Moral Words, Immoral Deeds: The Ethical Aspect of American Decision Making in Vietnam

Jachim, Daniel, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Milov, Sarah, AS-History, University of Virginia

The American decision to go to war in Vietnam was tied deeply to the moral views of key decision makers at the time. Influenced by both theories of global development and scarred by the memory of Appeasement before the Second World War, key actors in the Department of Defense, Department of State, and National Security Council informed their decisions in part based on an understanding of American responsibility to both a global interest in general and to South Vietnam in particular. Despite this, however, the decision making was only articulated in this way to the American public. In internal discussions, moral considerations were relegated to ancillary positions and instead arguments stemming from geopolitical considerations were given precedence. In part, this discrepancy between decision making and the public portrayal of decision making can be found in the intellectual and moral origins of the key decision makers. These actors were educated and raised in environments where strong moral convictions were simultaneously praised but also deemed inappropriate for presentation in professional environments. As such, the public presentation of the decision to go to war in Vietnam may in fact be a better representation of the intentions and beliefs of these actors than the private presentations of the decision.

MA (Master of Arts)
Vietnam, Morality
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