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Vietnam's Second Front

Vietnam's Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War

Andrew L. Johns
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 444
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    Vietnam's Second Front
    Book Description:

    The Vietnam War has been analyzed, dissected, and debated from multiple perspectives for decades, but domestic considerations -- such as partisan politics and election-year maneuvering -- are often overlooked as determining factors in the evolution and outcome of America's longest war.

    In Vietnam's Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War, Andrew L. Johns assesses the influence of the Republican Party -- its congressional leadership, politicians, grassroots organizations, and the Nixon administration -- on the escalation, prosecution, and resolution of the Vietnam War. This groundbreaking work also sheds new light on the relationship between Congress and the imperial presidency as they struggled for control over U.S. foreign policy.

    Beginning his analysis in 1961 and continuing through the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, Johns argues that the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations failed to achieve victory on both fronts of the Vietnam War -- military and political -- because of their preoccupation with domestic politics. Johns details the machinations and political dexterity required of all three presidents and of members of Congress to maneuver between the countervailing forces of escalation and negotiation, offering a provocative account of the ramifications of their decisions. With clear, incisive prose and extensive archival research, Johns's analysis covers the broad range of the Republican Party's impact on the Vietnam War, offers a compelling reassessment of responsibility for the conflict, and challenges assumptions about the roles of Congress and the president in U.S. foreign relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7369-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction Ares, Virginia, and the Myth of the Water’s Edge
    (pp. 1-10)

    In his sweeping history of the Peloponnesian Wars, the Greek historian Thucydides lamented the tendency for those in charge of the Greek city-states to allow domestic political considerations to affect questions of national security. In particular, he regretted how the Athenian leadership “adopted methods of demagogy which resulted in their losing control over the actual conduct of affairs. Such a policy … naturally led to a number of mistakes.” Eventually, the Sicilian expedition ended badly owing to the various elites “quarrelling among themselves,” which “began to bring confusion into the policy of the state…. And in the end it was...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Trapped between Scylla and Charybdis JFK, the GOP, and Domestic Politics
    (pp. 11-42)

    Shortly after his defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, Wendell Willkie advised his fellow Republicans, “Let us not, therefore, fall into the partisan error of opposing things just for the sake of opposition. Ours must not be an opposition against—it must be an opposition for.”¹ Willkie’s attitude reflected the prevailing sentiment in the party and the country at the time. Politics, argued leaders such as Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), had no place in making U.S. foreign policy. Vandenberg, who served as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the Truman administration and is...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Cassandra Conundrum GOP Opposition to LBJ’s Vietnam Policy, 1963–1965
    (pp. 43-78)

    According to theIliad,Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, was so beautiful that the sun god, Apollo, became infatuated with her. After agreeing to become Apollo’s consort, Cassandra received the gift of prophecy, but before the relationship was consummated, she rejected him. Enraged that a mere mortal spurned his love, Apollo cursed Cassandra so that no one believed her predictions. The gift became an endless source of frustration and pain for her. During the war with the Greeks, her prophecies about the Trojan horse and the destruction of Troy were either ignored or not fully understood; some...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Opening Pandora’s Box Escalation and Domestic Politics, 1965–1966
    (pp. 79-118)

    For Lyndon Johnson, the operative mythological characters in 1965 were not Scylla and Charybdis or Cassandra, but rather Pandora. According to Greek myth, the gods gave Pandora a box with instructions not to open it. Before too long, however, curiosity overcame her, and she opened the box, unleashing havoc and all manner of evil on the world. It is unfortunate that Johnson did not heed the lessons of the ancient story. In choosing to escalate the Vietnam conflict into a full-scale Americanized (though undeclared) war, he took the United States from what some considered its golden age—the prosperity of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Confronting the Hydra LBJ on the Defensive, 1966–1967
    (pp. 119-158)

    The reaction to the Americanization of the Vietnam conflict posed serious political problems for the president. Like Heracles confronting the Hydra—the mythical beast that would grow two heads when one was severed—Johnson found himself dealing with opposition to his policies from both conservatives and liberals. In what became a political juggling act of monumental proportions, the president battled a multiheaded opposition on Vietnam as the war evolved. As he fought the forces advocating negotiations or withdrawal, he had to simultaneously fend off those who pushed for a more aggressive approach in Vietnam. Every time he put out one...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Sisyphus and Tantalus The Political Impact of the War, 1967–1968
    (pp. 159-194)

    Hell, according to the English author Henry Gardiner Adams, is “truth seen too late.” For Lyndon Johnson and George Romney, no statement could more accurately summarize their experiences with Vietnam during 1967 and early 1968. Both had public epiphanies about the war that would cost them a chance to win the presidency, and they would spend the rest of their lives looking back with regret. Indeed, Johnson and Romney could be easily compared to Sisyphus and Tantalus, the characters from Greek mythology condemned by the gods to eternal torture for their misdeeds—Sisyphus rolling his stone up a hill but...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Zalmoxis Effect Vietnam and the 1968 Presidential Election
    (pp. 195-236)

    The pantheon of Greek gods ranges from the almighty Zeus—king of the gods, supreme ruler on Mount Olympus, god of thunder and the sky—to lesser-known but colorful deities like Adephagia (goddess of gluttony) and Priapus (god of fertility). One of the more obscure gods was Zalmoxis, who assumed human form and disappeared in the underworld for three years before returning in the fourth. Although a ruler and god of the underworld to the Thracians, he could easily have been the god of elections. In the American political system, every fourth year witnesses the spectacle of a presidential election,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Icarus Agenda Vietnamization and Its Political Implications
    (pp. 237-278)

    Richard Nixon had dreamed of being president for decades. With his defeat of Hubert Humphrey, that ambition was finally realized. Yet, on assuming the mantle of the presidency, he discovered that the freedom to say and do as he saw fit that he had enjoyed as a nonincumbent no longer existed. The new president attempted to free himself from these restrictions through secrecy and misdirection but came to realize that the vagaries of domestic politics limited him to a fairly restricted set of options. He faced constraints analogous to those of Icarus, the son of the skilled craftsman Daedalus. Imprisoned...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Whither Ariadne? Domestic Politics and Nixon’s Search for Peace
    (pp. 279-324)

    The pursuit of “peace with honor” proved frustrating for the Nixon administration. Why? Part of the answer is that, until the very end of the war, neither side had much incentive to negotiate. Both Washington and Hanoi believed that the other would fold under pressure if the right leverage was applied. But a more fundamental reason is that Nixon simply lacked a blueprint for departure. What he needed was his own Ariadne, a guide to assist his administration in extricating the United States from Vietnam. In the story of Theseus, the hero volunteered to slay the Minotaur in the labyrinth...

  13. Conclusion Sowing Dragon’s Teeth
    (pp. 325-340)

    From the tale of Cadmus in Greek mythology we get one of the first lessons about the dangers ofblowback,a modern term for a timeless phenomenon—actions that provoke calamitous, although entirely unintended, consequences. Cadmus, a Phoenician prince, sent some of his men to draw water from the spring of Ares, the god of war. When they failed to return, he sent more men and then more men, until none remained. He then went to the spring himself, where he saw the dragon lying by the water, sluggish from his recent meal. Taking advantage of the situation, Cadmus slew...

  14. Appendix Republicans, 1961–1973
    (pp. 341-344)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 345-394)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 395-426)
  17. Index
    (pp. 427-434)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 435-436)