"Lyndon Johnson's War,"
BY the winter of 1965-66 nearly 60 percent of the country saw the Vietnam War as America's most urgent problem. The number had more than doubled since the presidential campaign in 1964. Two out of three Americans considered it essential to take a stand in Vietnam, with only 20 percent favoring a pullout over an expanded role for U.S. forces. Seventy-five percent of a sample poll viewed the war as "part of our worldwide commitment to stop Communism." 1
There were also growing indications that as the war went, so would Lyndon Johnson's public standing. At the end of 1965, his approval rating remained impressively high at 64 percent. Moreover, for the third year in a row, Americans chose him as the most admired man in the world, with Dwight Eisenhower second and Robert Kennedy third. Some three-fourths of the country endorsed the President's handling of Vietnam and expressed antagonism to antiwar demonstrators.
Yet at the same time, the public's support had distinct limits. It had little appetite for a long, expanded war. Bill Moyers told Johnson in December that most Americans hoped that stepped-up military actions would facilitate "a negotiated, compromise peace." Escalation was acceptable because it would bring "peace more quickly." But impatience and frustration were also evident: Only 25 percent of the country thought "we are making any progress" in Vietnam and 43 percent complained that the administration was not doing enough to end the fighting. 2
Sentiment in the United States, although important, was only one element shaping Johnson's judgments on the war. In November, Vietnam Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge told the President that "we are beginning to master the technique of thwarting and eventually overcoming the Viet Cong main force units and military redoubts."