Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hey! Hey! LBJ…

President Lyndon Baines Johnson had grown accustomed to success in office. He was rather a giant in a number of ways. But the anti-war protesters of ’68, of which I was one, brought him down. He took his great wealth and stole away to his estate in Texas.
by Charlie Leck

I’ve begun the five volume (four of them, so far, published) biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson by Robert Caro It’s brilliant stuff that is remarkably well written. Though it’s accurate and historical and carefully documented, it reads in a very suspenseful and tantalizing way. In other words, it’s a page-turner. It’s gripping and deeply interesting. Though there are four or five thousand pages to read, I just keep plugging along, turning page after page in great anticipation and with total interest. My dear wife gave me these volumes for Christmas and I cannot thank her enough. Wow! These are incredible books. Caro is a brilliant writer.

We think of LBJ as one of our most successful presidents because of his ability to move Congress into action; however, LBJ’s great failure was Vietnam. He made terrible and foolish mistakes there even after the time he became aware there was no possibility of victory. The following comes from the introduction to Volume II of his biography (Means of Ascent):

“When Lyndon Johnson became President, the number of American troops – advisers, not combatants – in Vietnam was 16,000… And during his campaign, in 1964, for election to the presidency in his own right, Lyndon Johnson had pledged not to widen the war… Not a month after he took the oath of office following that campaign, the bombers were going north – in a program, “operation Rolling Thunder,” that would be enlarged and enlarged, and enlarged again, with Johnson personally selecting many of the bombing targets. And in April, 1965, the President sent American boys – 40,000 of them – ten thousand miles away, into a land war in the jungles of Asia.

“…By July, 1965, there were 175,000 men in Vietnam; by August, 219,000; by December, 1966, 385,000. By the time Lyndon Johnson left the presidency, 549,000 American troops were mired in a hopeless jungle war. By the end of 1966, more Americans had died in Vietnam than had been in Vietnam when Johnson became President…

When he returned to Texas after his presidency, Lyndon Johnson simply didn’t know how it had happened and how it had happened so quickly. Many of his friends and Congressional colleagues recalling him tell them that the war was impossible to win; yet he kept sending young men there to die.

In retirement, Johnson found it difficult to escape the memories or flee from the sounds of the protesters in every part of America – protestors who had shouted to him while he was in office: “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”

This president, who had accomplished so much for civil rights – who had launched the War on Poverty – had lost all his credibility and standing over his foolish decisions regarding the unwinnable and unnecessary war in Vietnam.

I’ll keep you posted on this immense biography as I work my way through it.

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