Lyndon Johnson inherited a war along with the presidency in November 1963, a war he was never sure how to win but dared not to lose. He also inherited a group of advisors, civilian and military, who clashed over the most basic questions of the use of military force. On Capitol Hill, a sympathetic Congress supported administration policies until the costs mounted and the internal disagreements surfaced. The new president had been a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of John F. Kennedy’s policies. He had traveled to Vietnam and proclaimed President Ngo Dinh Diem the “Winston Churchill of Southeast Asia.”5 He endorsed the deployment of 16,000 US military advisors as a necessary measure to block the advance of Communism. As a seasoned politician, Johnson was particularly concerned about avoiding the outcomes which befell Harry Truman, who tolerated the Communist takeover of China, sent American troops into ground combat in Korea, ignored warnings of provoking Chinese intervention, had to fi re his popular

but insubordinate military commander, and then lost the battle for public opinion regarding his military policies. In all of his subsequent decisions, one can see Johnson’s preoccupation with maintaining military, congressional, and public support for his conduct of the war in Vietnam. In his fi rst days as president, Johnson told his advisors, “I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.” But he also made clear that Vietnam was not his highest priority: reelection was. As he told the Joint Chiefs at a reception just before Christmas 1963, “Just get me elected, and then you can have your war.”6