South Vietnam was seen by Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as the cornerstone of the preservation of democracy in Southeast Asia, but constant political unrest seriously threatened the country’s ability to defend itself without U.S. assistance.
Upon Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson inherited a complicated and dangerous crisis in Vietnam. He faced some tough choices, but firmly believed that a military solution was the best course of action. By 1965, however, the president and his advisers were at a loss over how to end the war. After listening to his military advisers and his cabinet, Johnson decided to escalate the air war and greatly increase the number of American ground troops—a fateful decision which ultimately destroyed his presidency.
When American military power failed to slow the progress of a determined North Vietnamese army, McNamara told the president in 1967 that the bombing of North Vietnam and the ever- enlarging ground war was a failure and that the United States should instead pursue a negotiated political solution.
If McNamara so passionately objected to the president’s Vietnam policy, why did he not resign in protest? He decided instead to leave quietly early in 1968 out of loyalty and respect for Johnson. After McNamara’s departure, the war dragged on for another seven years, with total American casualties estimated at more than 58,000.
McNamara concludes that Americans must now try and learn from the horrible mistakes made in Vietnam. Although he has been criticized for his long silence, McNamara does offer eleven major causes for the disaster, which should be required reading for any government official who has the authority to authorize the deployment of American forces on foreign soil.
Sources for Further Study
America. CLXXII, May 20, 1995, p. 26.
The Christian Science Monitor. April 17, 1995, p. 13.
Commonweal. CXXII, May 5, 1995, p. 3.
Foreign Affairs. LXXIV, May, 1995, p. 154.
London Review of Books. XVII, June 22, 1995, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 16, 1995, p. 1.
National Review. XLVII, May 15, 1995, p. 20.
The New York Review of Books. XLII, May 11, 1995, p. 7.
The New York Times Book Review. C, April 16, 1995, p. 1.
The New Yorker. LXXI, May 8, 1995, p. 66.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 9, 1995, p. 3.
The Village Voice. June 6, 1995, p. 75.
The Wall Street Journal. April 14, 1995, p. A7.
The Washington Post Book World. XXV, April 23, 1995, p. 1.