The American experience in Vietnam defined a generation, spurring civil unrest and the degradation of trust in important political and military institutions. Spanning the course of two decades, the United States’ engagement in the conflict reflected the heightened global tension of the Cold War. American involvement in Vietnam began as early as 1950, initially in the form of assistance to the French during the First Indochina War. By the end of the Kennedy administration, the United States had begun to send American advisers and military forces to Vietnam, aiming to prevent the spread of communism to Southeast Asia.
Hodgson fails to satisfactorily qualify JFK and LBJ as the titular “Last Two Great Presidents.” He does, however, succeed in building up Johnson’s reputation, one that is often denigrated for his part in escalating U.S. participation in Vietnam. Because of Hodgson’s account, we might consider reversing Reston’s characterization of the two: perhaps it was Johnson and his social reform success who made men think while Kennedy and his foreign policy dominance made men like Khrushchev act.