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Escalating The War In South Vietnam History Essay

There are many arguments in favour of Johnson escalating the war such as America’s commitment trap, the Kennedy legacy, Domino theory, hatred of communism, and patriotism, sources D and B mainly support this view. There are also arguments against escalation in which sources A and C argue and other reasons such as, negative press, change of opinion within the home front, and misunderstanding of the Vietnamese people. I think for Johnson given his position at the time the arguments in favour of escalation are stronger than those against.

Sources B and D, both display evidence in favour of Johnson escalating America’s involvement, in Vietnam. Source B outlines the commitment Johnson faced from Kennedy’s legacy. Due to the unexpected assassination of Kennedy in 1963 Johnson was hastily promoted into a presidential role. Johnson felt committed to carrying on Kennedy’s work for example he explained “I would carry on for my partner...” To a certain extent this indicates the influence Kennedy still had over America’s involvement even after his death. However, Johnson showed characteristics of a strongly independent man who was deeply patriotic and clear of any decisions he made as source C suggests. Unlike the view exposed in source B, which illustrated Johnson as a man who felt pressurised to continue involvement in the legacy of Kennedy. To a certain extent this could be considered a strong reason for Johnson continuing involvement. Johnson did have a strong patriotic personality and like Kennedy shared his views against communism, as source D shows. Although continuing for Kennedy in itself is not a strong reason to continue involvement, Johnson also inherited Kennedy’s advisors. These advisors as sources C and B support further influenced Johnsons views on American involvement. Kennedy’s opinionated advisors McNamara and Rusk were strong advocates of escalating the war, and further convinced Johnson to continue involvement. Although, as source A describes Johnson was challenged with the warning opinion of Mansfield despite this he continued involvement. However due to not gaining any real popular mandate when gaining power he would have wanted to gain the support of the most influential advisors of McNamara and Rusk. Mansfield view was one of a isolated case and was not widely supported. Johnson was also under pressure to show victorious in terms of the money and time already invested in Vietnam. Therefore it is hardly surprising that surrounded by influential advisors and the plans of escalation already presented by Kennedy that Johnson escalated America’s involvement. Especially as the views of McNamara, Johnson and Rusk were all based around the fear of communism as source D suggests and a fear of the “domino effect” which provided a much stronger case for increasing involvement than the single case of continuing Kennedy’s legacy.

As source D comments Johnson like many men of his time including Kennedy and his advisors McNamara and Rusk were influenced by the strong ideology of the hatred of communism and the dangers it could bring. This was further influenced by theories such as the domino theory in which source D supports. America, in the view of Johnson was a world power in defeating communism, if escalation was to stop then Vietnam had a strong possibility of falling victim to communism along with many other countries which would also follow. Johnson also may have feared criticism if he were to lose Vietnam like that of Truman who was criticised for the loss of China in 1949. The public especially at the beginning of the war also supported this view, however a new generation of university students were emerging as source A comments. The statistics show that 35% of people in a public poll were turning against involvement with Vietnam. However, 35% is still a relatively low figure in terms of those against involvement. Many of these votes could be accounted to university students and the younger generation of whom were not influenced by communist ideology and due to the negative media coverage and now reaching an age in which they were entitled to vote turned against the war. Even Johnson’s own advisor Mansfield had concerns over America’s involvement supported by source C which highlights the claims that Johnson and his advisors were well aware of the problems greater involvement in Vietnam could bring. However, as source B argues Johnson also had to consider the difficulties that would occur if America did not escalate the war such as the need to preserve the fragile Saigon regime. Source C to a certain extent contradicts other knowledge of Johnson and his advisors opinions; it claims that they were aware of the problems involvement would occur however only Mansfield openly voiced these concerns. Johnson, and especially McNamara and Rusk were noted to be very passionate in escalating involvement with the war for example some even argued it was “McNamara’s war”. Not the characteristics of gloomy realists that source C claims. This shows that strong ideology and patriotism would have been a significant factor in Johnson escalating America’s involvement in the war. As source D strongly supports the view and main reason for America joining the Vietnam War was to contain communism and protect other countries from its spreading. As source D explains a loss for America in Vietnam would be a significant loss in the threat of containing communism and this is what Johnson and previous leaders set out to stop.

Sources A and C both display evidence against escalation of the war. Source C outlines the issues that faced America concerning relations with the South Vietnamese people, for example loosing the hearts and minds of the people. It is evident that America struggled to bond with the local Vietnamese people and did not understand there culture or needs. Johnson himself even admitted to this claiming he found it hard to understand the foreigners. As source C argues this would be a reason to not further escalate the war. Even efforts made by the Americans such as sending teachers, DR’s and launching educational programmes many felt this was not enough to win the war. As source C comments if America could not bond or understand the Vietnamese people then winning the war against the military strong and locally supported north would be a struggle. America from previous incidents should also have been aware of the advantages of winning the hearts and minds of the people due to the involvement of the defeated French in which Giap set a strong example in what respect and kindness to the local people could achieve. Although, it is clear Johnson struggled to understand the Vietnamese people to a certain extent this will be the case when fighting in a foreign country which does hold different values and culture and even supports a different geology. Although source C does argue that fighting a war with little support of the local people would cause problems, the American’s did try to understand the American people. Due to Johnson’s views on the “little” unimportant country to a certain extent he would dismiss the feelings of the people and being more militaristic as source D supports would still be in favour of escalating the war. After all source D and partially source A outline the strength of America as a world power. In Johnson’s opinion and view and due to this lack of understanding he would commit further into Vietnam, with the assurance that despite lack of relations with the local people America would be military strong enough to over come this. After all America had a duty to contain communism and would continue to do so.

Sources C and B both conflict in there argument concerning preservation of the Saigon regime. Source B claims Johnson found it necessary to increase involvement in order to preserve the Saigon regime however source C, argues the Saigon government was already corrupt and incompetent and would also result in less support gained. This would be a reason not to escalate involvement especially as source A indicates that public opinion, although not yet the majority, was beginning to vote against America’s involvement in Vietnam. However, the Saigon government was not as unstable when Johnson first started to escalate involvement and to a certain extent this would be a reason to send more American troops, as source B indicated if the Saigon government was weak then this was a significant reason for America to support and stabilise it. America was a leading power and had the potential ability to stabilise the Saigon government. Source C argues that America was supporting a weak Saigon government and therefore this would contribute to loss of the war and a factor of not escalating the involvement. However, the Saigon government did have advantages in America’s view for example the head of state of the Saigon government Thieu, although a corrupt character was militaristic and ambitious sharing the views of Johnson and his advisors. Thieu was also trained in America and therefore would be more appropriate for Johnson to communicate with especially as he struggled to understand “foreigners”. However, it is evident as source C comments that the Saigon’s leaders such as Ky and Thieu were corrupt and would be a challenge for Johnson to work with and most importantly win a war with. Concerning as this would be for Johnson, and a factor which would indicate in not escalating the war, Thieu especially did hold advantages for example his militaristic approach and American training. Due to the corrupt characters and strong ideology as demonstrated in source D of Johnson and his advisors this would be a reason to escalate involvement. As clearly the Saigon government with these leaders needed America’s involvement. If America did not further escalate after witnessing the Saigon government in its weak state then inevitably the north would win over the south and instead of Saigon turning corrupt it would turn communist of which for Johnson and his domino theory views would be a trigger for other countries to follow. A result he strongly opposed.

To conclude sources B and D in particular support the knowledge that Johnson should have escalated the war in South Vietnam. Significantly the reasons for this are due to the strong ideology, theories against communism and commitment already established especially evident in both the sources. Johnson as an individual and due to his advisors mainly Rusk and McNamara was passionate about containing communism this would have influenced his decision to escalate the war in Vietnam. This was especially influenced by the legacy of President Kennedy and his policy in which Johnson was keen to support. Although sources A and C demonstrate arguments against escalation such as concerns over commitment such as the corrupt Saigon government and turning support of the public. This was only beginning to occur in 1965 and for Johnson who was mainly surrounded by advisors who shared his militaristic and anti-communism ideology would have been of little concern. Particularly noteworthy would have been Johnson’s own personal fear of not wanting to be the first to lose a war especially due to Kennedy’s commitment and pressure from his advisors. Leaving the war would have left Johnson with the aftermath of justifying money already invested in the war, the threat of communism spreading and the guilt of being the first president to lose a war.

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