Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War: Learning Objectives & Activities

Instructor: Jessica Lyons
Use the lessons in this chapter to understand President Lyndon B. Johnson's strategies related to the Vietnam War. Then apply your knowledge to the key questions and learning activities below.

What's This Chapter About?

This chapter will help you understand the events of the Vietnam War during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. The lessons will focus on key events of the Johnson presidency, including Johnson's political and military strategies, American opposition to the Vietnam War, and Vietnamese political events throughout these years.

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you'll be able to:

  • Analyze how the events of the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis impacted the Vietnam War
  • Explain the instability in Vietnamese leadership from 1963-1972
  • Discuss events leading to the Americanization of the Vietnam War
  • Analyze factors that led to American opposition to the war
  • Analyze the People's Army of Vietnam, the National Liberation Front, and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam

People to Know

  • Lyndon B. Johnson - The 36th President of the United States, who served from 1965-1969. Johnson was initially resistant to expanding American involvement in the war, but eventually escalated involvement from support of South Vietnam to replacing South Vietnam as the primary fighting force.
  • General William Westmoreland - Commander of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, who developed a three-phase strategy of planning, attrition, and a general offensive for the Johnson administration.
  • Ngo Dinh Diem - President of the Republic of Vietnam until 1963, when he was assassinated as part of a military coup led by Duong Van Minh. This created a power vacuum that was filled by various leaders over the next ten years.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. - A leader of the civil rights movement who spoke out against the Vietnam War. Particularly, he protested sending black men to fight for a country that did not grant them equal rights, and using resources on a war abroad rather than social and economic programs at home.

Vocabulary to Know

  • Gulf of Tonkin Resolution - A resolution that was passed following the events of the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis, which gave Lyndon B. Johnson free reign in the exercise of force in Vietnam.
  • Civilian Government - Leadership of South Vietnam from 1964-1965, led by Phan Khac Suu and Phan Huy Quat, until being replaced by the Young Turks.
  • Operation Rolling Thunder - A massive air campaign over North Vietnam that used bombing in conjunction with the offer of a peace treaty in an attempt to end the war on favorable terms for the U.S.
  • People's Army of Vietnam - In conjunction with the National Liberation Front, this group worked as the political and military force of North Vietnam throughout the war.
  • The July Decision - The Johnson administration's decision to escalate the war in Vietnam to a total of 125,000 Americans, which meant that the U.S. was now the primary fighting force of South Vietnam.

Key Questions

After completing the lessons in the chapter Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War, answer the following questions to test your knowledge.

  • How did the events of the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis impact the Vietnam War?
  • Compare Johnson's approach to the war at the beginning of his presidency to his approach near the end of his presidency. How were they different? Why do you think that is?
  • What was the role of air warfare in the Vietnam War?
  • In 1964, the American public supported Johnson's Operation Pierce Arrow by 85%, but by 1965, opposition to the war was widespread. What were some factors that you think led to this shift in attitude towards the war?
  • What were some of the strategies used by North Vietnam to defeat the superior armed forces of the U.S.?

Build on Your Learning

After reading the lessons in the chapter Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War, you can use the activities below to apply what you've learned.


There were many leaders and styles of leadership in South Vietnam throughout the duration of the war. What problems do you think a 'revolving door' of leadership caused for this region, and for the U.S.? If one of these groups had been able to maintain control throughout the entire war, who do you think would have been most effective, and why?


What were the effects of Johnson's 'carrot-and-stick' diplomacy in Vietnam? What do you think Johnson could have done differently to be more successful in his diplomacy?


In the Vietnam War, the concept of success was defined not by territory held but by the body count of the enemy, which caused confusion in terms of victory and defeat. Imagine you are put in charge of helping Lyndon B. Johnson define 'success' in Vietnam. What are some other ways that the administration could have defined this concept?

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