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SOCY 122 (207)
Rob Beamish (186)
Lecture 2

Sociology Notes Week 21

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Queen's University
SOCY 122
Rob Beamish

Sociology Notes Week 21 The War in Vietnam and the Massacre at My Lai o Combatants – acting in a series of complex and contradictory social relationships o US became deeply embroiled in the Vietnam conflict  Geopolitics and fear of Soviet-style communism – conflict between the US and USSR  US became dominant defender of the West’s economic and political systems  Western governments feared that the Soviets would seek to expand influence by drawing non-communist  Risk of communism spreading throughout the globe o Vietnam war was a struggle of national independence  Prior to WWII Vietnam was a French colony run under oppressive control – then the Japanese took over  Following Japan’s surrender France sought to reclaim its lost colony  US was drawn into Vietnam because France wanted to re- establish its presence in Indochina  US found itself supporting France on issues not in the interest due to their alliance – knew that France was left-leaning  To placate France the US was drawn into a communist- inspired war in an area outside of America’s interests o Ho Chi Minh – proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam nationalist interests but was also a communist  Inspired by Marxism-Leninism  Involved in French socialist party which founded the communist party of France  Minh’s post WWUU drive for independent Vietnam turned into a communist-inspired national independence movement o Two significant dynamics in West’s engagement with Northern Vietnamese Army (NVA) 1. Two different levels of personal commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the cause  French / Americans – struggle was to regain colony of prevent the style of communism – simply a job they wanted to survive  NVA – goal was a war for national independence – struggle for national pride and elimination of oppression 2. Time  Western anticipated a short term project  For the NVA the struggle for independence had been going on for generations – time was an ally o American strategy was hampered by internal politics – American administrators paid more attention to Washington insiders  Did not give enough weight to reconnaissance from the field o Americans advisors agreed that it was unlikely the American public would support a protracted ground war in Southeast Asia o American military power would significantly reduce exposure of GIs on the ground – enhance use of air power and technology post WWII o NVA continued to crouch deeper into South Vietnam – American administration felt it had to commit itself to the war o 1964 – unprovoked attack by NVA on American destroys Maddox and C. Turner Joy in the Tonkin Gulf and then again the next day  President Johnson declared attacks were unprovoked deliberate patterns of aggression – wanted to deter repetition o Tonkin Gulf Resolution did not lead to arrival of American expeditionary force – one step in a plan to provoke the NVA to engage the US in further military action and encourage public outrage so the president could commit combat troops to Vietnam o American media broadcasted news of unprovoked attacks which gave President Johnson sufficient grounds to order the Pentagon to release Operation Rolling Thunder o Johnson administration acted independently of Congress and the President’s decisionnddrew US deeply into the Vietnam war o March 2 1965 – fighter bombers destroyed bridges, rail-lines and supply facilities – raids were directed at concrete and steel not human life  2/3rds of American population supported the decision  US lost $6.60 for every dollar of destruction created  Rolling Thunder failed in its objectives  Bombing had little impact on NVAs military capabilities  Goal of demoralizing Northern Vietnam population failed – strengthened anti-Americanism o Johnson ordered that troops enter Vietnam but the order was kept a secret – US became deeply committed to a war that would divide / scar the nation Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive o Two events are critical to understanding events at My Lai 1. Seige of American Marines at Khe Sanh – American marines had taken area to establish a base / cut off supply lines for NVA  In 1968 two elite divisions of NVA surrounded the American outpost and began long range assault on Marines  Khe Sanh captured the spotlight as Marines readied to take last stand against invaders  Operation Niagra falls – five thousand bombings per day and Marines held ground for 77 days  Wanted American public to see bravery in the face of adversity  Khe Sanh was never the NVA’s main objective – NVA combatants infiltrated SV and launched TET offensive 2. The TET offensive struck 3 heavy blows to Pentagon and Johnson administration o NVA blew protective hole in the wall enclosing the American Embassy in Saigon – wide media coverage o Timing was significant – election year so Johnson did not seek democratic nomination to run again  Richard Nixon was elected o TET offensive created crucial images of the war  Photograph of Vietnamese Police chief executing a defenseless prisoner  Photograph of children running from their napalmed village o The Vietnam war emphasized the extent to which culture and imagery shape modern perceptions of the world  Increased media coverage and images of war, heroism and combat shaped the way people understood Vietnam conflict  Imagery transcends reality and creates a reality of its own  Adams photograph dramatizes the extent to which imagery distorts ones perceptions of reality  The general killed the Viet Cong but he killed the general with his camera  Photographs are at best only half-truths: social constructions o Planes dropped in napalm were not American – they were flown by South Vietnamese air force  Plummer’s former superior claimed Plummer did not have authority to launch attack – exaggerated his role in bombing  Demonstrates how an incident captured in a photograph creates a set of meanings different from reality My Lai o American helicopter had flown into Cam Ne and told the civilian population to evacuate because the Marines were looking for VC  Warned that if you stayed you would be considered VC  Marines were instructed to level the village  Three marines were wounded right off the bat – so they attacked  Man had a grenade thrown at him but he was runn
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