- After watching President Johnson’s whole speech, have a classroom discussion about the persuasive purposes of the speech. Is this speech more about LBJ’s policy in Vietnam, or about his decision to not seek reelection? Are those two purposes clearly related? Are they consistent with one another?
- Johnson begins his speech by characterizing it as an address about “peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.” How does characterizing it as a speech about peace frame his message about military maneuvers and troop levels within Vietnam? Why do you think he framed the message that way? How would framing it as a speech about “war” rather than “peace” have changed the message?
- Johnson claims that he has ordered a partial halt to the bombings of North Vietnam to demonstrate that the United States is prepared to “move immediately toward peace through negotiation.” At the same time, he states that he has sent 11,000 additional troops to Vietnam within the last few weeks and is prepared to send another 18,500 within the next 5 months. He also discusses accelerating U.S. support to the South Vietnamese military. How do you think his audience reconciled the call for peace negotiations with the decision to increase the number of American troops in Vietnam? Do you think these calls might have seemed contradictory to his listeners? What kind of message was he trying to send to the North Vietnamese government? What was he trying to say to the American people?
- Within his speech, Johnson quotes two past American presidents. Can you identify those quotes? What is he trying to illustrate by using those quotes? How do you think quoting those two previous presidents might have influenced his audience’s perceptions of LBJ’s own motives or his own character or ethos?
- Johnson ends his speech by stating that he will not seek reelection to the presidency. How does the ending of the speech influence your perception of the speech as a whole? Does it influence how you view the arguments he made about the war in Vietnam? How would you view his arguments about the war in Vietnam if he had announced that he was seeking re-election?
- David Zarefsky argues that this speech is multivocal, or that it could be interpreted by multiple audiences in different ways without distorting what LBJ actually said. Zarefsky claims that this is often the case when a speaker is “addressing a heterogeneous audience, an audience that is deeply divided, or an audience that holds conflicting values.” Read one of the following presidential addresses:
- Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
- George W. Bush, speech to Congress about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, September 20, 2001
- Richard Nixon, “The Great Silent Majority,” November 3, 1969
and discuss how it, too, might have been multivocal. How does the speech you read differ from the Johnson address?
- In this speech, Johnson characterizes the Tet offensive as a failure by the North Vietnamese. However, one month earlier, on February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite, the CBS News anchorman, delivered a three minute editorial in which he characterized the Vietnam War as “mired in stalemate.” Read the transcript of Cronkite’s editorial here and watch a clip of it here. How does Cronkite’s editorial present a different view of the war than presented by Johnson in his March 31 speech? How do Cronkite and Johnson’s characterizations of the proposed negotiations differ? Who do you think was more credible with the American people, and why?
- Using the New York Times, the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune’s historic archives, read the press coverage of LBJ’s speech on April 2, 1968. How did the press react to the speech? Are there similarities between the coverage in all three papers? Are there differences? How did the press characterize Johnson’s decision to not seek reelection? How did they characterize the war in Vietnam and LBJ’s plan for a partial halt to the bombing?
- The opposition to the war in Vietnam was quite diverse, with student groups, veteran groups, and religious groups, to name just a few, speaking out against the war. Pick two groups out of the ones listed below. Research the background of the organization and their goals and strategies for opposing the war. Contrast the two groups you select with one another. How did their visions of peace differ? What did they propose the U.S. should do in Vietnam? How did their view of the war and their ideas for ending the war align with or contradict the vision of peace laid out in the Johnson speech?
- Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
- Students for a Democratic Society
- American Friends Service Committee
- American Writers Against the Vietnam War
- National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam
- Clergy Concerned About Vietnam
- In recent debates over U.S. military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the media often drew parallels to the war in Vietnam. Outlets ranging from CBS, to Voice of America, to the Economist, to the New York Times made this connection, pointing out both similarities and differences between Vietnam and these more recent wars. Do you agree with these comparisons? Where do you see differences? Where do you see similarities? Why do you think the media focuses so much on these “lessons” from Vietnam?
- In 2003, President George Bush gave a speech in which he announced “Mission Accomplished” in the War in Iraq. As we now know, that announcement was premature, as American troops did not withdraw from Iraq until 2012, and the impact of the Iraq war continues to be felt within the region. In a similar way, LBJ, in his speech on March 31, 1968, declared a turning point in the war in Vietnam, citing the failure of the Tet offensive. Nevertheless, the war in Vietnam actually continued for a number of years. What similarities do you see in the way Presidents Bush and Johnson talk about the success of the American military and coalition forces? Do you see any distinct dissimilarities? Why do you think they framed the two situations in such positive terms? Do you think they were guilty of exaggerating the success of American troops or even of lying to the public? If so, is there any justification for doing so—such as boosting the morale of American troops or of the public itself?
- The debate over the Vietnam War was contentious and inspired a number of anti-war films. The movie The Green Berets, for example, was considered a pro-war movie, designed to present a patriotic, pro-American view of the war in Vietnam. Actor John Wayne co-directed the film and even received the cooperation of the American military and government with its production. What larger lesson or “argument” did the film make? How did it portray American involvement in Vietnam? As heroic? As necessary? As successful? How did the timing of the film (The Green Berets was released in 1968) fit into the evolving narrative of the Vietnam War itself? How did film critics and others respond to the film? Finally, how does the film compare to later war films, such as Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, or Born on the Fourth of July?
- Do a search of websites devoted to supporting Vietnam veterans. What are the major issues that continue to impact the Vietnam veterans in particular? How do these websites frame the war? What legacies of the war continue to circulate in contemporary discussions of Vietnam on these websites?
Last updated May 5, 2016