The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Clinton

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
THE PRESS, THE PRESIDENCY, AND VIETNAM

Why was the United States involved in a civil war in Vietnam, and how did opinion makers and reporters for newspapers, magazines, television, and radio react to our lingering presence there? What did this mean to the presidents of the 1960s and even the 1970s? The answers to these questions are complicated and sometimes confusing. It is best to examine the war in Southeast Asia comprehensively, cutting across six presidencies. In this way the conflict presents itself in the overall context of continuing U.S. foreign policy.

The strife in Vietnam began long before the United States committed its military forces to the conflict, and U.S. participation unfolded slowly over more than a decade. After World War II, the Vietnam communists in the northern provinces sought to oust the colonial French, who controlled Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in Southeast Asia. The struggle persisted until 1954, when, after a military defeat at Dienbienphu in Vietnam, the French unilaterally withdrew. Through a treaty negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland, that year, Vietnam was divided at the 17th parallel into two countries.

In the post-- World War II era, U.S. foreign policy was designed to combat communism wherever it appeared to be taking hold in the world. This position was first clearly enunciated in March 1947 when President Harry S. Truman urged Congress to provide financial support to Greece and Turkey to help in their struggles against communist insurgencies. The Truman Doctrine, followed by the Korean conflict and the unchecked excesses of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, reinforced American concern about communist domination of the world. In the midst of this Cold War frenzy in 1954 a corrupt, nominally democratic government was established in South Vietnam under the leadership

-55-

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