The period from Pleiku through the Johnson press conference of July 1965 is one of die most closely studied in U.S. foreign policy. As a case study, the subject is extraordinarily rich and important. The existing literature suggests a collision of competing interests leading to a thin consensus brought together in Johnson's final decision to expand the war. Interpretations have differed over whether it was rational or irrational, and which factors played the greatest role in the development of the American ground war.1 From the perspective of the technocratic synthesis, the six months that led up to the ground war saw a continuation of the same institutional relationships that had existed within the Vietnam policy process for years. While often chaotic at the level of decision making, overall, U.S. foreign policy remained a self-organizing system. The expansion of American power into Indochina remained part of the larger structure of Cold War technocratic planning. To the degree that planning failed or was misconceived is one question; how that structure showed fundamental aspects of the workings of the American state is another.
In Washington and Honolulu and Saigon, hawks and doves, Wilsonians, political and military realists, and managerial internationalists engaged in ongoing reiterative arguments over new policy proposals. Just how many troops, how many jets and helicopters, how much aid and how much risk the United States would take were argued intensively through the summer of 1965 and then beyond. The excellent documentation that we have in the historical record outlines the planning for the intervention. The planning involved an intellectual process that affected every branch of the government and worked on every level of American society. In a real sense, Vietnam War planning was practiced by American diplomats in every diplomatic mission and employed scientists, spies, and all manner of analysts, consultants, and administrators around the world. The intervention, driven by the grip of historical memory and by the exigencies of politics, doctrine, and planning, remains rich in meaning.