Lesson Summary 9 The Vietnam War Era 9.2 America’s Role Escalates
Lesson Summary 9 The Vietnam War Era 9.2 America’s Role Escalates In February 1965, President Johnson took the United States deeper into the Vietnam War by ordering a large bombing campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder. Despite massive and sustained airstrikes, communist forces continued to fight. Johnson then ordered more troops to fight them on the ground. This more active strategy came primarily from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General William Westmoreland, the American commander in South Vietnam. In addition to conventional bombs, American pilots dropped napalm and sprayed Agent Orange. Napalm is a jellied gasoline that covered large areas in flames. Agent Orange is an herbicide that destroys plant life. It was used to disrupt the enemy’s food supply. When the U.S. troops fought on the ground, it was rarely in large battles. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army fought with guerilla tactics in the jungle, trying to wear the United States down because they knew they could not win a traditional war. They followed Ho Chi Minh’s doctrine, which stated that fighting should never be on the opponent’s terms. Communist forces used hit-and-run attacks, nighttime ambushes, and booby traps. It was also difficult for the U.S. troops to know which Vietnamese person was a friend or an enemy. By 1967, the war had become a stalemate. By 1968, more than 30,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam. Despite the many times Johnson asserted that victory was near, each year yielded little progress. Troop morale began to fall. The costs of the war had also grown each year, straining government finances. Government spending had lowered the unemployment rate at home, but it had also led to rising prices and inflation. President Johnson was forced to raise taxes, and social programs at home had to be cut. The war was being questioned in Congress. In 1967, Congress was divided into two camps: hawks and doves. Hawks supported the war and believed they were fighting communism. Doves questioned the war on moral and strategic grounds. They were not convinced that Vietnam was a vital Cold War battleground.