Magazine article The World and I

Vietnam: The War Revisited

Magazine article The World and I

Vietnam: The War Revisited

Article excerpt

To the Editor:

Recently, because of a university class that I teach, a friend gave me a back issue of The World & I. In that issue, both John Attarian and editor and publisher Morton Kaplan have articles on the Vietnam War. In Attarian's piece ["Rethinking the Vietnam War," July 2000, p. 288], he references declining public support for the war and cites Barrett's Uncertain Warriors to the effect that, after Tet, 63 percent of respondents disapproved of Johnson's war management.

Last year, wanting some references for the declining public support of the war, I went looking for existing research. But there is remarkably little that systematically focuses on that subject. Thus, I examined the original Harris polls that were taken. To my surprise, they do not support the conventional wisdom that public support declined. Though they do show a conflicted public that, on the one hand, labeled the war a mistake while, on the other hand, very strongly insisted that a communist South Vietnam was not acceptable as an outcome, they also show a consistent and high level of support for both Johnson and Nixon's management of the war. The only exception is a brief period associated with the incursion into Cambodia.

In addition, as Kaplan noted ["How Kissinger Tossed Away South Vietnam," p. 303]--and as one can conclude from a comparison of different polls--a portion of those opposed to the war actually were opposed because it was not being fought with enough intensity. In fact, the McCarthy showing in New Hampshire was accompanied by just such a poll taken at about the same time as the primary! Though I have not checked Barrett's source for his 63 percent, I can't find a pattern of declining public support and believe that his estimate is very wrong, as is the general view in this regard.

Finally, with respect to Johnson's fear that China would intervene, some of the documents that have been declassified in the last few years show a deeply divided intelligence community on that issue--so much so that the final product was virtually useless for decision-making (reading like a Supreme Court decision with many dissenting opinions). …

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