Politics of Escalation Under LBJ, 1964-1967 Overview Election of 1964 and Gulf of Tonkin Resolution III. Air War Decisions IV. Ground War Decisions V. Selling It to the Public Equal inputs of external soldiers, uneven amount of money, supplies, etc. in favor of Saigon ( NLF on verge of victory LBJ ? took steps to transform VN vs. VN war into a US vs. VN war Questions about LBJ policy Steps by which he escalated on air / ground? Why gradual rather than immediate full-scale war? Quagmire ? did he really think Amercian troops would win ( why was his intervention so faulty? System Worked ? did he know US troops were inadequate? If so, why get involved? How did he sell his plans to the American public? Did he lie? How did they view it? Subject to contradictory pressures 1. Told to escalate ( believed in domino theory (LBJ, Rostow, McNamara, Taylor, etc.) Summer 1964 ? Repubs chose Goldwater (far right wing) ( he was accusing Democrats of selling out LBJ wanted to validate himself politically ( couldn?t be soft in VN! ( escalate and stand firm 2. Didn?t want to overreact to Comm; people didn?t want another Korean War! Had to appeal to American fears LBJ had to ?square the circle!? LBJ needed to take the middle ground August 1964 ? Gulf of Tonkin US had been organizing S. VN probes against N. VN coast August 2 ? ?Maddox? ship challenged by N. VN patrol boats; US fired 1st shots but blamed N. VN of being offensive August 4 ? sent ?Turner Joy?; claimed they were again attacked! Probably didn?t happen!! LBJ used this incident to initiate bombing raids against N. VN Congress passed Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August 6) ? should take all military steps to defend freedom in SE Asia Until this point there were proponents of a congressional resolution to take full scale action in VN but Johnson would not give in until Gulf of Tonkin 4 Implications of the Resolution 1. Domestic political terms- elections: LBJ seen as resolute leader and grew popularity; called off bombing for fear of a wider war ? showed strength AND responsibility 2. Opened door to full scale direct attacks on N. VN ? halted, but resumed after election (would retaliate on a tit-for-tat basis) 3. served as a function equivalent of Declaration of War against N. VN 4. easy victory in Congress allowed LBJ to take Congress lightly in future ( often bypassed Congress and went straight to American public; eventually backfired ( all war burden on his shoulders unclear if LBJ intentionally misled the American public ? said it was provocation when really US had started it! After election, US ready to save Saigon from collapse Saigon government was extremely unreliable ? wouldn?t do anything the US wanted unless the US committed fully to the war effort! Committed to escalation, but not sure how much! Joint Chiefs wanted immediate full scale resumption of the bombing Others favored ?slow squeeze? approach ? thought full scale would bring SU and China in to the war ( urged gradual buildup ? warn Hanoi of future potential Great Society Program ? feared immediate would ruin chances of domestic reform LBJ COMPROMISED! Organized sustained bombing but at level less than Joint Chiefs suggested ( could be increased later Operation Barrel Roll ? bomb HCM trail Operation Flaming Dart ? bomb N. VN panhandle Operation Rolling Thunder ? rest of N. VN all the way up to the Chinese border; anything of strategic value could be bombed ***3x explosive tonnage of all WWII dropped on VN results were modest! Series of Gradual Steps 1st troops landed March 1965 MACV ? commander told LBJ needed more troops at Da Nang April 1965 ? expanded enclave role (Westmoreland) Feared hostile SU and Chinese reaction, already experienced some domestic dissent (if we sent ½ million troops) ( gave 100,000 troops but advisors thought they still needed full commitment (eventually gave the ½ million) Fall 1965 ? Westmoreland sent 1st air mobile division for Central highlands ( cut off entrance of HCM trail to S. VN October/November: Yadrong Valley ? 1st offensive between US and PAVN ? used helicopters ?Hugging the belt? US lost MUCH Less than PAVN (lost ½ force); US thought this was a HUGE victory but PAVN had some good engagements ( proved it could stand up against American forces! Dec 1966 ? 385K troops ( everyone accepted US was fighting NOT ARVN Dec 1967 ? 540K troops ( predictions were correct! At the outset of the escalation (1965), LBJ just trying to NOT LOSE Took compromises to avoid defeat without antagonizing ? SYSTEM WORKED hypothesis! ***thought by 1966 Americans could win the war! Had adequate troops, etc. could force NLF to abandon or negotiate an end to the war ? quagmire refused to bomb dikes (would immediately destroy N. VN places but kill many civilians), invade N. VN, use nuclear weapons but by 1967, had already reached demanded targets/troops combination of quagmire and system worked theories with growing influence of quagmire theory! LBJ saw 2 dangers 1. avoid growth of antiwar sentiment 2. had to avoid overexciting public about wider war ( feared too wide commitment that might ruin the Great Society didn?t want to negotiate OR have Congress involved not to antagonize ( didn?t raise taxes or use army reserves ( kept draft! Hid each step of escalation to keep public calm LBJ ? quitting would destroy foundations of international system; thought he was acting in the best interests of the US and the world Would trigger patriotic backlash in the US similar to McCarthyism in the 1950s Middle path between exaggerated mobilization and withdrawal ( felt trapped! Felt he had to rally the country (1966-1967) ? US not trying to threaten/dominate; just want North to leave the South in peace Until late 1967 ? LBJs appeals = great success! Much support from polls, newspapers, magazines, and TV commentators Only small groups of dissenters (college campuses) ? marginalized until 1967 Of those who opposed ( favored escalation! FILM ? ?WHY VIETNAM?? 1964 ? Gulf of Tonkin ? US replied with military action historical context ? Mussolini and Hitler ( peace at any price is long path to war US not willing to negotiate with Comms 1 million refugees to South were Catholic ( showed North was stronger because Catholics were separated from mainstream accurate larger statements (much propaganda) ? any S. VN government after DBP couldn?t stand without US support **southern insurgencies relied on Hanoi support! Other SE Asia insurgencies didn?t depend on Hanoi Everyone saw war as pivotal point for SE Asia ( not true! DISCUSSION Gulf of Tonkin Resolution ? gave LBJ power to create military policy for intervention in Northern VN based mainly on second attack on Turner Joy, which we know now to not actually have happened against it: violates constitutional authority for Congress to declare war!! Would ruin our moral standing in the world, putting power in the hands of one person (LBJ), Supreme Court would say President is circumventing authority for it: must respond to Communist threat around the world (domino theory), will result in escalation (desired by American public), written in Resolution that Congress can terminate the Resolution, must respond to attacks with due force, COLD WAR! President began rapid bombings are immediate response ( one small attack on us should not provoke full scale intervention (not proportional) Different interpretations of international waters! US says its 3 miles and VN says its 12 miles
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