chapter  2
18 Pages

A People Bewildered: American Public Opinion and the Vietnam War

The American public did not pressure its government to fight in Vietnam. In some wars, such as the Spanish-American War and the world wars, public passion to a considerable degree drove the US government's decision to enter the conflict.! Nonetheless, although there was a broad anticommunist and procontainment consensus within the American voting public, this did not automatically result in a high level of public concern for the fate of South Vietnam. Most Americans knew little about the situation in Southeast Asia until after the US government made a considerable political commitment to Saigon. Certainly, few Americans would have shown much daily concern about the RVN if the United States had not been involved deeply in that country. Vietnam's importance in the public imagination was directly related to the actions of the US government: the policymaking elite placed Vietnam prominently on the public agenda, and, as the commitment to the defense of South Vietnam increased, the fate of Saigon became an increasingly important issue. The American people did not demand a war in Vietnam but their leaders gave them one.