Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Edmund F. Wehrle
This thesis focuses on famous evangelist Billy Graham's role in the Vietnam War, both as a public supporter and private advisor. It argues that, contrary to his self-depiction, he was no "babe in the woods," no mere neophyte or bystander. Rather, America's most famous preacher was an active participant in promoting and even planning the war. Graham's evangelical theology, with his premillennialist beliefs, led to his intensely anticommunist worldview, where communism was the Antichrist. His public support buttressed the presidents prior to and during the Vietnam War and, sometimes, Graham even delved into policy recommendations for the war.
Graham's role in the Vietnam War spanned four presidencies. Beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Graham encouraged the president to strongly respond to the Vietminh victory at Dien Bien Phu. After openly opposing John F. Kennedy in the election of 1960, Graham listened to the president's views on Vietnam and publicly derided communism. Graham grew increasingly intimate with both the presidency and the Vietnam War during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. At the requests of Johnson and his generals, the evangelist made two trips to Vietnam, returning both times strongly in support of the war. With his close friend Richard Nixon's ascendance to the presidency, Graham advised that Vietnamization was the key to victory in his "Confidential Missionary Plan for Ending the Vietnam War." In addition, while he publicly gave lip service to being apolitical, Graham organized massive events that provided veiled support for Nixon and the war in Vietnam.
This thesis builds on and contributes to the work done by historians on the influence of religion in American foreign policy, notably Jonathan Herzog and Andrew Preston. In addition, it details a side of Graham that is largely absent from or glossed over by the religiously oriented biographies of the famous evangelist.
Hays, Daniel Alexander, ""A Babe in the Woods?": Billy Graham, Anticommunism, and Vietnam" (2017). Masters Theses. 2521.