US Marines landing in Da Nang.  (Photo b
US Marines landing in Da Nang in 1965 Larry Burrows—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Read the TIME Essay That Advocated for the Vietnam War

May 14, 2015

It's easy to forget now, 40 years after the Fall of Saigon and freshly removed from the prospect of Iraq and Afghanistan lapsing into "another Vietnam," that there was a time when many believed that escalation in Vietnam was the right thing to do. Among the prominent voices who felt that way were the editors of TIME who, 50 years ago today, on May 14, 1965, published an influential essay backing the President's decision to step up the ground campaign in Asia. It was, the headline proclaimed, "The Right War at the Right Time":

Obviously, after overcoming his early hesitation, Lyndon Johnson will not allow the U.S. to be pushed out of Viet Nam. For if that were to happen, Americans would only have to make another stand against Asian Communism later, under worse conditions and in less tenable locations. As Demosthenes said about expansionist Macedonia in the 4th century B.C.: "You will be wise to defend yourselves now, but if you let the opportunity pass, you will not be able to act even if you want to." Despite all its excruciating difficulties, the Vietnamese struggle is absolutely inescapable for the U.S. in the mid-60s—and in that sense, it is the right war in the right place at the right time.

Anticipating counterarguments, the essay swatted away objections. An American offensive wouldn't be interfering with a civil war because Communism was a worldwide issue. South Vietnam's continued fighting was indication that they wanted help. Once Communism was entrenched, it was nearly impossible to get rid of. A Communist Vietnam would seek to dominate the region. There was no evidence that U.S. involvement would draw in China or Russia. Events in Asia did matter to American interests. And, finally, there was no value in negotiating with Communists. All in all, the essay concluded, the critics of the war had no ground on which to stand.

The magazine would later change its perspective. In recent conversations about the war, former TIME Saigon bureau chief Peter Ross Range said that he sensed a shift after the Tet Offensive in 1968. "We were all news reporters, but I think there was a shared attitude, a widely shared attitude especially among younger correspondents like me, that the war was not a good thing," he said. "It was never discussed openly at the magazine but if you read the magazine over time, over the last year before I went, you would get very much the same feeling."

Years later, after the end of the Cold War, another TIME essay revisited the idea, positing that though the Cold War may have been the right war, Vietnam was the wrong battle—and, the piece concluded, the consequences of that wrong decision would continue to be felt for many years to come.

Read the full 1965 essay, here in the TIME Vault: The Right War at the Right Time

See the Most Iconic Photos of the Vietnam War

An American 1st Air Cavalry helicopter airlifts supplies into a Marine outpost during Operation Pegasus in Vietnam in 1968.
An American 1st Air Cavalry helicopter airlifts supplies into a Marine outpost during Operation Pegasus in Vietnam in 1968.Larry Burrows—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
An American 1st Air Cavalry helicopter airlifts supplies into a Marine outpost during Operation Pegasus in Vietnam in 1968.
The Reverend Thich Quang Duc, a 73-year-old Buddhist monk, soaked himself in petrol before setting himself on fire to himself and burning in front of thousands of onlookers at a main highway intersection in Saigon on June 11, 1963.
American jets drop napalm on Viet Cong positions early in the Vietnam conflict in 1963.
Hovering U.S. Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into the tree line to cover the advance of South Vietnamese ground troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp 18 miles north of Tay Ninh, northwest of Saigon near the Cambodian border, in March 1965.
Newly-landed U.S. Marines make their way through the sands of Red Beach at Da Nang, on their way to reinforce the air base as South Vietnamese Rangers battled guerrillas about three miles south, on April 10, 1965.
A Vietnamese mother and her children wade across a river, fleeing a bombing raid on Qui Nhon by United States aircraft on Sept. 7, 1965.
A mortally wounded comrade at his feet, Lance Cpl. James C. Farley, helicopter crew chief, yells to his pilot after a firefight in Vietnam, 1965.
A Viet Cong prisoner captured during Cape Batangan battle awaits transfer to a US POW compound in 1965.
The body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is raised up to an evacuation helicopter in War Zone C in Vietnam on May 14, 1966.
American Marines during Operation Prairie near the DMZ in Vietnam in Oct.1966.
Wounded Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Purdie (center, with bandaged head) reaches toward a stricken comrade after a fierce firefight south of the DMZ in Vietnam in Oct. 1966.
Jan Rose Kasmir confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march in Washington on Oct. 21, 1967.
South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the National Police, fires his pistol into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street on Feb. 1, 1968.
A grieving widow cries over a plastic bag containing remains of her husband which were found in mass grave. He was killed in Feb. 1968 during the Tet offensive.
The battle for Saigon in 1968.
As fellow troopers aid wounded comrades, the first sergeant of A Company, 101st Airborne Division, guides a medevac helicopter through the jungle foliage to pick up casualties suffered during a five-day patrol near Hue in Vietnam in April 1968.
A wounded U.S. paratrooper grimaces in pain as he awaits medical evacuation at base camp in the A Shau Valley near the Laos border in South Vietnam on May 19, 1969.
South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center) as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972.
Released prisoner of war Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm is greeted by his family at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., as he returns home from the Vietnam War on March 17, 1973.
A North Vietnamese tank rolls through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, signifying the fall of South Vietnam, on April 30, 1975.
A CIA employee (probably O.B. Harnage) helps Vietnamese evacuees onto an Air America helicopter from the top of 22 Gia Long Street, a half mile from the U.S. Embassy on Apr. 25, 1975.
An American 1st Air Cavalry helicopter airlifts supplies into a Marine outpost during Operation Pegasus in Vietnam in 19
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