This essay will be 2-3 pages. The term “credibility gap,” was made popular during the Johnson administration’s handling of the Vietnam conflict. The term refers to the growing distance between reality and official claims and statements from the White House about the conflict in Vietnam. Johnson’s credibility or trustworthiness was, as the war wore on, increasingly called into question by the American public. One major event that seemed to confirm this credibility gap was the release of the Pentagon Papers.
1. Read Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 speech, “Why We Are in Vietnam.” Pay close attention to the central arguments Johnson offers his audience for why the United States is in Vietnam, as well as to his characterizations of U.S. enemies and allies.
2. Read the excerpts from the Pentagon Papers. Pay attention to what these statements suggest about what is happening in Vietnam and why it is happening.
3. In writing, compare and contrast the information in Johnson’s speech with that found in the Pentagon Papers and support or refute the thesis: There was indeed a credibility gap in the government’s public portrayal of the conflict in Vietnam. You must provide at least 3 examples to support your view. These examples must point to specific language in both the speech and the Pentagon Papers quotations.
The following helpful quotations are excerpted from the U.S. Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War, published as: The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Departments History of the United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam: 1945-1967, 5 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971, 1972). Full text of the report is available athttp://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/.
“In 1956, almost any type of election that could conceivably be held in Vietnam would, on the basis of present trends, give the Communists a very significant if not decisive victory.”
“Nationalist appeal in Vietnam is so closely identified with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet-Minh movement, even in areas outside communist control, candidates and issues connected with ‘nationalism’ and supported by the Viet-Minh would probably be supported by the majority of people.”
“South Vietnam (unlike other countries in Asia) was essentially the creation of the United States.”
“The CIA official in Saigon (South Vietnam), Edward Lansdale, described the government of South Vietnam in the late 1950’s as an ‘emerging fascist state.’”
“In 1964, the CIA, the State Department, and Defense Intelligence Agency believed that the primary sources of communist strength in South Vietnam are indigenous*.”
“In 1965, the President of South Vietnam, President Thieu, according to George Ball (State Department official), believed that, ‘the communists could still win any election held in South Vietnam.’”
4. You should also use supporting material from the course readings, esp. George Herring, The Longest War.”
5. As you frame your analysis, keep in mind that Johnson made this speech in 1965 and left office in 1968. The Pentagon Papers were not released until 1971. For real-time news coverage of the events, consult the databases of the UMUC library and NARA.gov.
*Indigenous means native or original. In this context, it means that most of the communists in South Vietnam were South Vietnamese, not North Vietnamese infiltrators.