July 28 marks an anniversary that is not well known but which looms large in American history. On that day in 1965, Lyndon Johnson appeared on television to deliver his famous “Why We Are in Vietnam” speech, as he announced to the American public that he would be committing more American troops to that war-torn region. This massive escalation—General Westmoreland requested 150,000 additional troops—represents the “Americanization” of the war and is seen by most historians as the turning point in America’s involvement in a country that would help define, tragically, an entire era.
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of these events, we are presenting a special essay by George Herring, one of the great chroniclers of the Vietnam War. Published in a special ebook-only format, The War Bells Have Rung: The LBJ Tapes and the Americanization of the Vietnam War reveals that LBJ, like many of his eventual critics, saw the war as a doomed enterprise. And yet, he felt he had no choice but to pursue it. Using recordings of the president’s private phone calls from that fateful summer, Herring shares the fascinating behind-the-scenes drama of LBJ’s decision.