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American involvement in Vietnam was the product of the United States government’s foreign policy of “containment.” Containment refers to the financial, military and diplomatic effort to prevent the spread of communism throughout the world pursued by the United States from 1948 to 1991. The conflict in Vietnam was a proxy war of the much larger and diffuse Cold War between the US and the USSR. Fighting in Vietnam began as a civil war between communists in the North, and French-backed pro-Westerners in the South. The United States government committed itself to helping the South Vietnamese cause and preventing communist North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh from uniting Vietnam under communist rule. This commitment took many different forms in the years prior to 1964, including money, secret military presence and the training of Vietnamese armies. Beginning in 1965, the ground war escalated. By 1966 over 200,000 US troops were in Vietnam and by 1969, over 550,000. The Vietnam conflict is extremely controversial, and was so from the very beginning. While American interest and involvement in Vietnam preceded President Johnson, the war became his greatest failure. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, Johnson was an intimidating presence; however, the decision to go to war in Vietnam and the ensuing quagmire managed to diminish Johnson’s stature and reputation. Eligible for a second term in 1968, Johnson declined to run again because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam conflict.
Bill Crawford Collection, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University (Reprinted by permission of Claire O. Crawford)