In 1982, ground-breaking ceremonies for the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial take place in Washington, D.C.
Pyhrric Victory by Eric LippsThe Vietnam War was America's second longest, finally ending only in 1978 with the diplomatic agreement mediated by President James E. Carter under which the guerrilla forces of the Viet Cong and the People's Army of Vietnam (formerly the North Vietnamese Army) agreed to lay down arms in exchange for the right to field their own political candidates. Only the Cuban conflict would last longer: at the time of the Vietnam memorial's groundbreaking, the guerrilla war which had begun following the April 1961 Bay of Pigs "intervention" is still in progress.
The Linebacker operations of the early seventies had broken the formal power of the Communist regime then in power in Hanoi, at the cost of several million Vietnamese dead from flooding, disease and starvation following the bombing of the North's dike system. The North Vietnamese had refused to simply surrender, however, and they and their Viet Cong allies had waged a fierce guerrilla struggle even after the occupation first of Hanoi and then of the Communists' second capital, Haiphong. At home, the seemingly endless conflict had grown increasingly unpopular, as American troops continued to fight and die even after "victory" had supposedly been won.
President Carter's negotiation of the Vietnam accords had been sharply criticized by, among others, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said that the peace agreement "granted the Communists what they could not win on the battlefield" and predicted that Vietnamese leftists would now try to subvert the unified government of Vietnam from within. Among the critics was former governor Ronald Reagan of California, who in 1980 would exploit anger over the pact in his successful run for the White House.
The influence of Reagan and his supporters would be revealed in the final design of the memorial, which featured a group of soldiers planting a flag atop a broken wall and bore the names of every American killed in the conflict.