U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson Pros and Cons of Presidency Part 2

About the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, a list of pros and cons in the history of his presidency.

36th President




In escalating the war in Vietnam, Johnson was only following the policy that had been laid down by his predecessors. The commitments made by Eisenhower and Kennedy left him no choice but to commit American forces en masse to the defense of South Vietnam. Considering the situation as he inherited it, any alternative would have been even more disastrous than the war itself. A precipitate American withdrawal would have destroyed the credibility of U.S. worldwide treaty commitments and left U.S. foreign policy in a shambles. Johnson showed great political courage in pursuing and defending his policy in Vietnam against hysterical domestic opposition.


The claim that Johnson was simply "following through" on Kennedy's already established Vietnam policy is one of the gross distortions used by LBJ to justify his insane escalation policy. The idea that Johnson "inherited" the war is absurd. When he took over as president, there had been no American bombing of the North, there were only 25,000 troops in Vietnam (most in noncombat roles), and total American combat deaths numbered 109. By the time Johnson left office in 1969, Vietnamese civilians had been subjected to the most intensive aerial bombardment in history. There were more than half a million U.S. troops fighting a grim and hopeless struggle, and some 30,000 Americans had lost their lives. If American escalation had really been "inevitable" from the beginning, then why did LBJ so solemnly assure the public in the election of 1964 that there would be "no wider war"? The fact is that Johnson made a conscious and calculated decision to change American policy toward Vietnam, and the bloodbath that followed was his responsibility. U Thant of the U.N., along with some members of Johnson's own administration, urged a negotiated settlement centering on a neutralist government in South Vietnam similar to the settlement President Kennedy had achieved in Laos some three years before. But this suggestion ran counter to Johnson's aggressive nature and his militant, shoot-from-the-hip anticommunism. He opted instead to commit his country to the most disastrous and divisive war in its history.


LBJ was sincere in his desire to unite the country and to serve as "president of all the people." He was frustrated in this desire partly by circumstances and partly by an illogical tendency to compare himself unfavorably with the martyred young president who had preceded him. In 1968, when he was challenged by the anti-war candidacies of Senators McCarthy and Kennedy, Johnson startled the nation by dropping his drive for renomination. In the tradition of some of America's greatest leaders, he sacrificed his own political future in order to ensure national unity.


By the end of his term, Johnson's well-publicized "credibility gap" had been widened into a gaping chasm. Millions of Americans had come to see their government as a deliberate deceiver and their president as an outright liar. Even on relatively minor matters, such as his ludicrous and unjustified intervention in the Dominican Republic, Johnson seemed unable to tell the truth. As far as the Vietnam War was concerned, his need for secrecy and deceit was nearly pathological. With the infamous Tonkin Gulf Resolution, he tricked Congress into granting him a blank check on Vietnam policy, and then after that he denied the right of Congress to interfere with his decisions. He attempted to stifle domestic dissent, while continually assuring the American people that "victory" was at hand. More than any other man, he was directly responsible for the bitter disillusionment of an entire generation of Americans.

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