12 May 1961: Lyndon B. Johnson visits the Republic of Vietnam

On 12 May 1961, as part of his tour of Asian countries, Vice-President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson landed in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and met with President Ngô Đình Diệm in Saigon. Vice-President Johnson called President Ngô Đình Diệm the “Churchill of Asia” at a press conference, confirming the belief in Ngô Đình Diệm as indispensable to America’s fight against the threat of communism in Southeast Asia. Based on his domino theory, Johnson promised Ngô Đình Diệm additional military aid.

On his return to the US at the end of May, Johnson defended his domino theory by strengthening his argument that the loss of Vietnam would compel the United States to “fight on the beaches of Waikiki [Honolulu, Hawaii]” and eventually on “our own shores.” Johnson assumed that losing Vietnam to communist rule would influence other countries in Southeast Asia to adopt communist governments – one-by-one falling to what had become America’s ideological nemesis like a row of dominos.

In Johnson’s final report on Vietnam, he concluded that:

“The situation in Viet Nam is more stable than is indicated by newspaper and other reports reaching Washington in recent weeks.”

A report by Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, Mansfield Papers, Series XXII, Box 110, Folder 3, University of Montana

Johnson also cited “journalistic sensationalism” as the reason for arguments against Diệm’s increasingly oppressive regime and dire conditions in South Vietnam.[1]

By December 1961, National Liberation Front (NLF) guerrillas would control most of the countryside in South Vietnam and frequently ambush Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops. The cost to America of maintaining South Vietnam’s sagging 200,000 man army and managing the overall conflict in Vietnam rose to a million dollars per day.


REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:

[1] Source: University of Montana, Mansfield Papers, Series XXII, Box 110, Folder 3. Secret. No drafting or clearance information is given on the source text. A copy of this report was sent to Nolting by Cottrell as an enclosure to a letter dated May 29, along with the memorandum to the President, dated May 23; see footnote 1, Document 59. Cottrell noted in the covering letter that the President’s brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, had briefed him on the previous day about the visit to Saigon. (Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 66 A 878, 350 GVN-TF)

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