Causes & Effects of the Vietnam War: Assignment 2 – Treatment of Veterans & Vietnam Syndrome

Causes & Effects of the Vietnam War: Assignment 2 – Treatment of Veterans & Vietnam Syndrome

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The Vietnam War marked a watershed episode in United States history. Akin to other post-war Syndromes, the Vietnam Syndrome was initially used during the early 1970s to illustrate the psychological and physical symptoms of veterans returning home from the War. Later on, physicians started researching more on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the public became divided in their opinion over the same. By the end of that decade, Vietnam ceased being a clinical term and adopted a meaning more inclined towards political ideology. The public and leaders were starting to question their decisions to send troops abroad and the treatment that they received afterward. Thus, the U.S. began to being reluctant to send troops abroad for combat missions based on the evidence of psychological and physical scarring from the Vietnam War. Vietnam Syndrome presents a learning point for American aversion to overseas involvement in military action. However, the Gulf War did not mark the end of Vietnam Syndrome in the United States despite its significance in the country’s combat history.

This paper discusses the effects of Vietnam Syndrome on current American policy to ascertain whether the country has eradicated the Syndrome. The article is based on the second prompt, specifically the statement, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

Causes & Effects of the Vietnam War: Assignment 2 – Treatment of Veterans & Vietnam Syndrome


The phrase “Vietnam Syndrome” was initially used by Henry Kissinger and made famous by President Richard Nixon reference to the United State’s aversion to sending forces into combat action overseas (Rohn, 2014). Much later, after the end of the Gulf War, President George Bush, in a euphoric declaration, stated: “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!” (Herring, 1991, p. 1). In the statement, the President was suggesting that the degree to which Vietnam persisted with its apparent quest to prey off the American consciousness more than fifteen years following Saigon’s fall. Without a doubt, the Vietnam War was the most harrowing and paroxysmal of the country’s three military conflicts in Asia in five decades following the Pearl Harbor phenomenon. The occurrence set the country’s economy on a downhill, uncontrolled spiral. Besides, the American foreign policy went into disarray, at least for dishonoring the postwar procedure of inhibition and undermining the compromise that augmented it. It split the American citizenry like no other occurrence since America’s Civil War that happened a century before. The episode battered America’s soul to the core.

Literature Review

The Vietnam War posed such a protracted impact on the American population that it seemed to obscure the Persian Gulf conflict that often looked like a struggle with the War’s ghosts akin to that with Saddam Hussein of Iraq. According to Chapman and Ciment (2015), analysts maintain that President Bush’s statement on Vietnam Syndrome might have been premature. Seemingly reading the eulogy for the Syndrome only served to raise concerns among the American citizenry instead of elevating their confidence. No doubt, America’s success in the Gulf War increased its confidence in terms of foreign policy leadership and military establishments, as well as an undermined long-standing reticence against overseas interventions. Still, it appears unconvincing that military triumph over a country with a population comprising less than a third of Vietnam in a battle fought under favorable conditions could obliterate deeply encrusted and still agonizing memories of an earlier, different form of war.

In the perspective of the Vietnam War, there are three distinct questions that the discussion ought to handle. First, why did America spend so much fortune and blood in a region as far-flung as Vietnam that has negligible significance? Secondly, why, in spite of its colossal power, did the country fail to attain its objectives? Thirdly, what were the outcomes of the hard-fought battle for both the Vietnamese and the Americans? As always, the question of war causation is intricate, and it is especially so with Vietnam (Hall, 2009). In context, during the prolonged and eventually unsuccessful endeavor to uphold an autonomous and non-communist dominance over South Vietnam, the U.S. spent over $200 billion and contributed to the loss of approximately 58,000 of its citizens. The cost incurred during the Vietnamese War was by far more significant, in terms of blood than based on value, since it left over one million people dead. Veterans, former policymakers, and commentators have since divulged much information seeking to explore and analyze various causative factors of the U.S.’ interest in the Second Indo-Chinese War, as well as the reasons for its ultimate defeat (Hall, 2009). Approximately three decades following the end of the war, historians did not quite seem to arrive at a consensus regarding the significant questions about the conflict.

However, not to deviate from the topic, it is essential to state that the Vietnam War contributed to the emergence of the “Vietnam Syndrome” as a political phrase applied to describe the U.S.’ aversion to overseas military involvements after the domestic controversy that characterized the Vietnam War (Herring, The “Vietnam Syndrome” and American Foreign Policy, 1981). As coined by Nixon and employed by Reagan, it presumably implies that the country’s apparent failure in Vietnam and the subsequent backlash from it have been elementarily to blame for the malaise that has diminished the U.S.’ to a state of helplessness in an otherwise menacing world. Hence, Reagan and his associates were attempting to cure the phenomenon. Unquestionably, some of America’s administration defenders even spoke for the ensuing interest in El Salvador as part of working toward that end, and in spite of both the State Department and the White House not advancing that far, the public statements left no conviction regarding their determination to erase the Vietnam Syndrome.       

The Vietnam Syndrome perception presupposed an outlook of the prolonged war, which, despite rarely articulated wholly, nonetheless clearly influenced the administration’s foreign policy. According to Chapman and Ciment (2015), Reagan himself stated that, contrary to the prevailing perception that Vietnam was indeed a noble war, there was an altruistic attempt by the U.S. to assist a “smaller” country that was just free from colonial imposition to protect itself against an authoritarian neighbor intent on conquest. The past regimes have maintained that they think they ought to have won the battle in Vietnam. Indeed, at some point, Reagan implied that America was not defeated because of its incapability, but because it’s military was denied the consent to win.   

The Vietnam Syndrome had a significant policy on the American foreign policy, albeit with unrealized potential. When President Bush introduced the “Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome” in 1991, his intention was to rally the domestic public to regain faith in its policy decisions, especially pertaining to overseas military interventions (Dionne, 1991). Wars have the capacity to transform nations, but the subsequent response to conflicts has the potential to transform them further. The U.S.’ 42-day battle with Iraq did not refashion its economy significantly, as the Second World War did. Besides, it failed to create new bureaucratic establishments, reshuffle the class arrangement, or institute fresh approaches of governing (Herring, America, and Vietnam: The Unending War, 1991). In arguments that might be optimally described as intellectual or spiritual, the clockwork effectiveness of the American battle effort appeared to alter everything.

The nation had lost its faith in the government’s capacity to accomplish anything, mainly via armed intervention overseas, which saw military and political leaders envisage, plan, and implement a brilliant military undertaking. As a result, martial values that had gone into disgrace were revitalized (Yurtbay, 2018). The presidential authority, which was under assault since the Vietnam failure, was bolstered. At least, for that moment, what had been an intensely pessimistic national disposition was brushed away in a new wave of optimism. For example, Senator Richard Lugar at that time said, “People in my state think entirely differently about the country” (Dionne, 1991, p. 1). However, he concurred with the overall perspective that the problems had not evolved, but the leadership’s desire to alter them had. Besides, it is essential to point out that not all the American citizenry welcomed the country’s triumphal mood. Some of the people feared that the nation would become trigger happy. Still, others questioned the depth of the commitment to transform the situation into one of optimism. They perceived the war as a common experience that, despite causing harm for the individuals who were involved directly, led to a sense of accomplishment for those who did not have to sacrifice or feel any pain. Most of the individuals were excited by the notion of a vicarious involvement in a triumphant venture that was costless.

Policymakers deem that the answer to whether the post-Gulf War sentiments by Bush on the policy influence of the Vietnam Syndrome are true exist in the exploration of the pragmatism of the subsequent approaches by Washington. The ferociousness with which Bush attacked the Iraqi border appeared quite out of character with the American policy at that particular time, notably as the country had failed to counter earlier aggressions with a similar display of force (Mariani, 2011). However, with a concrete understanding of universal politics that was evident in his background experience, Bush believed that he possessed a prudent basis for involvement in the Gulf region. He thought that the exploits would prove to the rest of the globe that America was no longer suffering from the Vietnam Syndrome that had been attached to it following the principles and inhibitions abroad. For the Bush administration, the principal issue was regaining the American image of dominance in the face of adversity and lack of confidence, especially among its own citizenry. Besides, the administration did not desire to leave any lingering thoughts of the Syndrome abroad, which meant pushing beyond the apprehension of the application of force was not an empty propaganda theme to spur support for the altercation, he upheld the strong conviction that America ought to push forward not only to take up a central role globally, but also to dominate it. In other words, the United States had to adopt a more central role in world matters. However, the principal issue that Bush and his administration did not consider proactively was the reality that the rest of the nations were not watching passively, or that an active intervention globally requires endorsements. In fact, it was Bush that made the famous declaration that his administration kicked out the Vietnam Syndrome, “(Mariani, 2011, p. 2). The statement was taken as a confirmation of the recognition of the presidency’s piercing that Vietnam’s Syndrome had existed as a principle reason for the battle itself, almost asserting that America thrived as a key reason for the struggle itself, almost meaning that proving that the country could succeed in a smaller world intervention was of greater significance to the future of the country’s policy than intervention founded on a noble cause.

Necessarily, Bush’s foreign policy was seen by many as a blatant attempt to exaggerate the extended and “quieter” international plans in practice before his ascent to power. For instance, following Vietnam and the ensuing Syndrome, Nixon had instituted a foreign policy that consigned the burden of battling the lesser country involved in the battle as opposed to the U.S. (Mariani, 2011, p. 23).  Afterward, when Carter took over the reins, his foreign policy appeared somewhat to be more aggressive as he vowed to safeguard the interests of the Americans through the application of superior military force. During Carter’s tenure, his foreign policy was perceived as being more aggressive than the previous regime, pledging to safeguard its interests of the fighting force. The American military was sufficiently weak during this period, and as President, Carter faced criticism for a policy that was not effective in practical application. In October 1981, Reagan extended Carter’s policy with his doctrine of “Reagan Corollary to the Carter doctrine” that proclaimed that America would intervene to support Saudi Arabia, a country that was threatened when the Iran-Iraq War broke out (Hall, 2009). Throughout Bush’s career, he had always been a proponent of the concept that aggression was the best approach toward global dominance. In October of 1981, Reagan took over as Reagan’s successor and maintained that his administration would extend the previous administration’s foreign policy in terms of aggression. The implication was, however, unconvincing. In his entire political career, Bush had always been of the notion and acted as if his country had lost the Vietnam War because of the interference by renowned politicians who declined to permit the military to obtain space to do their specified jobs. Primarily, the Gulf War provided proof of Bush’s sentiments that the army had been redesigned in the public eye, replenishing the admirable prestige and reputation that it had lost in the Vietnam era.

However, with the perceived victory, it remained unclear to the American skeptics and the public regarding the role of the Gulf War in eradicating the Vietnam Syndrome, which had now become famous as the post-traumatic disorder syndrome (PTSD), which veterans suffered from (Herring, America, and Vietnam: The Unending War, 1991). Scholars, for example, Eric Alterman, maintained that the war had only succeeded in pointing out particular individuals as the evil people instead of outlining the actual causes and effects. Among the most significant contributions of the Vietnam Syndrome was the emergence of PTSD as a critical medical domain on its own. In fact, some political analysts in the U.S. stated that the Syndrome had hardly left the nation following the Vietnam occurrence that led to its emergence. For instance, according to Kalb (2013), the Vietnam Syndrome returned unmistakably in foreign policy during the second term of President Barrack Obama. From the onset, it had been the belief or set to be so through policy, that the brutal experience that was derived from Vietnam was enough to demonstrate some teachings. However, the U.S. gradually tiptoed its way into the deepest and most questionable wars, including the Iraqi War that George Bush Senior entered into.                                     

In the present world that is characterized by the significant threat of guerilla warfare and terrorism threat, the Vietnam Syndrome implies, if nothing else, an elementary reluctance to commit the country’s military authority anywhere globally, unless it has proven to be entirely necessary to safeguard America’s national interests (Kalb, 2013). Essentially, the Vietnam Syndrome is an important phase away from hard-knuckled policies, for example, Bush’s perceived adventurous entry into Iraq in 2003. The war was recognized as a critical pointer of America’s intention to regain its control over the region and the globe as a whole, as well as over the international relations and excellent control it commanded previously.

Over the previous few decades, the foreign policy has been to advance the plight of the civilians and troops that serve the nation as a whole. If anything, the Vietnam Syndrome has offered a fundamental lesson for the country’s leadership not to commit to arbitrary overseas wars that are at the detriment of the country (Hall, 2009; Rohn, 2014). Of utmost importance is safeguarding the interests of the nation. The Vietnam Syndrome represents a critical step away from the hard-edged policies that had been fronted by various administrations over the years. For instance, Obama measured his anti-Kaddafi approach into the Libyan revolution and always maintaining an arms-length away approach to the intricate mess that was unfolding in Syria.            

Despite the soft approach by the new regimes, it is evident that the Vietnam Syndrome has not been completely eradicated. For example, the Syndrome’s return was most vividly demonstrated by the appointment of Senator John Kerry as Obama’s of State (Yurtbay, 2018). Kerry was a loyalist, totally devoted to the Democrat government and was a Vietnam War veteran scarred by the physical and psychological aspects of the war. He had won a gallantry medal alongside Senator Chuck Hagel, who became the Secretary of Defense during the same time (Chapman & Ciment, 2015).  Therefore, decision-making by the United States became tied mostly on the impact that a counter Vietnam Syndrome could bring to elevate the public confidence and faith in the military and overall decision-making systems.

   In addition, it is critical to point out the significant impact that Israel has had on American foreign policy following the Vietnam Syndrome. Among the earlier aggressions where America failed to act concerned Israeli troops invading nearby states, with the U.S. choosing to remain neutral or very reluctant to become involved (Kalb, 2013). The reluctance is the outcome of the aversion caused by the Vietnam Syndrome. However, as much as the U.S. government does not desire to be involved because of its change in foreign policy with regard to overseas militant involvement and reluctance to enter into war, it still sends strong sentiments regarding occurrences across the globe. For example, America is involved in a spate with Iran regarding Syria, which has dominated the global media headlines over the past few months. A single military action by the American government would mean an escalation of the sentiments and ultimately, possibly war.

Additionally, there is evidence that the U.S. has not maintained an anti-Syndrome stance since Bush’s statement on the same. In contrast with its ideology of democracy, the U.S. was involved in the Gulf once again, to ensure that the vast proportion of the globe’s oil volume remained in its hands, instead of those of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s then leader (Rohn, 2014). Analysts and commentators maintain that the U.S was the principal perpetrator of the ouster that ensured that the long-term dictator was removed from power through stirring up secessionist groups among the Shiite Arabs and the Kurds. In the event that the activities conducted by the U.S. had been for the purpose of promoting democracy, then the country would have not supported either side and would have opted for more diplomatic approaches to settle the conflicts, if any. The implication is that the country desired to split the Iraqis for foreign policy benefits. Despite America not infiltrating some countries physically, it still finds ways of disrupting their activities for its own benefits, which also count as post-war effects of the Vietnam War to regain confidence among the public.          

It is discernible that the decisions made by administrations to date are largely based on self-interest, as opposed to altruism. As outlined by Dionne (1991), these traits commenced in Vietnam when the citizens initially considered the decisions as dilemmas that were important for the nation, but later came to learn that they were essentially designed to fit individual and party ideologies. American policymakers have found it difficult to distinct policy from altruism since the occurrence of the Vietnam War and the subsequent Syndrome. In reality, even today, despite measures to put up stringent policies addressing the plight of war veterans, the results have been dismal (Yurtbay, 2018). From evidence, it has been ascertained that war veterans return home with physical and psychological scars that make it difficult for them to reintegrate into society. Despite the scientific investigations and publications over the same, the remedial measures have been mostly unsuccessful, mostly due to policy implementation failures. The nation commitments that are expected of the veterans when heading to war are not reflected in the policies that are put in place upon their return from battle. Therefore, the Vietnam Syndrome persists despite Bush’s vow to eliminate it.     


Vietnam’s Syndrome continues to adversely affect America’s foreign policy in terms of its relations with the outside world and the individuals involved in battle to date. Approximately seven decades after the Vietnam War, the United States is yet to identify a single policy that addresses the plight of its veterans and also serves to fulfill its superpower status. Successive governments have attempted to address the matter through adopting hardliner or soft stances towards emergent matters with minimal success. Hence, the Bush declaration pertaining to the issue has not been met as per this analysis.    


Chapman, R., & Ciment, J. (2015). Culture wars: An encyclopedia of issues, Viewpoints and voices. London, UK: Routledge.

Dionne, E. J. (1991). Kicking the ‘Vietnam syndrome’. Retrieved from

Hall, S. (2009). Review: Scholarly battles over the Vietnam War. The Historical Journal, 52(3), 813-829.

Herring, G. C. (1991). America and Vietnam: The Unending War. Retrieved from

Herring, G. C. (1981). The “Vietnam Syndrome” and American Foreign Policy. Retrieved from

Kalb, M. (2013). It’s Called the Vietnam Syndrome, and It’s Back. Retrieved from

Mariani, J. M. (2011). Does it still matter? The impact of the Vietnam Syndrome on American foreign policy. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal,

Rohn, A. (2014). Vietnam Syndrome. Retrieved from

Yurtbay, B. (2018). Vietnam Syndrome and its effects on the Gulf War Strategy. Perspectivas, 18, 21-28.

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