President Johnson had good reason to escalate the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. At the time the United States was still in fear of Communism spreading throughout the world. Despite any headway that may have taken place as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. still had fear of the Soviets, Cuba and anyplace the long arm of Communism might have spread. However, given what we now know of the Vietnam era, many feel that the U.S. had unjustified fears.
In my opinion, yes he did.
While it is true that people now think he didn't, that is true mostly in hindsight.
At the time he had to decide what to do about Vietnam, all signs indicated that there was a need to push back against communism.
Since the end of WWII, these things (among others) had happened to make fear of communism be sensible:
- The USSR took all of Eastern Europe and ruled it harshly.
- China became communist
- The Soviets got nuclear weapons
- The Soviets and Chinese approved of North Korea's invasion of South Korea
- Cuba became communist
- The Soviets put nuclear missiles in Cuba
Looking at things that way, how could we not have been afraid of the spread of communism?
People look back and say it was dumb, and maybe it was. But it sure wouldn't have looked like that back then.
The answer to such a question hinges on whether or not individuals believed Johnson's belief in the "domino theory." This idea stressed that if one nation in a particular region of the world fell to the Communist forces, all of the nations in that area would become Communist. In the Cold War Era, this represented an end that needed to be avoided in its own right. Johnson and many of his advisors believed, at the outset of the escalation, that North Vietnam was operating as a "tool" of the Communist forces of Russia and China. To a great extent, Johnson was able to stress to the American public that the escalation of the war effort was to bring peace and freedom to the people of Vietnam, drawing the parallel that Communist Vietnam posed a direct threat to American interests. If one accepts this premise, then escalation might have been warranted. To a large extent, this does ignore the history of Vietnam, a nation that was steeped in repelling forces that sought to dominate it from outside. Whether it was from Genghis Khan all the way to the French, the history of Vietnam stressed that autonomy and independence were the only goals of the nation and expansion was not their primary focus, a narrative that would refute the "domino theory."
As other posts have indicated, Johnson may have had his good reasons to escalate the conflict in Vietnam by vastly expanding US support; however, the preceding president did not.
Kennedy, having witnessed warfare firsthand in WWII, and perhaps appreciating Vietnam's difficulties and correctness of such a conflict, had planned to reduce troops and withdraw. Although this may have been viewed as being "soft on communism," he may have realized that there was no real immediate threat to the US, unlike the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Certainly the arguments for being "hawkish" are well known; however, the real hawkish reasons may not have anything to do with halting Communism or expanding Democracy, but with who would control the oil off the coast of Vietnam (See 2nd link.)
Conflict and warfare are usually much more intelligible when political rhetoric is removed, and the grab for resources revealed.