LBJ and Vietnam
When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency after John F. Kennedy's assassination, he inherited Vietnam. In 1963, the South Vietnamese were assisted by 16 000 Americans acting as "military advisors" or conducting "combat support" missions. Americans were already dying; seventy-seven died in that year.' However disturbing the situation, Johnson felt that he could not disengage. As he was later to say, "if I left that war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe."
Dissatisfaction with the Great Society came to be more than matched by unhappiness with the situation in Vietnam. A series of South Vietnamese strong men proved little more successful than Diem in mobilizing their country. The Viet Cong, insurgents supplied and coordinated from North Vietnam, gained ground in the countryside.
Determined to halt Communist advances in South Vietnam, Johnson made the Vietnam War his own. At Johnson's request, the Congress passed a Joint Resolution [the the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution] on August 10 that approved and supported "the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." The resolution, a tacit declaration of war, was passed with a House vote of 414-0 and a Senate vote of 88-2. The Congress was solidly behind the president.
After his re-election in November 1964, he embarked on a policy of escalation. A bombing campaign wrought havoc in both North and South Vietnam.
Troop strength was increased periodically. From 25,000 troops at the start of 1965, the number of soldiers — both volunteers and draftees — rose each year. By the end of 1965 American troop strength was 180 000. It rose to its maximum of almost 550 000 troops by the end of 1967. In April 1965 the undercurrent of protest that had been present since the beginning of American involvement in Vietnam became a rushing torrent.
As the draft took increasing numbers of young men and casualties grew, antiwar demonstrations began to take place all over the country, and Johnson became the focal point of much of the controversy.
Grisly television coverage with a critical edge dampened support for the war. Some Americans thought it immoral; others watched in dismay as the massive military campaign seemed to be ineffective. Large protests, especially among the young, and a mounting general public dissatisfaction pressured Johnson to begin negotiating for peace.
On November 16, 1967, The Village Voice reported the leader of the Youth International Party, Jerry Rubin, as saying "See you next August in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. Bring pot, fake delegates' cards, smoke bombs, costumes, blood to throw and all kinds of interesting props. Also football helmets."
Early in 1968 the National Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam headed by David Dellinger organized a Chicago Project Committee and placed Rennie Davis in charge with instructions to work closely with Tom Hayden, leader of Students for a Democratic Society and Jerry Rubin, head of the Youth International Party, more commonly known as Yippies.
By 1968 the country was in turmoil over both the Vietnam War and civil disorder, expressed in urban riots that reflected African-American anger. On March 31, 1968, the president renounced any intention of seeking another term. Just a week later, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. John Kennedy’s younger brother, Robert, made an emotional anti-war campaign for the Democratic nomination, only to be assassinated in June.
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, protesters fought street battles with police. A divided Democratic Party nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, once the hero of the liberals but now seen as a Johnson loyalist. White opposition to the civil rights measures of the 1960s galvanized the third-party candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat who captured his home state, Mississippi, and Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia, states typically carried in that era by the Democratic nominee. Republican Richard Nixon, who ran on a plan to extricate the United States from the war and to increase “law and order” at home, scored a narrow victory.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|