Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars

Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars

Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars

Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars


It is still not popular - perhaps it never will be - to be sympathetic to Lyndon Johnson. Vandiver stops short of that but is, in the tradition of the biographer, empathetic with him. Readers may disagree with some aspects of this thought-provoking portrayal, but, as Vandiver has done for Stonewall Jackson and Black Jack Pershing, he offers an understanding of a major wartime figure as he likely saw himself. His purpose is to show what Johnson knew, felt, feared, and tried to do. This, then, is the Vietnam War through Lyndon Johnson's eyes, with Vandiver providing perspective and the missing puzzle pieces not available to Johnson at the time. Vandiver offers a broad, sweeping synthesis of the scholarship on Johnson's war presidency, along with new insights culled from numerous and extensive interviews and a far-reaching immersion in the primary documents housed in archives around the country. He provides an unusual combination of politico-military analysis with on-the-scene battle narratives, dramatically juxtaposing for the reader the reality in Vietnam with the perceptions of it in Washington. Compellingly addressing long-standing questions of whether the White House had become isolated from public opinion and whether Johnson was hardened to the voices raised against the war, Vandiver shows the president as a man who agonized, raged, and grew in response to crises in Vietnam and at home. In the most complete account yet of the period from late 1967 to LBJ's decision not to run for re-election, he probes the shifting honesty of the president's men on the Vietnam scene and identifies a playbill of White House villains who, over the years, have often been cast as heroes. He argues that Johnson entered the war honestly - fully believing that Russia and China were serious threats and convinced by his Tuesday Lunch advisors that aiding South Vietnam was essential to maintaining America's international reputat


Why another book on Lyndon Johnson and his wars?

Defeated American war presidents have been few, but those few have not fared well in memory. Jefferson Davis, perhaps the most thoroughly defeated American president, is scarcely given a loser's mite on history's roll. Harry Truman is excoriated, still, for "losing" China. John E Kennedy keenly felt the sting of the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. Lyndon Johnson, who, like Woodrow Wilson, did not want to be a war president, will always be judged against the weight of Vietnam, the shadow that overspreads his term in office.

Everything about LBJ's career should have made him a good war president -- tough, seasoned in various political wars, a shrewd assessor of people, skilled in suasion, a consummate conniver, he had the gumption for the job. and yet he somehow failed to use America's power effectively against North Vietnam. Why?

In this book I try to find an answer through a biographical study of a president embroiled in a baffling war he came to hate, a man adrift in martial matters that seemed to work in a miasma beyond the "art of the possible." in trying to present Johnson's own perspective on Vietnam decisions and realities, I am following my own idea of the biographer's task -- to get close enough to the subject for empathy. I do not suggest that empathy is approval, only that it can lead to an understanding of pressures and motives. This is a methodology I followed in my biographies of Stonewall Jackson and John J. Pershing. in both those books I attempted to let the reader see through the eyes of the subjects, to feel what they felt, to grasp their problems and understand why they did what they did.

So, with Lyndon Johnson I am concerned with what he did and how he . . .

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