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Images of Inherited War: Three American Presidents in Vietnam

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Technical Report

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Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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This study examines how cognitive forces shape grand war-time strategy across successive presidential administrations. By analyzing Vietnam through the lens of Image and Cognitive theory, the author attempts to answer the question How did Presidential Image effect agendas and outcomes during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Administrations Specifically, the author examines the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon through key decision points and policy shifts during the Vietnam War in an effort to unveil the substantial cognitive forces with which Presidents must contend, and often counter, when they inherit war. It is the authors hope that revealing the confluence of Images, Agendas, and Outcomes during the Vietnam War will make current and future decision-makers more aware of the impact cognitive forces have in shaping wars trajectory. Moreover, it is hoped that by examining Vietnam through the lens of Presidential Image, a broader conceptualization of war as inheritance, will emerge. Ultimately, this study may help minimize current and future cognitive pitfalls in the development and execution of grand strategy, particularly when policy-makers face the daunting challenge of inherited war. This study establishes the foundation for a larger project that not only examines Vietnam more broadly, but that also analyzes how Image and Inheritance influenced grand strategy in Afghanistan.

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