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Content Reading Guide: President Johnson and The Vietnam War
In the 1950s, France tried to establish control over their former colony, French Indo-China. Vietnam was in this region. America sent money and aid in hopes that French control would prevent the spread of Communism to the area. Ho Chi Minh led the Communist Party in Vietnam and pursued independence from foreign control. In 1954, France abandoned Vietnam and the Communist Party took control above the 17th Parallel. President Eisenhower claimed a domino theory was unfolding in which nations in Asia were falling to Communism. Eisenhower and JFK both supported South Vietnam with aid to prevent Communism from spreading South. Ngo Dinh Diem led South Vietnam and claimed to be Anti-Communist. Yet, he was very corrupt and removed rights from Buddhists in the area. An opposition group, called the Vietcong, began attacking Diem’s government. Ho Chi Minh armed the Vietcong.
In 1964, an American ship, the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon Baines Johnson then started bombing North Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave LBJ increased military powers to attack North Vietnam. Operation Rolling Thunder was the first sustained bombing of North Vietnam. This was no longer a French War; it was now an American war.
By 1965, LBJ had sent over 180,000 Americans to fight in the Vietnam war. The Vietcong utilized their knowledge of the jungle and guerrilla warfare against the USA. They built complex tunnel systems to attack soldiers in the jungle. America persistently bombed the area with napalm. Yet, this also killed civilians and created a negative opinion of America’s strategy back in the USA. LBJ began to lose support for his social programs, such as Medicare (government insurance for the elderly) and Medicaid (government insurance for the poor), because of the unpopular war. Television helped to diminish the popularity of the war as well; citizens could see live, on various news programs, how devastating the war was for all involved.
The Selective Service System Draft was implemented to provide more soldiers in the Vietnam War, ages 18 to 26. By 1967, there were over 500,000 Americans at war. Going to college also got one out of the draft. Therefore, lower class minorities constituted a large portion of the soldiers who were sent to war. Many viewed this as discriminatory.
The nation was divided between Doves who supported ending the war and Hawks who wanted to keep fighting until victory was achieved. Students for a Democratic Society organized many protest demonstrations and encouraged others to dodge the draft and flee to Canada. The government changed the rules for the draft so that you needed good academic standing to stay in college. People began burning their draft cards and refused to participate in the war.
In 1968, The Vietcong and North Vietnam launched The Tet Offensive. Tet, the Vietnam “New Year’s Eve” was when this occurred. Over 100 areas were attacked and it took a month to push the Vietcong back. Over 30,000 Vietcong died and over 3,000 USA and South Vietnam Soldiers were killed. Johnson’s popularity fell dramatically and many more wanted the war to end.
Johnson announced he would not run again for the presidency in 1968. On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray. On June 5th,1968, Robert Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother, was assassinated by a Palestinian named Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Robert Kennedy was campaigning for the Presidency when he was shot. While LBJ’s involvement in Vietnam was controversial, his social programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, continue to today.
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