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Foreign Policy, Vietnam War, and Watergate, The Impact of Vietnam

Kent State tragedy, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, War Powers Resolution, military draft, presidential power

The Vietnam War affected the United States in many ways. Most immediately, it spurred policy changes. The United States ended the military draft and switched to an all-volunteer army. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over Nixon’s veto in November 1973. The resolution limited the president’s ability to send troops into combat without congressional consent. Its passage reflected legislators’ desire to restrain presidential power and to prevent U.S. involvement in a war like that in Vietnam.

Beyond policy changes, the war in Vietnam changed the attitudes of a generation. First, the war increased caution about involvement in foreign affairs. After Vietnam, Americans more carefully weighed the risks of intruding in another nation’s problems. Second, defeat in the war diminished American confidence in U.S. superiority, both moral and military. Defeat in Vietnam was a humiliating national experience.

Finally, the war increased mistrust of government and its officials. A chain of events beginning in the 1960s—such as the way Johnson obtained the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, revelations of secret bombings of Cambodia under Nixon, and the Kent State tragedy—shattered a faith in the state that had prevailed since World War II. These events left citizens with a sense of cynicism: Government leaders were no longer credible. The abrupt end of Nixon’s presidency only confirmed this sentiment.

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