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Heinl, Jr. The move toward the all-volunteer force began in earnest in , when presidential candidate Richard Nixon made the idea part of his official platform. Upon taking office, Nixon then created the Gates Commission in which examined the logistics of making the switch to a volunteer service. After several years of working out the details in Congress and within the Pentagon, the draft ended for good in Throughout the s the force steadily improved as new Army institutions such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin took shape.

Then in , Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and troops headed to the Persian Gulf for their first major test. Proponents of the volunteer service say ending the draft also contributed to establishing a force more representative of the nation as a whole.

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In , only 2 percent of enlisted members were women, compared to about 15 percent today. During Vietnam, a major flaw of the draft was that the poor and minorities served at disproportionate rates to middle class white America. At the end of the draft, 28 percent of enlisted personnel were black, who were just 11 percent of the population at the time. During the height of the Iraq War, some began to question whether a military of volunteers resulted in a population disconnected from the wars that were being waged.

There also were serious concerns about the burden being carried by a fighting force of volunteers, many of whom carried out multiple deployments. Some politicians, such as Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N. But Rostker, who also served as director of the U. Selective Service System form , says there would be little to be gained in returning to some form of the draft. With roughly 4 million Americans each year reaching draft age, supply far exceeds demand, he said.

The Army, for example, only takes in about 50, soldiers each year, which means few would ever see boot camp let alone generate a cultural reconnection with the military.

Now, however, the debate is essentially settled over the all-volunteer force with no serious consideration given to a return to conscription. As the two sides came together in Geneva, Switzerland, international events were already shaping the future of Vietnam's modern revolution. Drawn up in the shadow of the Korean War, the Geneva Accords represented the worst of all possible futures for war-torn Vietnam. Because of outside pressures brought to bear by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, Vietnam's delegates to the Geneva Conference agreed to the temporary partition of their nation at the seventeenth parallel to allow France a face-saving defeat.


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The Communist superpowers feared that a provocative peace would anger the United States and its western European allies, and neither Moscow or Peking wanted to risk another confrontation with the West so soon after the Korean War. According to the terms of the Geneva Accords, Vietnam would hold national elections in to reunify the country. The division at the seventeenth parallel, a temporary separation without cultural precedent, would vanish with the elections.

The United States, however, had other ideas. Instead, Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower supported the creation of a counter-revolutionary alternative south of the seventeenth parallel. Almost immediately, Diem claimed that his newly created government was under attack from Communists in the north. In late , with American military aid, Diem began to counterattack. He used the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency to identify those who sought to bring his government down and arrested thousands. The outcry against Diem's harsh and oppressive actions was immediate. Buddhist monks and nuns were joined by students, business people, intellectuals, and peasants in opposition to the corrupt rule of Ngo Dinh Diem.

The more these forces attacked Diem's troops and secret police, the more Diem complained that the Communists were trying to take South Vietnam by force. This was, in Diem's words, "a hostile act of aggression by North Vietnam against peace-loving and democratic South Vietnam. Some Kennedy advisers believed Diem had not instituted enough social and economic reforms to remain a viable leader in the nation-building experiment. Others argued that Diem was the "best of a bad lot. From , the Communist Party of Vietnam desired to reunify the country through political means alone.

Accepting the Soviet Union's model of political struggle, the Communist Party tried unsuccessfully to cause Diem's collapse by exerting tremendous internal political pressure. After Diem's attacks on suspected Communists in the South, however, southern Communists convinced the Party to adopt more violent tactics to guarantee Diem's downfall. At the Fifteenth Party Plenum in January , the Communist Party finally approved the use of revolutionary violence to overthrow Ngo Dinh Diem's government and liberate Vietnam south of the seventeenth parallel.

In May , and again in September , the Party confirmed its use of revolutionary violence and the combination of the political and armed struggle movements.

Few will remember U.S. entered Vietnam War 48 years ago today

The result was the creation of a broad-based united front to help mobilize southerners in opposition to the GVN. Special Forces. Photo courtesy of the soc.

Used earlier in the century to mobilize anti-French forces, the united front brought together Communists and non-Communists in an umbrella organization that had limited, but important goals. Anyone could join this front as long as they opposed Ngo Dinh Diem and wanted to unify Vietnam. The character of the NLF and its relationship to the Communists in Hanoi has caused considerable debate among scholars, anti-war activists, and policymakers. In a series of government "White Papers," Washington insiders denounced the NLF, claiming that it was merely a puppet of Hanoi and that its non-Communist elements were Communist dupes.

The NLF, on the other hand, argued that it was autonomous and independent of the Communists in Hanoi and that it was made up mostly of non-Communists.

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Many anti-war activists supported the NLF's claims. Washington continued to discredit the NLF, however, calling it the "Viet Cong," a derogatory and slang term meaning Vietnamese Communist. December White Paper In , President Kennedy sent a team to Vietnam to report on conditions in the South and to assess future American aid requirements. The report, now known as the "December White Paper," argued for an increase in military, technical, and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American "advisers" to help stabilize the Diem regime and crush the NLF.

As Kennedy weighed the merits of these recommendations, some of his other advisers urged the president to withdraw from Vietnam altogether, claiming that it was a "dead-end alley. Instead of a large-scale military buildup as the White Paper had called for or a negotiated settlement that some of his advisers had long advocated, Kennedy sought a limited accord with Diem. The United States would increase the level of its military involvement in South Vietnam through more machinery and advisers, but would not intervene whole-scale with troops.

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This arrangement was doomed from the start, and soon reports from Vietnam came in to Washington attesting to further NLF victories. To counteract the NLF's success in the countryside, Washington and Saigon launched an ambitious and deadly military effort in the rural areas.

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Called the Strategic Hamlet Program, the new counterinsurgency plan rounded up villagers and placed them in "safe hamlets" constructed by the GVN. The idea was to isolate the NLF from villagers, its base of support. This culturally-insensitive plan produced limited results and further alienated the peasants from the Saigon regime. The Saigon regime's reactive policies ironically produced more cadres for the NLF. Marines holding up a captured National Liberation Front flag. Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, had raided the Buddhist pagodas of South Vietnam, claiming that they had harbored the Communists that were creating the political instability.

The result was massive protests on the streets of Saigon that led Buddhist monks to self-immolation. The pictures of the monks engulfed in flames made world headlines and caused considerable consternation in Washington. By late September, the Buddhist protest had created such dislocation in the south that the Kennedy administration supported a coup. With Washington's tacit approval, on November 1, , Diem and his brother were captured and later killed. Three weeks later, President Kennedy was assassinated on the streets of Dallas.

At the time of the Kennedy and Diem assassinations, there were 16, military advisers in Vietnam. The Kennedy administration had managed to run the war from Washington without the large-scale introduction of American combat troops. The continuing political problems in Saigon, however, convinced the new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, that more aggressive action was needed. Perhaps Johnson was more prone to military intervention or maybe events in Vietnam had forced the president's hand to more direct action. In any event, after a dubious DRV raid on two U.

Buddhist monks, Photo courtesy of E. Kenneth Hoffman. Turner Joy and the U.