Using Deliberative Techniques to Teach United States History

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

RESOURCE SHEET
The Decision to Americanize the War

McNamara, who at the President’s request visited South Vietnam in early July
to determine the potential effect of a large U.S. commitment, provided the
clinching argument. McNamara’s advice carried particular weight with the
President, who had been impressed with his intellect and analytical ability
since the early days of the Kennedy administration. Upon his return, the Sec-
retary of Defense again urged the President to increase pressure on Hanoi by
augmenting U.S. forces. McNamara foresaw a possible victory in South Viet-
nam by 1968 if Westmoreland’s forces were elevated to the 34-battalion level
(about 175,000 U.S. troops) that he had previously recommended. The secre-
tary went even further, though, conceding that an additional 100,000 troops
might be needed by early 1966 and advocating calling up 235,000 reservists
and National Guardsmen. Ball predicted that such a massive force risked be-
coming “lost in the rice paddies.”

The decision on combat troop deployment came at the July 27 meeting of
the National Security Council (NSC). Declaring that the “situation in Vietnam
is deteriorating,” President Johnson listed the options available to American
policymakers: immediate withdrawal, maintaining the present level of U.S.
troops, or increasing the U.S. commitment. The President chose to expand the
number of U.S. ground troops, approving the immediate deployment of some
75,000 additional forces. But he scaled back the Pentagon’s requests, fearing
that the all-out commitment they entailed could expand the war by provok-
ing Chinese or Soviet intervention and endanger the Great Society, his cher-
ished domestic reform program. No NSC members, when asked their opinions
by Johnson, opposed the decision.

President Johnson’s decision Americanized the war by taking the burden of
fighting from the South Vietnamese and placing it in the hands of the U.S. mili-

-184-

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