This week: The Vietnam War

Anti-war protestors during the 1967 march on Washington. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons

It began as an anticolonial struggle against the French, and ended as the Cold War’s bloodiest battleground.

By the time the last US troops were withdrawn on 29 March 1973 – fifty years ago this month – it had cost the lives of around 58,000 Americans, and anywhere between 600,000 and two million Vietnamese.

As we are reminded this week on The Past, the Vietnam War divided American society along new lines, firing the protest of a generation as it played out on live television, and provoking a political crisis whose repercussions would be felt for decades to come.

The conflict would also have a disastrous and long-lasting effect on the environment, with vast areas of forest destroyed by Agent Orange and other chemicals used as part of America’s ‘herbicidal warfare program’. As well as laying waste to delicate ecosystems, these toxic compounds got into the rivers and water supply, resulting in health problems for an estimated further one million Vietnamese.

In the latest issue of Military History Matters magazine, Taylor Downing looks back on one of the 20th century’s longest-running and most painful contests, and examines how it would end in humiliation for the world’s greatest superpower.

Elsewhere this week, we have been delving into the archives for more about Vietnam: in a two-part special feature, we studied the conflict from its origins to its denouement, and analysed how the Viet Cong achieved final victory. We also profiled Vo Nguyen Giap, the commander who became the first general to defeat the US in war; we gave an insider’s account of the making of Ken Burns’ masterful series The Vietnam War; and we told the incredible story of Kate Webb, the fearless reporter who was captured by the North Vietnamese but lived to tell the tale.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around the Vietnam War. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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