In pictures: Remembering the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was perhaps the most photographed of all modern wars. Due to its long duration and to the enormous number of lives lost, it was a conflict that marked an entire generation of young people around the world.
The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975. For twenty years the US government sent thousands of young people to fight in the war, forcibly recruited.
The French colonizers of Indochina left a Vietnam divided between a communist north and a pro-Western south. The United States sent its troops to reunify Vietnam by eliminating all traces of communism.
Almost a million Vietnamese and 46,000 American soldiers died in this conflict, according to data from The New York Times. There are other sources that put the number of deceased Vietnamese at three million.
The rawest moment of the Vietnam War coincides with the height of the counterculture movement and the hippie era. The soldiers who went to war, sometimes, showed that influence in their dress or attitude.
Vietnam is part of the golden age of photojournalism. Photographers captured millions of images, as the military permitted journalists to travel freely in the country, enabling them to document the realities of war.
American fighters in Vietnam used to be very young and mostly from the working class. University students resorted to extensions and, at times, the upper classes were able to use legal tricks so that their children did not go to the front.
US bombing in areas controlled by the Vietcong (the communist militia of North Vietnam) was carried out, in many cases, with napalm, a flammable fuel that devastated the terrain and caused horrendous injuries to civilian victims.
In fact, one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War is that of the “napalm girl", who runs naked, with burned skin after a bombardment by the US army.
The United States got involved in Vietnam thoroughly. It sent 2.5 million soldiers during the 20 years that the conflict lasted.
Ho Chi Minh became an international icon of anti-imperialism. The communist leader of a small Asian nation who managed to break the American giant.
In Saigon the American rear guard was installed. The soldiers went there to rest and enjoy the nightlife of a city in turmoil.
Artists willing to entertain the troops were also sent to the front. In the image, a performance of the musical 'Hello, Dolly' for soldiers displaced to Vietnam.
US troops were involved in some particularly brutal criminal episodes during the Vietnam War. The one that had the greatest impact was the massacre in Mỹ Lai, a Vietnamese village in which US soldiers abused women and girls and massacred more than 300 people in cold blood.
The young Americans who participated in the Vietnam War were not greeted, upon their return, as heroes. It was difficult to distinguish whether they had been victims or executioners.
Vietnam was a traumatic war for United States citizens as well. Not only because of military defeat, but also because of the exposed atrocities that the US army showed capable of committing.
In addition, the American youth rejected the war in Vietnam in a massive way. The mobilizations were continuous during the decades of the 60s and 70s.
In the image, US President Lyndon B. Johnson reviewing the troops in Vietnam. He was not the only one to deal with that conflict: so did Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, who put an end to the war before his resignation, due to the Watergate scandal.
Chemical warfare was a tool of war actively used by the United States in Vietnam. The US military used the so-called "Agent Orange" to destroy crops in enemy areas.
The government of Vietnam says that as many as three million people have suffered illness because of Agent Orange and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that there was an increase in the rate of birth defects of the children of military personnel as a result of it.
Agent Orange has also caused enormous environmental damage in Vietnam. Over 31,000 km2 of forest were defoliated. Defoliants eroded tree cover and seedling forest stock, making reforestation difficult. Animal species diversity is sharply reduced in contrast with unsprayed areas.
The sound of helicopter blades flying over the Mekong Delta is part of all the enormous cognitive material we associate with the Vietnam War.
Vietnam became a pop culture landmark very soon. From the journalistic chronicles of Michael Herr: 'Dispatches', to the 1979 film 'Apocalypse Now', to 'The Deer Hunter' (1978), 'Platoon' (1986) or Kubrick’s ' Full Metal Jacket' (1987).
Within action cinema, rescue stories were told about soldiers who, after the end of the war, became prisoners of the Vietnamese. It is a legend exploited by fiction. In principle, the United States evacuated all of its people.
Until 1995 (20 years after the end of the conflict) diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam were not normalized.
Another iconic moment of the war was the so-called "fall of Saigon", the final chapter. The Vietnamese who collaborated with the Americans desperately stormed the embassy to seize the fleeing helicopters before the communist troops arrived. It was April 30, 1975.
The Vietnam War has been etched in the memory of several generations. Of those who lived it and of those who, over the years, have consumed the numerous stories that the entertainment industry has produced.