Fifty years ago, a year after U.S. ground troops arrived in South Vietnam to help that country fight off the communist North Vietnamese, Gallup interviewers explained to Americans in a nationwide poll that "hawks" were people who wanted to step up the fighting in Vietnam, and "doves" were people who wanted to slow it down. Given these definitions, 47% of Americans described themselves as hawks and 26% as doves, while 27% couldn't say.
|Gallup, March 24-29, 1966|
Shortly afterward, Gallup asked Americans how they would vote on the choice of "continuing the war in Vietnam or withdrawing our troops during the next few months," and the results corroborated the hawks-versus-doves finding. About half (48%) said they would vote to continue the war, while 35% would vote to withdraw and 17% weren't sure or had other views.
At the same time, Americans were not unrealistic about the difficulty of keeping the North Vietnamese out of South Vietnam. Just 17% in May 1966 predicted the war would end in all-out victory for the U.S. and the South Vietnamese. Most of the rest thought it would end in a compromise peace settlement (54%) or total defeat (6%).
One can more clearly see the flaw in judging the past with the hindsight of the present by reviewing some of Americans' personal reflections on Vietnam that Gallup recorded in the spring of 1966. At the time, fewer than four in 10 Americans thought the U.S. had made a mistake in sending troops to Vietnam.
"You really don't win a war like the one in Vietnam. But, as long as you don't really lose it to the communists, you're ahead of the game. I hate war, but you just can't pull out." -- 35-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, housewife
"It's a necessary evil. If we can't convince these smaller nations that the U.S. is willing to protect their freedom, they won't be free for long." -- Ravena, New York, mother of three
"The whole thing beats me. I'm sure everyone would like to see an end to this war. But what else can we do -- get out and let all those poor people suffer? I'm glad I don't have to make that decision." -- St. Louis toolmaker
"I don't think we are doing enough to end it. We're playing games with our young men by having them chase snipers through the jungles. We need to have a showdown, so that we can bring all our boys home. If we have to fight at all we might as well win and win it big." -- California engineer
"Let's give up and get out of there. We spend all of our time fighting other people's wars. Look what that policy got us in Korea." -- Philadelphia schoolteacher
"We should have followed the example of the French and never gotten involved with our troops in the first place. A year ago, who would have said it was going to turn out like this? Well here we are." -- California machinist
Within about two years -- by August 1968 -- the California machinist's view had become the dominant one in the U.S., as a majority of Americans for the first time said the country had made a mistake in entering Vietnam.
|Yes, a mistake||No, not a mistake||No opinion|
|Jan 12-15, 1973||60||29||11|
|May 14-17, 1971||61||28||11|
|Jan 8-11, 1971||59||31||10|
|May 21-26, 1970||56||36||8|
|Apr 2-7, 1970||51||34||15|
|Jan 15-20, 1970||57||33||10|
|Sep 17-22, 1969||58||32||10|
|Jan 23-28, 1969||52||39||9|
|Sep 26-Oct 1, 1968||54||37||9|
|Aug 7-12, 1968||53||35||12|
|Apr 4-9, 1968||48||40||12|
|Feb 22-27, 1968||49||41||10|
|Feb 1-6, 1968||46||42||12|
|Dec 7-12, 1967||45||46||9|
|Oct 6-11, 1967||46||44||10|
|Jul 13-18, 1967||41||48||11|
|Apr 19-24, 1967||37||50||13|
|Jan 26-31, 1967||32||52||16|
|Nov 10-15, 1966||31||51||18|
|Sep 8-13, 1966||35||48||17|
|May 5-10, 1966||36||49||15|
|Mar 3-8, 1966||25||59||16|
|Aug 27-Sep 1, 1965||24||61||15|
|Trend during Vietnam war; full postwar trend available in Gallup Analytics|
These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.
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