Gazette's Editorial Response
to the Vietnam War, 1963-1965
By Craig Houston
In January 22, 1963, Charleston Gazette editorial writers Harry Hoffman and L. T. Anderson brought to their readers' attention a little-known country fighting a less-understood war in Southeast Asia. The South Vietnamese government, with American aid, was attempting to stem the tide of communist aggression within its boundaries. Hoffman and Anderson were skeptical about America's role; while American "advisers" were dying in combat in South Vietnam, Americans at home were "being denied clear-cut explanations of what is happening in foreign policy in Vietnam."1 Their skepticism soon evolved into opposition to American foreign policy in Vietnam, a policy Anderson later characterized as a "military adventure [that] was a calamitous extension of an anti-communist policy so obsessive and inflexible that it eliminated all hope of peaceful resolution."2 By 1965 the piecemeal steps United States policy was taking were cause for alarm to Hoffman and Anderson. After all, they asked, "could a little escalation be not unlike the unfortunate miss who found herself a little pregnant?"3
An examination of the initial years of the Gazette's editorial position on the Vietnam War reveals its early opposition to United States involvement in South Vietnam. Furthermore, because Hoffman and Anderson hoped to influence West Virginia's congressional delegation, a careful reading of their anti-Vietnam War editorials unveils several themes, among them that South Vietnam was not vital to United States security and that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were pursuing policies of war rather than of peace.
In early January 1961, Gazette editors Hoffman and Anderson criticized American foreign policy in Southeast Asia. Following the 1954 Geneva Accords, Laos suffered from political unrest and civil war until December 1960, when a pro-American government secured power. According to Hoffman and Anderson, the United States Department of State had "done everything within its melodramatic imagination to circumvent the Geneva agreement." The consequence had been "dangerous profits" including "possibly the loss of Laos to the Communists, or the intervention of American and Chinese troops in a hopeless jungle war."4
Criticism of the Laotian situation continued into 1961, as a March Gazette editorial foreshadowed later opinions about the Vietnam War. When President Kennedy sought to establish a neutralist government in Laos to end the civil war, the Soviet-backed Pathet Lao refused to negotiate. Consequently, Kennedy announced his intention to increase American military aid to the Royal Laotian Army. In response to these developments, editors Hoffman and Anderson identified the Laotian civil war as a dispute between "conflicting personalities and rival politicians whose personal fortunes are at stake." The Charleston editors pointed out that in terms of "vital national interests and clashing ideologies," the war was "meaningless." Furthermore, they believed "selfish policies alone on the part of world powers have kept a brush-fire smoldering which [can] at any moment become a conflagration."5
In 1962 Hoffman and Anderson commented again on "clashing" ideologies in Southeast Asia. They stressed that battles between democracy and communism needed to be waged with ideas, not weapons. The Gazette editors insisted that "corruption and inept governments will not in this age of revolution be long endured by those they govern and no amount of outside pressure or assistance can maintain a government in power which has lost popular support."6
In January 1963, they focused their attention on South Vietnam when events there rocked United States policy. The Vietcong defeated South Vietnamese troops at Ap Bac, shooting down five American helicopters and killing three American advisers. New York Times correspondent David Halberstam reported that "in the opinion of observers [in Saigon] the defeat was the worst that the Government troops had suffered in more than a year."7 Subsequently, Hoffman and Anderson called for a State Department White Paper to explain to the American people "the value of the presence of American troops in this Far Eastern nightmare."8 One week later the editors attacked the Kennedy administration for acquiescing to the "prerogatives of the [South Vietnamese] ruling class" instead of seeking to implement vital social, economic, and political reforms. "Until there is a change," they asserted, "South Viet Nam will continue to be a costly, worthless experiment in foreign policy."9
The Gazette's assessment of the dilemma appeared accurate throughout the following months when South Vietnamese Buddhists protested against the repressive measures of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. Police in Hue killed several people in May 1963 when they fired into a peaceful gathering of Buddhists. Diem blamed the incident on the Vietcong. But when the Buddhists demanded punishment for the officials responsible for the killings, he ignored their pleas for justice. Diem also refused American Ambassador Frederick Nolting's attempt to persuade him to rectify the situation. Diem's sister-in- law Madame Nhu aggravated the controversy when she declared that the United States was manipulating the Buddhists. William Trueheart, Nolting's deputy, rebuked Diem and implied that he would lose United States support if the Buddhist repression continued. Diem then created a "cosmetic committee" to investigate the Hue incident.10 To no one's surprise, the committee concluded that the Vietcong were responsible for the killings. Polarization between Diem and the Buddhists grew worse on June 11, 1963, when an elderly monk named Quang Duc, who had alerted an Associated Press correspondent to his intentions, immolated himself in protest against the Diem regime. Despite the subsequent outcry, Diem remained intractable, and Madam Nhu applauded the monk "`barbecues' and offered to furnish the gasoline and matches for more."11
In July, the Gazette editors, in their response to these events, castigated American foreign policy. They were pessimistic about Diem's future success and labelled him a "tyrant, a despot, the kind of puppet historically repugnant to Americans. . . . [But] he is our creature, inspected and condemned by much of the civilized world." Hoffman and Anderson predicted that the United States had "allied itself with the cruelty, the repressions and the police state methods of Diem. In so doing, it is sowing the wind. It must reap the whirlwind."12
Four months later, in November, this prediction came true. In late August, Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diem's brother, had ordered his American-trained Special Forces to attack Buddhist temples. Anti-Diemists within the Kennedy administration urged the president to exert maximum pressure on Diem to reform and remove his brother from power or "`face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved'."13 Events, messages, and misunderstandings escalated until, on November 1, several South Vietnamese generals, with the CIA's encouragement and Kennedy's quiet blessing, kidnapped and later, unbeknownst to the president, murdered Diem and Nhu.
Following Diem's overthrow, the Gazette editors continued to view with pessimism America's future in Vietnam, and even suggested the possibility of United States complicity in the coup. They wrote:
"Whether the war against the Viet Cong will henceforth be prosecuted with more vigor remains to be seen. The odds don't look particularly attractive that it will be, because there is much to suggest that the Vietnamese are far more interested in the material benefits being supplied to them by the United States than in prosecuting an ideological war. . . .
"Victory wasn't coming to the Diem government. Nor is victory closer today, as a result of the coup, than it was last week, the week prior, or when the whole nasty business started. . . .
"[A new administration in power] doesn't mean the same populace will be disposed to fight and die for democracy -- a way of life as alien as it is incomprehensible to the happy-go-lucky Viet Nam mass."14
Fighting to preserve democracy in South Vietnam seemed illogical to the Gazette editors because of South Vietnamese ignorance regarding democracy and its privileges.
In January 1964, another South Vietnamese military faction toppled the junta that had ousted Diem. The coup met with Hoffman and Anderson's quick ire. The editors believed events in Vietnam had become unmanageable and surmised that "regardless of what the Johnson administration does, it has on its hands a mammoth headache unlikely to disappear of its own accord. The administration has inherited a mess, which becomes messier and messier with each passing month." However, despite their avowal that the United States was "engaged in a guerrilla action it can't win under existing conditions," Hoffman and Anderson did not counsel withdrawal or suggest how the United States could turn the tide. They insisted the "risks involved in stepping up American activity and troop and supply are probably greater than any attainable objective," and thus revealed their fear that the United States might escalate its involvement in Vietnam.15
Ten days later Hoffman and Anderson clarified their position and urged President Johnson to end the war through peace negotiations. They concluded that unless the United States wanted to "risk another Korea with the Chinese," the alternative to negotiations -- escalating the war to produce victory -- was unacceptable. For the first time, they implied further American escalation could cause China to enter the war on the side of North Vietnam. They insisted "a reasonable compromise could be reached" with the Vietcong, concluding that "in light of the huge expenses to date, American casualties, the dubious cause, and the dismal lack of success, negotiation is clearly the logical next step."16 Hoffman and Anderson questioned American involvement in Southeast Asia, linking this "dubious cause" to the probable increased cost in American lives. The Gazette editors opined the price was too high to pay.
Later in February 1964, Newsweek correspondent Robert Karr McCabe, writing in The New Leader, offered the status quo as an alternative to both escalation and neutralization. The Gazette editors rejected his solution and criticized his failure to suggest diplomatic action as an alternative to maintaining the status quo: "Efforts toward a diplomatic accommodation shouldn't be summarily dismissed." Hoffman and Anderson reasoned that negotiations could shorten what McCabe called the "long, long war."17
Twice during March 1964, Hoffman and Anderson challenged the reasoning behind America's foreign policy commitment to Vietnam: to stop communist aggression establish a viable, democratic government -- the "dubious cause" they had written of in the previous month. The Gazette editors observed that "none of this nation's allies and friends excepting Nationalist China, sees the threat of communism in the same light as does our State Department." American policymakers had to become more realistic in their analysis of the global situation instead of attributing every "threat" to the "red menace." Hoffman and Anderson even suggested that the United States should "be prepared to accept with good grace Castro and Viet Nam."18
Later that month the Charleston editors published a bitter editorial reflecting the horrors of war and identified obstinate pride and insincere admissions that "mistakes" had been made as justifications for America's continued involvement in South Vietnam.
"Simple Mistakes Won't Deter War
"The United States and South Viet Nam have expressed regret over the attack on a Cambodian village which saw men, women and children die horribly in a rain of flaming napalm.
"It was all a mistake.
"The attackers believed the border town was in South Viet Nam, not Cambodia, and the napalm was intended only for Vietnamese men, women and children who might (or might not) be kindly disposed toward the Viet Cong guerrillas.
"Mistakes do happen, but no doubt they will not deter the fearless forces that wave the banner of democracy from pressing on against the helpless peasants who don't understand that it is vitally necessary that the United States not lose face in Southeast Asia."19
In June 1964, the Gazette editors again rejected the official reason for American involvement in Vietnam. "It would be desirable for once," they wrote, "to know just what it is this nation is attempting to prove in the Far East, and please something a bit more precise than arresting communism." America's allies, Hoffman and Anderson observed, were unwilling to aid the United States in its war against communist aggression in Southeast Asia because they "have no sympathy" for American policy.20
On August 2, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked the American destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later the Maddox, as well as the Turner Joy, reported that they were under attack. Despite the confusion as to whether the second attack actually occurred, President Johnson seized the opportunity. He retaliated by ordering American aircraft to bomb North Vietnam for the first time. Moreover, within a week after the North Vietnamese attack, Johnson ushered through Congress, by a vote of 88-2 in the Senate and unanimously in the House, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This gave the president unlimited power to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression."21
Gazette editors Hoffman and Anderson viewed the activity in the Gulf with caution, and questioned the validity of the administration's assertion that the attack threatened American security. "Gunboats versus destroyers," they wrote, "hardly constitutes a threat to America's bristling war capacity in that part of the world." They warned their readers that the war would probably not be resolved on the battlefield without full-scale war or use of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, "the risks attendant upon either of these actions to stamp out guerrilla activity are as militaristically inadvisable as they are humanistically unthinkable." The only answer to the problem, according to the editors, was the international conference table. Several weeks later they referred to the nation's general acceptance of Johnson's actions as "rubberstamp approval" and rebuked the navy because its response "smacked of 19th century `gunboat policy'."22
Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Hoffman and Anderson's criticism of American involvement in Vietnam grew more severe. They believed the United States had "stumbled from one miserable failure to another," and again rejected the official reason for American presence in Vietnam. To stop "Communist aggression," they claimed, was a scapegoat policy, an "expression . . . used as a catch-all when we have marched boldly into a maze and haven't the foggiest notion of how to get out." Along with their criticism, the Gazette editors astutely pointed to a particular problem in the American effort. To the Vietnamese farmer in the Mekong Delta, "American military forces and propaganda surely don't represent peace and freedom. Indeed, it is more likely that the Viet Cong . . . is more tempting to the farmer if only because it is comprised of people from his own country and culture."23
Problems continued to mount for American-South Vietnamese forces in the fight against the Vietcong. In November 1964, the Vietcong attacked the Bienhoa airbase, destroying six B-57s, killing five Americans and two South Vietnamese, and wounding nearly one hundred more. Responding to the attack, the Charleston editors wrote that "in the enigmatic, nightmarish war against Communist guerrillas in South Viet Nam, the nebulous U. S. position has taken undreamed of turns for the worse." They pointed out that the Vietcong were growing in number, power, and territory because the majority of the Vietnamese people sympathized with the rebels. The inclusion of a New York Times map showing "The War in Vietnam -- Communist Progress in Two Years" reinforced their argument. Because of the limited success of the American objective, Hoffman and Anderson continued to tell their readers that the only solution, the "only realistic hope," was to negotiate.24
Negotiations appeared to be the key to opening the door to peace. The Gazette editors agreed with journalist Sidney Lens, whom they quoted:
"A vital step toward this goal [encouragement of an honest, democratically established government] is a willingness to negotiate with the Viet Cong, the Viet Minh, and -- if necessary -- the Chinese for an end to the senseless warfare that has reduced the Vietnamese people to mere pawns in a cold-war chess game of peace."25
Significantly, neither Hoffman and Anderson nor Lens mentioned anything about a Soviet role in the diplomatic process.
In February 1965, Hoffman and Anderson continued their editorial quest for peace and offered their readers "constructive and sensible" proposals to end the war. Senators George McGovern, Frank Church, and Ernst Gruening recommended a cease-fire with negotiations between North and South Vietnam, neutralization of both countries with a United Nations unit to supervise the peace, a resumption of trade between the two nations, and "co-operative economic projects designed to lift standards of living for the peoples of both nations." Hoffman and Anderson also agreed with syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann, one of the first "Establishment" figures to oppose the war publicly, that the United States could no longer be the "appointed policeman to the human race." They believed the senators' suggestions held more promise for the future than the current White House policies. However, the Gazette editors did not criticize the senators for their exclusion of the Vietcong from the negotiations.26
Like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Vietcong attack at Pleiku in February 1965 marked a turning point in the war. Eight Americans died and ten United States aircraft were destroyed, while most of the attackers escaped. President Johnson ordered the second retaliatory bombing of North Vietnam which, excepting a few brief pauses, continued until 1968. Several weeks later Johnson dispatched United States Marines -- the first "combat" troops to enter the country -- to South Vietnam to protect the American airbase at Danang.27
The Gazette editors recognized that the Pleiku attack and American bombing would have long-term repercussions because a "definite shift in American policy has taken place." That shift meant the United States would respond to "aggressive acts" by the Vietcong on American installations with airstrikes on North Vietnamese strategic targets. Ironically, Hoffman and Anderson called the retaliatory bombing "unavoidable and necessary." In previous months they had wholeheartedly endorsed diplomacy, not military action, as a means to end the war. However, now they accepted the new military escalation, possibly waiting to see if it would produce positive results. They expressed moral disapproval of the bombing, protesting the fate of "illiterate, happy-go-lucky peasants. . . . [They] have no more idea why they're being blown to eternity by planes bearing stars and stripes on their wings than cattle understand the trip to an abattoir."28
However, bombing did not win friends in the South, and in March 1965, Hoffman and Anderson asserted that "to the majority of South Vietnamese the Viet Cong is looked upon as a friend, while the United States is regarded as a foe." To rectify this problem, they agreed with the suggestions of Major General Edward Lansdale, a veteran of guerrilla warfare in the Philippines. Lansdale argued that the United States had to "inculcate in the South Vietnamese an appreciation for liberty and an understanding of freedom." Recalling their criticism of the Kennedy administration's foreign policy in Laos, Hoffman and Anderson believed America had to fight an ideological war using the tenets of democracy against those of communism or else "our chances of winning this war will be nil." In essence, Lansdale believed a conventional war was useless against guerrillas supported by the local population. His alternative, which the Gazette editors supported, favored showing the peasant populace the wonders of democracy and thereby gaining their support for winning the war.29
A few days later the Gazette editors, in a sarcastic tone, created a hypothetical series of Johnson administration assumptions and then methodically attacked each one:
"The good guys -- that's the South Vietnamese -- are being overrun by a bunch of badies -- that's the North Vietnamese.
"The badies are controlled from Hanoi with a direct assist from Peking.
"If South Vietnam falls, oops there goes Asia.
"Ultimately, the United States must stand up to Mao Tse-tung's yellow hordes. Better to confront them in South Vietnam than in Honolulu or Walla Walla."30
Hoffman and Anderson rejected the first assumption, saying the conflict was essentially a civil war. They noted that the second theory was untenable because of the "1,000-year antipathy" between the peoples of China and Indochina. Ridiculing the administration's belief in the domino theory, the editors believed the third idea needed to be more explicit, that is, to whom would South Vietnam fall and "does China want South Viet Nam?" They asked of the fourth supposition: "Isn't it the height of overpreening ambition to suppose the United States can forever be the dominating force on a continent over 10,000 miles away?" Hoffman and Anderson insisted that the administration's belief in the truth of those assumptions underlay the White House's decision to escalate the war. The Gazette editors now opposed the bombing and were convinced that a little bombing and a few thousand Marines would lead to more intensive bombing and hundreds of thousands of Marines.31
At the conclusion of one month's bombing, Hoffman and Anderson contended the administration's policy had done little to bring the fighting nearer to an end. In an early April 1965 editorial, they wrote the Vietcong still controlled most of South Vietnam, "still whips South Vietnamese troops regularly, and still thumbs its nose at Saigon's supposedly impregnable, collaborating partner." A few days later they insisted that "there isn't a shred of evidence to suggest the guerrillas have been impressed [by the bombing] in the slightest."32
On April 7, at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, President Johnson delivered an important foreign policy speech on Vietnam. In it he compared the war to the American Revolution and asserted that freedom everywhere was at stake. The president offered North Vietnam economic, technological, educational, and medical assistance in exchange for peace. Most importantly, Johnson announced his conditions for peace in Southeast Asia:
"Such peace demands an independent South Viet-Nam -- securely guaranteed and able to shape its own relationships to all others -- free from outside interference -- tied to no alliance -- a military base for no other country."33
Hoffman and Anderson supported President Johnson for the first time, calling his speech a "strong appeal to reason and a conscientious attempt to uncover a peaceful solution." However, they found fault with Johnson's "failure to provide for some immediate, concrete actions to reassure ally, foe and neutral of our bloodless objectives." They suggested a brief halt in the air raids over North Vietnam "to allow Hanoi, Moscow, and Peking to digest thoroughly his words and proposals." This was the editors' first inclusion of the Soviet Union in the diplomatic picture. Other than this lone exception, the editors believed the president's speech had been a "solid piece of diplomacy," something for which they had waited two years to hear.34
Several days following Johnson's speech, the North Vietnamese rejected his proposals. They insisted that peace talks could not be held until the United States halted its airstrikes on the North, and that any settlement had to include the Vietcong. Consequently, the Gazette editors again questioned the feasibility of the bombing campaign. Hoffman and Anderson argued that "extending the olive branch while escalating the war through bombing missions . . . gives other nations cause to doubt our sincerity in any peace move." They agreed with Senator William J. Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who reasoned that a "suspension of the bombing . . . would test the sincerity of the North Vietnamese in their overtures for peace." Fulbright also believed that to continue the bombing might cause the North Vietnamese to "dig in" and prolong the war. Hoffman and Anderson agreed that a bombing suspension was worth attempting to start the diplomatic wheels turning again, especially since Hanoi's rejection had abruptly halted them.35
The Charleston Gazette's opposition to American participation in the Vietnam War was significant. As early as January 1963, Gazette editors Hoffman and Anderson questioned America's role in South Vietnam. As the months progressed, this skepticism of United States foreign policy matured into dissent. Their descriptions of American policy in Vietnam clearly revealed their opposition: "a costly, worthless experiment," a "mammoth headache," the "dubious cause," "enigmatic," the "nebulous United States position," "an unqualified disaster," and a "quagmire."36
In addition to their descriptions of American foreign policy in Vietnam, Hoffman and Anderson's editorial opposition to the war revolved around six themes: (1) foreign governments needed popular support to survive despite vast amounts of American influence and goods; (2) the war was a clash of ideologies and therefore was being fought incorrectly; (3) South Vietnam was not vital to United States security; (4) American pride and self-perceived world position were more important than calling a halt to hostilities; (5) the risks of escalating the war were far greater than any reward the United States could reap; (6) the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were ignoring alternatives to war.
Hoffman and Anderson recognized Southeast Asia as a region of political instability due in large measure to the Cold War's extension into the area. They wrote initially about Laos but soon focused their attention on its neighbor, South Vietnam. Political corruption and ineptitude, rule by tyranny, and lack of popular support for the South Vietnamese government contributed to a foreboding sense in Gazette editorials that no amount of American influence, political or material, could prevent a communist victory. Throughout their editorials Hoffman and Anderson understood the conflict to be a guerrilla war. For that reason, they believed American military policy would fail because "as Mao Tse-tung, one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject, has pointed out, guerrilla warfare presupposes a friendly population."37 In addition, they hinted in several editorials to a sense of American imperialism, implying that the Vietnamese masses resented the presence of the United States in the country while many others tolerated it because of its material benefits to them.
Because the Vietnam War was a war of ideas, according to Hoffman and Anderson, it had to be waged in a non-traditional manner. Writing only in generalities, they urged American leaders to show the Vietnamese democracy's privileges as compared to communism's oppression. Education, then, was the key to winning the war because democracy as a "way of life" was "alien" and "incomprehensible" to the Vietnamese populace. The Gazette editors never outlined in any detail how to educate the Vietnamese. Nor did they explain how the Vietnamese people, completely lacking an understanding of democracy, were cognizant of the workings of communism. Did the majority of Vietnamese peasants live day-to-day somewhere between these two philosophical poles without questioning the degree of their freedom? Or were they just "happy-go-lucky," as Hoffman and Anderson twice characterized them?
South Vietnam was not vital to United States regional and international security according to Hoffman and Anderson. They repeatedly attacked and ridiculed the American foreign policy goal of stopping communist aggression in Southeast Asia. Early in 1964 they argued that no justifiable grounds existed to support any increased American presence in South Vietnam. More importantly, they urged negotiating at this early date, even with the Vietcong.38 To buttress their argument, they pointed to America's allies who, with the exception of Nationalist China, did not view this as communist aggression in Southeast Asia. The Gazette editors insisted that American foreign policy officials were shackled to the rigid anti-communist policies of the past. Instead, they advocated more sophisticated analyses and policies for the ever-changing present. The old policy of policing the world had to be discarded.
The fourth theme present in Hoffman and Anderson's anti-Vietnam War editorials was that American pride and a fear for America's reputation in the international community had entrapped the United States. These attitudes prevented American officials from admitting either that mistakes had been made or that United States policy was misguided or even wrong. They also prevented policymakers from pursuing anything other than a hard-line approach to North Vietnam. To accept offers of negotiations or of peace on any conditions other than those established by the United States was tantamount to weakness or being soft on communism.
Hoffman and Anderson consistently maintained that the risks of escalating the war to achieve victory were far greater than any positive returns the United States could expect. What was a "smoldering" "brush-fire" in Laos in 1961 had, by 1965, become a "conflagration" in South Vietnam. The Gazette editors argued that American escalation could cause the Chinese to enter the war, despite the traditional hostility between China and Vietnam. Then, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Hoffman and Anderson feared that full-scale war or the use of nuclear weapons were real options American officials were willing to consider. But such responses, they wrote, were as "militaristically inadvisable as they are humanistically unthinkable." Yet by April 1965, they realized that full-scale war was now American policy in South Vietnam.
Their fifth theme was linked to the final theme found in the Gazette's editorial response to the early years of the Vietnam War: the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were ignoring the alternatives to war. According to Hoffman and Anderson, solutions to American problems in Vietnam could be found at the international conference table. At one point, they even urged negotiations with the Vietcong, a suggestion the Johnson administration rejected whenever raised. The Gazette could not suggest American withdrawal because, according to Anderson, "a diplomatic solution was suggested in the hope such a course would be effective and in the certain knowledge that withdrawal would be too fearful a step to urge upon the West Virginia congressional delegation the Gazette was trying to influence."39
The Gazette editors' criticism and opposition came during a period when few Americans, according to Gallup polls, opposed United States involvement in Vietnam. When compared to the editorial positions of other West Virginia newspapers toward three key events of this period (Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem's overthrow, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and President Johnson's speech at Johns Hopkins University in early April 1965), the Gazette was representative of that minority opinion.40
Eleven of the seventeen newspapers examined made no comment about Diem's overthrow and assassination in early November 1963. Three others, the Sunday Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, and the Logan Banner, believed Diem's overthrow would result in more effective prosecution of the war.41 The Charleston Daily Mail implied that the United States Department of State had been covertly involved in the coup. Moreover, Daily Mail editors wrote that despite South Vietnam's lukewarm commitment to United States involvement, American withdrawal was impossible because Southeast Asia would then fall to the Communists.42 The Wheeling Intelligencer was the only other newspaper whose editors insisted that if the new government did not perform better than its predecessor, the United States "might as well bring our men and our money home and give up the project of stopping Communism there as a lost cause."43
Nine months later, when the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred, only four of the seventeen newspapers remained silent.44 The Grant County Press "doubted" the Johnson administration's "will to win." Its editor argued that Johnson's "haste in reassuring our enemies that we plan no wider war has received our suspicion that he is committed to a purely defensive policy which can be no more successful in Vietnam than it was in Laos."45 The Morgantown Post now joined the Gazette in opposition to America's Vietnam policy. "The time is coming," its editors wrote, "when we must have the gumption to recognize that we are embarked on an unprofitable adventure from which we should retire as soon and definitely as we can gracefully manage."46 The Intelligencer retreated from its November 1963 position to join ten other newspapers whose editors believed the White House's retaliatory action was proper and just. Representative of this stance were the Fairmont West Virginian, the Huntington Advertiser, and the Raleigh Register. The West Virginian's editor wrote that the United States would not be "pushed around" any longer.47 The Advertiser's editor called for national unity, insisting no room for dissent existed.48 The Raleigh Register's editor recalled historical precedent to remind readers that the appeasement policies of the past had been failures. Now, thanks to America's strong response to the Gulf attacks, "if a meeting is what the Communists want, it will be at our leisure."49
The third key event of the period was President Johnson's peace speech in early April 1965 at Johns Hopkins University. The Grant County Press and the Clarksburg Telegram did not comment, but three others, both Morgantown papers and the Calhoun Chronicle, dissented with America's Vietnam policy. The Dominion-News called the domino theory "rubbish pure and simple unadulterated rubbish,"50 while the Post again called for the United States to "attend to its own affairs."51 The Chronicle echoed past Gazette editorials:
"There are many indications that the majority of people in South Vietnam support the Vietcong, and that the government we presently support is not popular. . . .
"And there is a good question whether the people of South Vietnam understand democracy, or would be capable of sustaining a genuine democratic government.
"This is not to say that we must suddenly surrender or to argue that Communism is good enough for the peoples of Asia, because it kills individual freedom. But we should face the facts, if we are to understand what we are up against in this part of the world, where American boys are dying each day, for American policy and interests."52
The remaining twelve newspapers supported the president's speech and American policy. Each agreed that Johnson's speech had been a "clear reaffirmation of this country's determination to abide by our commitment to defend the physical and political integrity of South Viet Nam," as the Exponent's editor wrote.53 The editor of the Fairmont Times believed Johnson had "made no concession to tyranny. He has reiterated the American policy of insuring self- determination to the people of Viet Nam."54 Finally, each paper agreed with Spencer's Time-Record: "We are in and must stay to impress North Viet Nam, China, and even Russia that we will not permit Southeast Asia to be taken over by the reds."55
Editors Hoffman and Anderson were early opponents of United States foreign policy in Southeast Asia and the Gazette was a minority voice among West Virginia newspapers. Their criticism remained consistent, wavering only when they believed a variation in United States policy could bring the war nearer to an end. But, when the policy revealed itself to be no change at all, Hoffman and Anderson continued to assail, sometimes in vitriolic fashion, America's participation in the Vietnam War. In exhorting American officials to negotiate an end to the war, their dissent developed into a crusade. In 1963- 64, Hoffman and Anderson wrote 22 editorials about the Vietnam War. In 1965 they wrote 63, and in the following two years, respectively, they wrote 86 and 126 anti-Vietnam War editorials.
Did Gazette editorials change public opinion toward the Vietnam War? Such a question may never have a definitive answer; but with a circulation of sixty to sixty-five thousand between 1960 and 1965, the Gazette reached many readers across West Virginia. Moreover, Hoffman and Anderson's editorials in opposition to the war challenged readers to question America's involvement in Southeast Asia.
More important was the Gazette's opposition to United States foreign policy in Vietnam. During the first years of the war, few Americans questioned the country's near-hegemony in world affairs nor did they dispute the anti- communist policy so preponderant in foreign policy since World War II. Also, it must be remembered that mainstream opposition to the Vietnam War developed for pragmatic reasons -- death tolls, inflation, civil rights, and other domestic problems -- rather than a rejection of America's anti-communist Vietnam policy. Hoffman and Anderson must be placed within this context to understand that they were questioning national policies, as well as national attitudes, that heretofore had received the loyalty and unchallenged acceptance of most Americans. "Could a little escalation be not unlike the unfortunate miss who found herself a little pregnant?"57 With hindsight, yes; Harry Hoffman and L. T Anderson and the Charleston Gazette were accurate and correct to give their readers this warning.
1. Charleston Gazette, 22 January 1963.
2. L. T. Anderson to the author, 29 April 1986.
3. Gazette, 10 March 1965.
4. Ibid., 16 January 1961.
5. Ibid., 23 March 1961.
6. Ibid., 11 April 1962.
7. New York Times, 3 January 1963. For a fine, detailed analysis of the battle of Ap Bac and its influence on American policy, see Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1988), book 3, "The Battle of Ap Bac."
8. Gazette, 22 January 1963.
9. Ibid., 28 February 1963.
10. Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: The Viking Press, 1983), 280.
11. George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 96.
12. Gazette, 11 July 1963.
13. Herring, America's Longest War, 97.
14. Gazette, 4 November 1963.
15. Ibid., 3 February 1964. See also Herring, America's Longest War, 111, and Karnow, Vietnam, 335.
16. Gazette, 13 February 1964.
17. Ibid., 20 February 1964; see also Robert Karr McCabe, "Vietnam's Impossible Alternatives," The New Leader 47(3 February 1964): 3-5.
18. Gazette, 7 March 1964.
19. Ibid., 24 March 1964; see also New York Times, 22 March 1964.
20. Gazette, 27 June 1964.
21. New York Times, 6 August 1964.
22. Gazette, 12 August and 5 September 1964.
23. Ibid., I September 1964.
24. Ibid., 17 November 1964; see also New York Times, 8 November 1964.
25. Ibid.; see also Sidney Lens, "The Only Hope," The Progressive 28(November 1964): 22-27.
26. Gazette, 6 February 1965.
27. For more information on the Pleiku attack see Karnow, Vietnam, 411-12. For an excellent analysis of the Johnson administration's decision to begin sustained bombing of North Vietnam and to commit American combat forces to the war, see Larry Berman, Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), chapter 3, "The Decisions of Early 1965: Laying the Foundation for a Major Commitment," and George McT. Kahin, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1986), chapter 11, "The Decision for Sustained Bombing," and chapter 12, "The Call for U. S. Ground Forces."
28. Gazette, 12 February 1965.
29. Ibid., 1 March 1965; see also Major General Edward Lansdale, "Vietnam: Do We Understand Revolution?" Foreign Affairs 43(October 1964): 75 -86.
30. Gazette, 10 March 1965.
32. Ibid., 1 and 6 April 1965.
33. New York Times, 8 April 1965.
34. Gazette, 9 April 1965.
35. Ibid., 20 April 1965.
36. Ibid., 5 and 26 May 1965.
37. Ibid., 13 February 1964.
38. See notes 15 and 24 above.
39. Anderson to the author, 29 April 1986.
40. The author examined the following papers: Calhoun Chronicle, Charleston Daily Mail, Fairmont Times, Fairmont West Virginian, Grant County Press, Huntington Advertiser, Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Logan Banner, Martinsburg Journal, Morgantown Dominion-News, Morgantown Post, Raleigh Register, Spencer Times-Record, Wheeling Intelligencer, and Williamson Daily News. For national public opinion toward the Vietnam War see Dr. George H. Gallup, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935-1971, vol. 3: 1959-1971 (New York: Random House, 1972), 1896-97, 1921, 1934-35.
41. Clarksburg (Sunday) Exponent-Telegram, 10 November 1963; Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 4 November 1963; Logan Banner, 8 November 1963.
42. Charleston Daily Mail, 6 November 1963.
43. Wheeling Intelligencer, 5 November 1963.
44. Calhoun Chronicle, Spencer Times-Record, Morgantown Dominion-News, and the Charleston Daily Mail.
45. Grant County Press, 19 August 1964.
46. Morgantown Post, 5 August 1964.
47. Fairmont West Virginian, 6 August 1964.
48. Huntington Advertiser, 4 August 1964.
49. Raleigh Register, 12 August 1964.
50. Morgantown Dominion-News, 5 April 1965.
51. Morgantown Post, 8 April 1965.
52. Calhoun Chronicle, 1 July 1965.
53. Clarksburg Exponent, 13 April 1965.
54. Fairmont Times, 13 April 1965.
55. Spencer Times-Record, 13 May 1965.
56. Craig Houston, "Four West Virginia Newspapers and War, 1963-1968" (Master's thesis, Marshall University, 1985), 192.
57. Gazette, 22 January 1963.
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