35. Myth: A higher percentage of black soldiers fought the Vietnam War
According to a long-standing myth, black Americans were more likely to be drafted, more likely to be sent to Vietnam, and more likely to be killed or injured in combat. This myth has been repeated in news articles and essays, depicted in film and television, and brought forth as an example of the racism prevalent in America at the time, in which the children of privileged whites could obtain exemptions not available for black Americans. Vietnam was the first war fought by the United States with a legally integrated military since the Revolutionary War (in Korea integration had been ordered, but was not yet fully practiced). The myth remains of the Americans drafting blacks to fight an unjust war, which was itself racial in scope.
36. Fact: The US Army was overwhelmingly white in Vietnam
The troops which deployed to Vietnam during the years of American involvement, including the crews of the US Navy ships which served offshore in the conflict, were just over half of a middle-class background, better educated than in any of America’s preceding wars (79% had a high school diploma) and were overwhelmingly white (88%). Of all the combat deaths which were suffered by American forces over the course of the war, 86% were white. The myth of the prejudicial use of black troops to conduct the most dangerous missions, exposing them to the greatest risk of injury or death, is directly traceable to the civil rights movement which occurred simultaneously with the worst years of the Vietnam War, in which more radical factions created the falsehoods to rally their followers.
37. Myth: Portions of the US Embassy were occupied by the enemy during the Tet Offensive
During the confusion and fear prevalent in the early hours of the Tet Offensive, the United States Embassy in Saigon was under attack by Viet Cong forces. US Marines, supported by Army troops and ARVN forces, fought the Cong guerrillas within the compound and along its perimeter. The Associated Press, witnessing the ferocity of the fighting near the embassy grounds, reported that several floors of the embassy itself had been occupied by communist troops. The report was confirmed by the AP’s main competitor, United Press International. The inability of the Americans to protect their embassy within the limits of their ally’s capital city was a blow to the prestige of the American military.
38. Fact: The American Embassy was not overrun by communist troops during the Tet Offensive
American defenders of the embassy in Saigon included the guard force of US Marines, supported by Army troops from Saigon and some ARVN forces which joined them. Although a breach was achieved in the security wall by the Viet Cong, they were unable to exploit it by having troops enter the grounds, and the attack was eventually repelled by the combined Allied forces, with heavy losses to the communist troops, mostly Viet Cong. Although news releases denied the reports of the embassy being partially occupied, which had been promulgated by the Associated Press and United Press International (and repeated by other news agencies) the denials were largely ignored as the press turned its attention to events elsewhere in the country, including the fighting at Hue.
39. Myth: Americans had to do the bulk of the fighting in Vietnam because the ARVN wouldn’t
Another longstanding myth of the Vietnam War is the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, known as ARVN, could not and would not fight. The myth, perpetuated by films, television, literature, and the prejudices of many, states that the ARVN for the most part did not support the puppet government installed by the Americans and in any case lacked the modern equipment necessary to conduct combat operations successfully. The ARVN was ineptly led, poorly equipped, inadequately supplied in the field, and lacked the motivation to defend its own country against the communists, leaving the Americans the burden of defending South Vietnam against communist aggression.
40. Fact: ARVN fought hard and sustained heavy casualties throughout the war
The South Vietnamese Army was poorly equipped early in the conflict, since the Americans had to ensure that their own troops were adequately armed and supplied, leaving only obsolescent weaponry available to supply their ally. By the time of what Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger called Vietnamization – the transfer of responsibility for successfully prosecuting the war to the South Vietnamese – the weapons provided to ARVN were the same as carried by the Americans. Though corruption was present in the ranks of senior officers throughout the war, the front-line troops fought bravely and well, and many paid the price for their courage once Saigon fell and the futile war against the North Vietnamese ended after more than twenty years of continuous conflict.
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