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#213: Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War

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Thousands of anti-war protesters gather at United Nations Plaza in New York City, April 15, 1967, for a peaceful demonstration against America's involvement in the Vietnam War
Thousands of anti-war protesters gather at United Nations Plaza in New York City, April 15, 1967, for a peaceful demonstration against America's involvement in the Vietnam War

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

Today, we continue the story of America's thirty-sixth president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

(MUSIC)

Johnson was vice president to John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas in November of nineteen sixty-three. Johnson served the last fourteen months of the president's term. Then he won a full term of his own starting in January nineteen sixty-five.

Much of Johnson's time and energy would be taken up by the war in Vietnam.

(MUSIC)

By early nineteen sixty-four, America had about seventeen thousand troops in Vietnam. The troops were there to advise and train the South Vietnamese military.

Vietnam had gained its independence from France in nineteen fifty-four. The country was divided into North and South. The North had a communist government led by Ho Chi Minh. The South had an anti-communist government led by Ngo Dinh Diem.

(VIETNAM BATTLE SOUNDS)

In nineteen fifty-seven, communist rebels -- the Viet Cong -- launched a violent campaign in the South. They were supported by the government of North Vietnam and later by North Vietnamese troops. Their goal was to overthrow the government in the South.

President Johnson believed that the United States had to support South Vietnam. Many Americans agreed. They believed that without American help, South Vietnam would become communist. There were concerns about the so-called Domino Theory, that if South Vietnam fell, other Southeast Asian countries would also fall to communists.

(MUSIC)

As Johnson began his full term, his military advisers told him the communists were losing the war. They told him that North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong forces would soon stop fighting.

On February sixth, nineteen sixty-five, however, the Viet Cong attacked American camps at Pleiku and Qui Nhon. The Johnson administration immediately ordered air strikes against military targets in the North.

Some observers in the United States questioned the administration's policy. James Reston of the New York Times, for example, said President Johnson was carrying out an undeclared war in Vietnam.

In March nineteen sixty-five, the first American combat troops arrived in South Vietnam. Congress supported the president's actions at that time. However, the number of Americans who opposed the war began to grow. These people said it was a civil war. They said the United States had no right, or reason, to intervene.

For six days in May, the United States halted bombing of North Vietnam. The administration hoped this would help get the North Vietnamese government to begin negotiations.

The North refused. And the United States began to build up its forces in the South. By July, one hundred twenty-five thousand Americans were fighting in Vietnam.

Some Americans became angry. Anti-war demonstrations took place in San Francisco and Chicago.

(ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATORS)

More and more students began to protest. They wanted the war to end quickly.

Some people thought the anti-war demonstrations were only delaying peace in Vietnam. James Reston believed the demonstrations would make Ho Chi Minh think America did not support its troops. And that, he said, would only make him continue the war.

In December of nineteen sixty-five, the United States again halted its air campaign against North Vietnam. Again, it invited the North Vietnamese government to negotiate an end to the fighting. And, again, the North refused.

Ho Chi Minh's conditions for peace were firm. He demanded an end to the bombing and a complete American withdrawal.

Withdrawal would mean defeat for the South. It would mean that all of Vietnam would become communist. President Johnson would not accept these terms. So he offered his own proposals. The most important was an immediate ceasefire. Neither side would compromise, however. And the fighting went on.

In nineteen sixty-six, President Johnson renewed the bombing in North Vietnam. He also increased the number of American troops in South Vietnam.

(MUSIC)

Nineteen sixty-six was also a year for congressional elections. The opposition Republican Party generally supported the war efforts of Lyndon Johnson, who was a Democrat. But it criticized him and other Democrats for economic problems connected to the war.

The war cost two billion dollars every month. The price of many goods in the United States began to rise. The value of the dollar began to drop. Americans faced inflation and then a recession.

To answer the criticism, administration officials said progress was being made in Vietnam. But some Americans began to suspect that the government was not telling the truth about the war.

Opposition to the war led to bigger and bigger demonstrations.

In July nineteen sixty-seven, just over half the people questioned for opinion surveys said they did not approve of the president's policies. But most Americans believed that Johnson would run again for president the next year.

Johnson strongly defended the use of American troops in Vietnam. In a speech to a group of lawmakers he said:

"Since World War II, this nation has met and has mastered many challenges-challenges in Greece and Turkey, in Berlin, in Korea, in Cuba. We met them because brave men were willing to risk their lives for their nation's security. And braver men have never lived than those who carry our colors in Vietnam at this very hour. The price of these efforts, of course, has been heavy. But the price of not having made them at all, not having seen them through, in my judgment would have been vastly greater."

(MUSIC)

Then came Tet -- the Vietnamese lunar new year -- in January nineteen sixty-eight.

(VIETNAM BATTLE SOUNDS)

The communists launched a major military campaign. They attacked thirty-one of the forty-four provinces of South Vietnam. They also struck at the American embassy in the capital, Saigon.

CBS REPORTER GEORGE SYVERTSEN: "Military Police got back into the compound of the two-and-a-half million dollar embassy complex at dawn. Before that, a platoon of Viet Cong were in control. The communist raiders never got inside the main chancery building. A handful of Marines had it locked and kept them out. But the raiders were everywhere else."

CBS News reporter George Syvertsen described more of the fighting in Saigon and how it affected civilians in a poor part of the city.

SYVERTSEN: [Gunfire] "This neighborhood is called 'the chessboard' because of the maze of alleys and passageways. Its residents are mostly poor working people, and its slums are a refuge for Saigon's hoodlum and criminal elements.  Vietnamese Rangers and Marines move carefully, blasting buildings and possible Viet Cong hiding places before moving ahead. This was the first time heavy fighting has taken place in Saigon proper. Until now, most of it has been in the Chinese section of Cho Lon and in the suburbs. [Gunfire]

"The V-C [Viet Cong] were difficult to dislodge. They obviously knew the section well and had built barricades in key spots. The Rangers and Marines took casualties, [Gunfire] mostly from hidden snipers. As soon as a section had been cleared, more terror-stricken civilians scurried out of their homes, thousands of them fleeing from the bullets and explosives, and, even more dangerous, a fire that began to rage out of control.

"Residents in nearby buildings began dragging their most precious possessions out of their shops and homes. Saigon's water supply system is operating only at seventy percent of normal, so fires are a serious menace.

"For these people, many of whom had fled the war from outlying villages, this is the cruelest blow. The curfew has kept them from making a living. Food prices have tripled since the fighting began a week ago. And now, their homes are being destroyed."

(MUSIC)

Thousands of people were killed in the Tet Offensive. The communists suffered heavier losses than the South Vietnamese or the Americans. But many Americans were surprised that the communists could launch such a major attack against South Vietnam. For several years, they had been told that communist forces were small and losing badly. General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. military operations in Viet Nam, spoke with reporter George Syvertsen:

GEORGE SYVERTSEN: "General, how would you assess yesterday's activities and today's? What is the enemy doing? Are these major attacks or..." [explosion]

GENERAL WESTMORELAND: "The enemy, very deceitfully, has taken advantage of the Tet truce, in order to create maximum consternation within South Viet Nam, particularly in the populated areas. Now, yesterday, the enemy exposed himself by virtue of this strategy, and he suffered great casualties."

As a result of the offensive, popular support for the administration fell even more.

Democrats who opposed President Johnson seized this chance. Several ran against him for the party's nomination in nineteen sixty-eight. These included Senator Robert Kennedy of New York and Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Kennedy and McCarthy did well in the early primary elections. Johnson did poorly.

At the end of March nineteen sixty-eight, the president spoke to the American people. He discussed his proposal to end American bombing of North Vietnam. He talked about his appointment of a special ambassador to start peace negotiations. And he announced his decision about his own future:

LYNDON JOHNSON: "I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office -- the presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

Another major issue facing America in the nineteen-sixties was the civil rights movement, which sought to ensure equal rights for black Americans.  That will be our story next week.

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

Contributing: Jerilyn Watson

This was program #213. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

林登.约翰逊是美国前总统约翰.肯尼迪的副总统。肯尼迪1963年11月在达拉斯遇刺身亡,约翰逊继任总统,做完了肯尼迪剩下的14个月任期后,又当选连任,从1965年1月开始第二个任期。约翰逊的很多时间和精力花在了越南战争上。

1964年初,美国有大约一万七千人驻扎在越南,负责为南越武装出谋划策,提供军事培训。越南1954年脱离法国独立后,分为南北两部分,北越是胡志明领导的共产政权,南越是吴庭艳领导的反共政权。

1957年,南越反政府的共产武装--越共发动暴力运动,他们得到了北越政府和北越部队的支持,目的是推翻南越政府。约翰逊总统认为,美国必须支持南越,很多美国人也认同这种看法。他们认为,没有美国的支持,南越就会被共产主义吞噬。多米诺骨牌效应让大家忧心忡忡,他们担心,如果南越变天,那其它东南亚国家也会陆续成为共产主义阵营的一部分。

约翰逊当选连任时,军事专家告诉他说,北越共产主义武装节节退败,北越部队和南方的越共不久就会停止战斗。然而,1965年2月6号,越共对美国在波来古和昆蒿两处营地发动攻击。约翰逊政府立即下令,对北方的军事目标发动空袭。

美国一些分析人士对约翰逊的政策提出质疑,当时纽约时报的詹姆斯.赖斯顿就曾表示,约翰逊总统是对越南展开了一场没有宣布的战争。

1965年3月,第一批美军战斗部队抵达南越。约翰逊的行动得到了国会的支持,但是反战的美国民众却越来越多。他们指出,越南打的是内战,美国无权,也没有理由出兵干预。

1965年5月,美国连续六天停止对北越的轰炸,希望这样做能让北越政府同意谈判,但是遭到了北越的拒绝。于是,美国开始向南越增兵,到7月份的时候,在越南的美军已经增加到了12万5千人。一些美国人感到愤慨,旧金山和芝加哥都爆发了反战抗议示威游行。参加抗议的学生不断增加,他们希望战争立刻结束。

与此同时,另外一些人则认为反战抗议只会延缓越南的和平。纽约时报的詹姆斯.赖斯顿指出,反战抗议会让胡志明觉得美国人不支持自己的部队,从而增加他把战争打下去的决心。

1965年12月,美国再次暂停对北越的空袭,邀请北越政府展开停战谈判,结果再次遭到北越的拒绝。胡志明的停战条件很明确,停止轰炸,美国全面撤军。

美国全面撤军就意味着南越战败,意味着整个越南被共产力量所吞噬,这是约翰逊总统无法接受的。为此,他拿出了自己的提议,其中最重要的一条是立即停火。结果,双方谁都不肯让步,战火继续燃烧。1966年,约翰逊总统下令恢复对北越的空袭,同时增加了派驻南越的美军兵力。

与此同时,1966年也是国会选举年。共和党总体上支持民主党总统约翰逊在越战问题上的政策,但就越战带来的经济问题,对约翰逊和其他民主党人提出批评。

当时,越战每个月要耗费20亿美元,美国国内物价上涨,美元比值下跌,美国面临通货膨胀和经济衰退的危险。约翰逊政府官员反驳说,越战正在取得进展。但是一些美国人开始怀疑,政府并没有讲实话。反战浪潮高涨,抗议示威游行的规模越来越大。

1967年7月时,百分之50多一点的人在接受民意调查时表示,自己不认同约翰逊总统的政策,但是大多数美国人都认为,约翰逊次年会争取参选连任。

约翰逊坚决捍卫出兵越南的决定。他在一次对国会议员的讲话中说:"二战以来,这个国家接受并征服了很多挑战,包括在希腊,在土耳其,在柏林,在韩国,在古巴。我们接受挑战是因为勇敢者为国家安全不惜冒生命危险,现在在越南的美军将士是最勇敢的人。战争的代价是沉重的,但是如果不付出努力,不坚持战斗,在我看来,代价要大得多。"

1968年1月,越南农历新年到了。北越发起一场重大军事行动,对南越44个省中的31个省发起攻击,美国在西贡的使馆也遭到袭击。当时哥伦比亚广播公司的记者乔治.赛弗森说:"凌晨时分,宪兵重新进入了这座价值250万美元的使馆大院。在这之前,大院一直被一个排的越共所控制,一些美国海军陆战队员死死守着使馆办公处,越共才始终没能冲进去。"

赛弗森还详细描述了西贡的冲突以及冲突给西贡贫民区居民带来的影响。他说:"这个居民区因为巷子纵横交错,被称为棋盘。这里的居民大多是穷苦劳工,这里也是西贡犯罪分子的藏身之处。越南突击队员和海军陆战队员小心翼翼地向前推进,捣毁越共可能藏身的任何地方。这是西贡第一次发生激烈冲突,此前大部分冲突都发生在中国人聚集的堤岸区和郊区。"

赛弗森还说,"越共很难找,他们显然对这片地区很了解,在重要关口设置了路障。突击队员和海军陆战队员有一些人员身亡,主要是被冷枪击中。一片地区被证明安全后,马上就会有很多惊慌失措的贫民百姓从家里跑出来,成千人逃命,更危险的是,一场大火的火势开始失控。"

他继续说:"附近的居民也纷纷带着自己最值钱的家当从店铺和家里跑出来。西贡的水力供应能力只有正常水平的百分之七十,所以火灾的风险不容忽视。很多人都是从附近的村庄逃难到西贡来的,这次袭击对他们是一次沉重打击。戒严让他们没法出去赚钱养家,冲突开始一周来,食物价格上涨了三倍,如今,他们连家都没了。"

越南农历新年发生的这场冲突造成数千人死亡。北越共产党人比南越和美国人的损失更为惨重。不过,很多美国人对北越能向南越发动如此大规模的攻击感到惊讶。很多年来,他们听到的一直都是,共产武装力量势单力薄,正在节节溃败。美国驻越南的军事行动总指挥威廉.威斯特摩兰接受纽约时报记者赛弗森采访时有如下对话。

赛弗森问:"威斯特摩兰将军,你对昨天和今天的行动有何评估?敌人在干什么,这算是重大袭击吗......"?威斯特摩兰回答说,"敌人很狡猾,他们利用了农历新年的停火期,想要在南越造成最大程度的恐慌,特别是在人口密集的地区。昨天,敌人采取这种战略,结果暴露了自己,损失惨重。"

这次进攻行动的发生,让约翰逊政府的民众支持度进一步下跌。反对约翰逊总统的民主党人抓住这个机会,在1968年的总统候选人提名大会上出来挑战约翰逊,其中包括纽约参议员罗伯特.肯尼迪和明尼苏达州的参议员尤金.麦卡锡。肯尼迪和麦卡锡在初选中表现非凡,超过了约翰逊。

1968年3月底,约翰逊总统对全国人民发表讲话。他谈到了建议停止轰炸北越的提案,谈到了任命特使,启动和平谈判,并同时宣布了自己未来的计划。他说:"我认为,我不应该把一天,或是一个小时的时间拿出来,用于个人的党派事务或其它任何事情,而是应该集中精力做好我的总统。因此,我不会寻求,也不会再次接受下届总统的提名。"

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