Why we fought the Vietnam War
There was one corrupt government (South Vietnam) trying to be taken over by a much worse one (North Vietnam).
America was put in a choice where we would could back a mildly corrupt and mostly inept government (and protect the status quo), or tolerate a revolution lead by fanatics, who were supported by totalitarians that didn't value human life or liberty, and just hope things would work out.
- Youth bets on change for the better mostly because of their resentment of authority (and thus the status quo) or their naiveté at how many ways that change for change's sake can go bad.
- Age and cynical wisdom knows that nothing is so bad that they can't be made worse with a revolution; as has been proven time and time again. Most revolutions end for the worse. And a few, far, far worse.
Still, it's never a good place to be; choosing foreign policy based on the lesser of two evils.
But we had a National doctrine and theory of dominoes -- that was based on the reality that China/Russia was intentionally destabilizing free governments, destabilizing them, in the hopes that the new regimes more totalitarian, Communist, and sympathetic to their influences. And once one fell in a region, it built a beachhead where they could more easily destabilize their neighbors. And that if we ignored the problem, millions would die, many more millions would be driven from their homes as refugees, and the world would become less stable.
That belief lead us to try to protect a corrupt liberty against the elimination of all/most of it; and we got into a war that was unpopular.
Never underestimate your enemies resolve and viciousness
We had way underestimated our enemies.
They were sharp as knives
They went into villages and captured them, and took all the young men and said basically, "if you don't fight for us, we'll kill your entire family, and then you". They would destroy the homes or lives of anyone that helped the enemy (meaning us). They were ruthless that only someone with a completely different culture and value towards human life could be; they brought total warfare to levels that we had not understood since the middle ages.
That isn't to excuse our sides behavior in the war. But the biggest bastard in a fight, always sets the rules. They pull a knife, you better improvise and be as vicious or you're going to get stabbed. We didn't handle it well, and made things much worse. A few saw everyone as a potential enemy, and treated them accordingly, and that turned many of those we were claiming to help against us as well. It was an ugly time.
And far smarter than our peace movement
More than just misjudging the commitment and brutality of the other side, we totally underestimated their political savvy; they were way more sophisticated than we expected.
There was as much money spent on propaganda (and misinformation) and supporting the "peace" movement as there was spent on weapons or food. They fomented revolution in our shores and disrupted our foreign policy by playing on the minds of the weak and young, not to mention many of the rest who didn't like seeing the body bags or dead count that wars bring. They totally out PR'ed us, and use our own openness and media against us. It was a brilliant tactic on their side.
Sadly, the youth in our country was one sided; they saw the bad we did (in exaggerated stories), while totally ignoring the true evil other side or the alternative; they missed the big picture, as youth often does. The Russians called them useful idiots: the weak minded that would easily fall prey to their one sided propaganda. This hoard of misinformed simpletons combined with a few sincere anti-interventionists, and many radicals that just wanted to tear down the systems in America (and everything we stood for). That doesn't excuse our behavior, but context matters -- and they had no sense of it, or scale.
Realization sets in
It took us over a decade, but we were beginning to realize that this was an unwinnable conflict.
We had an administration change (Johnson -> Nixon), and the new President was winding things down a bit, and try to pull out. The way to do that was not to surrender the region -- but bomb the holy shit out of them, give no quarter and convince them that the costs were too high to not take their half victory (over the North), and leave the South alone. The negotiated settlement that worked in North/South Korea -- and save millions for enslavement.
This Kissinger Doctrine (peace through superior firepower) went WAY over the heads of kids and the peace movement. To our peace movement the other sides actions and motivations were only reflections of ours. And if we laid down our weapons, they would too. They couldn't fathom the reality that "weakness is provocative" to sociopaths. That capitulation wouldn't lead to peace, but purges and gennoacide.
So Nixon/Kissinger believed that forcing the Communists to the negotiating tables, so we could disengage -- and give the South a chance at defending themselves. We couldn't do that from a position of weakness. So we raised the stakes:
- we carpet bombed the North, trying to convince their people that they should want the war to end.
- they were using Cambodia and Laos as their "safe" zone to transport weapons and ammo; so we expanded in there and hit them where they thought they were safe.
So after years of losing, we were slowly winning and turning the tables. This infuriated the peaceniks that thought the stalemate was working to their advantage. And this aggressiveness was no longer stalemate. (They felt America winning would prove that might makes right, and that the success of force would lead to more war, instead of negotiated peace).
So that sets us up to where we were when Kent State happened:
- The left/peace movement gave up on their peace through peaceful protests doctrine.
- With the support of radicals and communist funding, they were going violent and vandalism. Adopting that war is sometimes justified, but not recognizing that they were doing everything they claimed to hate in the government. (The antifa movement of the 1960's).
- America's "unprovoked" aggression (which was actually provoked and attempts at disengagement), justified any actions on their side.
There were groups that were going from school to school supporting violence in protests at the Universities and surrounding communities, because it played well for their cause on the nightly news. They brillitantly used teenage angst, resentment at authority, frustration and desire for immediate and impatient change to create riots and anarchy as cover for their violence and vandalism. Then parlayed this vocal minority into major ones.