Case Study 1: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War

Leaving Cert > The United States and the WorldCase Study 1: Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War
President Johnson decorates soldiers on a visit to Vietnam.
US involvement with Vietnam begin under President Eisenhower and continued under President Kennedy, but it was the man who came after him who ended up most associated with it. Lyndon Baines Johnson was Kennedy's Vice President, becoming President himself when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Vietnam was to become the first war that the United States would lose. In this case study, you'll examine how President Johnson tried, and ultimately failed, to turn the tide in a war he didn't really believe in himself.

"I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out. I don't see that we can ever hope to get out of there once we are committed. It's just the biggest damn mess."
   - President Lyndon Johnson, private phone conversation, 1964

  • Johnson Becomes President
    • Supported the Domino Theory. Believed that US influence in south-east Asia depended on a victory. He didn't want to be the first President to lose a war.
  • The "Candidate of Peace"
    • Ran for re-election in 1964 against Barry Goldwater, who suggested using nuclear weapons
    • Johnson ran as the candidate of peace and won in a landslide, but was faced with two dire options: withdraw and let North Vietnam win or commit a large number of troops.
  • The Gulf of Tonkin
    • North Vietnamese boats fired on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. They reported the same thing a few days later.
    • Controversy: was this genuine or was it a set-up by the US patrols?
    • What led Congress to pass the Tonkin Resolution? What did it allow Johnson to do?
  • The War Escalates
    • What was Operation Rolling Thunder? Besides attacks, what else did Johnson announce for the South?
    • Build-up: How many US troops were stationed in Vietnam by 1967? How much was the war costing?
    • Four Points vs Fourteen Points: Were the US and the Vietnamese close to negotiating? Why?
    • What tactics was the US using in the war? What happened in My Lai in 1968? How was success measured? How was napalm used? How many bombs were dropped? Why did the war turn against the Americans?
  • The Tet Offensive
    • What was the Tet Offensive? What was its impact? How did it affect Johnson's leadership? US Generals wanted more troops - why did Johnson believe this wasn't possible?
    • How was Johnson affected by the credibility gap and the anti-war movement?
    • How did he attempt to change his policy?
  • Results of the Vietnam War: What were they?


Survivors of the My Lai massacre in 1968.


Higher Level (100 marks each)
2016: Who was the greater president, Truman or Johnson? Argue your case, referring to both.

2014: What were the strengths and weaknesses of Lyndon Johnson as a political leader?

2013: Which president was more successful in his handling of US foreign policy, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson? Argue your case, referring to both.

2011: Why did the US lose the Vietnam War?

2010: What were the successes and failures of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson?

2006: Which had a greater impact on the United States: involvement in Korea or involvement in Vietnam? Argue your case, referring to both.


Ordinary Level
2016, The United States and the World, Part C:
Why did President Lyndon Johnson fail to achieve US aims in Vietnam, 1963-1968? (40)

2015, The United States and the World, Part C:
What policies did Lyndon Johnson follow in relation to the war in Vietnam? (40)
2012, The United States and the World, Part C:
How did President Harry Truman conduct foreign affairs between 1945 and 1953? (40)
What problems did President Johnson encounter in dealing with Vietnam? (40)

2011, The United States and the World, Part B:
Write a short paragraph on the Cuban Missile Crisis. (30)

2011, The United States and the World, Part C:
What did Harry Truman achieve as President of the United States? (40)

2010, The United States and the World, Part C:
How successful was Lyndon Johnson as a political leader at home and abroad? (40)

President Johnson listens to a recording by his son-in-law, Marine Captain Charles Cobb, in Vietnam.

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