The War Bells Have Rung: The LBJ Tapes and the Americanization of the Vietnam War

University of Virginia Press
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In the summer of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson faced an agonizing decision. On June 7, General William Westmoreland had come to him with a "bombshell" request to more than double the number of existing troops in Vietnam. LBJ, who wished to be remembered as a great reformer, not as a war president, saw the proposed escalation for what it was—the turning point for American involvement in Vietnam.

This is one of the most discussed chapters in modern presidential history, but George Herring, the acknowledged dean of Vietnam War historians, has found a fascinating new way to tell this story—through the remarkable legacy of LBJ’s taped telephone conversations. Underused until now in exploring Johnson’s decision making in Vietnam, the phone conversations offer intimate, striking, and sometimes poignant insights into this ordeal. Johnson emerges as a fascinating character, obligated to pursue victory in Vietnam but skeptical that it is even possible, the whole while watching his plans for domestic reform threatened. The president walks a fine line between a military he must placate and a Congress whose support he must maintain as he tries to implement his Great Society legislation. The reader can see the flaws in the Cold War sensibility contributing to Johnson’s tragic attempt to hold ground against an enemy with whom he had no leverage.

The cast includes many of the era’s most iconic players, such as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Westmoreland ("I have a lot riding on you," LBJ tells him—"I hope you don’t pull a MacArthur on me!"), House minority leader Gerald Ford, anti-war advocate Robert Kennedy ("I think you’ve got to sit down and talk to Bobby," LBJ tells McNamara), and former president Eisenhower, a valuable contact in the Republican camp.

A concise, inside look at seven critical weeks in 1965—presented as a Rotunda ebook linking to transcripts and audio files of the original presidential tapes— The War Bells Have Rung offers both student and scholar a vivid and accessible look at a decision on which LBJ’s presidency would pivot and that would change modern American history.

Miller Center Studies on the Presidency is a new series of original works that draw on the Miller Center's scholarly programs to shed light on the American presidency past and present.

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About the author

George C. Herring, Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky, is the author of the landmark From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 as well as America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 and LBJ and Vietnam: A Different Kind of War.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Virginia Press
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Published on
Jul 28, 2015
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Pages
28
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ISBN
9780813938516
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
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This content is DRM protected.
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The Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multi-volume history of our nation in print. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize-winners, a New York Times bestseller, and winners of prestigious Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. From Colony to Superpower is the only thematic volume commissioned for the series. Here George C. Herring uses foreign relations as the lens through which to tell the story of America's dramatic rise from thirteen disparate colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast to the world's greatest superpower. A sweeping account of United States' foreign relations and diplomacy, this magisterial volume documents America's interaction with other peoples and nations of the world. Herring tells a story of stunning successes and sometimes tragic failures, captured in a fast-paced narrative that illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation, and highlights its ongoing impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. He shows how policymakers defined American interests broadly to include territorial expansion, access to growing markets, and the spread of an "American way" of life. And Herring does all this in a story rich in human drama and filled with epic events. Statesmen such as Benjamin Franklin and Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman and Dean Acheson played key roles in America's rise to world power. But America's expansion as a nation also owes much to the adventurers and explorers, the sea captains, merchants and captains of industry, the missionaries and diplomats, who discovered or charted new lands, developed new avenues of commerce, and established and defended the nation's interests in foreign lands. From the American Revolution to the fifty-year struggle with communism and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, From Colony to Superpower tells the dramatic story of America's emergence as superpower--its birth in revolution, its troubled present, and its uncertain future.
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Praised in the New York Times Book Review for its "Herculean power of synthesis," George C. Herring's 2008 From Colony to Superpower has won wide acclaim from critics and readers alike. Years of Peril and Ambition: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1776-1921 is the first volume of a new split paperback edition of that masterwork, making this award-winning title accessible to those with a particular interest in the first half of the United States' history. This first volume of Herring's international narrative charts the rise of the United States from a loose grouping of British colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast of North America into an emerging world power at the end of World War I. It tells an epic story of restless settlers pushing against weak restraints; of explorers, sea captains, adventurers, merchants, and missionaries carrying American ways to new lands. It analyzes countless crises, some resulting in war and others resolved peacefully. Above all, it is the tale of United States' expansion, commercial and political, across the North American continent, into the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean regions, and, economically, worldwide. Herring brings this first segment of America's dramatic emergence as a superpower to a close with the United States' post-World War I rise to the status of the world's most powerful nation, poised -- however unsteadily --for global engagement in what would be called the American Century. Years of Peril and Ambition highlights the ongoing impact of the nation's international affairs on the household names of U.S. history but also on ordinary citizens. Featuring a grand cast of characters, encompassing statesmen and presidents, diplomats and foreigners, and rogues and rascals alike, this fast-paced account illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation.
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