What specific problem does George Ball identify that ultimately would make US escalation in Vietnam unsuccessful?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Ball was President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of State. In this role, he sent Johnson several memoranda in 1964-65 that expressed his deep misgivings about US military buildup in Vietnam following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. These classified memos were revealed to the public by the Pentagon Papers , which were...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

George Ball was President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of State. In this role, he sent Johnson several memoranda in 1964-65 that expressed his deep misgivings about US military buildup in Vietnam following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. These classified memos were revealed to the public by the Pentagon Papers, which were famously stolen and released by Defense Department employee Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. In a memo of 1965, Ball described the problem the United States faced in the following statement:

No one has demonstrated that a white ground force of whatever size can win a guerrilla war—which is at the same time a civil war between Asians—in jungle terrain in the midst of a population that refuses cooperation to the white forces (and the South Vietnamese) and thus provides a great intelligence advantage to the other side. 

Ball went on to say that American troops deployed to fight in this war would be exposed to high casualties and would find tangible success elusive in the midst of a hostile population. He thought the President needed to move toward seeking a negotiated settlement immediately. He realized if the United States began to commit troops, pulling out would become politically difficult because it would compromise the nation's Cold War credibility:

Once we suffer large casualties, we will have started a well-nigh irreversible process. Our involvement will be so great that we cannot—without national humiliation—stop short of achieving our complete objectives. Of the two possibilities I think humiliation would be more likely than the achievement of our objectives—even after we have paid terrible costs.

Ball presciently warned Johnson against becoming involved in a conflict he viewed as essentially doomed to fail.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team