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Vietnam's Second Front

Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War

Andrew Johns

Publication Year: 2010

The Vietnam War has been analyzed, dissected, and debated from multiple perspectives for decades, but domestic considerations—such as partisan politics and election-year maneuvering—are often overlooked as determining factors in the evolution and outcome of America’s longest war. In Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War, Andrew L. Johns assesses the influence of the Republican Party— its congressional leadership, politicians, grassroots organizations, and the Nixon administration—on the escalation, prosecution, and resolution of the Vietnam War. This groundbreaking work also sheds new light on the relationship between Congress and the imperial presidency as they struggled for control over U.S. foreign policy. Beginning his analysis in 1961 and continuing through the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, Johns argues that the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations failed to achieve victory on both fronts of the Vietnam War—military and political—because of their preoccupation with domestic politics. Johns details the machinations and political dexterity required of all three presidents and of members of Congress to maneuver between the countervailing forces of escalation and negotiation, offering a provocative account of the ramifications of their decisions. With clear, incisive prose and extensive archival research, Johns’s analysis covers the broad range of the Republican Party’s impact on the Vietnam War, offers a compelling reassessment of responsibility for the conflict, and challenges assumptions about the roles of Congress and the president in U.S. foreign relations.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright page

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pp. vii-x

George Orwell believed that “writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor under-stand.” Most historians probably have similar feelings about their books at some point; I know I certainly did. But, overall, this has been a fascinating odyssey ...

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pp. 1-10

We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means . . . for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.The division between “domestic” and “foreign” policies no longer has ...

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1. Trapped between Scylla and Charybdis: JFK, the GOP, and Domestic Politics

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pp. 11-42

The line dividing domestic and foreign affairs has become as indistinct as a line drawn in water. All that happens to us here at home has a direct and intimate bearing on what we can or must do abroad. All that happens to us abroad has a direct and intimate bearing on what we can or must do at home. If we err in one place, we err in both. If we succeed in one place, we have a ...

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2. The Cassandra Conundrum: GOP Opposition to LBJ’s Vietnam Policy, 1963–1965

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pp. 43-78

According to the Iliad, Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, was so beautiful that the sun god, Apollo, became infatuated with her. After agreeing to become Apollo’s consort, Cassandra received the gift of prophecy, but before the relationship was consummated, she rejected him. Enraged that a mere mortal spurned his love, Apollo cursed Cassandra so that no one believed her predictions. The gift became an endless source of frustration and pain for her. During the war with the Greeks,...

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3. Opening Pandora's Box: Escalation and Domestic Politics, 1965–1966

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pp. 79-118

For Lyndon Johnson, the operative mythological characters in 1965 were not Scylla and Charybdis or Cassandra, but rather Pandora. According to Greek myth, the gods gave Pandora a box with instructions not to open it. Before too long, however, curiosity overcame her, and she opened the box, unleashing havoc and all manner of evil on the world. It is unfortunate that Johnson did not heed the lessons of the...

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4. Confronting the Hydra: LBJ on the Defensive, 1966–1967

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pp. 119-158

The reaction to the Americanization of the Vietnam conflict posed serious political problems for the president. Like Heracles confronting the Hydra—the mythical beast that would grow two heads when one was severed—Johnson found himself dealing with opposition to his policies from both conservatives and liberals. In what became a political juggling act of monumental proportions, the president battled a multiheaded opposition on Vietnam as the war evolved. As he fought the forces advocating negotiations or withdrawal, he had to simultaneously fend off those who...

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5. Sisyphus and Tantalus: The Political Impact of the War, 1967–1968

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pp. 159-194

Hell, according to the English author Henry Gardiner Adams, is “truth seen too late.” For Lyndon Johnson and George Romney, no statement could more accurately summarize their experiences with Vietnam during 1967 and early 1968. Both had public epiphanies about the war that would cost them a chance to win the presidency, and they would spend the rest of their lives looking back with regret. Indeed, Johnson and Romney...

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6. The Zalmoxis Effect: Vietnam and the 1968 Presidential Election

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pp. 195-236

The pantheon of Greek gods ranges from the almighty Zeus—king of the gods, supreme ruler on Mount Olympus, god of thunder and the sky—to lesser-known but colorful deities like Adephagia (goddess of gluttony) and Priapus (god of fertility). One of the more obscure gods was Zalmoxis, who assumed human form and disappeared in the underworld for three years before returning in the fourth. Although a ruler and god of the underworld...

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7. The Icarus Agenda: Vietnamization and Its Political Implications

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pp. 237-278

Politicians, after all, are not over a year behind Public Opinion. Richard Nixon had dreamed of being president for decades. With his defeat of Hubert Humphrey, that ambition was finally realized. Yet, on assuming the mantle of the presidency, he discovered that the freedom to say and do as he saw fit that he had enjoyed as a nonincumbent no longer existed. The new presi-...

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8. Whither Ariadne?: Domestic Politics and Nixon’s Search for Peace

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pp. 279-324

The pursuit of “peace with honor” proved frustrating for the Nixon administration. Why? Part of the answer is that, until the very end of the war, neither side had much incentive to negotiate. Both Washington and Hanoi believed that the other would fold under pressure if the right leverage was applied. But a more fundamental reason is that Nixon simply lacked a blueprint for departure. What he needed was his own Ariadne, a guide...

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Conclusion: Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

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pp. 325-340

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength, and if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain. Never forget: when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted, and ...

Appendix: Republicans, 1961-1973

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pp. 341-344


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pp. 345-394


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pp. 395-426


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pp. 427-434

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813173696
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125725

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Executive power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Party affiliation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Legislative power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States.
  • Politics and war -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1961-1963.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1969-1974.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1963-1969.
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