Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

4
Americanizing the Vietnam War President Johnson's Press Conference of July 28, 1965

The early summer of 1965 became a time of decision for President Lyndon Johnson. On the one hand, he desperately wanted peace in Vietnam. On the other hand, he faced what he thought would be a defeat in Asia if he did not do something about the deteriorating situation in Vietnam. Trying to reconcile these two would cause Johnson great anguish. But his anguish would be intensified by his attempts to reconcile his eventual decision to the rhetorical demands of explaining his policy to American opinion makers and the American public. Television and the "bully pulpit" had emerged as crucial elements in national decision making. To put it simply, a president could not make a critical decision without considering how he would explain that decision and where he would announce that decision publicly. This chapter is about how Johnson sought to harmonize all these discordant concerns.

Johnson had campaigned the year before as the peace candidate promising not to send American boys to do the fighting Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.1 Since the end of the campaign he had sought peace. He had said it over and over again. Nowhere had he spelled it out more clearly than at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965:

We will never be second in the search for . . . a peaceful settlement in Viet-Nam.

There may be many ways to this kind of peace: in discussion or negotia-

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