Brendan O’Malley

Professor K.C. Johnson

Literature of American History II

Spring 2006

May 1, 2006



Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of the War in Vietnam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999) by Frederik Logevall



  • What is “The Long 1964” and why is it the focus of Logevall’s book? pp. xiii-xiv
  • What is Logevall’s concept of “credibility”? Why does he feel that it matters “at least as much in domestic terms as in international terms”? p. xvi
  • What is the relationship between the three interconnected themes (contingency, rigidity of American decision making on the war, and the failure of the opponents of escalation) that run through the book? p. xvi
  • What is the “inevitability thesis” and how well does it stand up to close scrutiny? pp. xvii-xviii
  • How does Logevall characterize the role of the Chinese and Soviet governments during this period? p. xviii
  • How does Logevall view the political situation within South Vietnam during “The Long 1964”? How does he describe the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)? p. xviii
  • Why did American policymakers fear premature negotiations? Why does Logevall take Dean Rusk to task on this score? pp. xx-xxi
  • In Logevall’s opinion, why did the top critics of escalation fail to stop it?  pp. xxii-xxv


Chapter 1

  • Why does Logevall start his narrative in Paris? What were the implications of Charles de Gaulle’s statement regarding Vietnam on August 29, 1963? pp. 1-3
  • How would you characterize the government of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu? What happened to inflame concerns about their regime in May 1963? pp. 2-3
  • Why does Logevall start his story in August 1963?
  • Why does it seem plausible for that Nhu began making contacts with Hanoi in the summer of 1963? Why would it seem plausible from Hanoi’s perspective? pp. 7-12
  • What were the results of the Geneva Conference of 1954? What was supposed to happen in Vietnam in 1956 as a result of the conference? p. 8
  • What was the “Laotian model”? p. 8
  • Why did de Gaulle not really fear a reunified Vietnam under communist control? Why did he mean by “neutralization?” And why did he not push hard for negotiations?  pp. 13-16
  • Where did the British government of Harold Macmillan stand on Vietnam in 1962-63? pp. 17-20
  • What was Beijing’s attitude toward Vietnam in 1962 and 1963? p. 22
  •  Looking back over the first years of the JFK presidency, does Logevall see JFK as a “Cold Warrior par excellence”? p. 23
  • How might have the Bay of Pigs operation and the handling of the Berlin crisis effect JFK’s handling of Vietnam? What was the “psychological” as opposed to “territorial” domino theory? p. 31
  • How does Logevall view Kennedy’s decisions on Vietnam in the closing weeks of 1961? How did international and domestic opinion differ with regard to Vietnam compared to 1964-65? pp. 31-32
  • What reasons does Logevall offer for Dean Rusk’s hostility to a diplomatic solution for Vietnam? pp. 36-37
  • Did Kennedy really have no room to maneuver on his Vietnam policy in 1963 as he supposedly told newspaperman Charles Bartlett? What kind of political price would he have paid for a negotiated settlement? How much did the forthcoming election in 1964 enter his thinking? pp. 38-42


Chapter 2

  • What is the significance Logevall attaches to the eleven or twelve weeks before JFK’s death in regard to Vietnam? What is the “incipient withdrawal thesis”? What was it about American Vietnam policy in the fall of 1963 that made this thesis seem unlikely? p. 44
  • How did JFK’s administration react to de Gaulle’s statement? pp. 44-48
  • What made the Kennedy administration think that Nhu wanted a deal with Hanoi? What was the “pressure” vs. “reconciliation” schism within the administration and what problems did each side of the argument have? pp. 48-53
  • Why was greater international and domestic attention being paid to the war in 1963? p. 55-61
  • When a new regime overthrew the Ngo brothers and executed them, what was the U.S. perception? Were American assumptions about the new regime correct? pp. 64-65
  • How did the New York Times change its editorial stance on Vietnam in November 1963? pp. 67-68
  • How does Logevall assess the “incipient withdrawal thesis” and JFK’s general Vietnam policy at the time of his death? pp. 69-74


Chapter 3

  • Does Logevall see a shift in Vietnam policy with Johnson’s accession to power? How did the specter of China falling to the communists during Truman’s presidency effect Johnson? What was it about LBJ that made it unlikely that he would reassess existing policy? pp. 75-80
  • What tensions arose between the new Minh government and American policy? How did France exacerbate these tensions? p. 80-84
  • What course did Prince Sihanouk choose for Cambodia by late 1963 and what impact did it have on American Vietnam policy? pp. 85-88
  • What was “indigenous neutralism” in South Vietnam and why were American officials so threatened by it? p. 89
  • How did McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara counter pro-neutralization opinions pressed by figures like Mike Mansfield in January 1964?
  • How did Hanoi react to Diem’s overthrow and LBJ’s accession to power? pp. 94-95
  • What was the administration’s reaction to the pending French recognition of Beijing? What implications did this rapprochement have for Vietnam? pp. 95-99
  • What role did Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in General Nguyen Khanh’s overthrow of the Minh government? How did de Gaulle and prominent American critics like Walter Lippmann react to the coup? pp. 100-107


Chapter 4

  • Why does Logevall see McGeorge Bundy as being both right and wrong about 1964 being a “year off” with regard to Vietnam? pp. 108-110
  • Why were Americans optimistic about the Khanh regime immediately after the coup? Why did that optimism not last? pp. 110-114
  • Why was Dean Rusk’s complete disinterest in exploring political solutions even more pronounced in 1964 than they had been during the Kennedy administration? pp. 118-119
  • Why did many people in the Johnson administration push for bombing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in the spring of 1964 even though most believed that it would most likely not help the war effort? pp. 122-123
  • Why did Johnson feel the need to handle Henry Cabot Lodge particularly gingerly? p. 126
  • Why was NSAM 288, issued in March 1964, so important in laying the foundation for the following year’s escalation? pp. 128-130
  • Was Dean Rusk successful in convincing the allies of the significance of preserving an independent, non-neutral South Vietnam at the SEATO meeting in Manila in April 1964? Pp. 131-133   


Chapter 5

  • What was the position of Democratic senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening regarding Vietnam in the spring of 1964? Did top Democratic lawmakers embrace their position? Did it gain any traction in the American press? pp. 136-142
  • How did McNamara find the situation on the ground in South Vietnam when he visited in May 1965? What effect did his findings have on LBJ? pp. 144-145
  • How did events in Laos in May 1964 influence American attitudes toward neutralization as a solution? pp. 146-147
  • Was the administration convinced that the American public was ready for escalation in May and June of 1964? How did the international situation influence the Johnson administration’s willingness to escalate at this time? pp. 148-153      


Chapter 6

  • How does Logevall describe the Johnson administration’s information campaign in support American involvement in Southeast Asia in the summer of 1964? What were the different constituencies to which it was trying to appeal? pp. 154-155
  • What did the administration hope to accomplish by sending a Canadian emissary, J. Blair Seaborn, to Hanoi? Why didn’t the meeting open up negotiations at this time? How did Seaborn describe Hanoi’s position? pp. 155-164
  • What was the significance of LBJ’s replacements of Paul Harkins with William Westmoreland as the head of the Military Assistance Command in South Vietnam (MACV) and of Henry Cabot Lodge with General Maxwell Taylor as ambassador to South Vietnam? pp. 164-165
  • Why did the anti-escalation sentiments of senators Frank Church and Hubert Humphrey not gain much traction in the summer of 1964? pp. 169-171
  • What was the “more flags” policy? Why did the administration try to court de Gaulle again in the summer of 1964? What was the result of George Ball’s meeting with de Gaulle? pp. 173-178
  • What were the positions of Pakistan and Japan toward the war effort at this time? How about those of noncommunist countries in Southeast Asia? pp.179-182
  • How did the Johnson administration react to UN Secretary General U Thant’s public suggestion of a Geneva conference to create a neutralist government in South Vietnam? pp. 185-189
  • What were Beijing and Moscow’s attitudes toward a negotiated settlement in the summer of 1964? pp. 189-191         


Chapter 7

  • Why did it appear that events in Vietnam were coming to a critical turning point just before the American presidential election? pp. 193-194
  • How did Barry Goldwater and the conservative movement view LBJ’s Vietnam policy? Did their position help or hurt LBJ? pp. 194-195
  • Why did American officials fear the political collapse of South Vietnam more than the military collapse of the ARVN, at least for the remainder of 1964? p. 196
  • Why is Logevall skeptical about the administration’s version of the events during the Gulf of Tonkin episode? What may have provoked the initial attack on the Maddox on August 2? What evidence is there that an attack on the Maddox and C. Turner Joy happened on August 4? What actions did the administration justify with these incidents? pp. 196-200             
  • Did the administration engineer the Tonkin incidents? What is it about the timing that makes this seem possible? What were the domestic political ramifications? pp. 200-205
  • What were the North Vietnamese and Chinese reactions to the Tonkin affair and the ensuing U.S. air strikes on North Vietnam? pp. 207-209
  • How did the administration respond to U Thant’s post-Tonkin efforts to put together bilateral talks between Hanoi and Washington? pp. 210-213
  • Did the show of U.S. military force do anything to better the political situation in South Vietnam? What policy did administration officials propose following until the presidential election? pp. 213-218
  • What was the political turmoil that gripped South Vietnam in late August 1964? What was the situation with the ARVN? What were the circumstances of Khanh’s return to power? pp. 218-221


Chapter 8

  • What was the British “lie low” strategy in August and September of 1964? How did the tripartite talks on Laos threaten this policy? pp. 224-226
  • What was the ultimate significance of the September 1964 administration policy discussions for Logevall? p. 235
  • What was the nature of the administration’s pronouncements on Vietnam in the six weeks following up to the election? How did presidential politics effect the perceptions of LBJ’s Vietnam policy and how did those perceptions contradict what he was really planning? p. 236-238
  • Despite the administration’s backing of Khanh, what developments in September 1964 made officials begin to contemplate his ouster? What role did the Buddhists have in these developments? pp. 239-241
  • What does Logevall mean when he states that public support of the war effort was based on deception by the administration? pp. 242-243
  • What significance does Logevall attach to Undersecretary of State George Ball’s memorandum of October 5, 1964? pp. 243-246   


Chapter 9

  • Why does Logevall feel that LBJ had more options other than just escalation in the immediate postelection period? But what factors made escalation seem like the most logical choice to the administration? pp. 255-257
  • What was the range of options for future actions in Vietnam investigated by the National Security Council Working Group? pp. 257-260
  • How did Maxwell Taylor propose escalating the war by bypassing fragile South Vietnamese government? What did the appointment of new premier South Vietnamese Tran Van Huong and chief of state Phan Khac Suu demonstrate to Taylor? pp. 261-262
  • What was the military picture in South Vietnam in November 1964? pp. 262-263
  • What were the multiple ways in which LBJ’s decision to bomb the North contradicted past policy? And why did the administration proceed with it despite widespread pessimism about it achieving anything? What was the “good doctor” theory described by John McNaughton? pp. 270-274
  • How did British and French positions on Vietnam change after LBJ’s election? pp. 274-280
  • Where did American public opinion stand on the war toward end of 1964? And the certain major newspapers? pp. 281-284
  • How did many congressional Democrats respond to the escalation signals after the election? pp. 284-287
  • How does Logevall characterize the anti-escalation, pro-negotiation sentiment against LBJ at the end of 1964? pp. 287-288
  • How much does Logevall think that the international context influenced LBJ’s decision to escalate? pp. 289-292
  • Why does Logevall view “the continuing inability of the South Vietnamese leaders to live up to their end of the bargain” as the biggest reason LBJ still had freedom to maneuver in the months after the election? p. 292-295      


Chapter 10

  • How did the military situation in South Vietnam deteriorate even further at the very end of 1964 from the perspective of the Johnson Administration? pp. 302-303
  • How did LBJ keep a Senate debate on the war from taking place? pp. 306-307
  • Why did Khanh’s rapprochement with the Buddhist faction in South Vietnam concern American officials? pp. 311-312
  • How did to officials represent the administration’s attitude toward a negotiated settlement while planning escalation in January 1965? What kind of escalation was being debated? pp. 313-315
  • What impact did Khanh’s overthrow of the Tran Van Huong’s government on January 27 have on American policy? pp. 316-319
  • What was the political situation that McGeorge Bundy encountered on his visit to South Vietnam in early February 1965? What kind of reception did Bundy get from Khanh? What was the level of anti-American sentiment at this time? pp. 319-321
  • How does Logevall characterize the relationship between the National Liberation Front (NLF) and Hanoi at this time? What was Hanoi’s relationship to Beijing and Moscow at this juncture? pp. 321-323
  • What was the significance of the Vietcong attack on the U.S. helicopter base at Pleiku? What kind of retaliation did LBJ order? How did LBJ manufacture the appearance of consensus in the forty-eight hours after the Pleiku attack? How did LBJ choose to represent the post-Pleiku escalations to the public? pp. 324-332                    


Chapter 11

  • How does Logevall characterize LBJ’s attempt to conceal the escalations? In the four critical weeks following Pleiku, who does Logevall see as the most important critics of the war and how does he view their response to escalation? pp. 333-336
  • What was the response of allied leaders to the post-Pleiku retaliations? How did the New York Times view them? What was the response at the U.N.? pp. 336-343
  • How did the administration react to international pressure for negotiations? p. 343
  • What was “Operation Rolling Thunder”?  p. 344
  • What did Hubert Humphrey’s memorandum to LBJ submitted on February 17 advocate? pp. 346-347
  • What examples does Logevall use to demonstrate the administration’s intransigence toward negotiations during this period? pp. 348-357
  • How did the administration manage to contain prominent anti-escalation voices in Congress in February? pp. 357-360
  • How does Logevall characterize public opinion toward post-Pleiku retaliations? pp. 360-362
  • What was the significance of Khanh’s deposition and ascendancy of Air Marshall Nguyen Cao Ky? p. 362
  • What was the significance of the fulfillment of Westmoreland’s request for two battalions of marines to guard the air base at Danang? What was the international reaction to the wave of bombing preceding the marines’ landing? pp. 362-364
  • How did the sustained bombings change Hanoi’s policy? pp. 366-367
  • How did observers see non-escalation options dwindle after February 7? Was LBJ aware that his choices had narrowed? How did he react to Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s call for a pause in the bombing and a consideration of negotiations? pp. 369-371


Chapter 12

  • In the summer of 1965, how did LBJ instruct his aides to portray the escalation? p. 375
  • Why does Logevall feel that most historians have been overly dismissive of the genuine dilemma that JFK and LBJ faced in choosing the path of escalation? pp. 376-377
  • Why, in Logevall’s estimation, did the credibility theory bear now relation to the reality of the international situation in 1964-1965? What were the results of the administration’s domestic efforts to justify its policy? pp. 380-382
  • Why does Logevall see the fact that LBJ and his aides operated without deep domestic or international support as important but not decisive? p. 383
  • Why does Logevall “attach more explanatory power to short-term and personal factors” than to “long-term and impersonal ones” on the road to escalation? p. 384
  •  While never played much of a role in post-1945 containment, why does Logevall think drawing a direct line between the Truman Doctrine and the landing of marines at Danang be avoided? p. 385
  • Why does Logevall see interpretations emphasizing American economic imperatives as lacking explanatory power? p. 386
  • What is the “three-part conception of the credibility imperative”? What hierarchy does Logevall assign them? What about the role of personal credibility among the “Inner War Cabinet” of LBJ, McNamara, Bundy, and Rusk? pp. 387-389
  •  What is Logevall’s argument for presidential primacy in the escalation decision making? pp.389-395
  • How does Logevall use the counterfactual question of what JFK would have done in Vietnam had “Oswald missed”? Would JFK been more sensitive to the political situation in South Vietnam than LBJ? pp. 395-400
  • What are Logevall’s arguments to explain the ineffectiveness of opponents of escalation? pp. 400-404
  • How might have negotiations and withdrawal played out if they had been allowed to happen in “The Long 1964”?