Lyndon Johnson on War & Peace
As far back as 1972, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was pushing the NSA to release what its files contained on the Gulf of Tonkin. They stonewalled, even as late as 2004 when FOIA request pushed for it. According to the New York Times, high-level officials at the NSA were "fearful that [declassification] might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq." Really?
But I started to have concerns in May 1965, when a Vietnam War appropriation bill came before the House, and President Johnson urgently requested an additional $700 million for the Department of Defense. The vote turned into a proxy fight between supporters and opponents of the war. In the end, I voted for the appropriations.
It was clear that the war in Vietnam had become the single most important issue facing the country.
American pilots encountered relatively little resistance from Soviet-made North Vietnamese jets, which were typically used as a decoy to lure the superior American pilots into traps. The real enemy was the North Vietnamese Soviet-built air defense systems, operating on Soviet doctrine, staffed with Soviet weapons, often armed by Chinese and North Koreans, and reckoned to be among the best in the world at the time.
"We intend to convince the Communists that we cannot be defeated by force of arms of by superior power. I have 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.
"These steps, like our actions in the past, are carefully measured to do what must be done to bring an end to aggression and a peaceful settlement. We do not want an expanding struggle with consequences that no one can foresee. Nor will we bluster or bully or flaunt our power.
"But we will not surrender. And we will not retreat."
He was absolutely convinced that he must display any notions within the North Vietnamese leadership that he was using the peace talks as a political ploy. If he called for peace talks, and in the same breath foreswore renomination, Hanoi would have sufficient reason to believe that his pleas for peace were earnest and not politically motivated. Thus, it was that both war and peace were at the heart of the Johnson decision to give up the presidency.
The war, however, was too near, too fiery, to ignore. And so having done what he could, right or wrong, he decided he would no longer be president.
Every piece of evidence placed before the participants in all the meetings on Vietnam made it inescapable that no decision other than the one taken would be approved. The final decisions taken in 1965 on Vietnam were right and sensible. Then a number of subsequent decisions, obviously, flowed automatically.
To the counsel of those who urged the president to go all out in bombing the North, mining the harbors of Haiphong, invading Cambodia, the president always knew his course was a cautious one. He hung back from the brink. "Some damn fool will drop some TNT down the smokestack of a Russian freighter, or some plane will get lost and dump its bombs over China, and we're in World War III. I just can't risk it."
"We must keep strong!" Johnson said. "We must be strong militarily and productively and morally. We must have military strength to fulfill our moral obligations to the world."
The headlong rush of the American people away from war and thoughts of war could not be checked. Even so, Johnson took the lead in fights to stop the premature closing down of the synthetic rubber industry, to check the sale at junkyard prices of war plants worth many millions of dollars, and to bring about the establishment of a 70-group Air Force in the face of strong opposition.
He pointed out that the forces of the UN were seriously outnumbered. He declared that American military equipment available for the task in Korea "is plainly inadequate in quantity and it is not the right kind."
"We must not act too slowly, too cautiously, with too much consideration for the comfort of those who remain behind. We can no longer sit by and see our strength decimated by delay-defeat-retreat." He urged three immediate steps: development of a long-range global plan of strategy; immediate full mobilization of available manpower; prompt mobilization of the American economy.
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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
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