Vietnam War and LBJ

To many, the 1960’s could definately be considered one of the most controversial decades of this century. It was a time in which many mistakes were made evolving around the Vietnam War which resulted in the immense suffering of two nations. The war had many casualties; along with the death of soldiers and civilians, LBJ’s presidency and the ‘Great Society’ also were killed by the war. The US’s fear of the domino theory led them in an attempt to control the spread of communism in North Vietnam, whose government was led by Ho Chi Minh. This attempt had failed in many ways because of an inexperienced president and his unarticulated ideals of how to control a war and satisfy his country at the same time. After the unfortunate assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, his successor, vice-president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, was forced to take the plunge into presidency at a crucial time. The Vietnam War had already been ignited and US involvement was apparent. Because Johnson was an insecure man, and with that insecurity came a fear of being ridiculed, he wanted to show the American people that he could be the best president in US history. Although his intentions to create a ‘Great Society’ and to win the war in Vietnam were probably for the best, he still managed to make more mistakes that anything else. In August of 1964, LBJ, wantin to look serious about the halt of communism, bombed the North Vietnamese for carrying out attacks on US warships, however, this was mainly to look tough in front of his rival Goldwater. This incident became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. “We knew that the hostile actions against the US ship on the high seas of the Gulf of Tonkin, have today required me to order the military forces of the USto take action and refire.” (LBJ) This incident triggered the Viet Cong to try and overtake South Vietnam so in retaliation LBJ sent in 35,000 troops to stop them even after he had promised, upon his election, that no Americans would have to fight in Vietnam. During this time that the war is in progress Johnson is still forking out billions to try and improve education, create jobs, and public housing for his ‘Great Society’ but this is yet another dream of LBJ;s that will soon become a nightmare. The biggest mistake that Johnson ever made was quite possibly the underestimation of the tenacity of the Vietnamese. Johnson simply didn’t understand the roots of their culture. The North Vietnamese wanted one nation under one government while the US wanted a North and a South, and the South Vietnamese seemed to be caught in the middle – all they wanted was a democracy in which they owned their own land. The demands for troops grew greater and greater and soon money that should of been invested in America’s economy was spent keeping the war in progress and order in South Vietnam. Martin Luther King in one speech, dictated that America spent about $332,000 to kill a Viet Cong while a poor person in the US only costed about $53. With the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the consistant bombing by the US on the Vietnamese eventually resulted in a mass build up of turmoil in America. Johnson, who was at one point looked at as a hero and acknowledged for his ignition in the women’s fight for equality as well as The Voting Rights Act (1965), which permitted the black community to vote, now was possibly the most hated man in America. “He was riding a tiger he couldn’t get off.” (George Ball) Johnson had begun to lie to the public, saying that the war was under control and exaggerating the number of Viet Cong that were killed but Johnson had overestimated teh patience of the US people. They wanted to put an end to the war and as a result riots broke out due to a lack of respect for authority and the law. The most notorious of these riots were the ones in Watts, California where 27 people were killed, 600 were injured, 1700 were arrested and well over $100,000,000 damage was done. Many people including some of the president’s advisors wanted Johnson to pull out of the war but being as stubborn and insecure as he was he chose to raise the stakes so he wouldn’t look ’soft on communism’. The year of 1968 was possibly teh most crucial to the Americans. This was the year in which the Tet Offensive was launched. This consisted of a series of attacks in Vietnam which virtually wiped out the Viet Cong army. “Tet was the roof falling in.” (Clark Clifford -sec. of def.) Not only were thousands of Vietnamese and American lives lost but LBJ’s dreams and presidency seemed to die as well. The cost of the war was simply too high to keep the ‘Great Society’ going and everyone else around LBJ was fed up with the war. They wanted America out. Eventually when Johnson finally got it through his head that he was the most hated man in America and his credibility was long gone he announced that no more troops would be sent to Vietnam and that America was willing to make peace. He also stated that he would not seek re-election in the future as he wanted to consolidate all his elbow grease in bringing the war to an end. “Lyndon Johnson believed in the domino theory but his presidency turned out to be the last domino.” (Theodore White -American journalism).