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May 7: The Vietnam War

May 6, 2016

s-l225The U.S. defined May 7, 1975 as ending the Vietnam War era in an announcement by President Gerald R. Ford on that date — twenty-one years after the date on which the French had been decisively defeated in the Battle of DIen Bien Phu, 1954. While many, many American Jews were deeply involved in the movement against the Vietnam War, the mainstream Jewish community had been spooked in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson’s threat (through the Jewish War Veterans) to withdraw U.S. support for Israel if American Jews did not get on board in support of his war policies. Nevertheless, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, the president of the Reform synagogue movement, declared that “We transgress every tenet of our faith when we fight on another’s soil, scorch the earth of another’s beloved homeland, and slay multitudes of innocent villagers,” and published an open letter to President Johnson comparing him with the tyrant of the Khanike story, Antiochus Epiphanes. The American Jewish Congress was also bitterly opposed to the war. The liberal Jewish consensus in support of Johnson’s “Great Society” programs created a certain schizophrenia, however, that would become less pronounced once Richard Nixon took office in 1968 (with only 19 percent of the Jewish vote) and continued to press and escalate the war.

“One may speculate over what might have been if the country had remained at peace. Economic policy was working superbly in 1965 and it is likely that prosperity would have continued into 1968. In Chicago the Democrats would have renominated the Johnson-Humphrey ticket and it would have won easily. This might have launched a long period of Democratic control of the White House and the Congress. The Great Society would have survived and might have been expanded.” —Irving Bernstein, Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson