U.S. Department of State
96/04/30 FRUS, Vol II and III, 1964-68, Vietnam War
Office of the Historian
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
United States Department of State
April 30, 1996
President Lyndon Johnson's decisions in the spring and summer of 1965 to launch an air war against North Vietnam and a major deployment of ground troops to South Vietnam were turning points in U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volumes II and III, document the policymaking process that led the President and his advisers to take these decisions. Several factors contributed to increased U.S. intervention, including the deteriorating military situation, the instability of the South Vietnamese Government, and the rising consensus within the U.S. Government to make a stand in Vietnam against the spread of Communism. The decision to intervene and the subsequent military buildup coincided with an intensive effort to open peace talks, including a month-long pause in the bombing of North Vietnam beginning at the end of 1965. Volume II covers U.S. policy from January through mid-June 1965; volume III covers the remainder of the year.
These two volumes, prepared by the Department of State's Office of the Historian, continue the Department of State's expanded coverage of the documentary history of the Vietnam war. The Vietnam volumes for 1965 are extensive and intensive, each documenting 6 months of policy deliberation and decisions. The Foreign Relations volumes on Vietnam are the most comprehensive published collection of documents on the war, surpassing the "Pentagon Papers," which were made public with much controversy during the war. Unlike the "Pentagon Papers," whose authors did not have access to White House files, these Foreign Relations volumes rely heavily on the records of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his aides. They continue the tradition, begun with the first volumes on President Eisenhower's Vietnam policy, of using expanded sources. In addition to extensive research at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, the editors examined and selected records from the Departments of State and Defense and Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the papers of key officials such as General William Westmoreland, Averell Harriman, General Maxwell Taylor, General Harold Johnson, John McNaughton, and Senator Mike Mansfield.
During the early months of 1965, political chaos in the south and the ineffectiveness of the South Vietnamese military greatly concerned U.S. policymakers. In the end, a group of young general officers headed by Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky replaced the civilian government with a new military governing council that was more compliant with the way the United States wanted to wage the war. Through a number of political and military measures, the U.S. Government tried to shore up the regime in Saigon and increase its authority in the countryside.
In February, the United States mounted a bombing campaign, code-named Rolling Thunder, against North Vietnam after a series of Viet Cong attacks on U.S. facilities in South Vietnam. The bombing failed to deter Hanoi from supporting the southern insurgency, however, and the number of Communist attacks and the southward infiltration of North Vietnamese troops and supplies increased. The continuing deterioration of South Vietnam's ability to defend itself prompted the President's national security team to recommend a greater U.S. role, concurring with the assessment of the Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, General William C. Westmoreland, who on June 7 requested 44 battalions.
President Johnson heard competing views within his administration about the escalation. Under Secretary of State George Ball's strong opinion against intervention was the most notable dissent. On the other side, General Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs of Staff assured the President that a large U.S. military presence could achieve victory within 2 years. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk all believed that the deployment of U.S. ground forces would stave off defeat for South Vietnam. Therefore, on July 28, the President announced his decision to deploy major combat forces to Vietnam, and the United States became a full partner in the war.
Extensive efforts to bring about peace talks throughout 1965 were disappointing. In an April 7 speech, the President offered a massive development program as an incentive for the North Vietnamese to engage in negotiations. Hanoi countered with unacceptable conditions for talks known as the Four Points. Initiatives to start talks through the auspices of the United Nations and other countries failed. The administration held discussions with a North Vietnamese representative in Paris, but these talks also came to nothing. An attempt to exploit a seeming split within the ranks of the National Liberation Front likewise was disappointing.
At the end of 1965, the administration initiated what became a month- long pause in the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The Johnson administration hoped that the pause would demonstrate to North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh the administration's interest in peace talks, appease mounting domestic criticism, and prepare the public for the large deployments expected in 1966. Pressure on the President to resume the bombing was great, especially from his military leaders, who were concerned that the enemy would take advantage of the pause.
The Office of the Historian has prepared summaries of the two volumes. For further information, contact David S. Patterson, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1127 (fax: (202) 663-1289). Copies of the volumes may be purchased for $37.00 each ($46.25 each for foreign orders) from the U.S. Government Printing Office. Please use the following information when ordering.
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume II, Vietnam, January-June 1965 GPO Stock No. 044-000-02405-5; ISBN 0-16-045126-4
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume III, Vietnam, June-December 1965 GPO Stock No. 044-000-02406-3; ISBN 0-16-045129-9
U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents
P.O. Box 371954
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954
Phone (202) 512-1800
Fax (202) 512-2250
(GPO accepts Visa and MasterCard)