The above cartoons illustrate how important it is not just to study history, but to study history carefully. For those persons ignorant of history (not you) they are at sea without a rudder to steer, but for the casual student of history that “knows” a few “facts” the lessons drawn can have the most tragic consequences. How we know the past and how we know what lessons to learn is not just the stuff of TOK but the stuff of real life. The past is our only context for threats from ISIS or ISIL or North Korea or from our own law enforcement agencies or from new technologies like private drones creeping over your air space. Study the past, but study it carefully.
So look carefully here at Ambrose. How does he compare LBJ’s policies in Vietnam to JFK’s? About the same right? Now compare that to what you are going to hear from Robert MacNamara in our wonderful film, the fog of war. Mac will say JFK was planning on pulling out. In the film we will hear the voice of LBJ criticizing Mac and the late president for talking about pulling out.
So who is right? Can both be right? What does it matter my careful students of history?
What a sad chapter. The “tragic” figure of LBJ who had done “more for black Americans than any president since Lincoln found himself accused of fighting a racist war with racist methods”. How had this all come about? What was the genesis of the debacle, the quagmire of Vietnam that, I would argue has had more to do with our current debates (see cartoons above) than almost any other episode in history?
The Gulf of Tonkin. Other historians note that LBJ really didn’t want it to happen in 8/64, three months away from the election, as he had promised to keep American boys at home. Others, Ambrose here, say he “seized the opportunity” to show he was “tough on communism” especially in the face of his opponent, and unnamed target of the daisy ad, Barry Goldwater, who was threatening to use nukes to end the war. Ambrose also argues that there were no voices of dissent in the view to bomb and increase pressure, but gradually. George Ball is an interesting exception to that that Ambrose and Brinkley don’t bring up.
What they do bring up, counterinsurgency, the “fuzzy legal situation” of “South Vietnam” Diem’s relationship with his people pictured here;
which Ambrose and Brinkley argue resulted in no reevaluation of policy on behalf of JFK, though they are not without serious opponents of that position (McNamara as we shall see in Fog of war), the “strategic hamlets” , the “best and the brightest“ and comparisons to events in the Dominican Republic and concurrent events in Middle East are all just the beginning of the convoluted story of the US war in Vietnam.
Its a sad chapter.