The Foreign Policies of Lyndon Johnson: Beyond Vietnam (Foreign Relations and the Presidency)

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In his State of the Union Address on January 17, Johnson sounded downright optimistic, even though he acknowledged that the U. Our patience and our perseverance will match our power.

Aggression will never prevail. Then the situation took a bad turn a few weeks later. The crisis of Tet began in the early morning of January 30, the start of the year of the Monkey. A year-old soldier, Chuck Searcy, recalled waking up after an evening of drinking and movies, that when the sirens went off he assumed it was a drill and they would be able to go back to sleep. It was the moment when the war became a reality for us, because up to then, Saigon had been considered a very safe area and quite secure and basically an area that would never be attacked.

Nineteen enemy soldiers would lose their lives in the battle for the embassy; five Americans were killed. This was just one of many onslaughts that took place as the communists conducted their offensive in five major cities, 36 provincial capitals and smaller hamlets across the country. First, that they have more power than some credit them with My guess is that we will inflict very heavy losses on them, both in terms of personnel and materiel and this will set them back some, but after they absorb the losses, they will remain a substantial force.

After the initial shock and awe, U. When it was all over in late February, the communists suffered over 40, deaths, including some of their most skilled troops.

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The fighting ended when the U. Yet the military victory turned into a political disaster for the administration. Johnson tried to stop the political bleeding from the realization that the Vietnam War was not ending any time soon. The media coverage of Tet provided reporters with unprecedented access to the images of the conflict as the battles moved into the cities, and they delivered. One of the most famous images from the period was that of a South Vietnamese brigadier general Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the chief of the national police, putting a bullet in the head of Nguyen Van Lem, a captain in the Vietcong.

The photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams on February 1, confirmed the brutality of this conflict to many Americans. The images on television were just as bad. The coverage shifted from smoke and helicopters to soldiers fighting to recapture ground in a brutal war.

Johnson was deeply sensitive about the judgment of history, and he did not want to be remembered as a President who lost Southeast Asia to Communism. When Johnson took office, he affirmed the Kennedy administration's commitments. In August , after reports that U.


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By a vote of 98 to 2 in the Senate and a unanimous vote in the House, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the President to take all measures necessary to protect the armed forces. Johnson would later use this as a "functional equivalent" to a declaration of war, though his critics would respond that he should have gone to Congress for a formal declaration.

During the summer and fall of , Johnson campaigned on a peace platform and had no intention of escalating the war if it were not absolutely necessary. On March 8, , two Marine battalions, 3, troops, went ashore near Da Nang to protect the airfields, with orders to shoot only if shot at—this was the first time U. On April 3, Johnson authorized two additional Marine battalions, one Marine air squadron, and an increase in logistical support units of 20, men. He also authorized troops to go on active "search and destroy" missions.

By mid-April, Marines had moved to full-scale offensive operations. By November , there were , troops and by , an additional , The number would surge to , by the end of Johnson's presidency. Johnson's decisions were based on complicated political and military considerations. LBJ steered a middle course: The "hawks" in Congress and in the military wanted him to engage in massive bombing of enemy cities, threaten to use nuclear weapons, and even threaten to invade North Vietnam.

This might have led to Chinese entry into the war, as had happened in the Korean War, or even Soviet engagement. The President's "middle way" involved a commitment of U. One of Johnson's major problems was that Hanoi was willing to accept the costs of continuing the war indefinitely and of absorbing the punishing bombing.

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It would do so until the United States decided to give up its commitment to aid the South. McNamara and his "war game" analysts in the Department of Defense failed to account adequately for this eventuality. Fissures began to split American society.

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As so-called "hawk" and "dove" contingents took to constant, bitter debate over the war, antiwar activists began to demonstrate publicly against their country's involvement in the conflict. Another Democrat, Eugene McCarthy, did something all but unheard of: he announced his intentions to try to wrest the nomination from an incumbent wartime President in the election.

Six weeks into came the hammer blow to the Johnson presidency: The North Vietnamese, shrewdly discerning that America was losing heart for the endless bloodletting, staged dozens of near-suicidal attacks all over the South. Known as the Tet Offensive, it held some similarities to the unsuccessful strategy attempted by the Japanese two decades earlier with their kamikaze attacks: inflict great casualties regardless of cost to your own forces, sap enemy morale, and force the dispirited foe to adopt your terms.

Only this time, the strategy worked. Despite fearsome losses by the North Vietnamese—nearly ,—American opposition to the war surged. Although the North Vietnamese Army was never able to defeat U. Television screens brought images of endless and seemingly pointless battles to living rooms across the nation. Although Americans still supported the goal of a non-Communist Vietnam, public confidence in the President and Johnson's popularity continued their sharp declines. Just weeks from the early presidential primaries, Johnson was utterly vilified by those opposing our involvement in Vietnam.

LBJ complained to his cabinet that the only place he could give a campaign speech now was on an aircraft carrier. A month after the Tet Offensive came New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary: McCarthy ran astoundingly well against the beleaguered President, winning 41 percent of the vote, and John F. Kennedy's brother Robert entered the race as well. A few weeks later, Johnson stunned the nation by announcing that he would not seek another term as President. Johnson and his military advisors fell for the trick.

The Vietnam War

The president and General William Westmoreland had focused on potential attacks against a U. Marine base in Khe Sanh. Johnson kept asking military leaders if they were prepared to defend the base and he kept promising congressional Democrats and Republicans that he had received their assurances everything would be fine.

Lyndon Johnson - Speech on Foreign Policy in Asia

Meanwhile, Johnson had conducted a massive public relations blitz in the end of to convince the public that the war was nearing a conclusion and that the United States was winning. The Progress Campaign, as it was sometimes called, deployed large volumes of data to convince the media that the communists were losing on the battlefield and that their numbers were diminishing.

Westmoreland told Meet the Press on November 19, that the U. In his State of the Union Address on January 17, Johnson sounded downright optimistic, even though he acknowledged that the U. Our patience and our perseverance will match our power. Aggression will never prevail. Then the situation took a bad turn a few weeks later.

The crisis of Tet began in the early morning of January 30, the start of the year of the Monkey. A year-old soldier, Chuck Searcy, recalled waking up after an evening of drinking and movies, that when the sirens went off he assumed it was a drill and they would be able to go back to sleep.

It was the moment when the war became a reality for us, because up to then, Saigon had been considered a very safe area and quite secure and basically an area that would never be attacked. Nineteen enemy soldiers would lose their lives in the battle for the embassy; five Americans were killed. This was just one of many onslaughts that took place as the communists conducted their offensive in five major cities, 36 provincial capitals and smaller hamlets across the country. First, that they have more power than some credit them with My guess is that we will inflict very heavy losses on them, both in terms of personnel and materiel and this will set them back some, but after they absorb the losses, they will remain a substantial force.

After the initial shock and awe, U. When it was all over in late February, the communists suffered over 40, deaths, including some of their most skilled troops. The fighting ended when the U.