The Path to War

Bobby Kennedy and LBJ discuss Vietnam escalationCompeting with Thanksgiving travel, Black Friday speculation, unemployment, layoffs, budget shortfalls, the health care debate, election violence in the Philippines, the mine disaster in China, H1N1 vaccine supplies, a former governor’s book tour, the beginning of the last two years of Oprah, the American Music Awards, Kennedy troubles with the Catholic church and on-going coverage of Michael Jackson and Princess Di, is President Obama’s decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. Bill Moyers offers (aired 11/20/09 on PBS) a prospective through the LBJ’s decision to do the same in Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

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.

PBS Links: TranscriptTimelineWatch Video



Leave a Reply