Why Did Australia Get Involved in Vietnam?

In July 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson sent two of his principal advisers, Clark Clifford and Gen. Maxwell Taylor, to Australia and New Zealand with an urgent mission. Protests were raging in American streets and on university campuses. Hawks and doves were battling in Washington. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was heading toward resignation, an admission that his Vietnam policy had failed.

Amid this turmoil, Gen. William C. Westmoreland was demanding a substantial escalation in American troop numbers, around 400,000 at the start of the year. To get any increase out of an increasingly critical Congress, Johnson had to show that American allies, especially democracies like Australia and New Zealand that were paying their own way, were prepared to increase their commitments. As Clifford told the New Zealand government, “one additional New Zealand soldier might produce 50 Americans.”

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