American Internationalists and Vietnam

Barnet argues that the United States "managed" rather than "fought" the war in Vietnam. Both Whigs and Tories sought not revolution, but reform, a far more difficult task. American purpose became revolutionary when it sought to build a nation, and when the US military proved ill-equipped to pursue this goal at the same time that it sought to pacify Vietnam through protracted warfare. As the conflict grew increasingly problematic, necessitating improvisation, Whigs and Tories alike became "extremists" in their insistence on the necessity of achieving their goal as quickly as possible. Where both groups agreed on military security as the prime goal in Vietnam, they differed on the means to achieve this. Whigs like Roger Hilsman and Henry Cabot Lodge emphasized the need to work from the top to secure political liberty –an intangible, Hatcher suggests, that bullets could neither create nor destroy. Tories like Johnson and Robert McNamara stressed the necessity of working from the bottom of society–creating a solid economic infrastructure before worrying about constitutions, elections, or political corruption. The Whigs were also minimalists in their attitude toward using force to achieve this security, while Hatcher finds the Tories willing to employ all means to keep the enemy away from South Vietnam’s fixed economic assets–but not to provoke intervention by the Soviet Union and/or China.
Significant overlap occurred between Whig and Tory views, but discontinuities made the war unwinnable as early as January 1, 1965. Neither Kennedy and Lodge nor Johnson and Tory ambassador Maxwell Taylor ever identified the major problem Americans faced in Vietnam–locating the point at which the South Vietnamese leadership connected to the peasant mass. Had Washington done so, it might have thought twice about removing support for Diem late in 1963.

This decision,&nbsp.taken by the N.S.C. against the advice of the C.I.A., introduced chronic instability into South Vietnam’s politics–along with a bewildering succession of bakufu ("tent government") leaders who looked to increase their own power and fortune, rather than to win the hearts and minds of their people–whom Hatcher (after Eric Hobsbawm) suggestively calls "primitive rebels."