The American Republic Since 1877 Video

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Learning From History

1. Recognizing Ideologies How do the two speakers assess the value of Vietnam and its people to the United States?

2. Making Inferences Why does George Kennan believe that the United States government got involved in Vietnam when it did? How does he feel about this involvement?
did not reveal that the American warships had been helping the South Vietnamese conduct electronic spying and commando raids against North Vietnam.

Johnson then asked Congress to authorize the use of force to defend American forces. Congress agreed to Johnson's request with little debate. Most mem­bers of Congress agreed with Republican Repre­sentative Ross Adair of Indiana, who defiantly declared, "The American flag has been fired upon. We will not and cannot tolerate such things."

On August 7, 1964, the Senate and House passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the pres­ident to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." With only two dissenting votes, Congress had, in effect, handed its war powers over to the president. (See page 961 for more on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.)

The United States Sends in Troops Shortly after Congress passed the Cult of Tonkin Resolution, the Vietcong began to attack bases where American advisers were stationed in South Vietnam. The attacks began in the fall of 1964 and continued to escalate. After a Vietcong attack on a base at Pleiku in February 1965 left 7 Americans dead and more than 100 wounded, President Johnson decided to respond. Less than 14 hours after the attack, American aircraft assaulted North Vietnam.

After the airstrikes, one poll showed that Johnson's approval rating on his handling of Vietnam jumped from 41 percent to 60 percent. The president's actions also met with strong approval from his closest advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy.

There were some dissenters in the White House, chief among them Undersecretary of State George Ball, a long-time critic of U.S. policy in Vietnam. He warned that if the United States got too deeply involved in Vietnam, it might become difficult to get out. "Once on the tiger's back," he warned, "we can­not be sure of picking the place to dismount."

Most of the advisers who surrounded Johnson, however, firmly believed the nation had a duty to halt communism in Vietnam, both to maintain stabil­ity in Southeast Asia and to ensure the United States's continuing power and prestige in the world. In a memo to the president, Bundy argued:

“The stakes in Vietnam are extremely high. The American investment is very large, and American responsibility is a fact of life which is palpable in the atmosphere of Asia, and even elsewhere. The interna­tional prestige of the U.S. and a substantial part of our influence are directly at risk in Vietnam.”

-quoted in The Best and the Brightest

In March 1965, Johnson expanded American involvement by shifting his policy to a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The cam­paign was named Operation Rolling Thunder. That month the president also ordered the first combat troops into Vietnam. Amen can soldiers were now fighting alongside the South Vietnamese troops against the Vietcong.

Reading Check Describing How did politics play a role in President Johnson’s Vietnam policy?

A Bloody Stalemate Emerges

By the end of 1965, more than 180,000 American combat troops were fighting in Vietnam. In 1966 that number doubled. Since the American military was


extremely strong, it marched into Vietnam with great confidence. "America seemed omnipotent then," said Philip Caputo, one of the first marines to arrive. "We saw ourselves as the champions of a 'cause that was destined to triumph.'"

Frustrating Warfare Lacking the firepower of the Americans, the Vietcong used ambushes, booby traps, and guerrilla tactics. Ronald J. Glasser, an American army doctor, described the devastating effects of one booby trap:

“Three quarters of the way through the tangle, a trooper brushed against a two-inch vine, and a grenade slung at chest high went off, shattering the right side of his head and body.... Nearby troopers took hold of the unconscious soldier and, half carry­ing, half dragging him, pulled him the rest of the way through the jungle."

—quoted in Vietnam, A History

The Vietcong also frustrated American troops by blending in with the general population in the cities and the countryside and then quickly vanishing. "It was a sheer physical impossibility to keep the enemy from slipping away whenever he wished," one American general said. Journalist Linda Martin noted, "It's a war where nothing is ever quite certain and nowhere is ever quite safe."

To counter the Vietcong's tactics, American troops went on "search and destroy" missions. They tried to find enemy troops, bomb their positions, destroy their supply lines, and force them out into the open for combat.

American forces also sought to take away the Vietcong's ability to hide in the thick jungles by liter­ally destroying the landscape. American planes dropped napalm, a jellied gasoline that explodes on contact. They also used Agent Orange, a chemical that strips leaves from trees and shrubs, turning farmland and forest into wasteland.




Clinging to his M-I 6 rifle, a wounded American Marine is shown after being pulled to safety by a fellow soldier. In the late 1950s, American military advisers were sent to help the South Vietnamese army fight guerrillas known as the Vietcong, who were receiving weapons, supplies, and training from Communist North Vietnam. The dense jungles of Vietnam made fighting the guerrillas very difficult. By 1968 about 500,000 U.S. troops were fighting in the increasingly unpopular war. American forces finally withdrew in March 1973.

A Determined Enemy United States military lead­ers underestimated the Vietcong's strength. They also misjudged the enemy's stamina. American generals believed that continuously bombing and killing large numbers of Vietcong would destroy the enemy's morale and force them to give up. The guerrillas,


however, had no intention of surrendering, and the were willing to accept huge losses in human lines.

In the Vietcong's war effort, North Vietnamese sup­port was a major factor. Although the Vietcong forces were made up of many South Vietnamese, North Vietnam provided arms, advisers, and significant lead­ership. Later in the war, as Vietcong casualties mounted, North Vietnam began sending regular North Vietnamese Army units to fight in South Vietnam.

North Vietnam sent arms and supplies south by way of a network of jungle paths known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. The trail wound through the countries of Cambodia and Laos, bypassing the bor­der between North and South Vietnam. Because the trail passed through countries not directly involved in the war, President Johnson refused to allow a full-scale attack on the trail to shut it down.

North Vietnam itself received military weapons and other support from the Soviet Union and China. One of the main reasons President Johnson refused to order a Full-scale invasion of North Vietnam was his tear that such an attack would bring China into the war, as had happened in Korea. By placing limits on the war, however, Johnson made it very difficult to win. Instead of conquering enemy territory, American troops were forced to fight a war of attrition—a strategy of defeating the enemy forces by slowly wearing them down This strategy led troops to conduct grisly body counts after battles to determine how many enemy soldiers had been killed.

Bombing Mina American planes killed as many as 220,000 Vietnamese between 1965 and 1967. Nevertheless, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops showed no sign of surrendering. Meanwhile, American casualties continued to mount. By the end of 966, more than 6,700 American soldiers had been killed.

As the number of Americans killed and wounded continued to grow, the notion of a quick and decisive victory grew increasingly remote. As a result, many citizens back home began to question the nation's involvement in the war.

---Refer to Vietnam War Deaths, 1965-1972 graph on page 781 in your textbook.

Graph Skills

1. Interpreting Graphs. How many American sol­diers were killed in action in 1968?

2. Generalizing. By 1970, how much had the total number killed dropped from the peak number of deaths in 1968?

Reading Check Describing What tactics did the United States adopt to fight the Vietcong?


Checking for Understanding

1. Define: Vietcong, napalm.

2. Identify: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Agent Orange, Ho Chi Minh trail.

3. Explain how the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution affected the powers of Congress and the presidency.

Reviewing Themes

4. Science and Technology Why did the United States use napalm and Agent Orange in its fight against the Vietcong?

Critical Thinking

5. Analyzing Why did fighting in Vietnam turn into a stalemate by the mid-1960s?

6. Sequencing Complete a time line simi­lar to the one below to fill in events leading to American involvement in Vietnam.

Analyzing Visuals

7. Analyzing Photographs Look closely at the photograph on page 777 of Buddhist monk Reverend Quang Dug. What in the photograph suggests that this event was planned by Buddhists to protest their treatment in South Vietnam?

Writing About History

8. Persuasive Writing Imagine that you are a member of Congress in August 1964. Write a statement supporting or °noosing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution


You're the Historian

Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

In 1964 the Vietcong in Smith Vietnam were trying to topple the gov­ernment and unite the country under communism. To prevent this, the United States had already committed money, supplies, and advis­ers. President Johnson asked Congress to authorize using force after reports that North Vietnam had made unprovoked attacks on C.S. war­ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress responded with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Had the warship USS Maddox provoked the attack? Was Johnson fully informed of events in the Gulf? You're the historian.

Read the following excerpts, then answer the questions and complete the activities that follow.

The sources advising President Johnson on the Gulf of Tonkin incident included the navy and the Defense Department. These excerpts suggest how difficult it was to know what had happened—and also how tension influenced the American interpretation.

U.S. Navy Commander John Herrick of the USS Maddox:

I am being approached by high-­speed craft with apparent inten­tion of torpedo attack. I intend to open fire in self-defense necessary.

from a cable of August 2, 1964

U.S. Defense Department:

While on routine patrol in interna­tional waters... the U.S. destroyer Maddox underwent an unpro­voked attack by three PT-type boats in…the Tonkin Gulf.

The attacking boats launched three torpedoes and used 37-millimeter gunfire. The Maddox answered with 5-inch gunfire.... The PT boats were driven off, with one seen to he badly damaged and not moving…

No casualties or damage were sustained by the Maddox or the aircraft.

from a press release of August 2, 1964

National Security Council Meeting:

Secretary McNamara: The North Vietnamese PT boats have contin­ued their attacks on the two U.S. destroyers in international waters in the Gull of Tonkin....

Secretary Rusk: An immediate and direct action by us is necessary-The unprovoked attack on the high seas is an act of war for all practical purposes

CIA Director McCone: The pro­posed U.S. reprisals will result in sharp North Vietnamese military action, but such actions would not represent a deliberate decision to provoke or accept a major escalation of the Vietnamese war.

President Johnson: Do they want a war by attacking our ships in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin?

U.S. Intelligence Agency Director Rowan: Do we know for a fact that the North Vietnamese provo­cation took place?

Secretary McNamara: VW will know definitely in the morning. —August 2, 1964

Secretary Rusk:

We believe that present OPLAN 34-A activities are beginning to rattle Hanoi [capital of North Vietnam], and the Maddox incident is directly related to their effort to resist these activities. We have no intention of yielding to pressure.

from a top secret telegram to Ambassador Maxwell Taylor (South Vietnam), August 3, 1964


From accounts of a possible mistake

Two days after the alleged attack, the Turner Joy joined the Maddox in the Gulf. On the night of August 4, 1964, the two destroyers experienced a series of events they interpreted as a second attack. However, Commander Herrick later revised this report. President Johnson referred to the “repeated” attacks later when he asked Congress for war powers.

Commander Herrick:

Review of action makes many contacts and torpedoes tired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action…

Turner Joy also reports no actual visual sightings or wake… Entire action leaves many doubts except for apparent attempt to ambush at beginning.

from two cables of August 4, 1964

President Johnson:

The initial attack on the destroyer Madder, on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes. The destroyers and supporting air­craft acted at once on the orders I gave after the initial act of aggression… Repeated acts of violence against the Armed Forces of the United States must be met not only with alert defense, but with positive reply

in a television and radio address, August 4, 1964

In 1968 Senator William Fulbright opened an investigation into the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. The following exchange took place between Senator Fulbright and Secretary McNamara.

Secretary McNamara: I don't believe Commander Herrick in his cable stated that he had doubt that the attack took place. He questioned certain details of the attack.... Secondly, his doubts were resolved that afternoon before the retalia­tory action was taken.

Senator Fulbright: I think he went further than that. He advised you not to do anything until it had been reevaluated.... It is a very strong statement.

Secretary McNamara: Nothing was done until it was reevaluated.

Senator Fulbright: He says

"Suggest complete reevaluation before any further action." Now that is a very strong recommen­dation from a man on the scene in charge of the operation....Both committees, except for the Senator from Oregon [Morse], unanimously accepted your testi­mony then as the whole story, and I must say this raises very serious questions about how you make decisions to go to war.

Understanding the Issue

1. What statement by Rusk suggests the United States may have provoked the attack on the Maddox?

2. Do you think President Johnson was misled by his advisers? Explain.

3. How soon after the alleged attacks did the president address the American people? Did the United States rush to judgment in this case? Explain.


1. Investigate What were the conclu­sions of the Fulbright investigations into the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Check sources, including the Internet.

2. Discuss Research and review American decisions to go to war in 1898, 1917, and 1941. What were the concerns? Do you think the nation made the right decisions?



Vietnam Divides the Nation

Guide to Reading

Main Idea

The experience of Vietnam produced sharp divisions between Americans who supported the war and those who did not

Key Terms and Names

William Westmoreland, credibility gap, teach-in, dove, hawk, Tet offensive

Reading Strategy

Organizing As you read about Americans' reactions to the Vietnam War complete a graphic organizer like the one below to list the reasons for opposition to the war.

Reading Objective

  • Analyze why support for the war began to weaken.

  • Describe the motives of those in the antiwar movement.

Section Theme

Civic Rights and Responsibilities Many Americans protested their country's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Preview of Events

1965 Teach-ins on college campuses begin

1966 Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins Vietnam hearings

1967 March on the Pentagon

January 1968 Tet offensive

An American Story

Martin Jezer, a 27-year-old copywriter living in New York City, had never considered him­self a radical. "I campaigned for Lyndon Johnson in 1964," he recalled. As his opposition to the war in Vietnam grew, however, Jezer decided to stage a public protest.

On April 15, 1967, he and dozens of other young men gathered with their military draft cards in New York's Central Park. Before an audience of reporters, photographers, FBI offi­cials, and citizens, the men pulled out matches and lighters and burned the cards.

“We began singing freedom songs and chanting, 'Resist! Resist!' and 'Burn Draft Cards, Not People'. . . . People in the audience were applauding us, shouting encouragement. Then some guys began to come out of the audience with draft cards in hand. They burned them. Alone, in pairs, by threes they came. Each flaming draft card brought renewed cheering and more people out of the crowd.... Some of the draft card burners were girls, wives, or girl­friends of male card burners.... It lasted this way for about half an hour.”

quoted in The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints

A Growing Credibility Gap

Jezer’s protest was just one of many, as American opposition to the Vietnam War grew in the late 1960s.When American troops first entered the Vietnam War in the spring of 1965, many Americans had supported the military effort A Gallup poll


published around that time showed that 66 percent of Americans approved of the police in Vietnam. As the war dragged on, however, public support began to drop Suspicion of the government's truthfulness about the war was a significant reason. Throughout the early years of the war, the American commander in South Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, reported that the enemy was on the brink of defeat. In 1967 he confidently declared that the "enemy's hopes are bankrupt- and added, "we has e reached an important point w here the end begins to come into view.”

Contradicting such reports were less optimistic media accounts, especially on television. Vietnam was the First "television war," with footage of combat appearing nightly on the evening news. Day after day millions of people saw images of wounded and dead Americans and began to doubt government reports. In the view of many, a credibility gap had developed, meaning it was hard to believe what the Johnson administration said about the war.

Congress, which had given the president a nearly tree hand in Vietnam, soon grew uncertain about the war. Beginning in February 1966, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held "educational" hearings on Vietnam, calling in Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other policy makers to explain the administration's war program. The committee also listened to critics such as American diplomat George Kerman. Although Kennan had helped create the policy of containment, he argued that Vietnam was not strate­gically important to the United States.

Reading Check Explaining Why was the Vietnam War the first "television war”?

An Antiwar Movement Emerges

As casualties mounted in Vietnam, many people began to protect publicly against the in al' and to demand that the United States pull out. Although mans other Americans supported the wan oppo­nents of the conflict received the most attention

Teach-Ins Begin In March 1965, a group of faculty members and students at the University of Michigan abandoned their classes and joined together in a teach-in. Here, they informally discussed the issues surrounding the war and reaffirmed their reasons for opposing it. The gathering inspired teach-ins at mans campuses. In May 1965, 122 colleges held a "National Teach-In” by radio for more than 100,000 antiwar demonstrators.

People who opposed the war did so for different masons. Some saw the conflict as a civil war in which the United States had no business. Others viewed South Vietnam as a corrupt dictatorship and insisted that defending that country was immoral and unjust.

Anger at the Draft Young protesters especially focused on what they saw as an unfair draft system. At the beginning of the war, a college student was often able to defer military service until after gradua­tion. By contrast, young people from low-income families were more likely to be sent to Vietnam because they were unable ill afford college. This meant minorities, particular's African Americans, made up a disproportionately large number of the soldiers in Vietnam. By 1967, for example, African Americans accounted for about 20 percent of American combat deaths about twice their propor­tion of the population within the United States. That number would decline to roughly match their popu­lation proportion by the war's end.

Analyzing Political Cartoons

Dark Passage One particular phrase came to represent the government’s claims that it was on the verge of ending the Vietnam War: “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Why did many people become skeptical about such government claims?


Picturing History

Flower Power Student antiwar protests ranged from violent confrontation to this peaceful but dramatic demonstration near the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. What were some reasons many people opposed the war?

The high number of African Americans and poor Americans dying in Vietnam angered African American leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early oil, King had retrained from speaking out against the war for fear that it would draw attention from the civil rights movement. In April 1967, however, he broke his silence and publicly condemned the conflict:

“Somehow this madness must cease. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam and the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leader of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

—quoted in A Testament of Hope

As the war escalated, American officials increased the draft call, putting many college students at risk. An estimated 500,000 draftees refused to go. Many publicly burned their draft cards or simply did not report when called for induction. Some fled the coun­try, moving to Canada, Sweden, or other nations. Others stayed and went to prison rather than tight in a war they opposed.

Between 1965 and 1968, officials prosecuted more than 3,300 Americans for refusing to serve. The draft became less of ail issue in 1969 when the government introduced a lottery system, in which only those with low lottery numbers were subject to the draft.

Protests against the war were not confined to col­lege campuses. Demonstrators held public rallies and Marches in towns across the country. In April 1965, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a left-wing student organization, organized a march on Washington, D.C., that drew more than 20,000 partic­ipants. Two years later, in October 1967, a rally at Washington's Lincoln Memorial drew tens of thou­sands of protesters as well.

Anger over the draft also fueled discussions of vot­ing age. Many draftees argued that if they were old enough to tight, they were old enough to vote. In 1971 the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving all citizens age 18 and older the right to vote in all state and federal elections.


Hawks and Doves In the Lace of growing opposi­tion to the war, President Johnson remained deter­mined to continue fighting. The president was not alone in his clews. Although the antiwar protesters became a vocal group, they did not represent major-its opinion on Vietnam. In a poll taken in mid-1967, about 68 percent of the respondents favored continu­ing the war, compared to about 32 percent who wanted to end it. Of those Americans who supported the policy in Vietnam, many openly criticized the protesters for a lack of patriotism.

By 1968 the nation seemed to be divided into two camps. Those who wanted the United States to with­draw from Vietnam were known as doves. Those who insisted that the United States stay and tight came to be known as hawks. As the two groups debated, the war took a dramatic turn fur the worse, and the nation endured a year of shock and crisis.

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