Posts Tagged ‘LBJ’

52 Pickup

November 15, 2015

Strange things happen in this world, but you never know what’s pre-planned and what’s the luck of the draw.

52 years ago, the government of Vietnam was overthrown when President Ngo Dinh Diem was deposed in a coup led by his own military leaders. The next day, November 2, Diem was shot dead.

Three weeks later, American President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22. Two days after that, the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead while in official custody.

I was twelve years old at the time.

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know.

After Kennedy was gone, Lyndon Johnson became President. Johnson was a good man; among many other notable accomplishments, he shepherded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, as he knew it had been an important component of his slain predecessor’s would-have-been legacy. Lyndon was very good at getting things done, and so he came through, as Chief Executive instead of President of the Senate, to get that historic legislation manifested as the law of the land.

LBJ was a Texan. He walked tall like a Texan because he was a Texan. Lyndon’s leadership style had originated within his humble beginnings; he was a man who knew the nuts and bolts of what makes America work. He knew how to get things done; was a wheeler dealer politician who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. As fate and his own fortitude would have it, he was in the right place at the right time in 1960 when the Democrats selected him to take the VP slot on Kennedy’s ticket.

And so, three years later on that fateful night of November 22, 1963, while the nation was in shock, he was in the right place at a bad time, to receive, in the whirlwind of a tragedy, the awesome mantle of national–yeah I say unto thee–  even world, leadership.

But  good ole Lyndon was in a very difficult place at that right time. While we were weeping, reeling from the thought of Jackie dressed in pink climbing on the back of that convertible to get away, or to assist the Secret Service guy while she reached over what was left of her husbands head…

while all that was fresh in our minds, this big man Lyndon Baines Johnson took an oath while winging through the atmosphere at 35,000 feet, and the nation heard of it, and he landed a few hours later in Washington. Even before he stepped off that plane Lyndon was in charge.

Like it or not, there he was.

There we were.

And while we loved Lyndon, prayed for him, looked askance at him, we hated, absolutely hated the circumstances that had slammed him into that perilous Office, and had thrusted him into the fragile pinnacle of leading–not just the Senate or the Congress–but the whole damn United States of America in the days to come.

In the days that followed, he proved to be a strong President. I mean, after all, he was a strong man with a forceful, arm-twisting leadership style.

A couple of years passed. In some ways, our nation settled down a bit after the trauma of Kennedy’s assassination; in other ways, we didn’t settle down at all, because a lot of circumstances were raveling at the time. One of them was the war in Vietnam.  By 1965, after consulting, as Kennedy had done before him, multiple voices of military and diplomatic leadership, LBJ decided to escalate the war.

It was no simple situation over there. The South Vietnamese could not stop the onslaught of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese insurgents, and it’s questionable whether they really had the gumption to do it.

The tall Texan was not about to allow to the USA to withdraw from such a thing as that. Many of his advisors, even McNamara, indicated that maybe the whole damn thing was, as Cronkite said, a stalemate. But LBJ plunged us in deeper.

Then in 1968 LBJ, strongman that he was, decided not to run for re-election. He could have, perhaps, devised a plan, before retiring, for this nation to extricate from Vietnam, but he chose not to do so. Not on his watch.

When Nixon got in the White House in 1969, he could have saved us a lot of grief and death if he had wound the war down at that time. Instead, he escalated it with intention of obtaining peace with honor. Another Not on my watch scenario.

He should have just gotten us out of there. A few years later, Nixon was history too;  by ’73 we were officially out of there, and by ’75 we were really out of Vietnam.

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know.

 

52 pickup; here’s another card I chanced to pick up today:

64 years ago, the King of Jordan, Abdullah I ibn al-Hussein was assassinated while attending prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Not that it means anything here, but this writer was one week old at the time.

King Abdullah had sought to be a peacemaker. He was one of the few Arab leaders who had been willing to negotiate with the Israelis in 1947-48 when Israel was establishing its independence and identity as a nation.

July 20, 1951, a Palestinian named Mustafa Ashi shot Abdullah dead after Friday prayers.  Ten alleged conspirators were later prosecuted in Jordan. According to Wikipedia,  the prosecutor alleged that one conspirator,  Colonel Abdullah el-Tell, ex-Military Governor of Jerusalem, had given instructions “that the killer, made to act alone, be slain at once thereafter to shield the instigators of the crime.”

Strange string of events, it seemed to us. Mystery still surrounds. Some things we’ll never know. Strange things happen in this world, but you never know what’s pre-planned and what’s the (bad) luck of the draw. Makes you wonder what woulda, coulda, shoulda happen.

No point in that, really. Life goes on. It is what it is.

Boomer’s Choice

From Munich to Hormuz

September 12, 2015

In his 1972 journalistic opus, The Best and the Brightest,

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Brightest-Kennedy-Johnson-Administrations/dp/0330238477/

David Halberstam quotes President Lyndon Johnson, who made a speech on July 28, 1965, which included these words:

 

“We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

“Nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle  would be renewed in one country and then another country, (and) bring with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history.”

 

What history actually brought, in the years that followed, was this lesson:  the “larger and crueler conflict” of which LBJ spoke happened anyway, in spite of our confident, prolonged military efforts to arrest communist aggression in southeast Asia beginning in 1965.

The best laid plans of mice and men never work out as they were planned. This is the tragedy of human government, and even perhaps, of human history itself.

On that press conference occasion in 1965, President Johnson was announcing an escalation of the war in Vietnam, with new troop deployments increasing from 75,000 to 125,000. The total number of American soldiers eventually  sent to fight in Vietnam, before the conflagration ended in 1975, would far surpass that 125,000 that he was announcing on that fateful day.

If you go back and study what wars and negotiative agreements were forged between the leaders of nations in the 20th-century, you will see that our species has a long record of hopeful expectations for peace and safety that failed to manifest in the triumphant ways that we had expected.

After World War I, the victorious Allies, congregating in Versailles, France, went to great lengths to construct a peace deal that would last. . . that would last, as they hoped, in a way that would render their armisticed Great War to be the War to End all Wars.

A few years later, a foxy German dictator named Hitler worked himself into a position of systematically and stealthily destroying that Treaty of Versailles.

When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in 1938, and worked out a peace agreement which would allow Hitler to obscond Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain returned to London with the now infamous assessment, Peace in our time!

Look what happened after that.

That failed Munich agreement is the one to which President Johnson referred in his 1965 escalation speech. As quoted above, he mentioned what “we learned from Hitler at Munich.”

What historical lesson did we learn from history as a result of Chamberlain’s naivete at Munich?

Maybe this: You cannot always, if ever, trust your enemy. Especially if the arc of history is rising in his (the enemy’s) direction. Which it was (rising), like it or not, for Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in 1938.

Years later, after Hitler and his Nazi terrorizers had scared the hell out of most everybody in the civilized world, the postwar scenario unearthed in WWII’s ashes  revealed this: a new ideological death-struggle between the Capitalist West and and the spectre of advancing Communism.

During that postwar period–1940s through the 1970s or ’80s–the rising fear that dominated both sides (Capitalist vs Communist) became an obsession for many national leaders. On both sides,  brave men and women were called, and took upon themselves, the perilous burden of defending themselves and their own against the horrible deprivations of the other side.

I grew up during that time. And I can tell you this: At that time, the fears about “Communism” were very real and threatening to many, if not most, Americans. And I daresay that massive fear of “the enemy” was dominant on the Soviet side as it was for us.

Then History threw us a real curve in the late 1940s when Mao and the Chinese communists ran (our man) Chiang Kai-shek out of the mainland (to Taiwan) and established their Asian version of what the Soviets were attempting to establish in eastern Europe.

This Chinese Communist threat is what our national leaders greatly feared in the 1950s and ’60s, when we began to fear the spread of Maoist communism into what remained of (largely third-world) southeast Asia.

Long story short, this fear and loathing of creeping Chinese communism is what got us into, and eventually sucked us into, the war in Vietnam.

Now we all know how that turned out.

What is happening in the world today is not unlike what was happening then. It’s all slouching toward unpredictable, though predictably tragic, human history.

For us in the West now, the great fear is what life would be like under the domination of Islamic Jihad, which is to say, ISIS, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Al-qaida, or whatever stronghold ultimately controls that emerging world military threat. (I’m not talking about the “good Muslims”, whoever they may be.)

Hence, many folks today, me included, do not trust any arrangement that our President and/or Secretary of State could set up with Iran. We do remember, as LBJ alluded to, “Munich.”

But we also remember Vietnam, which began–as President’s Johnson escalation speech reference attests– as a military effort to prevent another “Munich” outcome.

In our present time, ever present in our mind is Iraq; we see what is happening there now, after we went to all that blood, sweat and tears to secure that nation against Sadamic Sunni abuse and/or Khomeini Shiite totalitarianism.

As Churchill did not trust Hitler, while Chamberlain did trust him: our principle ally Netanyahu does not trust Khameini and the Iranians, while Obama does trust them.

Back in the 1930s-’40s, which assessment was correct? Churchill’s.

In our present situation, which assessment of Iranian motives is correct, Netanyahu’s or Obama’s?

To try and  figure out–as historical precedent and historical possibility bears down upon us– how our contemporary peace efforts will play out in the chambers and killing fields of power, is like. . .well. . . The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

And we are now, as we were then, on the eve of certain destruction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo

Did we survive the last time? Did the free world survive?

You tell me.

 

Smoke