May 21, 2017

WAS VIETNAM WINNABLE?

Yes. Next question?

And note this:

In fact, my most recent research, focused on the events of 1967, casts important new light on how domestic conversations about war can have a decisive effect. Among the most fascinating developments of 1967 was the Johnson administration’s regret about its decision to refrain from generating support for the war by discussing the necessity for it in public. The lack of public enthusiasm for the war, administration officials now realized, was encouraging the enemy to believe that the United States would eventually abandon its ally, and therefore North Vietnam had no reason to desist.

“The administration made a deliberate decision not to create a war psychology in the United States,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk remarked that October, because it was “too dangerous for this country to get worked up.” Johnson, Rusk and other officials had feared that war fever would undermine the domestic programs of the Great Society and heighten tensions with the Soviets. But now, Rusk conceded, “maybe this was a mistake; maybe it would have been better to take steps to build up a sense of a nation at war.”

During 1967, White House advisers and foreign leaders repeatedly urged Johnson to change course, to tell the American public why the United States was in Vietnam and what it was trying to achieve. But Johnson could not bring himself to do it, even as he increasingly recognized the damaging consequences of his silence. “If history indicts us for Vietnam,” Johnson admitted in the fall, “it will be for fighting a war without trying to stir up patriotism.”

In the absence of presidential cheerleading, American public support for the war declined over the course of 1967. As administration officials had feared, the apparent weakening of American resolve hardened the determination of the North Vietnamese to persist. Hanoi rebuffed every American overture for peace negotiations, anticipating that the coming Tet offensive would destroy what remained of America’s will.

There was another factor as well. When the buildup in Vietnam was led by the handsome young charismatic JFK, DC elites were happy to go along; they only began to sour on the war when it was led by someone who was “not our class, dear.” As Jeffrey Lord wrote in the American Spectator in 2012:

Slowly, and then not so slowly, these elitist, arrogant and if not outright snotty attitudes sought out a new target during the years when LBJ was sitting in the White House — when, in the view of these people, “Uncle Cornpone and his Little Pork Chop” had replaced the King and Queen of Camelot.

That new target?

The American people themselves. They had, after all, elected LBJ in a landslide in 1964. Now Uncle Cornpone was the elected President of the United States. To make matters more unbearable, LBJ was using his newfound power and popularity to actually pass the liberal agenda of the day, which Johnson labeled “The Great Society.” Uncle Cornpone, it seemed, wasn’t such a ridiculous figure after all when it came to getting the liberal wish list through the Congress.

No one better than JFK would have known instantly what a huge mistake this elitist attitude would be. Discussing the relationship of a presidential candidate with the American people, JFK had told historian and friend Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President series, that, in White’s re-telling, “a man running for the Presidency must talk up, way up there.” It was a principle Kennedy surely would have applied to his own party — and did so while he was president. Not from JFK was there a drop of elitist contempt — from a man who unarguably could claim the title in a blink — for his fellow countrymen.

But in a horrifying flash, JFK was gone. And the elitist tide spread.

Not coincidentally, east coast elite “liberals” such as David Halberstam would sour at the war being led by someone they despised for class reasons, a story that would be repeated once again, and is happening today.

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