3/1/1991: "Vietnam Syndrome" declared over!

"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!"

President George H W Bush

President made this statement in a euphoric victory statement at the end of the Gulf War, suggesting the extent to which Vietnam continued to prey on the American psyche more than fifteen years after the fall of Saigon. Indeed the Vietnam War was by far the most convulsive and traumatic of America's three wars in Asia in the 50 years since Pearl Harbor. It set the U.S. economy on a downward spiral. It left America's foreign policy at least temporarily in disarray, discrediting the postwar policy of containment and undermining the consensus that supported it. It divided the American people as no other event since their own Civil War a century earlier. It battered their collective soul.

The summary victory over Iraq was hailed by no less a figure than President Bush as a once-and-for-all elimination of the 'Vietnam syndrome' -- which shows how powerful was the memory of that defeat even 15 years after the fall of Saigon. Addresses three questions (1) why the USA invested so much in contesting communism in Vietnam (2) why its efforts failed -- even today, US explanations tend to assume that it could have been 'done right', overlooking now as then the formidable disadvantages facing US policy (3) the economic and political consequences of the defeat for the USA.

Read more in Foreign Affairs.

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