are examined and held against the war to see how the war could be applied to each theory. The writer explains a short history of each theory and then examines how the war holds up using that particular theory.

The Viet Nam War was arguably the most controversial war that America has ever been involved in. It sparked social movements that had never before been seen. It pitted the young against the old, the conservative against the liberal and the rich against the poor in ways that threatened to tear the nation in pieces. Until Viet Nam, service personnel had been considered heroes, worthy of the nation's admiration. During the Viet Nam war those who served often came home to being spit on, and having things thrown at time. Until Viet Nam efforts were made to preserve the life of those serving the nation.

Their jobs were protected with pride, their families were aided if needed and the nation banded together to provide support to the conflicts. During the Viet Nam war this was not the case. The Viet Nam is an excellent study in social theories as it does not follow the predictable patterns of previous wars.

Many social theories can be applied to this particular war and examined to see how the war dovetails or fights against the theory and its basic foundation. An examination of social theories against the Viet Nam war can be very telling about what America was experiencing at that time.

The Deterrence Theory basically believes that might is right. It is founded in the opinion that convincing an opponent particular actions will elicit a response with measurable and unacceptable damage

"Rather than a simple cost/benefits calculation, however, deterrence is more usefully thought of in terms of a dynamic process with provisions for continuous feedback. The process initially involves determining who shall attempt to deter whom from doing what, and by what means. Several important assumptions underlie most thinking about deterrence. Practitioners tend to assume, for example, that states are unitary actors, and logical according to Western concepts of rationality. Deterrence also assumes that we can adequately understand the calculations of an opponent

The Viet Nam war held against the Deterrence Theory is a study in cultural differences

The Deterrence theory assumes that the other side feels the same way as the one making the future threat. America went into the war believing that its size and power and weapons ability would be enough to quickly squash the problems with the communist side of the war. What was not really focused on, or taken into account was the understanding of the cultural differences between North Viet Nam and America. Basic beliefs were not the same therefore the threat of "We are bigger and stronger than you and if you fight back it will cause us to attack" did little to dissuade the Viet Kong from digging in and fighting back

The Cold War provided a world wide respect of nuclear weapons and the power owning them gave. The deterrence theory relied heavily on that mutual respect of those weapons

. The Viet Nam war when held against the Deterrence Theory fails because those who were on the other side knew from experience that America was "all talk." Much of the war was about holding the line without pushing forward. Time and time again troops were told not to attack, or not to move forward. It soon became apparent that America would not cross those lines, and the implied threat that the deterrence theory is based on became ineffective

"One major flaw in deterrent strategy is what deterrence theorists call "self-deterrence." The problem is that retaliatory threats lack credibility when risks to homeland survival are great (the expected case in nuclear war). Threats of nuclear retaliation can have a hollow ring if it is believed actual retaliation would be self-deterred by fears for national survival

. Also, empty threats have no security value or can even be counterproductive. A former CIA official once remarked: "I can think of no example where the introduction of nuclear weapons has enhanced that region's security."

In the Viet Nam war it was not so much a threat of nuclear attack as it was a threat of power attack. Over and over again the nation threatened to do this if that was not done, and over again the nation did not follow through. The deterrence theory lost its credibility and its clout during the Viet Nam war because America appeared to be all bark and no bite.

Another hurdle when it comes to the theory and the war is that there is an expectation that the opposition will be rational and wise in its decision making. As stories of children being wired and explored, women infecting themselves with disease then approaching Marines and other horrors became public it became apparent that cultural differences would make it impossible for them to react wisely by Western standards. This also helped provide weakness to the deterrence theory in the Viet Nam war.


'The central idea of this theory is that the stability of the international system requires a single dominant state to articulate and enforce the rules of interaction among the most important members of the system. For a state to be a hegemon, it must have three attributes: the capability to enforce the rules of the system, the will to do so, and a commitment to a system which is perceived as mutually beneficial to the major states

A hegemon's capability rests upon the likes of a large, growing economy, dominance in a leading technological or economic sector, and political power backed up by projective military power

. An unstable system will result if economic, technological, and other changes erode the international hierarchy and undermine the position of the dominant state. Pretenders to hegemonic control will emerge if the benefits of the system are viewed as unacceptably unfair

When one holds the Viet Nam war against the Hegemonic Theory one can determine that it was the belief of each side that they should be the dominate state. The North and South side each believed that they held the key to success and cohesive living for the inhabitants of both sides.

The war pitted North against south, communism against democracy and east against west in attitudes and desires. America brought with it the belief that North Viet Nam would be better off if only it would realize and embrace the standards of America

One can test the needed elements of Hegemonic theory against the war easily once the three attributes of the theory are understood. They are:

'The Capability to enforce the rules of the system;

The Will to do so;

A Commitment to a system which is perceived as mutually beneficial to the major states

To achieve these three objectives many factors must be present. One of the most important needs of the theory is a large and a growing economy. During the war this became a factor on both sides as funds dwindled and the war ravaged the entire nation

A second factor in the theory involves leading technological dominance. In the case of the war there was a lack of technology which seriously impairs the ability to become hegemonic.

The final element needed when it comes to the theory, is political power backed up by projective military power. In theory this was provided, at least for the South side but in actuality because of America's refusal to use the power that it had, this too was not a factor

The hegemon is founded in the induction or coercion of the other state to support the firs state's system. "The U.S. system tries to produce democracy and capitalism, thus it champions human rights and free trade. Over time, there is an uneven growth of power within the system as new technologies and methods are developed. An unstable system will result if economic, technological, and other changes erode the international hierarchy and undermine the position of the dominant state. Pretenders to hegemonic control will emerge if the benefits of the system are viewed as unacceptably unfair

In the case of the Viet Nam war the pretender was the United States of America

The Normative Theory when applied to the Viet Nam war goes with the belief that the states believed it was involved rightfully in the conflict or war.

"Normative theory referring to conditions under which (1) states rightfully go to war (jus ad bellum) with just cause, as in self-defense in response to aggression, when the decision to go to war is made by legitimate authority in the state, as a last resort after exhausting peaceful remedies, and with some reasonable hope of achieving legitimate objectives; (2) states exercise right conduct in war (jus in bello) when the means employed are proportional to the ends sought, when noncombatants…

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