Vietnam and the American Political Tradition
The Politics of Dissent
Edited by Randall B. Woods
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2003
Online Publication Date:November 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511615375.010
In 1969, after Richard Nixon became president of the United States, he and other Republicans liked to complain of the mess they had inherited in Vietnam. “The Democrats' War,” they referred to it, or “The Liberals' War.” It was a curious charge. That the Nixon team faced an extraordinarily difficult situation in Southeast Asia at the start of 1969 cannot be doubted; the choices were few and awful. But they and their party had much to do with this sordid state of affairs. The initial decision to try to create and sustain a non-communist bastion in southern Vietnam in the mid-1950s had been made under a Republican administration, not a Democratic one. More important, when Lyndon Johnson Americanized the war in 1965 his strongest support on Capitol Hill came from the GOP. As LBJ complained to Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen on the phone in late February of that year, “I'm getting kicked around by my own party in the Senate, and getting my support from your side of the aisle.” He would make that lament many times in the years that followed. Democrats much more than Republicans were reluctant to make Vietnam an American war, while in the press community pillars of the “liberal” establishment such as the New York Times and the New Republic were from an early point arguing that Vietnam was not worth the price of a large-scale war.