Is the Vietnam War America’s Longest War?

Wars have always been part of history and many are still being waged to this day. Some conflicts last longer than others. Among major wars that the U.S. has been involved in, the Vietnam War had always been seen as the longest war in U.S. history. Since July 2010, many news media and government officials have claimed that the war in Afghanistan has overtaken the Vietnam War to be America’s longest war while others maintain the former viewpoint. So which is America’s longest war? Afghanistan or Vietnam?

The Vietnam War

The Associated Press says the Vietnam conflict lasted only for more than 10 years from August 1965 when the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred and Congress passed its resolution to January 1973 when the Paris Peace Accords were signed. Its conventional start date was on August 4, 1964 when the Gulf of Tonkin incident happened.

However, Richard Holbrooke (1941 – 2000), President Obama’s former special emissary for Afghanistan and Pakistan, thought otherwise. Holbrooke said American casualties began no later than 1961. And if the war began in 1964 then he was already in Vietnam for a year and a half before the war started. For him, that chosen date is just not right.

The confusion arises from the fact that the U.S. never officially declared war on North Vietnam. Even after the Department of Defense officially lists American deaths in Vietnam from November 1, 1955, which was the same day when the Vietnamese MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) – an offshoot of the Indochina MAAG established just 5 years earlier, was created, the start date remains inconsistent among the media and American people.

As regards American casualties, the first official death listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington is Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr., a U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant, who died on June 8, 1956.

American first involvement in Vietnam was even earlier in 1950 when President Truman sent military advisers to support French troops during the First Indochina War. Hence, if one bases the start date on when America first got involved in Vietnam, the conflict would last for over 25 years.

The War in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan conflict started when the NATO and allied forces intervened in the ongoing Afghan civil war, which is still yet to see an end. It followed after the 9/11 terrorist attack in an effort to annihilate the al-Qaeda group. On September 19, 2001, President Bush signed the legislation that authorized U.S. Armed Forces to track down those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Contrary to the Vietnam War, the start date of the war in Afghanistan can be  exactly defined. It was on October 7, 2011 when the U.S., together with the United Kingdom, launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The war has lasted for nearly 13 years and is scheduled to end by the end of 2014.

Which is America’s longest war?

The war in Afghanistan may be more popular to American people than the one in Vietnam. The Afghan war may also be more related to America’s security interest as it came after the September 11 attacks. However, it still falls short of longevity compared with the Vietnam War on many counts.

The Vietnam War is now commonly considered to have lasted for 19 years, 6 months to the day. In comparison with the 13-year long war in Afghanistan, Vietnam is still the longest war in U.S. history to date. Holbrooke – the only one who had deeply involved and had extensive experience in both conflicts also agree with this conclusion.

The war in Afghanistan is longer than the Vietnam War if only one considers its start from the Gulf of Tonkin incident on  August 5, 1965 as discussed above.

If the war continues in 2015 and beyond, however, it would surpass the conflict in Vietnam and become America’s longest war. While American personnel are likely to remain in Afghanistan after the proposed 2014, will America allow the conflict to last for 7 more years? Unlikely and hopefully not!

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  • 1usmc

    I strongly feel that the politicians are responsible for losing the Vietnam War. We could’ve won the war if it would’ve been left to our military.

  • John

    Agree 100%. While the communists were killing priests and anyone educated, the US media only covered things which were critical of the US military. The Politicians were mostly worried about being re-elected and didn’t give a hoot about innocent South Vietnamese being murdered. So they give in to the media and pulled out. They left our friends and those who had helped the USA twisting in the wind.