Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lyndon Johnson in Afghanistan

He was beginning to wrestle with himself, aware of what escalation might do to his domestic programs, wary of the military's promises, knowing that it might be easier to start that to finish, that it was his record and his Presidency which were at stake, and aware also of the charge that might be made against him if things went sour - that he was soft, and that he had lost a country. His enemies, he knew, were lying in wait out there to turn on him if he went wrong on Vietnam, to destroy him for other reasons. What good would it do, he told friends, not to spend American resources on the war is you lost the war, and in losing the war, lost the Congress? Yet knowing also that if he went ahead he might lose the Congress, too, and might lose the Great Society. He would say to friends, talking about this dilemma, "If we get into this war I know what's going to happen. Those damn conservatives are going to sit in Congress and they're going to use this war as a way of opposing my Great Society legislation. People like Stennis and Gross. They hate this stuff, they don't want to help the poor and the Negroes but they're afraid to be against it at a time like this when there's been all this prosperity. But the war, oh, they'll like the war. They'll take the war as their weapon. They'll be against my programs because of the war. I know what they'll say, they'll say they're not against it, not against the poor, but we have this job to do, beating the Communists. We beat the Communists first, then we can look around and maybe give something to the poor." It was, said a man who was with him that night, eerie listening to him speak, like being with a man who has a premonition of his own death.

David Halberstam
The Best and the Brightest
Ballantine Books, New York, 1992
page 597