Memos for President Johnson
Year 1965 was a crucial period for it tested the prevailing power between the Democratic America and the Communist China and Russia. The war in Vietnam was a breakthrough for the Communists that a victory over the war may lead to domination of most Asian countries. U.S. on the other hand, was at the same prepared to fight the ideology of democracy.
The critical period led the Johnson administration to decide what alternative to take as proposed by the members of his cabinet. Some of these proposals were submitted in form of memorandum, in which two of those gave the president an idea what to choose. Both the memos of George Ball and William Bundy were in response to President Johnson’s possible involvement in the Vietnam War in 1965. Both gave opposing opinion about the outcome of the war and thus presented different course of action. However, both agreed that the war was crucial and in a maximum risk. It is noted that France who was first involved in the war had lost Vietnam because of the participation of Communism in the land. The memos were written after six months since the start of war in Vietnam in January.
George Ball’s memorandum for President Johnson entitled “A Compromise Solution in South Vietnam” dated July 1, 1965 presented his disagreement in the US participation in the war. For him, the war was a compromise and leaving no hope for victory for both South Vietnam and America. It was a losing war as evident in the defeat of the American and South Vietnamese troops in the hands of Viet Cong, and would cause much defeat and disgrace to U.S. In his letter, he offered alternatives followed by logical reasons why they had to withdraw their forces in Vietnam soil, with its mounting consequences that included huge number of casualties and fatalities, national and international humiliation, and war cost. Ball did not see any assurance of victory ahead. He cited the sneak attack on the Da Nang Air Base despite nine thousands marines on guard. One of the causes for the defeat according to him was the civilians’ involvement by tipping off the North Vietnamese group about the US military tactics.
Despite he preceded his statement with the negative impact of the war, yet he also suggested the deployment of 15 battalions in the area because it was already announced. However, bombing must concentrate only in the North avoiding the Hanoi and Haiphong area. Hanoi was a place to start a negotiation according to him that involved achievement of the Viet Cong’s political objectives or agenda. Negotiation would have to take place in the absence of military infliction in the land. As a result, America could still maintain its allies in Asia particularly Japan, Thailand, and Philippines.
On the other hand, McGeorge Bundy’s memo encouraged the idea of deploying more US troops in Vietnam except in part of Hanoi. The memo with title, “Holding on in South Vietnam” expressed the idea of pursuing extensive force against the North Vietnam by involving in the war to control the spread of communism in the land. In his statement, he explained that his was a “middle-way” course of action simply because the deployment of about 75,000 marines with air-mobile division using B-52s against the enemy would bring glory to America in the eyes of the world especially of Thailand as another point of entry of Communist China. In his opinion, the course of action would eventually weaken the Communist control of the Viet Cong, which he saw as a good opportunity to perform a political reform plan for the country. He concluded his memo by persisting that the difficulty that the United States was suffering because of the uncertainties of success in the Vietnam War was still the best option so far among many alternatives because according to him, “the middle way program seems to … avoid the clear pitfall of either of the major alternatives” (p. 286). As a summary, he mentioned that their effort could “sustain the credibility of U.S. action in Asia and world-wide” (p. 286).
The world has learned the lesson of the Vietnam War, its enormous losses both lives and properties. America had increased the tax imposed on its citizens by ten percent to cover the financial losses due to this war. President Johnson lost his popularity rating and increased oppositions in the national and international political arena. This lesson is enough to consider also George Ball’s memorandum along the course of action proposed by Bundy. I mean, taking an offensive side against the Viet Cong, the U.S. should have also put limitation to the military aid that they had deployed in Vietnam; they should have taken the precautionary measures contrary to the all-out war, which seemed to be a desperate action as witnessed by the world. Johnson should not have caused many American and Vietnamese lives because of his interest.
Nevertheless, while it is true that America had incurred tremendous losses in the war, I believe that American involvement in the war was dutifully bound, as they were the vanguard of democracy and freedom. The rise to power of communism in Russia and China is enough to warn America that the reds were up on their feet towards dominating the world. With communist success in Vietnam, it will send a strong signal in most part of Asia and Europe that they are indeed the dominant power. Thus, though both men may have reservations on the war and they saw it to be a losing war on the part of America, they still give their approval and recommendations to send strong force in Vietnam in the hope they could at least halt the advance of communism in Asia.
“A Compromise Solution in South Vietnam.” Memorandum for the President from George Ball. 1 July 1965. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon4/doc260.htm
“Memo: 30 June 1965 – Holding on in South Vietnam – W. Bundy.” Memo from W. Bundy, Holding on in South Vietnam.” http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon4/doc259.htm
Gettleman, Marvin E. Vietnam and America: A Documented History (Second Edition). New York: Grove Press, 1995.