The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Vietnam War: History, Policies,
Public Opinion, and Protest

INTRODUCTION

This chapter reviews the major events and policies that constituted U.S military intervention in Vietnam during four benchmark periods from 1964 to 1973 in the Johnson and the Nixon administrations. Two earlier series of decisions prepared the ground for the events and policy decisions covered in this chapter. The first were the decisions of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to help the French recolonize Vietnam in the aftermath of World War II. These were followed by Eisenhower's decision to replace the French forces after they lost the nine-year war and to bypass the Geneva Convention of 1954 by blocking the 1956 elections in Vietnam. The benchmarks here include Johnson's decision to use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution as authorization for taking steps toward a full-scale American military operation in Vietnam beginning in 1965, and Johnson's March 1968 decision to deescalate the war and retreat from politics in the wake of the Tet offensive. They also include Nixon's decision to abandon the planned “Duck Hook” major offensive against North Vietnam in the fall of 1969 and his decision to widen the war in 1970 by invading Cambodia, in concert with withdrawal of troops, in apparent conflict with the policy of “Vietnamization” and negotiations.

The following two chapters evaluate the four benchmark decisions in conjunction with public support or opposition expressed both in polls and the protest movement on campuses and in the nation's streets and squares. The aim of the analysis is to establish the effect that the preferences of the American public exercised on respective decision-making.


BACKGROUND TO THE VIETNAM WAR

With roots in American intelligence efforts against the Japanese during World War II, U.S. involvement in fighting Vietnamese insurgents began with U.S. financial support to the French colonial regime in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After the North Vietnamese defeated the French in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Eisenhower

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