Diplomatic Presidential and Cultural Lessons of the Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War was the longest deployment of U.S. forces in hostile action in the history of the American republic. Although there is no formal declaration of war from which to date U.S. entry, President John F. Kennedy's decision to send over 2,000 military advisers to South Vietnam in 1961 marked the beginning of twelve years of American military combat. U.S. unit combat began in 1965 (Anderson, 1999). During this time there were many significant lessons that were learned and still affect the way that war’s are fought today. I will discuss the most significant lessons as it relates to diplomatic negotiations, presidential leadership, and cultural/social contexts. I believe that the single most significant lesson that I have learned this far about diplomatic negotiations during the Vietnam War is the American lack of a specific negotiating strategy.

The American negotiating position can be traced back to April 1965. Until that time, the United States did not really have a negotiating position because it did not believe in negotiations as a means of ending the war. . As late as April 2, Secretary of State Rusk spoke disparagingly: “What is there to be negotiated? Who is going to negotiate, and to what end?” He complained that what was missing was “some private contact that indicates that a satisfactory basis of settlement can be found.” (Draper, 1967).

In 1966, the key issue increasingly became the cessation of American bombing of North Vietnam. The more destructive the bombing, the more determined the North Vietnamese were to stop it before entering into anything resembling negotiations (Draper, 1967).

The most significant event relating to presidential leadership occurred in the summer of 1966. President Johnson seemed to put forward a more concrete condition. He said that the United States had offered to stop the bombing immediately “if they will stop sending troops into South Vietnam.” This seemed to imply that North Vietnam did...
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