LBJ also had an over the top nature; he would use a sledge hammer to crack open an egg. He would always try to get things over quickly and show his ruthlessness over everything. He would get really short advisors to make himself look big and scary, to give himself some sort of satisfaction. Whereas JFK had a more subtle approach, such as sending advisors not soldiers. LBJ sent over soldiers, not just a small group of them, but 100,000’s of them. Even though he seems good and calm by saying things like “This is not a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.” And “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” (1964) so it seems like he wants to get this out of the way and shows his personality by saying they can’t handle their own problems.
Johnson couldn’t understand foreigners and their cultures either. He didn’t travel much and therefore didn’t understand people’s cultures, show by him saying “They will shake my hand and god damn love it.” So it shows that he doesn’t care about other people’s cultures or like to mix with them, which also shows his patriotism. But it can be said that Johnson was only a man of his time – typical of his generation. Many people haven’t travelled, apart from WW1/WW2 veterans. This is shown by Stephen Vizinczey in 1968 “The war against Vietnam is only the ghastliest manifestation of what I'd call imperial provincialism, which afflicts America's whole culture--aware only of its own history, insensible to everything which isn't part of the local atmosphere.” This tells us that they only know one way – the use of the military, which LBJ heavily relies upon.
Johnson’s character was not suited to the complexity of the Vietnam War; he was arrogant and he didn’t really take charge of the situation, when he became president in 1963. He kept the same administration as JFK, so he was getting the same advice, which was to escalate and cause a war to stop communism. LBJ doesn’t stamp his authority or make a stand over the Vietnam; maybe he was too focused upon his ‘Great Society’ ideas. This is shown from when General Westmoreland constantly asked for more troops, until he was fired in 1968, and LBJ agreed with him, as well as agreeing to the search and destroy missions, Westmoreland came up with. The air force said that if LBJ gave them 3 months of strategically bombing NVA placements, it would win the war, which LBJ also agreed to. So he doesn’t stand up to the military or JCS. This is something that JFK does do. JFK stopped the JCS from firing missiles on Cuba. Even when the JCS gives the order to the military, JFK is on the phone; he stops them and shouts at the military ‘Who’s in charge!’ Even Eisenhower does. He stops the military from carrying out an assassination, even when the JCS send a telegram to the military, telling them to kill General MacArthur, so they could win the war.
In 1961, the Taylor-Rostow report was given published, talking about the VC operations in South Vietnam. At this time LBJ was the vice-president, so he would have read it. In 1965, there were many protests and riots. LBJ carried on with bombing and operations, so he ignored the warning signs and the people of his own country.
1964 also was a time that led on to the why LBJ had to escalate throughout 1965-68. LBJ lied to the American people to escalate the war, in the form of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which may have been a set up. At most, it was a minor attack, where no US soldiers died and some NVA soldiers were killed when the US fired back. Also in the 1964 election, where LBJ perceived himself to the American people to be the peace candidate, so not to use extreme force on Vietnam. Rather than the war candidate, Barry Goldwater, who said he would use every means necessary, so maybe even nuclear bombs. But what the people didn’t know is that LBJ made a promise to the JCS, which was “Let me win this election and I’ll give you your war.”
The manipulation of the South Vietnamese government backfired on LBJ, when Big Minh wanted no help from the US and Air Marshall KY failed. The failure of the South Vietnamese government was largely due to the way LBJ handled it.
But, on the other hand, it may not just have been Johnson’s fault for the escalation. He cannot just turn around to the American people and say that JFK was all wrong, he would look bad. This was because as soon as JFK was assassinated he was martyred and JFK also said that if the USA stood up to communism, it will stand down. So all LBJ was getting was the same advice JFK was getting, but because it was 4 years in, and he wasn’t elected in at first, he inherits the administration and government, he simply can’t shift it because it is the best advice he can get and if it seems that LBJ was getting rid of all the people advising JFK, the people wouldn’t like it because they thought that they were good. So first some people and money was sent over to Vietnam, then some economic advisors, then military advisors, then this can only be escalated because there was only one option left – sending in soldiers. So LBJ didn’t have a choice. Also by 1965, LBJ couldn’t have just cut his losses and left Vietnam because many men by then had lost their lives and too much had been invested.
Also LBJ wasn’t a military person, so it was the military’s and JCS’s fault for not supplying him with the right advice/options. LBJ was only given one option – war. The military said that they can win the war and they said that Operation Rolling Thunder would work and be over in a couple of months. LBJ couldn’t really tell them what to do, or say that they’re wrong, because he isn’t experienced, so he has to listen to the military and JCS because he thinks that they are right. One person from the military, who made it really hard for LBJ, was General Westmoreland. He constantly asked for more troops, carried out search and destroy missions and carried on with Operation Rolling Thunder.
LBJ, like JFK and Eisenhower, believes in the domino theory, containment and fighting for national security. So he uses the plans passed down from his predecessors because they thought it was right and the only way to stop communism. So LBJ was only doing what was thought to have been the right way to go about stopping communism from spreading.
Also Eisenhower pumped money into Vietnam aiming to stop communism from spreading there, then JFK escalated by sending advisors over and using the flexible response, so LBJ is only left with one option to escalate more because he doesn’t want to be the first president to lose a war in American history and the presidents before him have done (and tried) everything else. But he does have a choice on how much he escalates the war. LBJ is also boxed into position because Eisenhower says to attack South East Asia, mainly Laos and then JFK (and Truman) says to attack Vietnam because it’s easier to supply it with logistics. So the place has already been decided, another choice LBJ has no say in.
LBJ had a lot of pressure from everybody, including the JCS and the people of America. So he had to get a result in Vietnam. The only way America knew how to solve a problem was to attack and to take over. So again, he doesn’t want to become the first American president to lose a war.
Also the Gulf of Tonkin Incident may not have been made up. So America needed to retaliate (escalate) to protect itself, and to show that it is a force not to be reckoned with. Also the Tet offensive, carried out on the 30 January 1968, was a reason for escalation. It was meant to be a ceasefire, but the VC and NVA still fought, using the element of surprise. These caused widespread defensive measures to be taken place, especially when the US embassy was also take for a few hours. These measures cost a lot more money and more men were needed to defend bases, as well as to kill the VC. The Tet offensive was a surprise because Tet was celebrated two days before, without the US even knowing.
At the time of the war, in Vietnam, you could put some of the blame on the troops because they made their own decisions at the time. So they could have killed loads of people, maybe lots of civilians and just called them VC, which would have annoyed the VC, making them escalate, meaning that LBJ has to as well. Also the air force dropped gases to get rid of vegetation, such as Agent Orange, which harmed farmers and in the long run gave people cancer. Also napalm was dropped, burning and killing lots of people. So this would have enraged the VC, so LBJ would’ve needed to escalate to keep the VC under control. They were also trying to keep up morale and give good stories back home, so lies were made and they were trying to look good.
In conclusion, I think to some extent, that it wasn’t just LBJ’s fault for the escalation of the Vietnam War. Even though it looked like it was solely him, he wasn’t the brains behind the plans, he only agreed to what he believed to be right because he didn’t know and thought that his advisors and the military should’ve known what to have done. But because the administration was the same, there were no new ideas and they, for the most part, stuck to the same plan. Also the VC and NVA made it impossible for LBJ not to escalate because they kept on attacking and putting the US under pressure all the time. Johnson’s own soldiers also made it hard on LBJ. They thought a large kill count would impress the nation and LBJ, but it backfired, especially with the hippie movement. So I think that Lyndon B Johnson had no choice and had to escalate the war in Vietnam in the years 1965-68 because of other people’s actions and advice.