Category: self reblog

Do you have any archives of racism between white and black American soldiers? While black and white soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, America was in the midst of the civil rights movement, so I’m wondering how much of the racial conflict was carried over to the front lines. Perhaps they united in being racist toward the Vietnamese at the time, but I’m not so sure. Vietnam war movies don’t usually depict these conflicts, so I’m curious.

Funny you should ask, as I’m writing a paper this semester that focuses largely on the issue of racism in the military during the Vietnam era. It’s a very good question you ask, because you’re right in saying that popular culture does not offer any meaningful insight.

Yes, there was widespread racial tension in the military during the Vietnam War.

As the Civil Rights movement at home continued while American involvement in Vietnam drastically increased, these racial tensions grew. There seems to have been less racial incidents among combat troops while in the field, presumably because it benefited all parties to get along well. In the rear, however, there were numerous incidents. By 1968, the military was beginning to realize these tensions existed and were not going away.

Systematic, or institutional, racism also heavily affected African Americans. They were more susceptible to being drafted. They were less likely to access technical fields in the military due to poorer education, and therefore more heavily concentrated in combat units, and therefore had high casualty numbers. There was a lack of promotions for black soldiers. The military justice system was also a great source of this institutional racism. (See Westheider)

“United in being racist toward the Vietnamese” is an interesting thought. You might have heard the quote from Muhammad Ali: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” While it’s debated if he ever said this, the sentiment nonetheless rang true with many African Americans at the time. Their fight was at home, for their own rights and freedom, not against another brown-skinned man who had (and still was) experiencing oppression under the white man.

Books on the subject:

vietnamwarera:USN nurse at her desk aboard the USS Repose, 1968.


USN nurse at her desk aboard the USS Repose, 1968.

“Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in…”

“Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Viet Cong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khe Sanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff. On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won’t show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.
         We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi’s winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that – negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
         To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
         This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.”

Walter Cronkite in a broadcast on 27 February 1968 (via vietnamwarera)

vietnamwarera:US Marine in Hue holding an XM16E1 and with a…


US Marine in Hue holding an XM16E1 and with a handgun on his hip, 4 February 1968.

vietnamwarera: Battle of Saigon Dates: 31 Jan 1968 – 31 Mar…

Americans viewed through the hole blasted in the US Embassy wall.

American military and civilian members outside the US Embassy.

A large section of rubble is all that remained in this one block square area of Saigon on Feb. 5, 1968, after fierce Tet Offensive fighting. (AP Photo/Johner)

First Lt. Gary D. Jackson of Dayton, Ohio, carries a wounded South Vietnamese Ranger to an ambulance Feb. 6, 1968… Cholon, Saigon (AP Photo/Dang Van Phuoc)

ARVN Rangers defending Saigon


Battle of Saigon

Dates: 31 Jan 1968 – 31 Mar 1968

Area of Operation: Saigon Circle – The capital and the two nearby major US and ARVN bases of Long Binh and Bien Hoa

Allied Units: ARVN, 5th Ranger Group; VNMC; US Army

Allied Casualties: Unknown

Enemy Units: NVA 7th Division; VC

Enemy Casualties: Unknown

Objectives: The plan for the Saigon area called for eight main objectives.

  • Capture  and neutralize key government command, control, and communication centers
  • Go Vap artillery and tank depots
  • Neutralize Tan Son Nhut Air Base and the MACV center located there
  • Seize Cholon district
  • Destroy Newport Bridge
  • Bien Hoa targets: Bien Hoa Air Base and ARVN III  Corps headquarters
  • Long Binh targets: Logistics depot an US II Field Force headquarters
  • Block any attempt at reinforcement, particularly any made by the USA 25th Infantry Division from Cu Chi along Highway 1, and those of the USA 1st Infantry Division from Lai Khe along Highway 13

Significance/Notes: There was a deep psychological impact of an attack on the US Embassy in the capital of South Vietnam on American citizens at home. Though the Viet Cong sappers who attacked the embassy breached the wall, they were killed before they could enter the building. However, the fact that they had managed even that much was startling to the public, who were hearing from the president and Gen. Westmoreland that the US and her allies were winning the war.

Lt Gen Weyand, commander of II Field Force (corps-level organization), is attributed with having “turned the battle before it even started” due to his interpretation of signals in the Saigon area. Before the attacks on Tet, there were only 14 battalions inside the Saigon Circle. However the lack of contact in certain areas (mostly along the border with Cambodia) and an increase in enemy radio traffic around Saigon led him to request more units be pulled into the area in a 10 Jan 1968 meeting with Westmoreland. As such, there were 27 battalions in the area when attacks began, nearly double what originally would have been present.

Other notes:

  • It wasn’t until 7 March that the Cholon district was cleared. However there was sporadic fighting throughout Saigon for the rest of the month. 
  • The famous photograph of police chief Major Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a VC prisoner in the street, taken by Eddie Adams, occurred on 1 February.
  • Defense of the city had been turned over to the ARVN in December 1967, with support from American artillery units.


Further Reading:

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vietnamwarera: “I’m not a tourist, I live here,” written on the…


“I’m not a tourist, I live here,” written on the helmet of a US Marine at Khe Sanh, 1968.

vietnamwarera:A Viet Cong suspected of involvement in the group…


A Viet Cong suspected of involvement in the group that breached the US Embassy walls is escorted by American military police, 31 January 1968.

vietnamwarera:All that remains of a US Army 117th Assault…


All that remains of a US Army 117th Assault Helicopter Company UH-1 Huey gunship after taking 122mm rocket fire at Bien Hoa Air Base during the Tet Offensive, 1968.

vietnamwarera: Tet Offensive Dates: 30JAN1968 – 31MAR1968 Area…


Tet Offensive

Dates: 30JAN1968 – 31MAR1968

Area of Operation: Over 100 cities across South Vietnam, most notably Saigon and Hue

Allied Units: US Army, US Marine Corps, US Air Force, US Navy, ARVN, VNMC

Allied Casualties: US 3895 KIA, ARVN 4954 KIA, other allies 214 KIA, civilians 14300 killed

Enemy Units: NVA, VC

Enemy Casualties: Estimated 17000 KIA


  • A decisive victory to break the current stalemate and which could be used in negotiations with the United States
  • To inspire a “general uprising” among the South Vietnamese civilians
  • To destroy the fighting capabilities of South Vietnam
  • To extinguish the American will to be involved in South Vietnam

Significance/Notes: Though there are numerous details still debated among historians, the Tet Offensive is accepted as the turning point of the Vietnam War. The media is largely credited, in both positive and negative lights, for their portrayal of the battles of Tet. Called the General Offensive-General Uprising by the communists, they failed to hold any of the cities they attacked. Despite this incredible tactical defeat, they managed a strategic victory nonetheless as public disapproval in the US soared and President Johnson announced a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. In the same address, he proclaimed, “I will not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Also of note:

  • Between 30 Jan and 31 Jan 1968 the communists attacked: 5 of 6 autonomous cities; 36 of 44 provincial capitals; 64 of 245 district capitals; 50 hamlets
  • From September to December of 1967, multiple attacks occurred along the Cambodia and Laos borders with South Vietnam. These served to pull American troops away from the cities and towns; to mask the movement of North Vietnamese troops and supplies into South Vietnam; and to provide the opportunity for NVA and VC units to rehearse coordinated attack efforts. Most notable among these are the attacks on Con Thien in Sept, Song Be and Loc Ninh in Oct, and Dak To in Nov.
  • The most well known events of the Tet Offensive were the Battle of Saigon (and the attack on the US Embassy there), the Battle of Hue, and the Siege of Khe Sanh.


Further Reading:

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vietnamwarera:Smoke from a recent NVA rocket attack on Khe Sanh,…


Smoke from a recent NVA rocket attack on Khe Sanh, 1968.