Johnson's Military Strategies for American Success

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  • 0:03 Johnson's War Strategy
  • 1:33 Defining Success
  • 2:23 Limited Engagements in 1965
  • 4:23 Buying Time in 1966
  • 5:32 Light at the End of…
  • 6:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

From 1965 to 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to develop military strategies for ensuring success for the United States in the Vietnam War. Learn about how Johnson expected to defeat North Vietnam in this lesson.

Johnson's War Strategy

Following the introduction of American combat troops into the Vietnam War on March 8, 1965, the United States was faced with the task of developing a strategy to defeat the National Liberation Front, or NLF, and the People's Army of Vietnam, or PAVN. This lesson will cover the ground war in Vietnam, and it will explain the multitude of options that President Lyndon B. Johnson explored and implemented from 1965 to 1967.

During the summer of 1965, General William Westmoreland, Commander of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), proposed a three-phase plan for defeating North Vietnam to Johnson. Phase I called for strategic planning throughout 1965 as well as logistics build up and cautious engagement of the enemy. Phase II, to be implemented in 1966, recommended large-scale attrition warfare against the enemy within the confines of South Vietnam and a significant troop increase. Phase III called for a general American offensive against North Vietnam during 1967.

Johnson complied and divided American forces throughout South Vietnam to assist in Westmoreland's strategy. The United States utilized the military division of South Vietnam, or the Corps Tactical Zones (CTZs), that had been in place since the 1950s to locate American forces and implement objectives. For reference, the United States Marines operated in the I CTZ; the United States Army in the II, III and IV CTZ; and the United States Air Force in all CTZs.

Defining Success

Before getting too far along in this lesson, it is important to define what success was for the United States ground war in Vietnam. Unlike past American conflicts, the United States maneuvered within defined parameters rather than maintaining tactical control of secured areas. For example, during the Second World War, the United States 'island hopped' in the Pacific in order to defeat the Japanese.

In the Vietnam War, the United States engaged in search-and-destroy missions, which was locating and neutralizing the enemy within South Vietnam. It did not hold territory. Instead, the United States measured success during the war by applying the 'body count' metric. The notion behind 'body count' tied success to the amount of North Vietnamese soldiers and insurgents that were killed. Needless to say, this was a complicated method of defining success, but it fit into the model of attrition warfare.

Limited Engagements in 1965

The goal of 1965 was to maintain limited American operations within South Vietnam in order to prepare for larger efforts in the future. Johnson attempted to maintain this limited approach throughout the year. On April 1, Johnson authorized the deployment of 20,000 Marines to enhance wartime logistics. He followed that increase by sending 44 combat divisions to Vietnam in July, which raised the American presence to 125,000 soldiers.

While the United States Army was slowly being introduced into the war, the United States Marines Corps primarily engaged in defensive tactics and pacification in the I CTZ. Johnson called for the Marine Corps to protect American air bases in support of the air war over North Vietnam. He then switched to the enclave strategy in April, which utilized the Marines to protect South Vietnamese villages and cities. As villages were deemed secure, the Marines would advance to another location and again conduct security operations while eliminating enemy adherents.

Johnson also had the Marine Corps engaging in pacification within its assigned region. Its major development was the Combined Action Platoons in August. This was a bilateral effort between the Marines and the Vietnamese members of the Popular Forces, a militia unit, to help rebuild and secure villages and cities that had seen members of the NLF and PAVN removed. This was a way of winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese while providing the Marine Corps with additional troop support. Remember, the I CTZ was a large area of land for just one section of the United States armed services to maintain.

Simultaneously, Johnson prepared for the enlargement of American forces. During the year he adjusted the Selective Service System, or the draft, to fit the wartime realities of the United States. Johnson's version of the draft expanded the age range from 18 to 35, allowed for college graduates to be selected and removed the exemption for married men. Over 100,000 Americans were drafted in 1965; this ballooned to over 300,000 conscripted in 1966, 1967 and 1968.

Buying Time in 1966

The buildup of 1965 provided the support that the United States needed to begin large-scale search-and-destroy operations against the NLF and PAVN in 1966. Johnson unleashed the United States Army against the North Vietnamese. Several important search-and-destroy missions are worth being noted: Operation Masher/White Wing, Operation Abilene, Operation Attleboro and Operation Irving.

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