Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lyndon B. Johnson and the Crisis in the Dominican Republic

A We The People Resource
Created March 25, 2013

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

LBJ: Honduran soldiers

Honduran soldiers, first troops of Inter-American peace force, arrive to assume peace-keeping duties and to render emergency aid in the Dominican Republic, 1965.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons and the National Archives and Records Administration.

“We know of no more important problems anywhere, any time, than the problems of our neighbors. We want to see our relations with them be the very best.”

—Lyndon B. Johnson, “The President’s News Conference of December 18, 1963,” The American Presidency Project

When Lyndon B. Johnson made this statement of general goodwill toward America’s neighbors in the Western hemisphere, he was still only a month into his presidency. Only two years later, a crisis in the Dominican Republic would force Johnson to choose between his commitment to anti-communism and his desire to maintain positive relationships with Latin American nations.

In this lesson, students will look at the history of the United States’s relationship with Latin America, and they will then evaluate the competing priorities which shaped the American intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965. They will hear President Johnson discuss the intervention with his top advisors, and compare this to his presentation of the issue to the public.

Guiding Questions

  • In the case of the Dominican Republic, how did President Johnson and his advisors seek to balance the foreign policy priorities of national self-determination, human rights, and anti-communism?
  • How did behind-the-scenes presidential policy discussions differ from Johnson’s public presentation of the decision to send U.S. troops?

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize America’s involvement in the Caribbean during parts of the Cold War
  • Identify and evaluate the advice the president received on how to deal with the crisis
  • Analyze the language LBJ used to inform the public of his decision to intervene in the Dominican Republic
  • Compare and contrast the public presentation of policy with “behind-the-scenes” presidential decision-making in the Johnson administration

Background

LBJ served as President during a turbulent period in the Cold War. He took over an administration that had been pushed to the brink of nuclear war by Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he spoke publicly of friendship, he knew that a top priority that would dominate his foreign policy would be the aggressive containment of communism.

The focus of this lesson is the American decision-making that resulted in sending troops to the Dominican Republic. The most important point to take from the summary below, and a focus of each of the primary documents in the lesson, is the degree of chaos and confusion in the Dominican Republic which prompted Johnson to send in troops.

When assassins murdered dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, it destabilized the Dominican Republic. Over the next four years, free elections would be followed by two military coups. In 1962 elections, Dominicans elected reformer Juan Bosch to the presidency with 60% of the vote. But in 1963, a military coup ousted Bosch, installing Donald Reid Cabral as president.

Only two years later, in April 1965, Cabral found out that a plot existed among a few military officers to bring Bosch back and to install him again as president. Cabral tried to fire these military officers, but they announced that they were overthrowing him. The military then split between those who wanted to keep Cabral in office and those who wanted to bring Bosch back to power.

The CIA warned the president and his advisors that communists in the Dominican Republic, though surprised by the sudden coup, were rallying to take advantage of the chaos. Furthermore, it was possible that American lives were at risk. On April 28, U.S. Ambassador Bennett reported that American tourists and the American embassy were in danger as the air force had begun to bomb the presidential palace, which had been captured by rebels. That afternoon Bennett requested that Johnson send in the marines.

After consultation with his advisors, Johnson immediately ordered 500 troops on nearby ships to land in the Dominican Republic. The fear that leftists would come to power and turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba led Johnson to decide that instead of merely evacuating Americans with this small number of marines, a heightened U.S. military presence was necessary to ensure that the new Dominican government was acceptable to the Johnson administration. Before the operation ended, the U.S. troop presence in the Dominican Republic had grown from 500 to 22,000 soldiers.

The Library of Congress provides background and analysis of the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. Country Studies: the Dominican Republic provides clear, textbook-style information, divided into several chapters. Useful chapters for teachers of this lesson include, “Government and Politics,” “The Post-Trujillo era,” “Civil War and United States Intervention, 1965,” and “Occupation by the United States, 1916–1924.”

The National Archives holds the State Department’s published overview of the crisis from 1965, a forty-page pamphlet called The Dominican Crisis ... The Hemisphere Acts. It provides more background on how the Johnson administration saw the intervention and sought to explain it to the public.

Each page appears as a separate image and can be enlarged for viewing. These include many quotations from U.S. officials, as well as photographs and information on the role of the Organization of American States.

If teachers are interested in knowing how Johnson initially presented the Dominican conflict to the public, they may wish to look at the following speeches, provided by the American Presidency Project:

Finally, teachers who are using the Johnson tapes as audio files for the first time may wish to know the background on how these tapes were made. The EDSITEment-reviewed American President website offers the Johnson tapes, and this page has a useful essay with their “Provenance and Description.”

Preparation Instructions

Teachers can make the decision on how to implement this lesson based on the amount of time they have available. Teachers without significant time constraints can implement all the activities as a mini-unit and case study of the Cold War, which provides a different view from the often-taught Cuban Missile Crisis or even the Vietnam War. Teachers may wish to use only one or two of the activities below if their time is more limited. The choice is the teacher’s; the activities both stand alone and work as a unit.

Teachers should review the following sites and bookmark them:

For Activity Three:

For Activity Four, from the American Presidency Project:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. America’s Cold War Involvement in the Caribbean

Have students visit CNN’s interactive on-line map, showing America’s involvement in the Caribbean during the Cold War.

Interactive Map on the Cold War

  1. First, have the students look at the map showing America’s Cold War involvement in Latin America on the webpage entitled “Episode 18: Backyard.” This is a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Digital History site.
  2. Have students look at Cuba and Guatemala and click on those nations.
  3. Have students summarize the reasoning for America’s intervention in those two nations. Note the two different outcomes: Cuba became a Soviet-friendly, communist country while Guatemala, ruled by its military, became a U.S.-friendly nation.
  4. Then students should answer the following questions:
  • Why does CNN refer to the Caribbean as America’s “backyard”?
  • Why would the United States be fearful of a Communist government in the Caribbean?
  • In your opinion, what should America’s responsibility be towards its neighbors in the Caribbean?
Activity 2. LBJ Addresses the Nation

In this activity, students listen to LBJ address the nation on the Dominican Republic crisis; they will take notes on different aspects of the speech, and analyze Johnson’s stated priorities.

Step One

  1. Explain to students that they will now hear and read the first part of a speech that President Johnson gave on May 2, 1965 about the crisis in the Dominican Republic. In this part of the speech, he describes the crisis to the American people.
  2. Distribute the first portion of the transcript of this speech. It available online.
  3. Divide the class into two groups. The first group should note down Johnson’s stated concerns about the Dominican crisis, the purpose of his speech, as well as any language revealing the speech’s tone. The second group should make note of the names and factions involved in the crisis.

    The class should then listen to or watch the video clip of Johnson delivering the speech, following along on their printed transcript. The short video clip of the speech can be found at “Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Situation in the Dominican Republic (May 1965).”

    You may wish to play the video of the speech twice, or simply give students extra time to read over the transcript and note down their answers.

  4. As a class, make a list on the board of students’ answers to the questions above. Factions and names to keep track of should include: Bosch, Trujillo and the Organization of American States. Johnson’s concerns should include: protection of civilians and the principle of nonintervention in a “sister republic.” (All of the information elicited in this step will be important to the final activity, in which students analyze the second half of the speech.)
  5. Ask students to discuss the following questions:
  • Is there a conflict between the desire to protect civilians and the principle of nonintervention?
  • How, given these two sets of values, should the U.S. act? Discuss a set of options, including complete nonintervention, sending in a small number of troops to extract civilians, and sending in a larger number of troops to ensure stability and prevent chaos. Students may suggest other options including trade sanctions. You may want to discuss the role of the Organization of American States and the United Nations when a nation undergoes revolution or a coup.
Activity 3. LBJ’s Private Conversations

In this activity, the teacher splits the class into two groups, each of which listens to a different LBJ conversation. Students then compare their own suggestions of how the U.S. should act in the Dominican Republic with those given to President Johnson by his advisors.

To obtain the audio files to analyze, follow the instructions below:

  1. Go to the Johnson Tapes Telephone Series.
  2. Scroll down and in a box on the lower right-hand side of the page, both "flac" and "mp3" choices are available. If you see only flac choices, you may want to use a different internet browser; Safari and Firefox users may not get the mp3 format as a choice.
  3. Under ".mp3" click on the 1965 folder and find: lbj_wh6504_05_7362_mann.mp3 and lbj_wh6504_06_7367_mann.mp3.

Group A: This conversation is between LBJ and his Latin American advisor Thomas Mann on April 26, 1965: lbj_wh6504_05_7362_mann.mp3.

A transcript of this conversation can be found at the State Department’s

“Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” You will need to scroll down; it is listed as Document “22. Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mann) and President Johnson.” The text in blue has been added by editors to clarify the conversation.

Group B: This conversation is between LBJ and his Latin American advisor Thomas Mann on April 27, 1965: lbj_wh6504_06_7367_mann.mp3.

A transcript of this conversation can be found at the State Department’s

“Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” You will need to scroll down; it is listed as Document “23. Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mann) and President Johnson”

5. As they listen to the conversations for the first time, ask students to note down the main issues Johnson and Mann discuss. Then, listening a second time, ask students to refine their notes on these issues. If students have questions about specific names from the conversations, you have two choices: you can go over each name and clarify the person’s role, or you can tell students that the main points from the conversation can be understood without knowing the full details on each person mentioned.

Questions for class-wide discussion: (Note: this discussion should bring Groups A and B back together, sharing answers.)

For the whole class:

  1. Ask members of each group to briefly summarize the conversation they heard, listing the main issues they noted. Students should be sure that they have notes on both of the conversations, for use in the Assessment step of this lesson.
  2. The price of sugar comes up in both of these conversations. Why? What does the price of sugar have to do with stability in the Dominican Republic?

For Group A:

  1. How does the price of sugar affect Cuba?
  2. LBJ tells Mann, “We are going to have to set up that government down there, run it and stabilize it ...” Then after hearing Mann describe the problems involved with stabilizing the Dominican Republic, LBJ tells Mann, “Well, that’s your problem. You’d better figure it out.” What does this exchange tell us about the relationship of Johnson to his advisors? What does it reveal about the power of the United States?

For Group B:

  1. How does Mann characterize the people and government of the Dominican Republic?
  2. In this conversation, Mann tells LBJ, “ ... [W]e do not think that this fellow Bosch understands the Communist danger. We do not think he is a Communist but what we are afraid of is that if he gets back in, he will have so many of them around him; and they are so much smarter than he is, that before you know it, they’d begin to take over.” How is Mann characterizing communism here? How does this understanding of communism justify American interventions in other nations’ domestic politics?

The entire class should then review two additional pieces of evidence, a telegram from the American Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and the transcript of a phone conversation with the President and important foreign policy advisors. This evidence is available from “Foreign Relations, 19641968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” The telegram is document 29, and the telephone meeting is document 31.

When reading this evidence, students should again note the role of anticommunism in Johnson’s decision-making.

As a class, students should discuss the factors the President and his advisors mentioned.

  • What role did the fear of communists play in these conversations?
  • What other concerns did they mention?
  • Why did the President and his advisors reject the cable from Ambassador Bennett, and ask for a new cable that did not discuss communists, but only referred to the safety of civilians? (The class may refer back to the text at this point to re-read the section on the cable.)
Activity 4. LBJ’s Address to the Nation

In this activity, students listen to the rest of President Johnson’s address, transcript in hand.

Have students continue their list of names and timelines.

  • What immediate steps did President Johnson take? Make sure the class understands what happened in the proper sequence.
  • What are America’s chief reasons for sending U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic, according to this speech?
  • How does Johnson portray the Dominican people and government?
  • What differences do students detect between Johnson’s private conversations and this public statement?

Assessment

  1. Ask students to imagine that they are citizens of the Dominican Republic in 1965, and write letters to President Johnson giving their opinions of his decision to send troops. Students should discuss the impact of the American military presence on domestic politics, using evidence from the notes and primary documents in this lesson.
  2. Students should compare and contrast the way Lyndon B. Johnson and his advisors discussed the Dominican crisis in private meetings with the way Johnson presented the crisis, and U.S. involvement, in his May 2, 1965 speech to the American public. Students should focus on three main issues: the treatment of Communism, the importance of preserving civilian life, and attitudes toward the ability of the Dominican government and the Dominican people to exercise responsible self-determination.

Extending The Lesson

Students can research U.S. involvement in Latin America on the web, comparing different policies by filling out a chart. This can be done as homework, or in the class in groups.

Monroe Doctrine:

Roosevelt Corollary: information is available in the articles on the Monroe Doctrine listed above.

The Panama Canal: “Make the Dirt Fly” an EDSITEment-reviewed website

The Spanish-American War: both links below are from America’s Story from America’s Library:

Containment:

Cuban Missile Crisis: EDSITEment’s “The Missiles of October”: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Bay of Pigs Invasion: from the New York Times Learning Network, “On This Day: Anti-Castro Units Land in Cuba”

Creation of the Organization of American States: OAS History at a Glance is available from the Organization of American States, linked to the EDSITEment-reviewed Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC)

 

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Caribbean
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Using primary sources
  • Writing

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Media

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