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Vietnam War – Part II: The LBJ Years. Gulf of Tonkin. After JFK’s assassination VP Johnson took over the presidency and most of Kennedy’s foreign policy, he advocated containment of Communism and continued involvement in Vietnam

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gulf of tonkin
Gulf of Tonkin
  • After JFK’s assassination VP Johnson took over the presidency and most of Kennedy’s foreign policy, he advocated containment of Communism and continued involvement in Vietnam
  • August 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on U.S. destroyers patrolling the international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The USS Maddox returned fire and damaged 3 torpedo boats
  • First major engagement between the U.S. and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
gulf of tonkin resolution
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
  • LBJ called the attack “unprovoked” and ordered a “limited” retaliatory air raid against North Vietnamese bases
  • The outcome of the incident was the passage by Congress of the Southeast Asia Resolution (Gulf of Tonkin Resolution), which granted LBJ the authority
    • to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression,“
    • including the commitment of U.S. forces without a declaration of war.
    • The resolution served as LBJ’s legal justification for escalating American involvement in South Vietnam.
    • It gave the President the exclusive right to use military force without consulting the Senate
  • 2005 NSA report confirms that the Maddox was not attacked on August 4th, 1964
lbj and escalation
LBJ and Escalation
  • After being elected in 1964, Johnson started a gradual military escalation of the war beginning with the arrival of ground forces in Da Nang 1965
    • Start of 1965 – 25,000 troops
    • End of 1965 – 184,000 troops
    • 1967 – 389,000 troops
    • 1968 – 536,000 troops
  • The U.S. was paying $30 billion a year for the war
lbj and vietnam
LBJ and Vietnam
  • By 1965, the Viet Cong were steadily expanding within South Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops and supplies poured into the south via the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a supply route that passed through Laos and Cambodia

After an attack at Pleiku that killed 8 Americans and wounded 126, President Johnson authorized the bombing of North Vietnam – Operation Rolling Thunder

  • LBJ, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and Gen. William Westmoreland believed that an “escalation” of American force would drive the enemy to defeat with a minimum loss of life on both sides.
    • "I am convinced that U.S. troops with their energy, mobility, and firepower can successfully take the fight to the NLF” ~General Westmorland
escalation westmorland plan
Escalation-Westmorland Plan
  • Supporting a weak ARVN was not working. Westmorland wanted to use U.S. force for offensive not defensive action
  • Westmorland’s 3 Phase Plan:
    • Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (ground troops) forces necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
    • Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy forces. This phase would be concluded when the enemy had been and driven back from major populated areas.
    • Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of 12-18 months for the final destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote bases
american escalation
American Escalation
  • The Americans brought with them advanced weaponry and new tactics, but they had only limited success in jungle warfare.
  • Vietcong and NVA matched increased American firepower with more men and more resolve in guerrilla warfare
  • American officials defended their involvement citing the domino effect, claiming that they were defending a faithful democratic ally
american escalation9
American Escalation
  • The Johnson administration chose a “policy of minimum candor” keeping the press and the public from learning the entire truth about the conduct of the war.
  • Press coverage began to contradict the official reports of U.S. and ARVN military successes, and uncover atrocities.
  • “Credibility gap”

Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a NLF fighter during Tet in front of CBS news

atrocities in vietnam
Atrocities in Vietnam
  • Atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflict due in part to the fluid nature of the war and loose command structure.
  • Documented atrocities by NVA and the Viet Cong
    • During the1968 Tet offensive- deliberate roundup and murder of as many as 5,000 South Vietnamese.
    • In the Imperial city of Hue. Communists killed over 3,000 South Vietnamese.
  • Documented atrocities by U.S. soldiers
    • March 1968- My Lai
    • Tiger Company
my lai massacre
My Lai Massacre
  • March 1968, U.S. infantry company (Charlie Company) responded to word that My Lai was sheltering Viet Cong
  • When they got there, they found only women, children, and elderly
  • Lieutenant William L. Calley, Jr. ordered his platoon to round up and shoot villagers
  • Anywhere from 200-400 died
my lai massacre12
My Lai Massacre
  • The massacre ended when U.S. helicopter pilot, Hugh Thompson, saw what was going on and intervened. He told his door gunner to shoot the American troops if the attack on the civilians continued
  • The military attempted to cover up the massacre.
  • Seymour Hersh broke the story in 11/1969
  • Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment, but only served less than 4 years under house arrest. Pardoned by Nixon
  • In 1998, Thompson was given the Soldier’s Medal – the highest military honor for bravery unrelated to fighting an enemy

William Calley

Hugh Thompson

world opinion of vietnam
World Opinion of Vietnam
  • Grew increasingly hostile; the blasting of an underdeveloped country by a mighty superpower struck many critics as foul
  • Several nations expelled American Peace Corps volunteers
  • Charles de Gaulle ordered NATO off French soil in 1966
resistance to war
Resistance to War
  • Early in the war, only conscientious objectors opposed fighting in the war. These were people who chose not to fight on moral or religious grounds (Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses)
  • As more young men were drafted, Americans began to question the morality and fairness of the draft. College students could receive a deferment, or official postponement of their call to serve
  • By 1967, resistance to the military draft began to sweep the country. Many young men tried to avoid the draft by claiming that they had physical disabilities
resistance to war16
Resistance to War
  • 100,000 U.S. draftees fled to Canada to avoid military service
  • October 1967, 50,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D.C. to march on the Pentagon.
  • “Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?”
  • In the first six months of 1968, more than 200 major anti-war demonstrations erupted at colleges around the country
the teach in movement
The Teach-In Movement
  • The first teach-in took place at the University of Michigan in March 1965
  • It was started by a group of 50-60 professors who decided to teach special night sessions in which issues concerning the war could be discussed
  • Soon, other teach-ins followed at colleges around the country
opposition in congress
Opposition In Congress
  • Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations William Fulbright of Arkansas led a series of widely viewed televised hearings in 1966 and 1967, during which experts aired their views on Vietnam, most were antiwar
  • Gradually, the public came to feel that it had been deceived about the causes and “winnability” of the war
  • A “credibility gap” opened between the government and the people
doubts in the administration
Doubts in the Administration
  • After 1966 McNamara’s differences with the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff over strategy became public .
  • November 1967, McNamara recommends:
    • freezing troop levels,
    • stop bombing North Vietnam
    • and for the US to hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam
  • All rejected outright by LBJ
  • February 1968, McNamara was replaced by Clark Clifford
  • 1968, casualties exceeded 100,000 and the U.S. dropped more bombs on Vietnam than on all enemy territory in WWII
intelligence efforts
Intelligence Efforts
  • In 1967, President Johnson ordered the CIA, in clear violation of its charter as a foreign intelligence agency, to spy on domestic antiwar activists
  • He also encouraged the FBI to turn its counterintelligence program, code-named “Cointelpro” against the peace movement. They charged that leading “doves” were communist sympathizers
reality of the vietnam war
Reality of the Vietnam War
  • As the war went on, evidence mounted that America had become entangled in an Asian civil war, fighting against highly motivated rebels who were striving to overthrow an oppressive regime
  • Johnson was bent on “saving” Vietnam and assured Americans he could see “the light at the end of the tunnel”
  • 1967 poll more Americans think the war was a “mistake”
tet offensive
Tet Offensive
  • The Viet Cong and NVA launched a major offensive on the day of the Vietnamese New Year
  • The Tet Offensive included simultaneous surprise attacks on 100 cities, towns, and U.S. military bases throughout South Vietnam including attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
  • Even though they were turned back with heavy losses, the Viet Cong won a psychological victory
tet offensive23
Tet Offensive
  • The Tet Offensive demonstrated that:
    • The Viet Cong could launch attacks anywhere they wanted,
    • Johnson’s strategy of gradual escalation would not work
    • At this pace, the war would continue for many more years
  • Images of the fighting on TV continued to increase public reservations towards the war and widened the credibility gap
  • February ’68, Walter Cronkite (“the most trusted anchorman in America”) declares in a national news broadcast that the war is “unwinnable”
  • American military leaders requested 200,000 more troops, Johnson refused to commit to another major increase in troops
end of lbj
End of LBJ
  • In March 1968, President Johnson announced in a television address that:
    • Bombing north of the 20th parallel would be stopped
    • He would not seek reelection
  • Historian Robert Dallek- "Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam divided Americans into warring camps... cost 30,000 American lives by the time he left office, (and) destroyed Johnson's presidency...“
  • His refusal to send more U.S. troops to Vietnam was seen as Johnson's admission that the war was lost.