America’s disengagement from a brutal, unpopular, and ultimately failed war in Vietnam began in 1969 with Richard Nixon’s announcement of his policy of “Vietnamization.” The 1973 Paris Peace Accords marked the end of America’s formal commitment to fighting in Vietnam; the war finally ended on 30 April 1975 with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Yet while the fighting ended with the fall of the Thieu regime and the evacuation from the roof of the American embassy of American personnel and South Vietnamese nationals who had worked with the Americans, America’s struggle to come to terms with the Vietnam War, a process that still plays a distinct role in American political culture, was only beginning. In this last post about how Garry Trudeau wrote about the Vietnam War, I’m going to look at how he began to address the lingering questions the war left for Americans to struggle with in the years and decades that followed the fall of Saigon.
The after-effects of war – “residual violence, food shortages, a lack of basic services, and spillover of violence into neighbouring countries” – can affect countries where wars have been fought for years, if not generations, after peace comes. Perhaps less obvious are the long-term social, political, and cultural changes in countries that have fought overseas conflicts. Post-traumatic stress disorder; the long-term effects of exposure to Agent Orange; homelessness: Vietnam vets are still paying the social costs of America’s war in Vietnam. Moreover, the war shaped American politics, domestic and foreign, for decades, bringing about a lowering of the voting age, the all-volunteer armed services, a general distrust of government, and a reticence to commit to the use of military force known as the “Vietnam syndrome.” As the war ended, the cast of Doonesbury began to ask critical questions about the effects of that war for the United States.