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The Vietnam War:

Psychological Effects

Dae Myung Bok (011919022)

Professor Mullikin
HIST 170
December 15, 2015

The Vietnam War was the longest in U.S. history, until the war in Afghanistan
that began in 2002. It was extremely conflicting in the U.S., Europe, Australia and
elsewhere. Because the U.S. failed to achieve a military victory and the Republic of
South Vietnam was ultimately taken over by North Vietnam, the Vietnam experience
became known as "the only war America ever lost." It remains a very controversial
topic that continues to affect political and military decisions today. Since the war
ended, there have been many Psychological effects of the war. Fifty-eight thousand

were killed; three hundred thousand were maimed and wounded. 1 In the entire war, the United
States spent about $140 billion (worth around $950 billion in 2011 dollars) including $111 bilion
military cost and $25 billion economic and military aid to Saigon regime. At that rate, the United
States spent approximately $140,000 for an enemy killed. 2 For many Americans, the Vietnam
War is over and long forgotten. Among those still suffering are several veterans who have felt
forgoteen, unappreciated, and even discriminated against. For some of them, the trauma of their
battle experiences or their physical disabilites have shattered their lives. For even more,
adjustment to civilian life has not been easy. When the veterans returned after the war, many of
the veterans would have felt isolated, unappreciated, and exploited for serving the country
because they were many of them just graduated out of high school and were sent to a guerrilla
warfare far away from your home. While they are in the war, they were exposed to a lot of stress,
confusion, anxiety, pain, and hatred. Then they were sent back home with no readjustment to the
lifestyle in the states, no deprogramming of what you learned from the military, and no welcome
home parades. They are portrayed to the public as a crazed psychopathic killer with no morals or
control over their aggression. They find that theres nobody that they can talk to or who can
understand what youve been through, not even their family. As they re-emerge into civilization,
they struggle to establish a personal identity or a place in society because they lack the proper
education and job skills. There are no supportive groups to help them find their way in their
lives.3 Although United States and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) joined the
forces of the Republic of South Vietnam in contesting communist forces, nevertheless the war
was a total failure and it had only left the United States with psychological effects such as waste
of money, many casualties and impact of soldiers life.
1 Vietnam War. HistoryNet. May 28, 2013. Accessed December 13, 2015.

2 Rohn, Alan How Much Did The Vietnam War Cost? January 22, 2014 Accessed December 13, 2015.

3 Thompson, Kenrick "Photographic imagery and the Vietnam War: an unexamined perspective.". May 9, 1974.
Accessed December 13, 2015.

During the vietnam war, in order to meet its required war efforts , factories in the U.S.
which used to produce consumer goods were now converted to produce military equipment. This
change caused a plunge in shopping rates, thus hurting the economy. Military fund spent
overseas also led to budget deficits which caused a weaker dollar, galloping inflation and
increasing interest rates. Because of the Vietnam war, American economy was brought down
from its growth in early 1960s to an economic crisis in 1970s.4 As there was economic costs,
there was severe human costs as well, more than 23,214 soldiers suffered one hundred percent
disabled. Even when it already ended, the war continued to cost many American lives. Its
estimated that 70,000 to 300,000 Vietnam Veterans committed suicide and around 700,000
veterans suffered psychological trauma.4 These ranged from difficulty sleeping to vivid
flashbacks, and are now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a
development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically distressing event.5 "It
begins with an event in which the individual is threatened with his or her own death or the
destruction of a body part, to such humiliation that their personal identity may be lost."6 People
who experience PTSD have a feeling of helplessness, worthlessness, dejection, anger,
depression, insomnia, and a tendency to react to tense situations by using survival tactics.
Combat experience remains the variable most often linked to PTSD among veterans. The
frequency of PTSD was a lot higher among those with high levels of exposure to combat
compared to the noncombatants. PTSD was not taken seriously until the 1980's when many
veterans were complaining of similar symptoms. These symptoms had been noticed after
previous wars but there were only a couple of cases. In some cases, veterans did not experience
their symptoms until a year after they returned. Thus, it was very easy for the government to
ignore the effects of PTSD because it had such a delayed reaction. 1
Many veterans were profoundly affected by the Vietnam war after they left. It changed
their sense of identity and perspective of society. The various social, moral, and psychological
conflicts that they encountered in battle changed their lives. Upon returning home, the veteran
felt a sense of uncertainty and alienation from himself and society. He found that he was
4 Rohn, Alan How Much Did The Vietnam War Cost? January 22, 2014 Accessed December 13, 2015.

5 Vietnam War. HistoryNet. May 28, 2013. Accessed December 13, 2015.

6Howell-Koehler, Nancy. Vietnam: The Battle comes home. New Tauma of War: Stress and Recovery in Vietnam
Veterans. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1985), p. 147.

questioning himself pertaining to his sense of identity and his existence. After many cases of
PTSD had arisen, psychologists engaged themselves in extensive studies that analyzed the
process of identity formation and integration. They concluded that identity formation begins at
birth and progresses until death. "As one grows up, there is a constant relationship, almost tug of
war, between genetically based aspects of personality and the cultural influences that shape the
personality and motivation of a person."7 As a child reaches adolescence or their teens, there
seems to be a pressure on the development of identity in order to integrate with the rest of
society. This is the time when teens think they're responsible and they feel a sense of freedom
and liberation from their parents. As the individual goes through this critical process of growing
up, there must be some set of beliefs or values that will help them in forming a personal
identity. This allows them to feel a sense of integration and acceptance within society. The
average age of an infantryman fighting in the Vietnam was actually 22.8 There was no
commitment to the war, most of the soldiers had no idea why they were fighting, and there was a
lot of controversy and confusion over the U.S. involvement in Vietnam that got widespread anti-war
protests within the U.S. Thus, in Vietnam, due to a lack of a strong moral and political avocation for the
war in addition to the guerrilla warfare, it was difficult for the soldier to control and predict the events
occurring around him. During the war, the soldier often felt that all was hopeless, and nothing or nobody
could be counted on to provide a sense of continuity necessary to a feeling of integration or

A grief-stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been PTSD

After they returned home, in the process of establishing a personal identity and
constructing new values, most veterans had to deal with rejections and criticisms by a nonaccepting society. Many individuals struggled in trying to achieve self-unity which led to
7 Barrett, Drue H. et al. Combat exposure and adult psychosocial adjustment among U.S. Army veterans serving in
Vietnam, 1965-1971.

8 Capt. Marshal Hanson, USNR (Ret.) and Capt. Scott Beaton, Statistical Source Vietnam War: Facts, Stats &
Myths. Accessed December 13, 2015

9 Bryjak, George J. The Making of PTSD Nov 11, 2013

PTSD. The returning veteran needed social support, affection, and a positive welcoming from
his community in order to work through the war experiences while establishing his sense of
identity. Because he was unable to share his war experience with his family and friends, this led
to loneliness and alienation and sometimes complete hatred of oneself. There was a general
feeling of hostility from the veterans towards the government, anti-war protesters, and even
towards family and friends.5 The veterans were forgotten by the government and PTSD was
swept under the bed. There was a time limit of one year after which the Veterans Administration
would not recognize neuropsychiatric problems as service connected. Thus the veteran couldn't
get any disability compensation after one year, a time when they needed it the most. This
provoked depression and temper problems. In general, there was a loss of faith in political
leaders, political processes and trust in the worthiness of authority and institutions. When
veterans came back to the states they were despised by protesters, isolated from their family and
friends, and dejected by society. They were the victims of the worst injustice because they had
given everything for their country, physically and emotionally, and received nothing, not even
welcome home parades. It came to a point that veterans were in rage and felt used. They hated
many people, but mainly those in the government.1 "They hated their peers who somehow
escaped military service and now live a wonderful life. They hated profiteers and politicians
because while soldiers were dying, they were getting rich and making capital of campaigns that
cost the lives of many. To veterans, politicians and government officials were hated the most
because all they did was talk about ideals and morals, and how to fight for them, when they had
no idea of the process of enforcing these ideals meant in terms of pain, starvation, fear, and


10 Begg, Dan Vietnam History Of PTSD Through Warfare Aus 24, 2004

The Vietnam war was very different from any other previous war fought. There were
many more cases of PTSD among veterans than any other war. "In the Korean war, if there were
individual psychological breakdowns, there were clinicians which provided immediate treatment
onsite so that the soldiers could go back into combat thereafter."3 In Vietnam, psychological
breakdown was very low compared to the Korean war and WWII. Thus, it was decided that
these preventive measures used in Korea had solved the problem of psychological breakdown in
combat. However, the pattern of neuropsychiatric disorder for soldiers in WWII and Korea was
a lot different for Vietnam. For WWII and Korea, the occurrence of neuropsychiatric disorder
increased as the intensity of the wars increased, and as wars settled down, so did the frequency of
disorders. However, in Vietnam, as the war progressed in intensity, there was no increase in
neuropsychiatric disorders. Not until the war was ending did the disorders begin.5 What has
distinguished Vietnam veterans from most of their predecessors is that the public's detestation of
the war seemed to be directed onto them, as if it was their fault. Thus they did not return as
heroes, but as men suspected in participating in shocking cruelty and wickedness. The combination of
society rejecting them, the government ignoring them, and their families not understanding to them,
caused Vietnam veterans to self-destruct both mentally and sometimes physically.

Words: 1721


Thompson, Kenrick "Photographic imagery and the Vietnam War: an unexamined perspective."
May 9, 1974. Accessed December 13, 2015.

Howell-Koehler, Nancy. Vietnam: The Battle comes home. New Tauma of War: Stress and
Recovery in Vietnam Veterans. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.,
1985), p. 147.

Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War (1999). Nov 15, 1996. Accessed December 13, 2015.

Barrett, Drue H. et al. Combat exposure and adult psychosocial adjustment among U.S. Army
veterans serving in Vietnam, 1965-1971.