• History
  • Media

50 Years Ago This Week: Optimism on the Vietnam War

5 minute read

Milestone moments do not a year make. Often, it’s the smaller news stories that add up, gradually, to big history. With that in mind, in 2017 TIME History will revisit the entire year of 1967, week by week, as it was reported in the pages of TIME. Catch up on last week’s installment here.

Week 18: May 5, 1967

As tensions over the War in Vietnam escalated, U.S. military brass made an unprecedented move: Gen. William C. Westmoreland became the first military commander in American history to address a joint session of Congress while the war he was in charge of was still going on.

For just shy of a half-hour, Westmoreland made the case to Congress that, if the U.S. military were “backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination and continued support,” he was confident of victory.

The reasons for his optimism were that South Vietnam was improving its own military capacity, and the ports, highways and airfields being built there would make the U.S. military effort run much more smoothly. Moreover, he explained with sangfroid, the killing was getting more efficient: “During 1965, the Republic of Viet Nam armed forces and its allies killed 36,000 of the enemy at a cost of approximately 12,000 friendly killed—and 90% of these were Vietnamese. During recent months, this 3-to-1 ratio in favor of the allies has risen significantly, and in some weeks has been as high as 10 or 20 to 1.”

But his caveat about continued support, of course, was a big one. Increasingly, Americans in and out of government — including some who initially backed the war — worried that it was turning into something bigger and more difficult than had been anticipated. Westmoreland made the case that protests could demoralize the troops and give confidence to the enemy, while some in Congress argued that saying so was dangerously undemocratic.

Even as Westmoreland made the case for success, he was dogged by a recent admission that he didn’t see “any end of the war in sight.” Such an admission, by TIME’s reckoning, was important: The President and his administration had “consistently deluded the American people” about what was going on in Vietnam, and at least now they were owning up to the magnitude of the task ahead.

Way Up North: This week’s TIME Essay celebrated Canada’s centennial, which the Northern nation was marking with the opening of Expo 67 in Montreal, and observed that after 100 years Canada was finally finding its “soul.” With its lack of population density, proximity to the U.S. and history of achieving independence without revolution, Canada had often been defined by what it was not (not the U.S., not England, not France). “They suffered from an identity crisis well before modern novelists discovered the condition, and their sense of no-self could fill half a dozen Antonioni movies,” the magazine quipped. But that was changing, and the whole world was learning the qualities that united Canadians in all their diversity: self-assurance, appreciation for compromise and national pride. “We are always apologizing for not having had any wars or revolutions,” one Toronto priest told TIME. “This is too bad only if history is going to be a replacement for Batman.”

War in Space: A brief item explained that the Senate had approved a peace treaty that took the idea to new places — outer space. The declaration that the exploration of space would be conducted “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.” The treaty would come into force later that year, but it lacked, in TIME’s view, one important provision: “the possibility of future signatories from outer space.”

He Won’t Go: On April 28, Muhammad Ali had made the dramatic move of refusing to be inducted into the Army after having been drafted, resulting in his being stripped of his boxing championship. TIME’s coverage of his protest did not give it the gravitas that Ali’s stand would later earn; his request not to be called Cassius Clay anymore was also dismissed. Interestingly, though, the magazine noted that the perception that the Vietnam War had prompted an outsized number of protests against serving was incorrect: “Last year only 353 of 1,100,000 eligible men were convicted as draft dodgers compared with one-year totals of 8,422 in World War I, 4,609 in World War II and 432 in the Korean conflict. Similarly, the AWOL desertion rate for 1966 was .08 for every 1,000 draftees against 3.7 in World War II and .89 in Korea.”

Paid Protesters: Here’s a story that’s can’t-make-this-up levels of relevant. The national news section reports on an enterprising endeavor run by a company called Proxy Pickets, which provided its services to angry citizens of any political stripe who couldn’t personally make it to protests. For $17, they’d station five protesters outside the White House for one hour; they charged $79 for 25 people and $154 for at least 50. Though more recent charges that paid protesters have been responsible for demonstrations have been generally unfounded, here’s one instance where that phenomenon was a real thing.

Mixing It Up: As America’s colleges and universities increasingly went coed, the last hold-outs for single-sex post-secondary education made their arguments in the education section. But for college administrators, the appeal of going coed was obvious: twice the pool of possible tuition-payers, twice the pool of possible future donation-happy alums. The students’ arguments for coeducation were even simpler: “I knew Vassar was all-girl when I came here,” said one junior at that then-all-girls school. “But I was stupid when I came here.”

Great vintage ad: Speaking of single-sex education, this full-pager for Fontbonne College, a Catholic women’s college in St. Louis, is a sign of the times. “The riots on our campus are all intellectual,” it proclaims.

Coming up next week: The Law and Dissent

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com