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From when President Eisenhower gave his ‘Domino Effect’ speech in 1954, to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the U.S. military had been inserted into Vietnam in order to fight off the communist forces at war with South Vietnam. Although the Vietnam conflict was never considered a real war, nearly 60,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in battle. America’s involvement went on for more than 20 years and oversaw leadership from: Dwight. D Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. With many of the United States soldiers being draftees, there was a growing concern of a drug epidemic taking place overseas. However, it was Nixon and his team who led the public to believe that after the conflict was over the U.S. would have a growing problem of addicted soldiers coming home. Citizens over in the states were filled with concern for their hometowns to be filled with junkies. Although many Vietnam soldiers were painted to be hardcore drug abusers in early 1970 by Nixon and other forms of media, there were many misconceptions which still resonate today about: drugs of choice for young American soldiers, rehabilitation methods, and addiction.

One of the biggest issues to affect the misconception of addiction is how the public reacted to the Saigon heroin epidemic. President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, of the South Vietnamese government, issued out a special task force to combat the flow of heroin to soldiers. The Director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, John Ingersoll, informed the U.S. government of the heroin circulation between U.S. troops. Ingersoll quoted a military commander saying, “Tens of thousands of soldiers are going back as walking time bombs”, which only added to public fear of drug corrupted soldiers finding their way home. The U.S. government was in need for a solution to the crisis. America attempted to prevent the drug epidemic by removing supplies and treating the addicted. However, even though there were nearly 60,000 addicted soldiers, only 10 rehabilitation centers were provided by the Army. The largest of these facilities could only hold around 30 soldiers. Because of the lack of rehabilitation methods provided by the U.S. government, America turned to punishment methods for heroin addicted soldiers. One high ranking officer commented on punishment after the rehabilitation program by saying: “You can only do it once. The next time its jail or a bad conduct discharge that stays with you the rest of your life. Let’s face it. I would have never been on the stuff if they hadn’t sent me over here”. By incarcerating and punishing Vietnam troops, American society began to believe that addiction was only for the lazy, undisciplined, and criminal. Many were persuaded by the idea that addiction could be cured by pure willpower and punishment. By completely curbing the idea of a slow rehabilitative addiction process, the United States’ soldiers were ostracized because of false preconceived notations.

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In fact, drug abuse and addiction has very little to do with self-discipline. Overcoming the chemical craving in one’s brain has more to do with a shift in environment rather than pure willpower. When studying soldier behavior after the war, Lee Robins found that approximately 95 percent of soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam, expel their addiction nearly on arrival home. Robins discovered that addiction could suddenly disappear if there was a sudden change of environment, therefore debunking previous ideas about how addiction takes place in the brain. However, the American people were still not fully aware of this study, and continued to turn drug abusers into outcasts. Another contributing factor to the country’s widespread fear of drug abuse, was the fallacy that all drugs used in Vietnam were inherently equal. This is to say that a soldier who used marijuana or alcohol would immediately be categorized as a junkie. Even though only around 28 percent of U.S. soldiers had used hard drugs, many more were viewed as addicts because of their use of marijuana. This only contributed to the constant ostracizing of young soldiers, and the mass delusion that all drugs were inherently for the mentally unstable.

Even though around 9 in 10 soldiers overcame their addictions after entering the United States, there were still many veterans struggling with their disorder. American society had out casted these young struggling soldiers, which led to many ending up: homeless, unemployed, and still struggling with drug abuse. As of 2008, nearly 47 percent of homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era, and close to 76 percent struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Rehabilitation programs were not as available as one might think during the post-Vietnam era. The United States government today still fails to support the homeless population today. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs only managed provided 8,000 beds, despite the population of homeless veteran’s being close to 200,000. Although our country is currently taking action to better support homeless veterans, America still faces a large problem caused by misconstrued information on addiction. Many American citizens are currently incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. As of April 6, 2019, 45.5 percent of inmates are imprisoned on drug related charges. Rather than focusing on the rehabilitation methods for those inmates, America’s legal system has taken a more disciplinary approach. The federal inmate population at the end of 1976 was 23,566, and at the end of 1986 it was 36,042. These mass amount of drug charge arrests took place right after the Vietnam War ended. This particular timeline showcases how a negative outlook on addiction can impact the lives of millions.

To this day American society still struggles to cope with the realities and facts about drug abuse. Because Nixon and the American people blackballed soldiers struggling with addiction, fallacies about drug cravings and rehab still resonate today. Proper measures to prevent and contain this epidemic were not taken. Due to the troubled past America has had with introducing new ideas, Lee Robins’ research was never popularized or introduced to the American public.

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