On the Rainy River by Tim O’Brien Analysis
Throughout history, the United States’ stance on foreign affairs has gradually developed from neutrality to voluntary involvement in other nations’ wars. South Vietnam was facing enormous pressure from North Vietnam to become communist and this eventually led the two to break out into war. Additionally, the United States feared the effects of the “domino theory” would influence neighboring countries of Vietnam to become communist if all of Vietnam were to become communist. As a result of this, the United States joined the war even though they had no reason to get involved in other country’s affairs. Ultimately, the decision to enter the war should not have been made and all nations would be better off had the United States not have gotten involved.
In the short story On the Rainy River, the main character O’Brien is drafted into the war but does not want to go because he is against involvement in the war. He faces pressure from those around him to fight the war which causes him emotional distress. On one hand, he does not want to fight in the war because he does not believe we should have involvement, but on the other hand, he is being pressured by those around him and does not want to be looked down upon. O’Brien runs away to Canada at one point but by the end goes back home to fight in the war. The short story conveys the emotional distress that many faced because they had to choose between going against their morals or being shamed for not fighting when drafted. If they chose to follow their moral compass they would face possible jail time or run away and never see their family again. Protesters felt they had no business being in Vietnam and that the tensions there were not related to the United States yet we were risking the lives of thousands of young men.
One group of protesters wore armbands to school in protest of the war and were suspended until they agreed to take off their armbands. This later became the landmark supreme court case Tinker v. Des Moines which lasted 4 years until the supreme court ruled 7-2. The students were not disrupting their classrooms and preventing them from expressing their opinion was a violation of the freedom of speech. This demonstrates how those who opposed the Vietnam War were seen as hippies and were often viewed as outcasts who would be disgraced for their beliefs. Many did not express their opinions in public and these people were known as the silent majority. Millions of Americans saw the horrors of the Vietnam War and from their television but feared what their communities would think of them. The United States was deploying millions of young men to fight for a cause that did not directly affect the country. Since the majority of the US soldiers did not want to be involved in the war, the soldiers were not motivated to win and it is said that 1 in every 50,000 bullets actually hit someone since many often just shot toward the sky.
In 1971 John Kerry delivered a speech to the US Senate explaining why he and other Vietnam veterans were against involvement in the Vietnam War. As said before, the US justified involvement in the war by saying it was to fight communism as a whole but Kerry debunks this in his statement to the Senate. Those who they fight in Vietnam were not even completely sure what they were fighting for. Neither side was invested in the fight and the Vietnamese that they fought often could not differentiate communism and democracy from each other. Furthermore, he elaborates on the country’s mistakes by explaining how “because we couldn’t lose, and we couldn’t retreat. And because it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point.” Roughly 58,000 Americans were killed and more than half of the 3 million killed were innocent Vietnamese citizens. These deaths could have been easily avoided had we not gotten involved in the war.
Thousands of soldiers died fighting in a war that never needed to occur in the first place. Had we joined but surrendered or accepted defeat, thousands of casualties could have been avoided. In the end, the United States lost the war yet they nothing they predicted actually happened and neighboring countries did not become communists. The government should have instead listened to the public’s opinions and avoided involvement altogether.
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