Johnson's War

Protests against the Vietnam War turned personal, with students blaming LBJ for the way the war was going. "He was frustrated because he couldn't end it and because he thought he couldn't win it," says John Connally.

Transcript

David McCullough: Vietnam has become Lyndon Johnson's war, and the demonstrations turned personal.

Rally Speaker: As Verne stumbled out of that bunker, dazed, with blood on him, he didn't mumble, "Those bastard Vietcong." He didn't mumble, "Those bastard Communists." He didn't mumble, "Those slope-eyed bastards." He mumbled only one thing over and over, "That bastard Johnson. That bastard Johnson."

George Reedy: He didn't understand it. He was totally and completely baffled by it. For one thing, the White House was loaded with very young people, and he would always see them correctly dressed, perfectly groomed, proper. And to him, this must be American youth, and therefore he didn't know who those people were outside the gates. You know, were they extraterrestrial? Where did they come from?

Nicholas Katzenbach: I think he would have been astounded if he had known, when they marched on Washington, that a bunch of kids were sleeping in my house on the floor and a bunch of kids were sleeping in Bob McNamara's house on the floor. We never told the President that our children felt as they did about the war in Vietnam, and he probably wouldn't have understood it. But I think he probably suspected left-wing plots, that sort of thing.

George Ball: He said, "George, don't pay any attention to all these kids on the campus. They'll stomp around and make a lot of noise. What really matters, what is the great black beast that we have to fear, is the right wing."

John Connally: He was frustrated because he couldn't end it and because he thought he couldn't win it. And I kept trying to plead with him to end it, to win it -- to end by winning it. And I said, "You ought to -- if you have to blow Hanoi off the face of the earth, blow it off the face of the earth." He said, "I can't do that. I can't do that. They tell me we're winning. We're going to win this thing. I can't use ultimate power." I said, "Why can't you?" And I said, "I don't care what advice you're getting from whom." I said, "It's too slow. The war's too slow. You're not winning the war, you're losing the battle at home, and it's going to destroy you."

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH