Britain at war over Vietnam
Escalating US involvement in south-east Asia 50 years ago sparked fury in Britain. Sylvia Ellis explains how Prime Minister Harold Wilson negotiated the competing demands of his electorate and the US president
In June 1966, Private Eye’s regular feature ‘Mrs Wilson’s Diary’ ran with the following spoof entry: ‘“Enough of this bullshit’ I heard [US president] Mr Johnson’s voice exclaim on the booster, ‘when are we going to get your boys in Vietnam? Hold your horses Lady Bird [Johnson’s wife], I’ll be right back’ … Then the voice became rather muffled, and the president remarked, ‘It’s [Harold] Wilson, baby. I know, but he’s so dumb he can’t find his ass with both hands.”’ The satirical magazine captured a growing, public perception that the British prime minister was in bad odour with the blunt Texan president over Vietnam. It was an accurate view. Wilson’s hope for a close working relationship with the Americans was dashed by the war.