Using Deliberative Techniques to Teach United States History

By Eleanora Von Dehsen; Nancy Claxton | Go to book overview

RESOURCE SHEET
Johnson’s Hawks and Doves

(The following is a summary of historical events as published by the U.S. Department of State.)


BACKGROUND

By 1965, fighting between noncommunist South Vietnam, backed primarily
by the United States, and North Vietnam, aided by the People’s Republic of
China and the Soviet Union, had raged for over a decade. The United States
had been directly involved since 1954 in only a limited way, sending noncom-
batant military advisers to help the South Vietnamese Government counter
North Vietnam and the communist guerrillas in the south, the National Libera-
tion Front (NLF). Johnson inherited the limited U.S. role in Vietnam when he
became President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November
1963. But he delayed charting a clear course in Vietnam throughout 1964, in
part, because he feared that doing so would damage his candidacy in that
year’s presidential election. He did obtain congressional approval to prosecute
the war. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution, passed in August 1964 after two U.S. ves-
sels operating in the waters off the North Vietnamese coast reported being
fired upon, authorized the commander in chief to take “all necessary measures
to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to pre-
vent any further aggression.”

Vietnam rose to the fore in the months following Johnson’s successful election
bid, when it appeared possible that America’s ally, South Vietnam, would lose
the war. Johnson quickly ruled out abandoning Saigon, an action that he be-
lieved would hurt him politically at home and damage U.S. credibility abroad,
encouraging communist challenges elsewhere. Instead, after several attempts
to shore up the South Vietnamese Government had failed, many administra-
tion officials increasingly regarded expanding the U.S. role as the only way to

-179-

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