Tidbits on Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Baynes Johnson, often referred as LBJ, served as the 36th President of the United States.  He became President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas ,Texas on November, 22, 1963. The tragedy occurred in downtown Dallas, Texas as JFK rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza.

Johnson was pure Texan.  His family included some of the earliest settlers of the Lone Star State.  They had been cattlemen, cotton farmers, and soldiers of the Confederacy.

LBJ was born on August 27, 1908 near Stonewall, Texas in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River, the oldest of five children born to Samuel Ealy Johnson Junior and Rebekah Baines.  This region is known as Texas Hill Country.  The area is a 25-county region of Central Texas and South Texas featuring karst topography and tall rugged hills consisting of thin layers of soil atop, limestone or granite.  The region is very dry and prone to flash floodings.

Johnson always dreamed of one day becoming president of the United States.  In fact, when he was twelve, he told his classmates, “You know, someday, I’m going to be president of the United States.  Later he would remember, “When I was fourteen years old, I decided I was not going to be victim of a system which would allow the price of a commodity  like cotton to drop from forty cents to six cents and destroy the homes of people like my own family.

Shortly after President Kennedy was declared legally dead, Johnson was sworn in as President onboard Air Force One.  Jacqueline Kennedy was present in the ceremony with the famous pink dress stained with Kennedy’s blood.  Asked if she wanted to freshen up and changed clothes, the answered with a firm voice, “No, I want the whole world to see what They did to my husband.”

Johnson said about this day:

I took the oath, but for millions of Americans I was still illegitimate, a naked man with no presidential covering a pretender to the throne, an illegal usurper.  And then there were the bigots and dividers and the Eastern intellectuals, who were waiting to knock me down before I could even begin to stand up.  The whole thing was almost unbearable.

After John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, Johnson became his Vice President.  This position made him most uncomfortable.  He never liked the Kennedys with their high-class Harvard education and the peculiar Bostonian accent.  Bobby Kennerdy and LBJ had bad blood. Bobby never accepted the fact that his brother had chosen Lyndon Johnson to be his Vice-President.  Bobby hated Johnson and the hatred was mutual.  JFK always treated Johnson with respect, but the rest of the staff made fun of him constantly.

Those vice-presidential years were agony for Lyndon.  He was consumed with this passionate feelings of inferiority towards the Kennedys.  This hatred toward the Kennedys was not good.  They distrusted him,  The American people were aware of what was going on and were suspicious, stunned and baffled by the antagonism between the president and the second in command.

Johnson was devastated  by the war in Vietnam.  When he took office, he didn’t even know where Vietnam was.  He was in for the surprise of his life and to his premature death after he left the White House.

As the presidency consolidated, so did his involvement in Vietnam.  On March 8, 1965, Johnson ordered the first fighting troops into Vietnam.  Advising had gone to bombing, bombing had led to boots on the ground.  George Ball, Under Secretary of State told Johnson there was no way the U.S. Could win the war.  It was a 75-page memo which Johnson read three times.  Bell recommended that the South Vietnam government should fall and walk away.

The option was a four or five year with 500,000/600,000 troops fighting in the field.  In comparison, Ho Chi Min was willing to fight for 20 years.  That is how long it would take for the United States to win, if ever.  Johnson made a historic decision, he had inherited a limited war, now he chose to expand it.  He raised the number of troops in Vietnam, from 75,000 to 125,000 on July 28, 1965.

The war was Americanized.  The United States was committed to not losing Vietnam.  In late 1965, Robert MacNamara, Secretary of War, began to have second thoughts about the war.  Americans began to question the conduct of the war.  Many began to challenged the morality of the war.  Johnson was playing the card of a contained war.  He was afraid of triggering World War III.

Vietnam had become Lyndon Johnson’s war, and the public demonstrations turned personal.  He knew he could wait the war out, but the United States could not.  At the end of the day, the United States abandoned Vietnam on April 30, 1975 during the administration of Gerald Ford.  The duration of the was from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975.  Too long.  Too many people died for a failed cause.

LBJ was a brilliant politician in Congress and in social issues as president, but many will remember him as the president who escalated a war that should had been stopped.  How about Iraq and Afghanistan?  But of course, that is another story.

Good Day!


2 thoughts on “Tidbits on Lyndon B. Johnson”

  1. Hola Omar,
    LBJ did indeed have a “tough row to hoe”. He wanted to make his own history but was forced to follow up on all the policies started by JFK. He inherited the Vietnam War from JFK who got stuck with it when Eisenhower decided to help the French keep Vietnam as a colony. The USA fought a war to escape being a colony to England or France. If the USA had allied with Ho Chi Minh, he probably would have become our strongest ally in the region. We missed an opportunity and it cost thousands of lives.

  2. Hola Jim y Nena:

    Indeed the Vietnam war was a human tragedy in more ways than one. Even though Johnson inherited the war, it was him who escalated the conflict to a direct Americanization of the war. The American policy was to stop the spread of Communism in all of Southeast Asia. The Cold War with the Soviet Union and China was at its peak.

    At the end of the day, the war was lost and Vietnam became an independent nation ruled by a Communist government but adopting capitalist practices similar to the policy of China—one country, two systems. What I can not understand Jim, is why the United States made the same mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. All three costly wars were lost.

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