At War in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, however, destroyed the Johnson presidency. In 1954 the Geneva Conference had divided Vietnam into a communist North and a pro-Western South; after that, the United States had acted as the protector of South Vietnam. By 1961 an internal revolution had brought the South Vietnamese regime to the point of toppling. President Kennedy decided that South Vietnam was salvageable and that he could not allow another communist victory. He sent in 15,000 military advisors and large supplies of munitions. By 1964 it was clear that a collapse was again impending (the CIA warned that the reason was the regime's harshness and corruption). At this point, Johnson decided to escalate American involvement. After his electoral victory that year, he began aerial bombardment of North Vietnam. It persisted almost continuously for three years. This achieved no apparent result other than the destruction of large parts of the North and heavy loss of life. Meanwhile, the world at large condemned the U.S. military actions. Many Americans also opposed the bombings.

In April 1965, Johnson began sending U.S. ground troops to Vietnam; by 1969, troop levels reached nearly 550,000. A full-scale naval, aerial, and ground war were waged; in that year alone, the total expenditures for these programs reached $100 billion. Huge regions in the South were laid waste by U.S. troops in search of hostile forces. Still victory eluded them. In the United States mass public protests went on year after year and put the country in a state of near-insurrection. In 1967 American casualties passed 100,000 and little progress was being made. As a result, Johnson decided in March 1968 to halt the bombing of the North and to begin de-escalation. At the same time he announced that he would not run for reelection. From being an immensely popular president, he had descended to a position as one of the most hated and reviled occupants of that office.


Excerpt From: Sitkoff, Harvard. "United States, History of the (III)." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online (use the date you accessed this page).