Armor in Vietnam

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He is the author of The Lost Crusade: America in Vietnam (1970), a scholarly memoir of the war, and an autobiography, In the Shadows of History: 50 Years Behind the Scenes of Cold War Diplomacy (2005). Chester Cooper died in October 2005 at age eighty-seven. We miss him. T HO MA S L . S. Army in 1964 or 1965, rather than ‘‘lose’’ South Vietnam. Tom Hughes is a graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and a graduate of Yale Law School. He became involved as an adviser during the 1950s to several senior Democratic Party politicians.

Call it a hypothesis. It looks to us as though JFK and LBJ have deeply incompatible bottom lines. We now know that JFK was willing to absorb whatever political consequences might follow from his effort to avoid a war over missiles in Cuba that he was not confident he could control once he initiated it. JFK’s bottom line was: it’s too dangerous, therefore no war. LBJ, on the other hand, seems unwilling to countenance the appearance of military defeat. His metaphor, ‘‘crumple,’’ speaks volumes about his approach to the crisis.

The 1964 election was not about Vietnam, which to the American public was still just one of many Third World hot spots in the global Cold War. The election was about hardcore liberalism versus hard-core conservatism, focused on the Democratic side mostly on domestic issues such as education, civil rights, and government programs for the poor and the elderly. The Democratic landslide provided a mandate for the ambitious federal social programs that lay at the heart of the liberal agenda Lyndon Johnson had fervently embraced throughout his career as a congressman and senator.

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