Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Afghanistan and Vietnam

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Constant Reader points out an exception Bill Moyers program. Here’s the transcript:

Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.

Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.

South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.

Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.

Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.

MALE VOICE: The President is coming right on…

BILL MOYERS: There were no BlackBerries or e-mail then. Lyndon Johnson relied on the telephone and seemed always to have at least one in hand. He consulted not just within the government but far and wide, with everyone on everything. Here, in office a little over two months, with bad news arriving daily from Vietnam, he reaches out for commiseration to an old friend, the newspaper publisher John Knight.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: What do you think we ought to do in Vietnam?

JOHN S. KNIGHT: I never thought we belonged there. Now that’s a real tough one now, and I think President Kennedy thought at one time we should never, that we were overcommitted in that area.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Well, I opposed it in ’54. But we’re there now, and there’s only one of three things you can do. One is run and let the dominoes start falling over. And God Almighty, what they said about us leaving China would just be warming up, compared to what they’d say now. I see Nixon is raising hell about it today. Goldwater too. You can run or you can fight, as we are doing. Or you can sit down and agree to neutralize all of it.

BILL MOYERS: Neutralizing South Vietnam would have meant an international agreement, declaring the nation off-limits to all outside influence, ending efforts by North Vietnam to re-unite the two countries divided since 1954.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: But nobody is going to neutralize North Vietnam, so that’s totally impractical. And so it really boils down to one of two decisions-getting out or getting in […]

JOHN S. KNIGHT: Long-range over there, the odds are certainly against us.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Yes, there is no question about that. Anytime you got that many people against you that far away from your home base, it’s bad.

BILL MOYERS: LBJ shares the prevailing Cold War mentality that Communism is an aggressive menace that, like today’s War on Terror, had to be opposed, no matter what or where. That’s why John F. Kennedy had sent several thousand military advisers to South Vietnam. Like Kennedy, Johnson hopes to keep our presence there to a low profile…

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:42 am

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