THE BOMBING HALT: Johnson's Gamble for Peace

  • Share
  • Read Later

THE Viet Nam war has divided and demoralized the American people as have few other issues in this century. It led, on March 31, to Lyndon Johnson's renunciation of the presidency in the realization that he might well have been defeated for reelection. Its steadily growing cost was perhaps the greatest single obstacle to Johnson's hopes of building a Great Society for the U.S. in its cities, countryside and classrooms. The war's ugliness, and the often misunderstood reasons behind U.S. participation in it, greatly contributed to the rebelliousness of America's young. More than anything else, it has been Hubert Humphrey's identification with the President's war policy that has cost him Democratic and independent support throughout the election campaign. Thus it came as the supreme irony of the Johnson Administration that, as Americans prepared to go to the polls this week to vote for another President, the agony of Viet Nam appeared about to be alleviated.

In a televised address to the nation that may rate as the high point of his career, the President announced: "I have now ordered that all air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Viet Nam cease," effective twelve hours after he spoke. "What we now expect—what we have a right to expect—are prompt, productive, serious and intensive negotiations." When those negotiations resume in Paris this week, the morning after the U.S. elections, representatives of both the Saigon government and the Viet Cong are expected to take part—though Johnson emphasized that the Communists' participation "in no way involves" U.S. recognition of the Viet Cong's political representatives. Johnson gave no hint of what, if any, concessions Hanoi offered. Presumably there was some quid pro quo, but in order to spare Hanoi embarrassment among its allies, most notably Peking, the U.S. may keep the specific terms secret as long as possible. Still, the President made it clear that if North Viet Nam takes advantage of the pause—such as massive violation of the Demilitarized Zone or the shelling of cities—the U.S. will not hesitate to resume the bombing. "We could be misled—and we are prepared for such a contingency," he said.

More than any other phase of the Viet Nam war, the bombing of the North aroused emotional opposition both in the U.S. and abroad. But ending it was not an easy decision. By holding back the U.S. bombers, Johnson risked repudiating a major element of his own policy. But he also assured his reemergence, in his final months in office, from under the war's clouds.

With a Micrometer. Johnson's decision was of the kind few outgoing chief executives have ever had to face. It was complicated immensely by the closeness of the election; he had to judge whether a halt would help Humphrey or be considered a cynical ploy. All the same, when he announced a partial bombing halt last March 31, and simultaneously renounced a second term in office, his popularity rating spurted 13 points. Were Humphrey's standing in the polls to increase by even a third of that amount, his already growing chances to overtake Richard Nixon in the presidential race might be materially enhanced.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7