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The Cold War Climate and the Domino Effect

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Essay title: The Cold War Climate and the Domino Effect

The Cold War Climate and the Domino Theory

During World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Russia and its member states) - the U.S.S.R. - were allies against Germany and Japan. They won the war together. But the two countries had very different ideas on governing. The U.S. believed in the right of people to elect their leaders and live freely; the U.S.S.R. believed in limited freedom and a strong, dominant central government. Free people will never knowingly choose to place themselves under a communist government, so the U.S.S.R. was trying to force itself on other countries with military force. It had done so in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other countries. The U.S.S.R. had a formidable army, whose weapons included atomic and nuclear bombs and the means to deliver them. So the U.S. and other free countries feared that communism would spread. This was the essence of the domino theory.

"You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly." - President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954.

Memories of Hitler's attempt to dominate the world were still fresh. It could happen again. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson believed that the domino theory was applicable in Indo-China. There was real concern in the United States, and outright fear in much of the rest of the free world, that communism might overtake us.

In 1950, the United States announced that it would provide military and economic support to countries that were being invaded by communist forces.

Vietnam is a relatively small country located south of China in Southeast Asia. Vietnam had been engaged in an internal struggle for many years. Before World War II, France had claimed Vietnam as a colony. After the war, the Vietnam's leader, Ho Chi Minh, declared Vietnam as an independent, communist country. The French tried to protect their interest, if only to keep Vietnam out of communist control. But the French abandoned Vietnam in 1954, having determined that it was not worth the cost. Vietnam was divided into two parts: North Vietnam was under Ho Chi Minh's control, while the south remained free.

Do you feel a draft here?

Back in the bad old days, registering for the selective service meant you were probably going to be drafted into military service. And once you were drafted, you were probably going to Vietnam. Oh, you might get lucky and end up in South Korea or West Germany. But you had no say in the matter. (It was mostly a guy thing... women were not drafted and served no active combat role in the military.) At age 18, we were required to register for the draft and perhaps serve in the military, and maybe die for our country. But since the voting age was 21, we were not allowed to select our leaders. There did seem to be something wrong with that.

Oh, you could get a deferment if you were a full time high school or college student. But aside from that, and a few other special cases, you were going to see a lot more of the world than you wanted to... compliments of Uncle Sam. About 40% of eligible boomer males eventually were drafted.

Ten thousand boomers took another way out... by heading north to Canada. The Canadian government would not force them to return. But it was a one-way trip; if you tried to come back into the U.S., you were subject to prosecution.

The typical tour of duty in the military was two years.... six weeks of rugged basic training, 10 months in direct preparation, and then a year in Vietnam. If you made it through that with no physical or mental scars... you were in the minority. If you volunteered before you were drafted, you might get to choose a specialty (and thus, perhaps avoid front line combat); or, you might get to serve somewhere other than Vietnam. But if you volunteered, your term was four years, not two.

I should also note that millions of boomers willingly served proudly in the military; tens of thousands chose the military as a career and have spent their entire adult life serving honorably in the military. But they were, by far, the exception, not the rule.


By the numbers:

For the duration of the war, there were about 27 million American men of draft age. Of those, about 2 million served in Vietnam. That's about 7 percent. Of the 2 million who did serve in Vietnam, there were about 50,000 deaths. An American soldier serving in Vietnam, then, had about

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