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Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President

Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President

Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President
    Book Description:

    This book examines the events that led up to the day--March 31, 1968--when Lyndon Johnson dramatically renounced any attempt to be reelected president of the United States. It offers one of the best descriptions of U.S. policy surrounding the Tet offensive of that fateful March--a historic turning point in the war in Vietnam that led directly to the end of American military intervention.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5682-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-1)
    Herbert Y. Schandler

    The Tet offensive of 1968 was one of the great events of the Vietnam war, a high point in the military action, and, in all likelihood, the only battle of the war that will be long remembered. It has been seen by many as an historic turning point that swung the United States to a new course of action in Vietnam and led directly to the end of American military intervention in that nation. In any case, it certainly caused the United States government to undergo a massive, soul-searching reevaluation of its purposes and objectives in Vietnam. Decisions made on...

  4. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  5. ONE The Decision to Intervene, 1964–1965
    (pp. 3-32)

    “It was almost imperceptible, the way we got in. There was no one move that you could call decisive, or irreversible, not even very many actions that you could argue against in isolation. Yet when you put it all together, there we were in a war on the Asian mainland, with nobody really putting up much of a squawk while we were doing it.”¹

    The year 1965 saw major and historic decisions concerning the level of U.S. effort in South Vietnam that transformed the character of the war and the U.S. role in it. These decisions foreshadowed a dramatic increase...

  6. TWO The Search for a Strategic Concept, 1965–1967
    (pp. 33-63)

    Although General Westmoreland had proposed a tactical concept of operations for the forces that were to be deployed to South Vietnam, an overall strategic plan was required to clarify the national purposes and objectives these additional forces were meant to serve. President Johnson, in his message to the American people announcing the deployments, had indicated that these forces were to resist aggression in South Vietnam and to “convince the Communists that we cannot be defeated by force of arms or by superior power.” General Westmoreland, as has been mentioned, had a more ambitious objective, to defeat and destroy enemy forces...

  7. THREE The Eve of Tet
    (pp. 64-73)

    The United States entered 1968 in a mood of cautious optimism concerning the course of the war in Vietnam. Although the press and the Congress were becoming increasingly skeptical about the extent and the success of the American effort, the president and his principal advisors remained optimistic. Only Secretary McNamara, among the president’s closest advisors, had expressed doubts about the course of the American effort, and his doubts found little sympathy in the highest levels of the administration.¹

    The opening stages of the Communist winter/spring offensive were being defeated with great loss to the enemy in a series of bloody...

  8. FOUR The Tet Offensive and United States Reaction
    (pp. 74-91)

    In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, the enemy launched a series of simultaneous and coordinated attacks against the major population centers in III and IV Corps Tactical Zones (CTZ). Attacks had been launched against the major cities of I and II CTZ the previous night.¹ During the period January 30-31, 39 of South Vietnam’s 44 provincial capitals, 5 of its 6 autonomous cities, and at least 71 of 245 district towns were attacked by fire and ground action.² The offensive was aimed primarily at civilian centers of authority and military command installations. At 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday,...

  9. FIVE Emergency Augmentation
    (pp. 92-104)

    The initial military reaction in Washington to the Tet offensive was directed toward the air war. On February 3, the Joint Chiefs of Staff renewed an earlier proposal for reducing the restricted zones around Hanoi and Haiphong.¹ The JCS request, however, did not seem to the president to offer General Westmoreland any immediate assistance. Although Secretary Rush and Clark Clifford advocated added pressure on the North, the president decided at a meeting at the White House on February 13 not to take additional action against North Vietnam.²

    Focusing on Khe Sanh and the possibility of an American defeat there, the...

  10. SIX The Troop Request
    (pp. 105-120)

    On February 12, 1968, General Wheeler told Westmoreland that he was considering a trip to Vietnam within a few days “to obtain at firsthand your thoughts as to the situation and corrective measures needed.”¹ Now, as the augmentation forces had been dispatched and as the pace of decision making in Washington slowed, a semblance of normality returned to the American command organization. The president agreed with General Wheeler that he should go to Vietnam to find out “what Westmoreland felt he had to have to meet present needs” and what he thought he would need in the coming year in...

  11. SEVEN The Clifford Task Force: A-to-Z Reassessment
    (pp. 121-176)

    Clark Clifford was no stranger either to government service or to policy debates concerning Vietnam. He had come to the White House under President Truman and served there from May 1945 until February 1950 as a young special counsel. Leaving government, he established a private law practice in Washington. His political shrewdness, eloquence, and contacts within the government quickly made this practice extremely successful, and he was soon reputed to be the highest paid professional man in the country. In 1960, Clifford was chosen by President-elect Kennedy to act as his transition planner and liaison with the Eisenhower administration in...

  12. EIGHT The President Ponders
    (pp. 177-193)

    The Clifford report was presented to the president at a meeting at the White House on the evening of March 4. A copy was distributed to everyone at the table.¹ Clifford pointed out that his report made a sharp distinction between present needs and the longer-run question of overall strategy and military posture. He felt that his short-range recommendations were urgently needed to meet the immediate situation in Vietnam, as well as other possible contingencies there and elsewhere. But in the longer run, he pointed out, there were many difficulties. He felt that the president should ponder hard before he...

  13. NINE The Climate of Opinion
    (pp. 194-217)

    Public opinion studies and polls have shown how little public support for the war changed between the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1968 despite the momentous events that occurred during that period. Overall support for the war itself showed small swings closely tied to how well the war was going, but the majority of the public clung to a position of support.¹ Indeed, the crisis of Tet caused an initial upward surge in public support for the war (figure 1).² But the battles at Tet also reinforced the feeling of the American people that the war was bogged...

  14. TEN Politics and Economics
    (pp. 218-228)

    President Johnson had been remarkably successful in keeping the Vietnam war “above politics.” He assiduously cultivated bipartisan support for the war and used every means available to demonstrate that his decisions concerning Vietnam were simply an extension of the policies and actions of his predecessors in the White House.¹ Consensus was for him a technique of governing and of leading. He had taken great pains to insure that the Tonkin Resolution in 1964 received bipartisan congressional support.² He was especially successful at generating public expressions of approval from the most popular Republican of them all, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.³


  15. ELEVEN End of a Strategy
    (pp. 229-236)

    By mid-March, it was apparent that President Johnson was not going to approve the deployment of 206,000 additional troops or anything approaching it. The diminishing ground action in Vietnam had made it clear that another massive attack was unlikely. Public and congressional reaction showed that such an increase would be politically explosive and hard to justify. Financial considerations meant that any large increase could be made only at the expense of important domestic programs.

    From that point, work on troop levels in Vietnam proceeded in two directions. First, an effort was made to refine United States troop estimates so that...

  16. TWELVE The Bombing Pause
    (pp. 237-240)

    Dean Rusk had felt, early in March, that a bombing pause would be in the best interests of the nation and the president. It would involve little or no military risk during the monsoon season and would be an initiative that would help regain public support for the war. The president had told him to “get on his horse and get a plan.” But the proposal had been greeted coldly by the civilians at the Defense Department, who felt it was a watering down of the San Antonio formula. The military, of course, including both the Joint Chiefs of Staff...

  17. THIRTEEN Search for a Strategy
    (pp. 241-255)

    Clark Clifford was troubled. He had come to the conclusion that the American effort in Vietnam had in reality been directed toward achieving a military victory, a goal he was now convinced was impossible to attain. He was sure the war could not be won. He felt something had to be done to get negotiations started, but he did not have an alternative strategy in mind. As he saw it: “The big issue, really, was whether we would continue on to achieve what was really understood to be a military victory or whether some other means could be found for...

  18. FOURTEEN The Wise Men
    (pp. 256-265)

    Scholars of the role of the presidency in the American scheme of government long have pointed out the isolation from the public that inevitably accompanies modern presidential power.¹ In the case of Lyndon Johnson, it has been charged that he reinforced this sense of isolation from reality by surrounding himself with a staff of acquiescent and like-minded sycophants who told him only the favorable things he wanted to hear. Thus, Johnson has been seen as being isolated from events taking place in the nation during the early days of 1968 and receiving only those reports and that advice that was...

  19. FIFTEEN The President Makes a Decision
    (pp. 266-289)

    Lyndon johnson was troubled. His advisors had assured him, and he had assured the country, that the Tet offensive, overall, represented “the most disastrous Communist defeat of the war in Vietnam.”¹ But the people were not convinced. Growing dissatisfaction with the war was evident in both the Congress and the electorate. In addition, inflation and a growing gold outflow threatened the major achievements of the Great Society.

    The steadily improving military situation in South Vietnam and the unexpectedly decisive actions of the South Vietnamese government had already led the president to decide to make only a small deployment of American...

  20. SIXTEEN Continuity or Change?
    (pp. 290-319)

    The president, on March 31, 1968, announced four major decisions that were to have a profound effect on American political life and the conduct of the war in Vietnam. The decisions were: (1) he would make only a token increase in the size of American forces in Vietnam in response to the call of the military for major reinforcements and reconstitution of the strategic reserve; (2) he would make the expansion and improvement of the South Vietnamese armed forces the first priority of the continuing effort in Vietnam; (3) he would stop the bombing of a major portion of North...

  21. SEVENTEEN Explaining the Decision-Making Process
    (pp. 320-350)

    For policy decisions from which so little had been expected, a great deal had been initiated. Whatever the intentions of the president and his advisors, the decisions of March 31, 1968, led the Americans and the North Vietnamese to the conference table in Paris to begin the journey on what was to be a long road to peace. A limit to the United States commitment of ground forces was established, and the South Vietnamese were put on notice that they would be expected to do more in their own defense. The limited United States political objectives in South Vietnam were,...

    (pp. 351-354)
    (pp. 355-402)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 403-419)