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The American South and the Vietnam War

The American South and the Vietnam War: Belligerence, Protest, and Agony in Dixie

Joseph A. Fry
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    The American South and the Vietnam War
    Book Description:

    To fully comprehend the Vietnam War, it is essential to understand the central role that southerners played in the nation's commitment to the war, in the conflict's duration, and in the fighting itself. President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and Secretary of State Dean Rusk of Georgia oversaw the dramatic escalation of U.S. military involvement from 1965 through 1968. General William Westmoreland, born and raised in South Carolina, commanded U.S. forces during most of the Johnson presidency. Widely supported by their constituents, southern legislators collectively provided the most dependable support for war funding and unwavering opposition to measures designed to hasten U.S. withdrawal from the conflict. In addition, southerners served, died, and were awarded the Medal of Honor in numbers significantly disproportionate to their states' populations.

    InThe American South and the Vietnam War, Joseph A. Fry demonstrates how Dixie's majority pro-war stance derived from a host of distinctly regional values, perspectives, and interests. He also considers the views of the dissenters, from student protesters to legislators such as J. William Fulbright, Albert Gore Sr., and John Sherman Cooper, who worked in the corridors of power to end the conflict, and civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Julian Bond, who were among the nation's most outspoken critics of the war. Fry's innovative and masterful study draws on policy analysis and polling data as well as oral histories, transcripts, and letters to illuminate not only the South's influence on foreign relations, but also the personal costs of war on the home front.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6109-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Place matters in how Americans have responded to and been affected by US foreign policy. Over the past twenty-five years, scholars have cited the benefits of examining the impact of domestic regionalism on the formation and implementation of US foreign policy. In 1987 Carl N. Degler urged that the American South be viewed as “co-creator of the nation’s history” rather than an “outsider” or an “obstacle” to national development; and, he declared, “What is called American foreign policy has often been heavily influenced if not molded by the South.” A decade later, in 1998, Peter Trubowitz asserted, “In the final...

  5. 1 Regionalism, Southerners, and US Foreign Relations, 1789–1973
    (pp. 11-50)

    As southerners turned their attention to the American war in Vietnam in the two decades after 1953, they did so with a long history of responding to US foreign relations from a distinctly regional perspective. From the adoption of the Constitution in 1789 until at least the mid-1970s, the South was the nation’s most coherent and most self-conscious region. Over this span of nearly two centuries, southerners periodically exercised a significant, even decisive, influence over policy formation and implementation, while at other times, they served as the dissenting minority in the domestic negotiation of foreign policy. Southern influence was instrumental...

  6. 2 Southerners and the Vietnam Commitment, 1953–1964
    (pp. 51-96)

    As French colonial rule in Vietnam collapsed during 1953–1954, the Eisenhower administration and Congress conducted a two-year deliberation on the proper US response. Conservative southern Democrats such as Senators Richard Russell, John Stennis, and Harry Byrd, and Lyndon Johnson, a more moderate southerner, made convincing arguments against US military intervention and played an important role in the administration’s decision not to become directly involved. Ten years later, President Johnson and his southern secretary of state, Dean Rusk, presented Congress with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, an open-ended authorization for US military action, which became the constitutional basis for America’s...

  7. 3 Southerners and the Decisions for War, 1965–1966
    (pp. 97-146)

    Lyndon Johnson had deftly employed the Gulf of Tonkin incident to secure a broad, congressional authorization for military actions in Vietnam and to establish his standing as a firm but cautious foreign policy leader. To his and the nation’s chagrin, neither of these accomplishments impeded the steadily deteriorating political and military situation in South Vietnam. Building on its earlier decision to dispatch regular army units south, Hanoi continued to wage big-unit operations with both NLF and NVA fighters. In May the communist military superiority over the ARVN was graphically demonstrated at Binh Gia, north of Saigon, where two South Vietnamese...

  8. 4 Southern Soldiers
    (pp. 147-192)

    As the South’s politicians, press, and public debated the wisdom of going to war in Vietnam, southern soldiers served, died, and won Medals of Honor in Vietnam in numbers substantially exceeding Dixie’s share of the nation’s population. This participation reflected the region’s devotion to its military tradition; intense concern for patriotism, honor, and manhood; and depressed economic conditions. Although the experiences and responses of southern warriors generally coincided with those of other American troops, they often did so in a more pronounced fashion. Similar to the South’s political figures, southern soldiers repeatedly played a central role in important decisions and...

  9. 5 Southerners and the Debate over the War’s Conduct, 1967
    (pp. 193-238)

    On August 9, 1967, Senator John Stennis opened the hearings of his Senate Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee (SPIS) on the “conduct and effectiveness of the air war against North Vietnam”—hearings that would “involve the overall policy and philosophy governing and controlling the conduct of the entire war.” The decisive year of 1967 was largely devoted to an “increasingly angry and divisive [national] debate” over the merits of the war’s continued escalation and especially the role of bombing in the US effort. This debate left the nation increasingly disillusioned and more divided than at any time since the Civil War. By...

  10. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 Southerners and the Decisions to Withdraw from Vietnam, 1968–1970
    (pp. 239-284)

    During the early morning of January 30, 1968, the first day of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces attacked every important urban area and many key military installations across South Vietnam. The largest military operation of the war to that time, the Tet Offensive was the conflict’s decisive turning point. Although Hanoi failed to spark a general uprising against the South Vietnamese government or to capture and retain control of any South Vietnamese cities, Tet prompted first President Johnson and then President Richard M. Nixon to opt for US withdrawal from Vietnam. As the...

  12. 7 Southern College Students
    (pp. 285-322)

    As the Johnson and Nixon administrations made decisions directed toward US withdrawal from Vietnam, student opposition to the war peaked both nationally and in the South. Consistent with the attitudes of their parents, white southern students were significantly more prowar than their peers nationally. Antiwar protests on Dixie’s campuses began later, were less numerous, and attracted fewer participants than those in other regions. While assessing student activism at Vanderbilt University, Paul Conkin noted that within the conservative South, even relatively mild actions appeared “radical” to Dixie’s parents, college administrators, newspaper editors, and political leaders. Greg L. Michel, the historian of...

  13. 8 Southerners and the End of the Vietnam War, 1971–1973
    (pp. 323-366)

    In late February 1971 Reg Murphy and his editorial staff at theAtlanta Constitutionpublished a perceptive analysis of President Nixon’s “hard choices.” TheConstitutioncredited Nixon with working to “wind down” the war but worried appropriately that the president stubbornly retained the “hope of a purely military victory” and the illusion that “one more military action might permit the United States to withdraw from Vietnam on our own terms.” While dismissing such hopes as “nonsense,” Murphy and his staff doubted correctly that either “Congress or the American people would accept a reversal of the present policy of withdrawing troops”...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 367-370)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 371-428)
  16. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 429-440)
  17. Index
    (pp. 441-468)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 469-472)