April 20, 2013

Lyndon Johnson

PBS American Experience

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970):
There is no hope for the world unless power can be tamed, and brought into the service [of the whole human race.]
[For] science has made it inevitable that:
  • all must live or
  • all must die.
(Power, 1938, p 24)

W H Auden (1907 – 1973):
We must love one another and die.
(September 1, 1939)

Lyndon Johnson:
To make a world in which all of God's children can live …
We must either love each other …
Or, we must die.
("Daisy" Attack Ad, 1964 Presidential Election Campaign)










Lyndon Johnson (1908 – 1973):
The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time.
Today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. …
No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began.
  • The dream of conquering the vastness of space,
  • the dream of partnership across the Atlantic — and across the Pacific as well —
  • the dream of a Peace Corps in less developed nations,
  • the dream of education for all of our children,
  • the dream of jobs for all who seek them and need them,
  • the dream of care for our elderly,
  • the dream of an all-out attack on mental illness, and above all,
  • the dream of equal rights for all Americans, whatever their race or color. …
On the 20th day of January, in 19 and 61, John F Kennedy told his countrymen that
[Our national work would not be finished] in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.
But … let us begin.
Today in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue.
(27 November, 1963)

James Thomson, Jr [National Security Council Staff]:
There was a strong sense that Americans were can-do people and that anything we put our mind to we could accomplish …
[The] kind of rural jungle warfare that the Communists were inflicting on us in the Third World [—] we could adapt [to it] and we could win …
  • we were smarter …
  • we had [the] technology,
  • we had billions of dollars
  • we would prevail. …

Larry Berman [Historian]:
Ho Chi Minh was a revolutionary.
[Johnson] didn't understand revolutionaries.
A revolutionary in the United States Senate is very different than someone like Ho Chi Minh.
He didn't understand the history of the Vietnamese people …
[The Vietnamese communists had no intention] of ever allowing a peace treaty to [divide] their country.
[And time] was on their side.

Lyndon Johnson:
I saw our bombs as political resources for negotiating peace …

A Pillar of Peace


Johnson thought he could force Ho Chi Minh to bargain. …
But Ho couldn't be pushed. …
He called the Americans "invaders".
Johnson called North Vietnam the aggressor, waging war on a peaceful neighbor.
Johnson wanted two countries, a North and a South Vietnam.
Ho wanted one.
{Their positions were irreconcilable.}


Contents


Beautiful Texas

My Fellow Americans

A Pillar of Peace

The Last Believer

Would you like to know more?


Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 – 1973)

36th President of the United States (1963–69)

  • LBJ, PBS American Experience, October 1991.
    David Grubbin.

    Beautiful Texas


    In the spring of 1937, [Lyndon] Johnson was 28 years old, campaigning as an ardent Roosevelt New Dealer, reaching out to the working men and poor dirt farmers of the Texas hill country. …
    With the support of the White House, Johnson secured loans and millions of dollars in federal grants for farmers, schools, housing for the poor, roads, public libraries …

    [But] helping complete the great dam on the lower Colorado River was his greatest achievement …
    The hill country farmers thanked Johnson for the electricity and the men who built the dam thanked him for the government contracts: George and Herman Brown of the Brown and Root Construction Company.
    Johnson helped the Brown brothers build a billion-dollar construction empire.
    In turn, the Browns would fund Johnson's political campaigns. …

    In 1941 … Johnson made a run for the Senate …
    In the rough-and-tumble world of Texas elections, stuffing the ballot box was not unusual …
    John Connally [Campaign Aide and Advisor]:
    A lot of those counties had political leaders.
    Sometimes it was the sheriff, sometimes a county judge.
    They basically carried the county the way they wanted it to go …
    They kept changing the results and changing the returns and our lead got smaller and smaller and smaller.
    Finally [we] lost the election by 1311 votes.

    Robert Dallek [Biographer]:
    Lyndon is asked does he want to challenge [the result] because it is a stolen election, but Lyndon knows that his own folks and supporters have done some pretty untoward things as well, including the fact that they [violated] campaign finance laws [by spending] hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    [Johnson said:]
    [We] can't challenge them. …
    I'll wait my turn …
    And when my turn comes, I'll fix the ballots …

    The House of Representatives was too small a stage.
    Along with southern congressmen, he voted against civil rights …
    [After] seven restless years, Johnson seized a [second] chance to run for the Senate. …

    In the tiny South Texas town of Alice six days after the polls had closed, 202 additional votes were reported from
    Precinct Box 13.




    When they were counted, all but two were for Lyndon Johnson.
    When the signatures of the 202 new voters were examined, some say the names were all written in the same ink and listed in alphabetical order.
    Johnson won by 87 votes, but the question of a stolen election remained.
    Ronnie Dugger [Biographer]:
    You cannot make the statement, on the facts, that Johnson stole the election.
    I think you can say it was stolen for him — that's true — but did he order it done? …

    John Connally [Campaign Aide and Advisor]:
    He had no interests, really, except politics.
    That was his whole life.
    He was totally committed to it.
    He never read anything except politics. …

    Doris Kearns Goodwin [Biographer]:
    [For] Lyndon Johnson's temperament, the Senate could not have been more perfectly suited. …
    You've only got a limited number [of people], all of whom can be subject to his personality.
    He could get up every day and learn what their fears, their desires, their wishes, their wants were and he could then manipulate, dominate, persuade, cajole them.
    [What] really made things work in the Senate was personal relationships and Johnson was just strictly the best at that.

    Ronnie Dugger [Biographer]:
    And he was determined to recruit you or kill you and they used to call it "the Johnson treatment." …
    In 1954, with the Republicans in control of the White House, the Democrats gained control of the Senate, making Lyndon Johnson the youngest Majority Leader ever.
    He was 46 years old.
    Robert Dallek [Biographer]:
    There was no more powerful Majority Leader in American history.
    He understood the way the Senate worked.
    He understood what senators needed and what they wanted.
    He had biographies on each of them …

    Howard Schuman [Senate Aide]:
    Well, one doesn't know whether he was a liberal or a reactionary.
    Probably he was neither.
    He probably was just an extraordinarily skillful parliamentarian who was an opportunist and who sensed the wind and then went in that direction.
    No one knew what Johnson really stood for.
    In 1957, when a civil rights bill came before Congress, it looked as if he would be finally forced to take a stand.
    Never in his life had Johnson voted for a civil rights bill …
    [But by] skillful maneuvering, Johnson engineered a bill acceptable to all sides. …

    On August 7, the Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but Johnson had traded away the muscle in the law.
    In theory, the law protected the voting rights of blacks.
    In fact, it gave the federal government no real power of enforcement. …
    The bill was pure Johnson compromise, a masterpiece of Senate politicking, but it was the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction.
    Johnson had freed himself from the shackles of his southern image and he was ready to move on. …
    He wanted to be President of the United States. …
    Robert Baker [Senate Aide]:
    [I told LBJ that] John Kennedy [knew] that no Catholic has ever been elected President in the history of this country.
    [And that] the only chance in hell that he [had] to be President [was if Johnson ran] as Vice President. …
    [And that while the] vice presidency is the worst job in the country …
    [It's also only] one heartbeat away from the presidency. …

    Lady Bird Johnson:
    It all began so hopefully, but the feeling in Texas was not good for Kennedy and so, of course, we were uptight.
    And we were going along and I was heaving a sigh of relief,
    Thank the Lord, everything's going to be all right,
    and then came that shot.
    The Secret Serviceman suddenly vaulted over Lyndon and pushed him to the floor.
    And here we were, racing down at breakneck speed, not knowing what had taken over our lives.

    This man came in and told Lyndon that President Kennedy was dead.
    … Lyndon said,
    We must get to Air Force One.
    I don't know how long we sat, but quite a while.
    He said,
    Does anybody on this plane know the Oath of Office?
    Nobody did, word for word, precisely.
    He said,
    You'll have to call the Attorney General and ask him.
    What an excruciating call.
    The Attorney General was Bobby Kennedy.

    My Fellow Americans


    A bill to prohibit the segregation of blacks and whites in public facilities had been put before Congress by John Kennedy, but it was stalled. …
    [But the] full force of the Johnson treatment, perfected in the Senate, [had now become] a weapon in the arsenal of the presidency. …
    Southern senators prepared to filibuster …
    The debate paralyzed the Senate for 83 days [—] the longest filibuster in Senate history. …
    [Finally, the] bill passed. …

    Three presidents before him — Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy — had sent American "advisers" and weapons to help fight a nationalist uprising led by Communists.
    By 1963, 16,000 American advisers were already there.

    Vietnam was divided in two.
    South Vietnam — weak, corrupt and dependent on American aid — was fighting the Vietcong, a guerrilla army that received support from the Communists in the North.
    In the North, Johnson would find adversaries with a will as powerful as his own.
    They wanted one Vietnam, not two.
    They had resisted the Japanese and defeated the French.
    They were not afraid of the Americans. …

    Just two days in office, Johnson told an aide,
    The Chinese and the fellas in The Kremlin, they'll be taking the measure of us.
    They'll be wondering just how far they could go.
    They'll think with Kennedy dead, we've lost heart.
    They'll think we're yellow and don't mean what we say. …

    The war against poverty was the war that Johnson really wanted to fight. …
    He took a Kennedy anti-poverty proposal and made it his own.
    Lyndon Johnson:
    It will not be a short or easy struggle, but we shall not rest until that war is won.
    The richest nation on earth can afford to win it.
    We cannot afford to lose it.
    When Lyndon Johnson became President, 35 million Americans were living below the poverty line in the most affluent country in the world.
    S Douglas Cater [Special Assistant to the President]:
    … I said,
    But they don't vote.
    They don't have any organized lobbies.
    How in the world are you going to get any substantial legislation on poverty?
    Jack Kennedy couldn't.
    How are you going to do it? …
    He said,
    I don't know whether I'll pass a single law or get a single dollar appropriated, but before I'm through, no community in America is going to be able to ignore the poverty in its midst. …
    Poverty in America had been invisible.
    Johnson put it on the front pages.
    Donald Malafronte [Aide to Mayor of Newark]:
    He was the last soldier in the New Deal war …
    [Government] as mother, father, smothering [—] Lyndon Johnson's big arms around you [—]
    I love you, I want you to do better. …
    Lyndon Johnson:
    Do something we can be proud of.
    Help the weak and the meek and lift them up …
    [Help] them dream …
    [Give] them an education where they can make their own way instead of having to live off the bounty of our generosity.

    Ronnie Dugger [Biographer]:
    Most people don't actively care about people they don't know, people who are suffering.
    It's hard for us to remember those people.
    [But] Lyndon never really forgot them …

    [His argument to big business was that:] in a civilized country with such abundance as we have — astounding abundance compared to the rest of the world — you can afford to be liberal with the poor. …
    Few anticipated that this coarse and abrasive Texan would propose a series of laws to enrich daily life for all Americans.
    He called his vision "The Great Society."
    Lyndon Johnson:
    The Great Society is a place …
    • where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talent. …
    • where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. …
    • where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce, but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. …
    • where man can renew contact with nature [and]
    • where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods. …
    (University of Michigan, 22 May 1964)

    [Johnson] hated that he was merely an accidental president.
    [In 1964, he] wanted to be elected President in his own right.
    The Republican Party was going to make it easy. …
    In the middle of July at the Cow Palace in San Francisco [they nominated] Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater …





    {Barry Goldwater (1909 – 1998):
    I would remind you, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!
    And let me remind you also, that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
    (Republican National Convention, 1964)}

    [Malcolm X (1925 – 1965):
    We want Freedom, by any means necessary!
    We want Justice, by any means necessary!
    We want Equality, by any means necessary!
    (Steven Ives, 1964, PBS American Experience, WGBH, 2014)

    Goldwater … accused the Democrats of being soft on Communism.
    If Johnson could prove he was as [staunchly anti-communist] as his Republican rival [the] 1964 presidential election would be a landslide. …

    [For six months in 1964,] the President had been running covert raids against North Vietnam.
    Finally, on August 2, North Vietnamese torpedo boats retaliated [against] the US destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.
    The Maddox returned the fire, sinking one … and crippling two others. …
    Dean Rusk [Secretary of State]:
    And we took the view … that that might have been the action of trigger-happy local commanders and did not represent a governmental policy on the part of North Vietnam and so we tended to disregard that attack.
    Two days after the first incident, fearing they were once again under attack, anxious sailors on the Maddox fired their weapons into a dark, moonless night.
    USS Maddox:
    We are under attack at this moment.
    We have just successfully evaded one torpedo.
    I am taking evasive action now.

    Two torpedoes. …

    Now four torpedoes are in the water.

    Six torpedoes are in the water. …

    We've had 21 torpedoes coming at us [altogether. …]

    Reevaluation of the information we're getting here suggests that freak weather effects and an overeager sonar man may have accounted for most of the reports we've been getting. …
    (Flash Cables, Gulf of Tonkin, 4 August, 1964.)
    [By morning the] commander of the Maddox was still doubtful [as to whether they had been attacked at all].
    [Reconnaissance] planes scanned the ocean for … evidence of a North Vietnamese attack.
    Nothing could be found. …
    [Nevertheless, Johnson went ahead] and ordered the first bombing raids on North Vietnam. …
    {American bombers striking deep into North Vietnam demonstrated that [he] was a committed anti-Communist.}
    Lyndon Johnson:
    On August 2, the United States destroyer, Maddox, was attacked on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin. …
    On August 4, that attack was repeated. …
    The attacks were deliberate [and] unprovoked. …

    Daniel Ellsberg [Defense Department Staff]:
    We were running raids against North Vietnam which the North Vietnamese correctly associated with the destroyer patrols. …

    J William Fulbright [Senate Foreign Relations Committee]:
    [He] had me and a number of the committee down at the White House and told about this terribly unprovoked attack.
    We were very peaceably going about our business and all without provocation, they attack us, sent out these gunboats, you know, and surrounded us and shelling. …
    It didn't occur to me to think he was lying about it or misrepresenting. …
    [It] was a year or two before I discovered I had been taken in. …
    [Johnson] used the incident to cut himself loose from congressional control.
    He requested a resolution that would give him the power to expand the war without further authorization.
    After deliberating just 40 minutes, the House [of Representatives unanimously] approved the Tonkin Gulf resolution. …
    [In] the Senate, there were just two dissenting votes. …
    Clark Clifford [Presidential Adviser]:
    It was about as close to a declaration of war as one could get. …

    When he won his race for the Senate with a tainted 87 votes, he was dogged by the nickname "Landslide Lyndon."
    When the murder of a beloved president put him in the White House, he was scorned as an accidental president.
    In November of 1964, Lyndon Johnson wanted a victory to wash all those memories away. …
    From the beginning, Johnson was far ahead …

    Johnson painted his Republican rival as insensitive to the needs of minorities and the poor. …
    Barry Goldwater [Republican Senator for Arizona]:
    Minority groups run this country and just face up to it.
    {Goldwater frightened many Americans with talk about using nuclear weapons. …}
    Barry Goldwater:
    {This country … must always maintain such superiority of strength, such devastating strike-back power …}

    Ronald Reagan:
    Every American should hear what Barry Goldwater really has to say — not what a bunch of distorters of the truth would have you believe. …
    Johnson presented himself as the peace candidate.
    He promised he would never send American boys to fight in Vietnam. …

    {It was an unprecedented victory — presidency by more votes than any man ever before.
    The Congress by an overwhelming majority …}

    Throughout the campaign, Johnson had kept Americans ignorant about Vietnam, but behind closed doors, he and his advisers had been making decisions that would lead the nation deeper and deeper into war.


    We Shall Overcome


    Even with American advisers, the South Vietnamese Army couldn't win the war themselves. …
    [Johnson's] advisers were warning him that if he didn't act, South Vietnam would fall. …
    Daniel Ellsberg [Defense Department Staff]:
    We didn't really consider not bombing North Vietnam.
    That possibility was mentioned, but only as a straw man.
    There lies defeat …
    [No] one is for that.

    Johnson's advisers wanted to get us moving on the bombing, and the President was digging in his feet on that.
    He had to be convinced that that was worthwhile.
    It gave me a very good impression of Johnson.
    I had, in fact, the thought that he was the only sane man at that level of the government, that he was asking the right questions.
    On February 6, 1965, Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in retaliation for a Vietcong attack on an American military outpost. …
    [By March,] continuous and massive air assaults [were underway across] North Vietnam — Operation Rolling Thunder. …


    No President had ever put so many bills before Congress. …
    Doris Kearns Goodwin [Biographer]:
    There was a sense in which laws were being written before people even understood the problems, and you had new agencies springing up overnight.
    … I think Johnson was afraid that somehow this consensus was going to go away, so he'd better get as much done as he could and we could straighten things out later.
    Johnson prepared bill after bill: funds for …
    • education, elementary, secondary and college, and, for preschool children, Head Start;
    • conservation, clean air and clean rivers, highway beautification, national parks;
    • consumer protection, truth in labelling and packaging, automobile safety. …
    • urban renewal and housing,
    • public television [and] the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts …
    John Connally [Campaign Aide and Advisor]:
    Part of his demeanor, part of his whole life was that he felt he could convert anybody, that he could convert an enemy into a friend, that he was — he would work at it assiduously, to court and to convert someone who disliked him into being a friend and a disciple.
    And many times, it worked.

    But Johnson couldn't use those same tactics with Ho Chi Minh.
    Johnson thought the war would be like a filibuster, as he said — enormous resistance at first, then a steady whittling away, then Ho hurrying to get it over with. …
    {[The problem was Ho Chi Minh] was ready to fight another 20 years if that's what it took to win.

    Johnson would bully and bargain.
    On March 8, [he] ordered the first American fighting troops into Vietnam. …
    On April 7, he offered Ho what sounded like a Great Society program.}
    Lyndon Johnson:
    [What] do the people of North Vietnam want?
    Food for their hunger, health for their bodies.
    I will ask the Congress to join in a billion-dollar American investment to replace despair with hope, and terror with progress. …

    Despite Johnson's historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that had put an end to segregation, the web of local laws continued to deny black Americans the right to vote. …
    Determined to force Johnson's hand, [Martin Luther King Jnr,] working with other civil rights groups, organized a series of demonstrations in Alabama, climaxing in a march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery.
    Alabama State Troopers brutally attacked the unarmed marchers while television cameras recorded the event for a stunned national audience.
    It was called "Bloody Sunday".

    Johnson was outraged … but he refused to send federal troops to protect the marchers.
    [He feared playing] into the hands of the popular segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace …
    [Wallace met with Johnson, and, in the end was persuaded] to ask the President to mobilize the National Guard to protect the marchers.
    Two days later … Johnson presented a tough voting rights bill to a joint session of Congress. …
    Lyndon Johnson:
    What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America.
    It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
    Their cause must be our cause too …
    [Because] it's not just Negroes … it's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
    And we shall overcome.
    With the protection of the federal government, the marchers assembled in the heart of the Old South to claim their rights as American citizens. …


    The logic of [the] war was relentless.
    Advisers had led to bombing.
    Bombing now led to troops.
    By early 1965, thousands of American soldiers were in Vietnam, and still the South Vietnamese Army was losing.
    {[Yet] Johnson still clung to the idea that the South Vietnamese Army could win the war themselves.
    Lyndon Johnson:
    Get every South Vietnamese man under 40 years and get it done.
    Fight 'em, kill 'em. …
    Let's get going. …
    The war was careening out of control.
    South Vietnam was about to fall.
    Johnson could hesitate no longer.
    He would have to decide: escalate or withdraw.}
    Larry Berman [Historian]:
    How would Johnson explain to the American people that a country that John Kennedy [and] Dwight Eisenhower had promised to defend — wasn't worth defending any longer? …
    Had our commitment to freedom changed?
    Or was it [because] we couldn't defeat the North Vietnamese?

    Lyndon Johnson:
    If you can show me any reasonable out, I'll grab it … but to give in would be a sign of weakness.
    The lessons of World War II were always in the back of their minds — stop aggression when it begins, never reward a bully.
    [And behind] the North Vietnamese, they believed, [stood] the Russians and the Chinese.
    James Thomson, Jr [National Security Council Staff]:
    The men at the top did not want to be bothered with rethinking [their] assumptions …
    [That, perhaps,] Chinese Communism was no mortal threat to us and was very different from the Soviet form of Communism …
    [Or] that Hanoi posed no major threat to us and was different itself from Moscow and Peking …
    [The only adviser] to challenge the conventional wisdom that Johnson had no choice but to send in troops [was] Undersecretary of State George Ball.
    Larry Berman [Historian]:
    George Ball is telling Johnson,
    Look, you're going to lose in Vietnam.
    You're going to end up with a protracted war that will divide America.
    At the end of three or four or five years, you're going to be in Vietnam with 500,000 American troops and you're not going to accomplish your political objective.
    He's advising Johnson to let the … government of South Vietnam fall and walk away. …

    [And] from his military advisers he hears the same thing …
    [It's] going to be a long, protracted war in the jungles of Vietnam — four, five years, 500,000 troops, 600,000 troops. …
    Dean Rusk [Secretary of State]:
    How we reacted in Vietnam would be looked upon by other governments as a sign as to how we would react under other treaties, such as NATO and the Rio Pact.
    In other words, this was a — the reputation of the United States for fidelity to its security treaties is not just a simple question of face and prestige.
    It's a real pillar of peace in the world.
    Secretary of Defense McNamara … assured the President that we could win within two and a half years [— that] there was no risk of a catastrophe.
    William P Bundy [Assistant Secretary of State]:
    It would have been terribly difficult to do what George Ball urged, which was straight withdrawal.
    It would have been … very damaging to the country.
    It would have been very divisive. …

    Clark Clifford [Presidential Adviser]:
    If you … you line up all those in favor of going on with it and those who were opposed, it's 10, 15, 20 to one.
    After months of doubt, the President made his decision.
    He had inherited a limited war; now he chose to expand it.
    On July 28, 1965, [Lyndon Johnson went to war in Vietnam.]
    Lyndon Johnson:
    I have today ordered to Vietnam the air mobile division and certain other forces which will raise our fighting strength from 75,000 to 125,000 men almost immediately.
    Additional forces will be needed later, and they will be sent as requested.

    Larry Berman [Historian]:
    This was it.
    The war was Americanized. …
    We were committed to not losing Vietnam. …

    He kept the risks and costs of war hidden from the American people.
    He never told them he'd been warned that hundreds of thousands of soldiers might be needed …
    [Never] prepared them for the struggle he knew might lie ahead. …

    Larry Berman [Historian]:
    He doesn't tell the American people what's really going on because he fears that if he [did, then] that's the end of the Great Society.
    [And in] the end [that's] the one thing he cares about more than anything. …

    Newsreel Announcer:
    Mr Johnson chose to sign the bill [in Independence, Missouri] as a tribute to former President Truman.
    The former President campaigned for Medicare 20 years ago, but it took two decades for his proposal to become law.
    The new bill expands the 30-year-old Social Security program to provide hospital care, nursing-home care, home-nursing services and outpatient treatment for those over 65. …
    Only the President knew that his Great Society was in jeopardy.
    He hid the costs of the war from Congress and signed more bills.
    Doris Kearns Goodwin [Biographer]:
    When he got into that Great Society mode, he looked at every problem in the society and felt,
    I'm going to make it better.
    He had this desire to perfect everything and to have his stamp on everything.
    So he saw handicapped people, he was going to make things better for them …
    [Retarded] people, he was going to make things better for them.
    Whatever it was, he wanted to make things better.
    He liked to make everybody feel good.

    Just five days after Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, riots erupted in Watts, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles.
    Five days of rioting left 34 people dead.
    Johnson was shattered. …

    {The optimism of the civil rights movement had gone up in flames.}
    "Too little, too late," is what new black voices were saying about Johnson's achievements. …
    Justice, fairness, the war on poverty had been too long delayed in America's ghettos.
    Not even a politician of Johnson's genius would be able to hold the country together. …


    Johnson had gambled his political future and the lives of tens of thousands of men that he could win a quick victory …
    [That] when he sent American troops in force, Ho would turn tail and run …
    [But] the North Vietnamese refused to quit.
    Ho resisted Johnson's escalation with an escalation of his own, matching him soldier for soldier.

    Four months after Johnson's agonizing decision to send the troops, he received an ominous private report from the man who had argued most fervently for the land war in Asia.
    Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had begun to have second thoughts.
    Larry Berman [Historian]:
    In late 1965 … Robert McNamara tells Lyndon Johnson that
    We've been too optimistic.
    The war can't be won in the period of time that we thought. …
    Johnson did not want to hear what the Secretary of Defense had to say, and from that moment on, the relationship between the two men deteriorated …
    [Others, too, were beginning] to question the conduct of the war. …
    [In] February 1966, Senator William Fulbright began to hold televised hearings.
    Fulbright had guided the Tonkin Gulf resolution through an obedient Congress on behalf of the President.
    Now he was leading Senate liberals in an anti-war revolt against the White House.
    Frank Church [Democratic Senator, Idaho]:
    You can look at the war in Vietnam as a covert invasion of the South by the North, or you can look at it as basically an indigenous war.
    [Either way] it's a war between Vietnamese to determine what the ultimate kind of government is going to be for Vietnam.
    Now, when I went to school, that was a civil war.
    Johnson was furious [with] Fulbright … and cut him off entirely.
    Their 20-year friendship was over.
    He placed Fulbright and several other Senate liberals under FBI surveillance.
    Johnson ridiculed his critics [calling them:]
    [Cut-and-run] people with no guts …

    Ronnie Dugger [Biographer]:
    I didn't fully understand why I was opposed to the war in Vietnam.
    I just knew that it was wrong for a great, proud, abundant nation, technologically superior to anything in the world, going in and crushing a peasant society. …

    [But once Johnson had made the decision to go to war,] he wasn't going to draw back.
    [He argued] that he had tried to do everything to bring peace.
    I don't want people to think I'm a coward …
    I don't want to be the first President who's lost a war. …
    Well, what does it matter if he's the first President who's lost a war that shouldn't be fought anyway? …
    By the summer of 1966, hundreds of thousands of Americans were in Vietnam.
    {Thousands were dead …}
    Still, his generals kept asking for more.


    The Last Believer


    Over four long, hot summers, riots had become a brutal fact of American life.
    Johnson looked helplessly on as more than 150 cities went up in flames.
    Detroit was the worst — 43 dead, 7,000 arrested, 1,300 buildings destroyed.
    Johnson dispatched army paratroopers …
    Donald Malafronte [Aide to Mayor of Newark]:
    The anti-poverty program evaporated in the rioting of '66-'67 and with the pressure on Johnson to establish order in the streets. …
    Johnson was accused of forcing racial equality and neglecting the needs of middle-class white Americans.
    He was caught between the civil rights movement and a growing backlash of fear and resentment. …


    American planes had already struck most of the important targets in North Vietnam by the end of 1967. Several times, Johnson ordered a halt in the bombing and waited for a response from Ho.
    None came.
    Johnson's generals thought he was too cautious [—] preventing them from using America's enormous firepower to force a victory.
    But Johnson was tormented by … the fear of triggering World War III.
    {[He] spent many hours personally selecting where the bombs should fall.}
    Lyndon Johnson:
    I would lay awake [at night,] asking myself:
    What if one of those targets you picked today triggers off Russia or China? …

    Nicholas Katzenbach [Attorney General]:
    I am not sure that he didn't think he was telling the truth.
    He had a capacity for self-deception about facts that was ten times the capacity of anybody else I've ever met.
    When Johnson continued to insist that America was making progress, fewer and fewer people believed him.
    No one directly accused the President of lying [—] they called it "the credibility gap". …
    John Connally [Campaign Aide and Advisor]:
    [I pleaded] with him to end it … by winning it. …
    [If] you have to blow Hanoi off the face of the earth …
    [Blow] it off the face of the earth.
    He said,
    I can't do that.
    They tell me we're winning. …
    I can't use [the] ultimate power.
    I said,
    Why can't you? …
    The war's too slow.
    You're not winning the war [and you're losing the battle at home …
    [It's] going to destroy you. …

    Martin Luther King, Jr:
    It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill in Vietnam …
    [While] we spend, in the so-called War On Poverty in America, only about $53 for each person classified as poor. …
    [More tonnage] of bombs were dropped on Vietnam than had been dropped during all of World War II.
    Dead Rusk [Secretary of State]:
    … I made two mistakes in judgment. …
    • I underestimated the tenacity of the North Vietnamese, and …
    • I overestimated the patience of the American people.

    Clark Clifford [Presidential Adviser]:
    He decided to call in the men whom he respected most.
    They became known as "the [ten] Wise Men." …
    [In total] those men must have had 250 to 300 years of government service. …
    They voted unanimously for him to go on with his course. …

    George Ball [Undersecretary of State]:
    [They] gave him perfectly silly advice.
    They were sensible people, and why they were so silly, I don't know.
    Their main advice was,
    Well, you ought to improve your public relations.
    [After] the meeting … I said,
    You old bastards …
    [You] ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
    You're like a lot of vultures sitting on the fence and sending the young men out to die.
    And I walked out of the room.
    [Johnson needed] desperately to believe that America had turned the corner in Vietnam …
    [That] there was light at the end of the tunnel.
    Clark Clifford [Presidential Adviser]:
    And then Tet came [and the roof fell in.]
    On the first day of the Vietnamese holiday known as Tet, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong caught American forces by surprise.
    Five of the six largest cities and nearly a quarter of the district capitals came suddenly under attack.
    The illusion of progress was shattered. …
    [It] went on for more than three weeks.
    When it was over, the Vietcong had lost thousands of experienced soldiers and failed to provoke a popular uprising …
    [But] by now, Johnson had misled the American people so often that when he told the truth, few believed him. …

    Walter Cronkite [had] once supported the war.
    Tet changed his mind.
    Walter Cronkite:
    And for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of a 100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000 more American troops to the battle.
    And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
    Johnson felt more and more alone.
    Many of those closest to him had resigned …
    [On] March 1, 1968, Clark Clifford replaced McNamara as Secretary of Defense.
    Half a million Americans were already in Vietnam, and Westmoreland wanted 200,000 more. …
    Clark Clifford [Secretary of State]:
    [I did] everything in my power to persuade the President to change our policy in Vietnam.
    [But it was not easy to reverse a] process that had been going on since 1965 …
    [By] that time … we'd lost [maybe] 20,000 men [and spent] tens of billions of dollars …
    [It was] almost beyond human capacity … to say,
    We've been wrong. …
    Five months before, the Wise Men had cheered Johnson with their support.
    Now, Clifford encouraged the President to meet with them one more time. ….
    Clark Clifford:
    [We] went through the same process — reading cables, getting briefed …
    [Then] we met with the President.
    They had all turned around.
    The impact was profound — so profound that he thought something had gone wrong, and he used the expression
    I think somebody has poisoned the well.
    Richard Goodwin:
    He had picked these old Cold Warriors that were still fighting the battle of containment, and he listened to their advice, and as long as they stayed with him, he felt that he must be doing the right thing.
    Then, finally, at the end, they left him.
    They all said,
    It's not working,
    and … walked out of the room …
    [And] there was Lyndon Johnson, all alone with his war … the last believer.
    [Five] days after meeting with the Wise Men …
    Lyndon Johnson:
    I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President. …
    (March 31, 1968.)
    Three days later, Ho Chi Minh responded.
    North Vietnam was ready to talk, but the war would go on for another seven years. …

    Johnson would remain in office 10 more months …
    On April 4, he learned that Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed.
    Two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. …

    On a cold day in the winter of 1972, Johnson left the seclusion of his ranch and traveled to Austin to speak about civil rights for the last time.
    Lyndon Johnson:
    We know how much still remains to be done; and
    • if our efforts continue, and
    • if our will is strong, and
    • if our hearts are right, and
    • if courage remains our constant companion,
    then, my fellow Americans, I am confident we shall overcome.
    Within six weeks, on January 22, 1973, Lyndon Johnson's heart stopped beating.
    He was 64 years old.
    Five days later, the Vietnam War ended …

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