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An examination of president lyndon johnson and the participation of america in the vietnam conflict

Tensions over Vietnam helped ensure that the Wilson-Johnson relationship was probably the worst between any British prime minister and US president. These two leaders had established a political friendship of great cordiality, frequent consultation and mutual respect.

What caused President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War?

Wilson did favour this pro-American line, with the result that in general terms his government backed US policy in Vietnam. But unlike the mandarins of the Foreign Office, he also needed to address Labour Party and public opinion.

This unforgiving climate of opinion meant that the Labour government could not consent to providing troops for Vietnam, a matter which the Americans first raised in December 1964, at a summit meeting in Washington.

It soon became clear that the refusal rankled with Johnson. Fearing an exaggerated American response, he discussed the matter with his Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, at 11: After further consultations, at about 3: Wilson returned to the question of a meeting in Washington, but Johnson tried to dismiss him entirely by asking: Johnson was essentially a parochial as well as somewhat vulgar politician and was far more interested in domestic politics than foreign policy.

The economy had suffered for some years as a result of uncompetitive industrial practices, an overvalued pound, and a resulting failure to prosper in foreign markets.

American History: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War

Britain therefore needed American help to maintain the parity of sterling. Thus the contemporary legend that British policy towards Vietnam, which in any case fell short of what the White House wanted, derived from some financial arrangement has little substance. Labour won the general election in March with a decisive 94-seat majority — a great improvement from the single-figure margin with which Wilson had previously had to contend - but the victory brought a substantial influx of fractious and anti-American left-wingers who could not be ignored.

On 28 June 1966, the United States began bombing POL petrol, oil, lubricants facilities in the North Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong, a move regarded in many quarters as directed mainly against civilians. Johnson opposed the idea of a further visit, as it might appear that the British leader was crossing the Atlantic in order to tell him how to conduct himself — as Clement Attlee had seemed to do when he saw President Truman in December 1950, at the height of the Korean War.

On 4 July, Wilson more or less pleaded with Bruce in order to secure another trip to the White House: To his relief, the Prime Minister gained his meeting, and when in Washington his pledges of continued fealty to the United States brought at least a temporary rehabilitation of the relationship between him and Johnson.

The President once recorded that with regard to Vietnam there were over 70 peacemaking initiatives during his presidency, and of these initiatives the British were responsible for nine. The Wilson government had several motives behind putting forward its various arbitration schemes.

Firstly, as well as ending the sheer destruction and bloodshed in Vietnam, success in peacemaking would extricate its American allies from a difficult situation; secondly, it would prevent any possible escalation of the war to involve China and the Soviet Union; thirdly, visible efforts to mediate would soothe feelings within the Labour Party and among the British general public; and, finally, for Wilson personally, well-publicised mediation efforts would bolster his standing with the Labour Party and on the world stage.

The two most prominent British attempts to start peace negotiations were the Commonwealth Peace Mission of June 1965, and the Kosygin initiative of February 1967. In June 1965 Wilson and three other leaders of Commonwealth nations announced that they would speak to the governments chiefly concerned to try to bring about a peace settlement in Vietnam.

Publicly, Washington was willing to support the project, not least because a reluctance to do so would antagonise world opinion. In private, however, there was a great deal of cynicism about the Commonwealth scheme.

As with the Commonwealth Peace Mission, Hanoi had given no intimation that it was ready to make significant concessions at the negotiating table, and for reasons of its own Washington decided to toughen its own policy toward negotiations at the eleventh hour.

  • The opposition Republican Party generally supported the war efforts of Lyndon Johnson, who was a Democrat;
  • With the benefit of hindsight it becomes clear that all three historical interpretations of the Vietnam War are incorrect;
  • For instance on Christmas Eve 1964 the Vietcong bombed a bar often frequented by U;
  • Johnson taped in secret during his time in the White House.

Bruce had to dissuade him from the usual impulsive desire to make a transatlantic odyssey to try to sort things out with the President: Vietnam continued to strain the Anglo-American relationship. Yet especially with regard to Vietnam, the Prime Minister struggled to please all of the people all of the time. As a social democratic government with ample experience in diplomacy, British support, qualified though it was, went some way in helping to legitimise American policy in Vietnam.


However, in the absence of British troops, Johnson and his advisers were never inclined to take heed of British concerns about the course of the war; it must be underlined that Britain did not manage to exert any moderating effect upon American military operations. Nor of course did the schemes to broker a peace achieve much, either in terms of easing tensions between the Americans and the North Vietnamese or in terms of enhancing British standing in American eyes.

  • So he offered his own proposals;
  • Even so, the President most associated with military escalation in Vietnam is Johnson;
  • On 4 July, Wilson more or less pleaded with Bruce in order to secure another trip to the White House;
  • The two most prominent British attempts to start peace negotiations were the Commonwealth Peace Mission of June 1965, and the Kosygin initiative of February 1967;
  • Again, it invited the North Vietnamese government to negotiate an end to the fighting;
  • Fear for his Great Society as well as concern for U.

The White House seemed to regard the British initiatives as motivated above all by happy delusions of winning Nobel peace prizes, and it was ironic, considering the poor personal relationship, that in public perceptions Wilson remained too close to the President to be able to play the role of disinterested mediator.

Vietnam helped ensure that the Wilson-Johnson relationship was an especially troubled one, characterised by varying shades of strain, resentment and mutual incomprehension. How far the apparently cosy relations between Tony Blair and the White House continue to prevail remains to be seen. Harold Wilson, Lyndon B. Manchester University Press, 2004.