Publish date:
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1968

“Wise Men” advise President Johnson to negotiate peace in Vietnam

After being told by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford that the Vietnam War is a “real loser,” President Johnson, still uncertain about his course of action, decides to convene a nine-man panel of retired presidential advisors. The group, which became known as the “Wise Men,” included the respected generals Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway, distinguished State Department figures like Dean Acheson and George Ball, and McGeorge Bundy, National Security advisor to both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After two days of deliberation the group reached a consensus: they advised against any further troop increases and recommended that the administration seek a negotiated peace. Although Johnson was initially furious at their conclusions, he quickly came to believe that they were right. On March 31, Johnson announced on television that he was restricting the bombing of North Vietnam to the area just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Additionally, he committed the United States to discuss peace at any time or place. Then Johnson announced that he would not pursue reelection for the presidency.

Also on this day: A Harris Poll reports that in the past six weeks “basic” support for the war among Americans declined from 74 percent to 54 percent. The poll also revealed that 60 percent of those questioned regarded the Tet Offensive as a defeat of U.S. objectives in Vietnam. Despite Gen. William Westmoreland’s assurances in late 1967 that the United States was making headway in the war, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had launched a massive offensive during the Tet holiday that began in late January 1968. Although the communist forces were soundly defeated during this offensive, the scope and extent of the attacks won the communists a major psychological victory in the United States, where the events of Tet confirmed a growing disenchantment with the seemingly never-ending war for increasing numbers of Americans.

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