On a relatively quiet Sunday evening in March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson found time to have dinner with his wife. The couple discussed Vietnam. Lady Bird Johnson recorded her husband as saying: ‘I can’t get out, and I can’t finish it with what I have got. And I don’t know what the hell to do!’ (Beschloss 2001: 316). The current chapter is preoccupied with Lyndon Johnson’s agonies, his decisions and his mistakes. It focuses on the key Washington decisions of the mid-1960s: the train of events leading from the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin crisis to escalation of American involvement in 1965. We will give particular attention to the figure who, besides President Johnson, is most commonly identified with the hardening of American policy in Vietnam: national security adviser Walt Rostow. The chapter will consider key questions about the Americanization of the war. Why did LBJ decide to escalate? Did he consciously reject the ways of peace and choose war? What were the chances of achieving a negotiated solution in the mid-1960s? Before going along this track, however, we will — as in the first sections of Chapters 4 and 5 — consider political developments in South Vietnam, changing strategic choices in Hanoi, and the shifting role of the major communist powers.
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