Lyndon B Johnson1908-1973
Born in Texas
Democratic Vice President under Kennedy 1961-63
Infamous for his overbearing personality and for his behind the scenes operations which escalated the war in Vietnam without a national debate or consensus. Johnson tried to follow what he believed was Kennedy's approach to Vietnam, even though Kennedy himself had hinted towards US disengagement in Vietnam on the recommendation of his advisors. Yet Johnson was sure that Kennedy would not have pulled out of Vietnam given the present communist threat in the region. In 1964, Johnson, absorbed in his presidential election campaign against Barry Goldwater and knowing that an escalation in Vietnam could jeopardize his election, promised the American public that he would not send troops to Vietnam. However, he secretly increased the number of US personnel to almost 24,000 men and the economic assistance to 50 million dollars. He also appointed General William Westmoreland as commander of the US military operation in Southeast Asia.
On August 4th, 1964 the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident took place where US warships were allegedly attacked off the coast of North Vietnam. Without conclusive evidence that the attack had actually taken place, Johnson ordered air strikes on North Vietnam. He then asked Congress for a resolution that would allow him to counter any further attacks with force. Johnson lied about the spying activities that the US warships were engaged in, and that no one in the US Navy could confirm the attack . The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution became the centerpiece of US policy in Vietnam.
In 1965, after a number of incidents and nine US servicemen being killed in Pleiku, Johnson initiated Operation Rolling Thunder; a high-scale bombing campaign of North Vietnam which in turn initiated the start of full scale US combat operations in Vietnam. Between 1965 and 1968, Johnson would deploy some 536,000 US servicemen.
As the presidential elections of 1968 approached, Johnson was disillusioned and could find no way out except to step down and not seek re-election. By the time he left office, his involvement in Vietnam had killed 30,610 US servicemen and destroyed his presidency. He is today still considered one of the most unpopular presidents in US history.