Why did the U.S. go to war in Vietnam? How did President Johnson escalate the war?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The United States went to war in Vietnam because it wanted to prevent South Vietnam from falling to the forces of communism.  This was during the Cold War and the United States was very concerned with preventing communism from spreading around the world.  US leaders felt that if Vietnam fell to communism, a “domino effect” would ensue in which all of the other countries of Southeast Asia became communist as well.  The US was very opposed to communism and therefore did not want this to happen.  When South Vietnam started to come under attack from communist rebels, the US stepped in.

President Johnson escalated this war gradually at first.  He sent more and more troops in with broader missions.  For example, he sent ground forces in to guard air bases, but then allowed them to patrol away from their bases, expanding their mission.  Then, in 1964, he escalated the war dramatically.  He got Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave him the power to do whatever he felt necessary to prosecute the war.  This led to a huge buildup in the American military presence in Vietnam.  Eventually, the US military had over 500,000 military personnel in Vietnam.