During the Vietnam War, what effects did foreign policy have on domestic policy and vice versa?

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The Vietnam War became deeply unpopular in the late 1960s, and protests broke out around the country. The aftermath of the Tet Offensive in February of 1968 proved to be the turning point, as Americans saw that the North Vietnamese were determined to win the war. The widespread unpopularity of...

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The Vietnam War became deeply unpopular in the late 1960s, and protests broke out around the country. The aftermath of the Tet Offensive in February of 1968 proved to be the turning point, as Americans saw that the North Vietnamese were determined to win the war. The widespread unpopularity of the war took a toll on President Lyndon B. Johnson, who announced in March of 1968 that he would not seek re-election. The loss of public trust eroded the political will to carry out his sweeping anti-poverty programs, referred to as the "war on poverty" (part of his larger program, "the great society"). In addition, the widespread distrust and unpopularity of some of the elements of his domestic program, such as the community action programs that were part of the war on poverty, led to the erosion of political support not only for Johnson's domestic agenda and but also for the Vietnam War. Therefore, the unpopularity of some elements of Johnson's domestic policy, as well as the way the public turned against the Vietnam War, hurt his domestic and foreign policy goals.

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The Vietnam conflict became increasingly unpopular as time went on. The United States public did not understand why its young men were being to sent to fight in a small country halfway around the world on a land which seemed to pose little or no visible threat to the US.

Along with the civil rights movement and the women's movement, the anti-war movement led to an upsurge in civil disobedience and discontent. The public's unhappiness with US foreign policy, in turn, led the government to implement reforms. For example, though the draft age was eighteen, US citizens at the time were not allowed to vote until they were twenty-one. This caused a great deal of unhappiness on the part of young people who were forced to fight in conflicts over which they had no say. As a result, Congress in 1971 ratified the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, which allowed eighteen year olds to vote.

Also as a response to domestic unrest over the highly unpopular draft, the draft was suspended in 1973 and has not been used since (although it theoretically could be, as young men are still required to register for it). Since Vietnam, however, we have had an all-volunteer army.

Vietnam also impacted domestic policy by cutting into funding for Johnson's Great Society programs meant to bring increased prosperity to middle-class and poor Americans. Wars are very costly, and Viet Nam became a textbook case of throwing money at a problem. This diverted tax dollars from investment in the United States itself. By the time of the Nixon administration, the costs of the war were fueling inflation to a degree high enough that Nixon temporarily imposed domestic wage and price controls. This shook the business community—as it did not like having its pricing interfered with—and was part of the impetus behind the rightward drift of the Republican Party.

Being involved in a military conflict that had shaky public support and vocal opposition has had a lasting impact on domestic policy in the United States.

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During the Johnson administration (November 1963 through January 1969), there was a seeming disconnect between foreign and domestic policy. At home, LBJ was a progressive. He backed the Civil Rights Bill and appointed Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. But his foreign policy was based on what was becoming an outdated view on containing communism. Johnson believed in the domino theory, which held that if South Vietnam fell to communism, this would lead to communist governments being established in other countries in Southeast Asia as well. He did not distinguish between a nationalist struggle, such as was taking place in Vietnam, and the communist aggression which had occurred in other parts of the world. He thus massively escalated US involvement in the conflict. It is possible that his liberal home policies were an indirect result of the foreign policy dilemma, since he wished to do something positive domestically to make up for what was becoming a losing battle overseas.

Though Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on a platform that said he would quickly scale down and end the war, many of his domestic policies were driven by a fear of being brought down by the opposition to the war. He set up a group of agents who became known as "plumbers" because their task was to stop leaks of information. His agents broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, in order to obtain information to discredit Ellsberg. Dissatisfaction at home with the war caused some in his administration to fear that Nixon would not be reelected in 1972, and the Watergate burglary of Democratic headquarters was part of their attempt to prevent a victory by the Democrats.

Nixon, however, engaged in rapprochement with China, establishing contact between the United States and Mao's regime for the first time. Throughout his political career, Nixon had been a consistent, hard-line anti-communist, and the turnabout with regard to China was partly an effort to defuse the effects of domestic protests against the war. But it was a huge step forward, as was his simultaneous effort toward detente with the Soviet Union.

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The major effect that foreign policy had on domestic policy during this time was that the Vietnam War took huge amounts of money to fight.  When added to the price of President Johnson's Great Society programs, these expenditures helped lead to financial problems for the US in the 1970s.

Domestic policy also impacted foreign policy.  The Democratic Party needed to look like it was strongly anti-communist because Democrats were typically seen as weaker on that issue.  In part because of this domestic political need, the US got further and further into the war in Vietnam.

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