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The Vietnam War. Interview with Paul Stevens

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The Vietnam War began in August 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, during which the Coast Guard of Democratic Republic of Vietnam boats fired on the US destroyers that provided fire support for government troops to South Vietnam in their fight against the guerrillas. The Congress passed a resolution that gave President Johnson the right to use American forces in Southeast Asia. From this moment, the US openly entered the war with North Vietnam. In March 1965, Johnson’s administration directed military contingents on the territory of South Vietnam to protect it from North Vietnam’s measures of unification of the country by means of involving the armed forces. To defend South Vietnam, the United States moved a half-million army across the ocean and equipped with all kinds of modern weapons. One of these soldiers in 1966 was Paul E. Stevens, a sergeant of 21st Infantry Division.

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Paul Stevens entered the Vietnam War at the age of 18 as one of the enlisted soldiers. He landed with his division on the airbase in Saigon in March 1966. After he had arrived at the place of destination, he became a ‘tunnel rat’ – a soldier, who fights against tunnel guerillas and provides safe passes for the other infantry companies. Due to Paul’s height, his main responsibilities were to cover his squad from the possible rear guerilla approaches to avoid enemy besiegement. Paul Stevens spent six months of his military service as a ‘tunnel rat.’ Later, he was dislocated to the front lines, where he mostly participated in offensive operations and ambushes. Afterwards, at the end of 1967, he returned to the United States when hewas 20 years old.

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Paul Stevens only knew that he must secure nation’s interest in Vietnam and help their people to obtain independence. However, he did not know what awaits him at war. He saw many of his friends die in the tunnels and battlefield, but for what? He surely did not know. After all these years, he changed his thoughts about this conflict. He said that this war was a huge mistake resulted from the Cold War, and if the United States had not interfered, many good people could still be alive.

Unsuccessful and prolonged military actions along with large losses led to the so-called “Vietnam syndrome,” which refers to the abrupt rejection of the American soldiers participating in foreign military conflicts. The war, which the United States initially did not consider as a serious conflict, turned into nightmare to the US. Mr. Stevens claims that the Vietnam War had only bad influence on the United States’ society. Vietnam veterans were considered murderers and conquerors and had no support back home in the US. He noticed, “Unlike the soldiers of the past and the soldiers of today, the Vietnam War was not a popular war with the American public. They cannot yell at Washington, so they yelled at us.” Almost every Vietnam survivor suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which often leads to committing suicides and crimes. The youth rebelled against the senseless slaughter. The growth of mass discontent resulted in anti-war and anti-government protests often organized by hippies and non-political organizations. Christian civilization taught people to treat human life as one of the highest values. Therefore, the increease in the number of US citizens killed in Vietnam turned to the public exorbitant fee for the triumph of Western ideas. This war had severely shaken American society and led to major reforms. The post-war crisis lasted more than ten years.

Paul Stevens’s replies were expected, because he is a very kind, thoughtful, and sincere person. He told his story with all details and horrors of the war. The only reason I was shocked is the fact that his squad took ‘catnaps’ for 10-15 minutes every four hours, which means that they slept maximum 1-2 hours a day. Besides, I was surprised by him telling about ‘thousand-yard stare’ and ‘flashbacks’ – random memories of the past triggered by sounds, scents or even songs.

In conclusion, the Vietnam War is considered the longest of all wars in the US history. In January 1973, the US signed the Paris Peace Agreement, according to which up to March 29 of 1973, the US troops had to leave the territory of South Vietnam. The war ended. The number of dead Americans took fourth place after the Civil War and World War II. According to the statistics, 58,220 were killed, 303,000 people were injured, and about 20,000 of Vietnam War veterans committed suicide. Paul Stevens is one of unrecognized heroes of the past. He fought for peace in a useless war against outrageous and ruthless communistic guerillas, which had no sense of humanity and honor. However, all he has got is psychological trauma and disrespect. Warfare is not a common thing for a person, and each citizen of any country involved in it has at least to show some respect for veterans who underwent this kind of experience.

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