Jeremy Keeshin

So What? * Joh nson, V ie tnam, & 19 68 *
The years when the United States was off fighting the Vietnam War abroad were years of unrest. The actions by the United States at the White House and at lower command levels were questionable, and the general American public was there to do the questioning. The Vietnam War under President Lyndon Baines Johnson was characterized by the fighting of an unpopular war with bad decision making up at the top levels of a rather hypocritical government. The events that occurred in 1968 were a pure testament to this. President Lyndon Johnson preached a message to the American public. It was a message of progress. He advocated his Great Society and his War on Poverty to compel the nation to act in the sake of progress. In a speech at the dedication of Central Texas Collect he spoke of the opportunity that America offered and his dream for education for all the children of the United States. This was happening in concert with the unpopular Vietnam War, where the actions of the United States were not of tolerance and opportunity and reflective of a “Great Society.” The next year, 1968, would make the United States finally confess to its deceit about the war to its civilians. The Tet Offensive and My Lai massacre were two examples that made the United States want to rethink its Vietnam strategy. Why were we in Vietnam in the first place? What goals did Johnson have in mind when he sent United States troops over there? Was the war escalating to a point and going in a direction the United States wanted? These questions all held ambiguous answers. We thought we were in there to stop the spread of communism. This was a war fought on the basis of containment…right? But when we continually fought in Vietnam with these shaky motives, it seemed like the basis of the war changed. The motives for the United States became foggier and convoluted. It became a war against --wait what are we fighting for again? Somewhere in the unneeded combat the reasons for United States involvement got lost and it swelled a strong anti-war movement at home. The majority of the civilians did not want to be involved with Vietnam, and this spawned an era of draft dodgers and war protesters. The war protests found their way into the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was common knowledge that Johnson’s Vietnam plan was not working, and he knew this enough to withdraw his candidacy. This left the democratic ticket open to many anti-war activist senators such as Senator Eugene McCarthy from Wisconsin and Senator Robert Kennedy. Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic ticket, but his similar views with Johnson on the Vietnam War did not bode well for him in the presidential election. The protesting in Chicago culminated in what was called the “Battle of Michigan Avenue,” where police had to forcefully stop protestors. The government was clearly not getting the message that its people were sending them: No one wanted to be in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive and My Lai massacre was what put the United States government over the edge in Vietnam. With these clearly blatant failures by the United States Military, it was evident that something was amiss. When the Vietcong invaded Saigon and the U.S. Embassy during the weeklong truce holiday for the Lunar New Year

Jeremy Keeshin Tet, the government finally started to acknowledge where it had erred. He called for deescalation in Vietnam after his persistent hawkish moves. The Tet Offensive made the government evaluate the war, and it finally started to realize its mistakes. However, there was no easy exit strategy in Vietnam, as so much had been invested there. My Lai only added to the troubles. The brutal murdering of civilians by lemminglike soldiers was an instance where the United States did not act in good taste. Women and children who may not have even been the enemy were rounded up and shot in a Nazi-like fashion. It appeared from this event, that the United States did not even know whom they were fighting. Their enemy was not two-year-old Vietnamese children. Their enemy was the Communist Vietcong. This became the pattern of the United States in Vietnam: fighting without a true purpose. The civilians back at home did not want to be fighting in Vietnam. The many enlisted soldiers did not want to be fighting in Vietnam. The government was stubborn in its fighting in Vietnam. Was Johnson too committed in Vietnam to pull out? It is a possibility. Johnson was similar in his action in Vietnam as Bush is in the current fighting in Iraq. The people have a general idea of what they are fighting for, but it gets lost in the length and brutality of the war. In Vietnam we were halting the Communists of North Vietnam and helping South Vietnam. In Iraq we are helping set up a democracy. Those were the initial goals of the U.S. undertaking. As the war progressed the goals were not as clearly defined. What did Johnson, Vietnam, and the year 1968 demonstrate about U.S. policy? That it is very erratic, at times illogical, and not in accordance with the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. We as a country did not want to be in Vietnam, but we were nonetheless, and the actions there seemed almost moot. The Vietnam War put a damper on a portion of U.S. history. It was a time when the government acted not in the best wishes of its country or its people. It was a time when the United States fought an unwanted war abroad when it could not reconcile its Great Society and Civil Rights at home. It was a time of contradiction in a time of confusion. Why did we fight the Vietnam War?