tv Lectures in History President Johnson the Vietnam War in 1968 CSPAN November 4, 2018 12:00am-1:21am EDT
you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @csp anhistory for the schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> "lectures in history" kyle longley teaches a class on president lyndon johnson at the vietnam war in 1968. he discusses lbj's reaction to the tet offensive in january and talks about reasons behind the president's decision in march not to seek re-election. professor longley also talks about attempts forge a peace agreement with the north vietnamese and the role the war played in the november presidential election. this class is about an hour and 15 minutes. kyle: well, welcome . [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] the history of the vietnam war.
very happy for everyone to be here tonight. we're going to be discussing 1968. i love the choice, i put up some music lyrics by the animals. great group that we called, we got to get out of this place. it's a song from 1965, but it became sort of the anthem for the vietnam soldiers. and they would sing it time and time again and play it time and time again because that was their goal. "we have got to get out of this place." today we're going to talk about in terms of the johnson administration and vietnam during 1968. and as you remember from the book that you've read, johnson's going to characterize 1968 as a year of continuous nightmare. i think that's important to keep in mind as we go forward. it's going to be one thing after another after another. but always central to the point is going to be vietnam. vietnam is going to be the thing that is the sort of overarcing issue that's going to cause riots in the streets. of course, there's going to be civil rights issues.
there's going to be supreme court debates. there's going to be riots and other things that are going to -- but vietnam is where it all comes back to. and it's what's sort of helped pull the country apart. so this comes again as the book that you've read. my new book called "lbj's 1968 power politics and the year of upheaval."- of this picture alone represents, i think to a large degree, what we see in the year. and i wish we would have done a little better job with this because at the bottom is a tape recorder. and what president johnson is doing in this picture is listening to his son-in-law chuck robb tell him about what is going on in vietnam. his son-in-law is a lieutenant in the marine corps leading a group of men. and he's talking about some of the men that he's lost. so you can see from the devastation this is causing the president. but i think there's another interesting element to the picture itself.
and that is in the background is john kennedy. the bust of john kennedy. i think there's a certain irony there. the man that always was seen as sort of overlooking lbj and also who, as we've done in our studies and learned, was a precursor and really left johnson few -- very little room to operate as a result of his involvement in vietnam. but let's start with the lead-in. we're going to talk about 1968 but to a large degree the lead-in is late 1968. or late 1967. and here's a quote from general westmoreland, the commander in chief of u.s. forces in vietnam. and i love this one because he goes to the national press club. he's brought back to the country to try to drum up support for the war, because they're trying to do a major public relations campaign to win support for the war. i love this quote that he gives to the press. "i am absolutely certain whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning.
today he is certainly losing. we are making progress. we know you want an honorable and early transition to the fourth and last phase. so do your sons and so do i. it lies within our grasp that enemies' hopes are bankrupt." that should tell you sort of the message that the president as well as his generals are trying to present to the american public. the they are trying to, again, shore up support, build the support for the president, and then carry this to the american people to win support for them to continue to wage the war. now johnson has been toying with some ideas, like the san antonio formula, which had been given in august of 1967, where he discussed that if the north vietnamese would go through a certain number of conditions, that we would end the bombing and we would start negotiations.
now the conditions were so poison-pilled that there was no way that was going to happen. but he had been sort of toying with the idea. he had been toying with that for a number of years. but in august of 1967 with the san antonio formula, it became more prominent. this picture is very good. it is west moreland just sort of facing off with johnson. pictures are always good. i want you to see what you can see. this is sort of hard to see on the board. can you tell what's in the background? can you see that? what's in the background? >> [indiscernible] kyle: yeah. isn't that a certain irony there? think about that. the american revolutionaries against the powerful, most powerful nation on earth fighting for their independence. you have to think that irony,
and i incorporate that into the book in one of the scenes where i talk about in the background is this discussion while they're talking about vietnam, there's this discussion of, in this picture of yorktown. pretty ironic, is it not? well, one of the questions -- i love that i found this last night. i hadn't really come across this when i was putting this power point together. but it was a question at the national press club. the press could submit questions to general westmoreland. and look at this. will the speaker please answer this question? none of the phases you outline what is the significance of that omission? think about that? what is the significance of the omission? no surrender by the north vietnamese. let's carry that forward now. but i love this little question that was put forth. why not discuss surrender? think about that as we go forward.
well, right before 1967 comes to an end, prime minister of australia goes swimming on the coast of australia. and again, keep in mind december is their summer. so he's off swimming. and suddenly he disappears. and ultimately his -- harold holt is his name. his body will never be recovered. so they hold a funeral for the australian prime minister who had been a strong supporter of the johnson administration in vietnam. he calls up, you read about this in the introduction, calls up his personal pilot and says get the plane ready. we're going to a funeral. of course, the plane is under repair, and so there isn't his favorite plane to take which he complains about bitterly. but ultimately what he's got to do is in december of 1967, he's going to go around the world. and in that process, the main issue is going to still remain vietnam.
by -- he goes to australia. and the first thing that he does is he meets with the president of south korea for the obvious reasons. south koreans have 40,000, 50,000 troops in south vietnam. he wants to make sure they stay there. then he meets with the australians to make sure they commit and remain committed to their struggle in south vietnam. and finally he meets with the south vietnamese leaders, including the president tu. each time he's trying to cajole, he is trying to work deals, he is trying to keep the alliance together because deep down, i really believe johnson thinks victory. he is listening to westmoreland. he thinks victory is possible. he thinks it is around the corner. there's light at the end of the tunnel. and i love what he tells the officers and the enlisted men when he's at cameron bay. he goes to thailand, middle of the night. gets up early the next morning and flies into cameron bay.
this is not something that they would have announced for the obvious reasons. you really don't want a vietcong a rocket sitting at the end of the runway knowing the president and air force one is about to land. typically not something you'd want. so they try not to broadcast it, but they do start pulling troops out of the jungles so they can give them medals. you know, and i'm sure the troops were not that upset to get a few days in cameron bay. but i like what he says because i think this is -- pay attention to this. this is december of 1967. let's talk about four months later, march 31, 1968, and see the changes. he says, quote, "the americans are --" he says to the officers, "an enemy was hoping to outlast the americans and break their will. but, quote, "we're not going to yield, and we are not going to shimmy." then he told the large group of assembled troups. here he is greeting many of them. again, it's a great opportunity to go meet the president, listen
to the president, and also breaks up the doldrums of the day. he told the troops, "america had come from the valleys and the depths of despondency to the heights and cliffs where we know now that the enemy can never win." what does that say to you? "the enemy can never win." luke. >> [indiscernible] out of south vietnam, but it sounds like a stalemate. but he's talking about victory. kyle: but is it? they can never win but that implies, who can win? right. and our allies. but primarily the u.s., and victory is what? this is a fundamental question still in 1967.
what is victory? >> independent, democratic north vietnam. kyle: independent vietnam. it's how you're defining that. holding elections is one thing. what we might characterize as a true democracy might be a very different thing. but again i think implicit in this is we're not going to shimmy, we're not going to run. and they can never win. it is implicit in that, i think to a large degree -- we can win and we will win. maybe i'm misreading that, but that is what is hopefully -- what it sounds like to me. he flies first to pakistan after leaving cameron bay. flies to pakistan, visits for a little while. then he flies to the vatican. why would he fly to the vatican, would you believe? yes, jose. >> north vietnam is very catholic. kyle: yes. especially general tu. or president tu. i slipped there. >> [indiscernible]
kyle: right, right. so this is the issue. how do you deal with the south vietnamese and get them more involved in the process? so you go to the pope to try to push the catholics. you know, why didn't you do this with them before 1963? but i love this quote, and i think it really sticks out. i'll digress in just a second. lbj talked about how people in texas like their sticker on their foreheads. made in texas by texans. president adds, "i would like a slogan in saigon that says peace in south vietnam made by the vietnamese," end quote. think what he's thinking there. think of that mindset. here's a funny story i just found out about this visit. this tells you a lot about johnson. when he gets to the vatican, they have an exchange of gifts. the pope brings out this
beautiful 14th century painting. invaluable. probably worth millions of dollars. a very classic 14th century painting. johnson pulls out a bust of himself and exchanges it. think about that. think about what that says about president johnson. again, of himself, not of george washington. not of jefferson. not of john kennedy who actually would have made more sense. the catholicism tie there. but himself. chill on that one for a second. 1968, he finally makes it around the world. they land back, and they have traveled, as you saw in the book, tens of thousands of miles in a very short period of time. covered a lot of distance and, again, the fundamental issue he remains vietnam. the same is going to happen when the state of the union address comes around in the third week of january of 1968.
and how you can tell this is, it's the very first issue johnson raises. and many will say that's the worst thing that he could possibly have done. open with vietnam. it is a divisive issue. on one side you have the hawks that are saying, "well, he's not doing enough." on the other side of the peace candidates who are saying he's doing too much, it's time to get out and declare peace. and he's trying to walk that line. we've been talking about this since that first book we read on this very issue. the mcmaster book, "dereliction of duty." the graduated response, the middle of the road response. so can you please anybody when you're riding down the middle of the road? usually what's going to happen to you? you're going to get run over. in this case, he's trying to reach out and say, "all right, we're in this for the long haul," which he needs to send that to our allies as well as the south vietnamese government. he also wants to send a message
to the north vietnamese. but here he says, quote -- and this ties back to what he said at cameron bay. "the opponent continues to hope that the america's will to preserve can be broken." well, he is wrong. "america will persevere. our patience and our perseverance will match our power. aggression will never prevail," end quote. you could have heard that in 1965, could you not? remember the johns hopkins speech we talked about? again dereliction of duty? we've read a number of books that outline strategies in relation to vietnam. how we got there. how we continue there. but you take this, you tie it to what happened and what he said in cameron bay, and you have very much the same thing. is there anything in this that says "we're ready to sue for peace peace, we're going to back down and we're going to try to get out?"
nothing. nothing implied there. always the case when he's discussing getting in the war. he is always has doubts. but is he saying this to the american people? i go back to the fundamental idea. he had a chance to set a different tone. chose not to. he had a chance to not put vietnam up front. he chose not to. vietnam is the obsession. well, it only gets more so. just a few days after he gives the state of the union address, 40,000 north vietnamese troops surround u.s. forces at the base, not too far away from the dmz, called caisson. on january 24, 1968 they launch a major offensive. what's the first thing that you think went into the head of johnson and his generals? dien bien phu.
this is going to be the north vietnamese efforts to break the united states just like they broke the french. here he is in the basement, and i talk about this in the way he'd wander the halls at night with his flashlight, going down to the basement where he'd go check on his boys. the marines. the 6000 marines or so at caisson. again fearful this is going to be our dien bien phu. they went so far as to draw a diorama of the fortifications and you'd look in the back are maps, and they'd give reports to the president. a lot of times he's in his pajamas, which may be a jacket over or something like that. but he's wandering the halls. basically, what does that tell you about him? what would you characterize the president as being?
>> obsessed? kyle: i think that's the best word. you nailed it, jose. obsessed. he is obsessed. but here's the problem. that was just part of the plan. the major plan is tet. which had been planned for years in advance by the north vietnamese, believing that by launching a major offensive in the south during the tet holiday , that the south vietnamese themselves would rise up to overthrow the american-supported government. and nothing symbolizes this. because here is the problem. westmoreland just told us victory is near. at least we're doing a heck of a lot better than we had done before. we have the president. is he backing off anything that except aggression will not prevail? absolutely not.
therefore, the american people are going, all right, it must be going fairly well. the enemy must be on the run. then suddenly, they are hitting every major target in south vietnam, including the u.s. embassy, which just -- people are like, that's the most fortified american emplacement in all of vietnam. and suddenly you have sappers penetrating the outer perimeter. and only -- and the question becomes, and i made this point in the book, walter cronkite's response is what? eric? >> that he thought we were winning this war and he is just incredulous. kyle: you remember the quote? "what the hell is going on? and that's by a guy who, to this point, had been very hawkish on the war, had been very supportive of the war to a large degree.
and again, here's the attacks in saigon, to your right. and then look at all the attacks. almost every major provincial capital was hit. but here's the question. we knew this was coming, even though a lot of people underneath him are like, no. even if we had their plans, we wouldn't have believed them. yes, there were some that anticipated some kind of offensive, but nobody anticipated it on this scale. but what's going to happen is this offensive is going to be a major tactical defeat for the north vietnamese and the viet cong in particular, but a strategic defeat for the united states. strategic defeat. things happen. and nothing stands out probably
in this way any more than what happened when the police commissioner of saigon takes a viet cong, suspected vietcong, and executes him in front of the cameras. this execution leads a lot of americans to question. and this is one that's important because i like to talk in the book about the people closest to johnson, the ones that are having the most influence. and harry mcfearson, a person described as the president's conscience emphasized the execution. "not only demonstrated the inhumanity of an ally but confirmation of an impression that we'd been building for years. we were sunk in a war between alien peoples, with whom we shared few human values," end quote. he goes on to add, "raising his revolver on every channel, turned public doubt into
heart-sick rage and carrying us along with him." pretty powerful. this guy is is one of president johnson's closest advisers. and mcfearson would say, until tet, he usually accepted westmoreland's reports, but after tet, he stressed "i put aside the confidential cables. i was more persuaded by the tube and by the newspapers. i was fed up with the optimism that seemed to flow without stopping from saigon." now johnson had always had skepticism, but this is mcpherson who is 27 or 28 at the time. again he would tear into the president. he'd just rip into the president. and again as some described him, he was the president's conscience. but the president, this is the
question, what do we do now? yeah, we're kicking the crud out of especially the vietcong. everywhere the fighting is much better than what was anticipated. the south vietnamese people are not rising up in revolt like the north vietnamese had hoped that they would. so this is a problem. so here becomes the debate. the military, as you saw this play out, in the behind the scenes, try to utilize tet to justify asking for another 206,000 troops. and from february to march of 1968, this is going to be a bureaucratic battle of epic proportions. inside the pentagon and inside the white house, the debates are going to rage. what do we do? will 206,000 make a difference?
if so, what kind of difference? and the president is sitting there going, every time you come to me and ask for more troops, i've given them to you. now explain to me why 206,000 are going to make more of a difference. and i love -- here he is facing off with general wheeler. the chairman of the joint chiefs to the left. but i think this picture to the right sort of sums it up probably better than anything. what do you see there? derek? >> the president and robert mcnamara look very anguished, and they look like they're just in devastation. kyle: this is from february 8, 1968. think about that. that picture, i think, speaks very loudly. mcnamara is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. he's about to be replaced by clark clifford. problems have already -- transition has already started.
i mean, didn't you find it surprising at one point in one of the meetings, mcnamara just starts crying when they start discussing this? he just starts crying when they discuss -- why don't we do more bombing? he just breaks down. he's on the verge and he's moving -- of a nervous breakdown. he's moving out of the white house to be president of the world bank. but i think this sort of sums it up quite well. johnson's tired. exhausted. because here's the problem. you have got to answer. and they ask him, he asks the joint chiefs, and he asks wheeler in particular, "if i give you 206,000 more, can you guarantee me a much better situation?" their answer was what? do you remember? did they guarantee victory? what did they guarantee?
do you remember? they guaranteed that we'd be able to hold on to a few more provinces for a little longer, and if we didn't send these troops over, those provinces, and we just as well walk away from them. these were northern provinces. is that what the president wants to hear with 206,000? where is he going to get these people? you'll have to call up your reserves and you'll have to call up the national guard. you're also going to have to increase your draft. why does the president not want to do that? >> it would include a lot of the people who had been prominent, like the sons of people who were prominent backers of the war who -- kyle: exactly. we've talked about this time and time again, especially last week or the last time we talked about the book "fortunate son." yeah, he went forward, but the majority of people avoided service, especially those who
were of affluent backgrounds. so they used the reserves and the guard as places to hide. but when you start calling them up, johnson's great fear is, boy, all those hawks that have been supporting me, once their kids are actively involved, are they going to continue to support me? so he hesitated. 206,000 more. that would have given us about 700,000 -- over 700,000 troops in vietnam. had 300,000 worked? had 500,000 worked? what was the guarantee 700,000 would work? that's the fundamental question the president keeps asking time and time and time again. and the chairman and westmoreland cannot give him an answer that makes him feel comfortable. you can't guarantee me anything other than we can hold on to a few more provinces? you can't guarantee me any form of victory and that this is going to dramatically change things?
and their answer is, no. we can't guarantee you victory for sure. the arben got chewed up, they argue, during the tet offensive. here's a problem, too. there are a number of times during tet when u.s. casualties far surpassed those of the arben. the vc got mauled. most of them had to retreat into cambodia to recover. most of them had to retreat into cambodia to recover. now they are going to come back out again not very long after this, but the question is can you guarantee me a different outcome? what different outcome can you guarantee me with 206,000? that's a lot of people. and it was the first time, and we're going to see this, johnson says no and doesn't give the military what they request. 206,000? that's a lot of people. and it was the first time johnson says no and doesn't give
the military what they requested. but i think there's another factor to this. i'm going to use this, because some will say the press lost the war. did the press make a difference? yes. their coverage of tet was not particularly efficient at times because they were working on a daily basis and cronkite, after hearing about the tet offensive, says i'm going to go to vietnam and study it myself. he goes over and he almost gets into a fight with westmoreland, who appears overly optimistic. and everywhere cronkite goes, no one seems to be optimistic. so he comes back and makes this famous broadcast. and i want you after class tonight to go watch that. there's two things that i want you to look at after class today. one is this, his speech to the american people. the second is, his interview with president johnson just a
few weeks before johnson dies in 1973. but here's what he asks, and what he finds after coming back from vietnam where he had been. he had been there in 1956 a65 a found a different place. when he gets there in '68, he says who won and lost in the great tet offensive? i'm not sure. yet, he added, we have been too often disappointed in the optimism of american leaders. to have faith any longer in the silver linings that they find in the darkest cloud. it's pretty powerful, is it not? this is the most trusted american journalist of his time. he doesn't look like a radical, you know, lefty. this is a gray haired guy that had been in world war ii and covered the u.s. troops in korea. never accused really of being a peacenik. but he says, for it seems now more than ever, vietnam is to end in a standoff.
it grows more somber and he said, for every means we have to escalate the enemy can match us. to say that we are mired in a stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion. and he concludes, but it is ever increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out will be to negotiate. not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and they did the best they could. yet, this is not a radical, anti-war statement. he's actually saying we were honorable. we lived up to the pledge of depending democracy. and what is johnson's response
once he hear cronkite make this statement? yes? i'm sorry, i said derek, wrong one, luke. >> he said, if we have lost kron cit -- cronkite, we've lost the country. >> yes. and to a degree, things are going to cascade after that to reinforce that. and none more than the picture to your left of the peace candidate who had declared in december of 1967, eugene mccarty, senator from minnesota, who declares against johnson and runs in the new hampshire primary. and on the day of the new hampshire primary, johnson was not even on the ballot. the primary systems in the 1968 election really didn't matter. there are only a few really contested -- most of the delegates were selected as basically super delegates.
they were chosen by the party of that local state. contesting for these delegates was fairly limited. so johnson didn't even put his name on the ballot in new hampshire. but he did predict this. everyone was saying he was going to win by 25, 30 points. he said no, anybody that's mad at their husband, matt at the postmaster, mad at the dog, is going to vote against me, just because they're angry. and he was right. later they did studies saying that the people who voted against johnson and voted sometimes for mccarthy were mad that johnson wasn't doing enough to win the war, which contradicted the narrative being portrayed. i'm going to digress. one day i was doing a biography of an anti-war senator.
i was working on my biography of him and i wanted to do some oral histories. so i contacted senator mccarthy. and at the time he was 89 or 90. so i reached out and i said i would love to talk to you. so one day my wife gets a phone call. and it's the person on the other end and she goes, hello, and they're very slow to respond. and she starts talking to them like they're a telemarketer, and the person at the other end got her to stop and she goes -- he goes, well, your husband called me. my name is eugene mccarthy, and i was just calling him back. my wife, fortunately, knew who he was, and turned into a very nice, accommodating person and worked with me to make sure i got to talk to him. but at that point, he was not sure he wasn't a telemarketer and was ready to give him
earful. so sometimes you get to see some living history in life. sometimes it gives you a good story. in this case, it gave me a great story. the one johnson fears more, and we talked about this in great detail is robert kennedy. now, robert kennedy had come to johnson and said to johnson, if you will appoint a blue ribbon committee, to study the causes of the vietnam war, i'll probably wait until '72 to run. but johnson sees right through it. because what do you think kennedy does? who is he going to put on this commission? are they going to be hawks? no. he tries to load it with doves. and johnson says, we need to have complete independence, and johnson sees right through it. and johnson goes, no, that's just not the way it's going to work.
and kennedy enters the race the next day. now, the kennedy people are ecstatic about that. there was the quote in there about one of his aides going, oh, the fig leaf has been torn off. tet just thdemonstrated this is bankrupt policy. remember that? so they're happy this is weakening johnson, but many of the people around kennedy are going, wait until 1972. johnson is still going to be a powerful force. in fact, the polls in march of 1968, still have him defeating kennedy and mccarthy. they were going to split the peace vote. and johnson also controlled the party. and that is what mattered in 1968, not your popularity to a large degree. who had control of the party apparatus, and johnson had it. but now kennedy is in. so all these things are cascading. and the final thing that is the nail in the coffin that will
bring johnson around to questioning what to do next, and completely moving away from the military solution occurs in late march of 1968. that's when his distinguished diplomats, government officials, retired government officials, come to him and while in mid 1967, they said we can see progress. when they hear the report after tet, they go, mr. president, basically it's over. we do not see a way out other than through negotiation. and i love that story i tell about dean atchison. atchison, just this classic figure with the little mustache. true northeastern liberal elite that johnson always tried to sort of kowtow to in some way.
but they have a private meeting before the wise men meet. atchison walks into the meeting and johnson goes off on a tangent. starts lamenting how everybody hates him all because of vietnam. do you remember what atchison did? he got up and walked out. you tell that s.o.b., you know, i'm not going to be talked to like this. he had to basically kiss atchison's posterior to get him to meet with the president again. but it's almost like the death nil of the policy. and on march 31, 1968, a day that changed everything. it's one of the most momentous days in american history, that will change the dynamic of the
country. many would argue in a negative way. but definitely change the dynamic of the country. do you remember how it opened? what does he do first thing in the morning? >> he attended church service. >> what did he do before that, though? who did he meet? [ inaudible ] yes, which one? [ inaudible ] yeah, that's good. lin linda. where had she just come from? [ inaudible ] yes, the airport. derek, do you remember what she had been doing right before that? >> well, she was with her husband, who was about to be sent over to vietnam. >> right. and she's pregnant. so her husband had just left
camp pendleton and is on his way to vietnam. so do you remember the question she asked? and why it was so poignant? why are we fighting for people when they don't seem interested in fighting for themselves. do you remember that? how did lady bird say that affected the president? what was it like? [ inaudible ] that's good. you got down to the part. but yeah, the day that his mother died, that's the saddest she had seen him since that day. so the decision is, throughout the day, then you love that going back and forth, others are trying to persuade him to run. wasn't that fascinating, that whole day? but at 9:01, he finally makes
his decision. i love that part. when did you make your decision, mr. president? speech started at 9:00. he says at 9:01 i made my final decision. and the final decision is this -- the speech is only about vietnam and stopping the bombing to try to jump-start the negotiations. but he says in the end, with america's sons in the fields far away, i do not believe i should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes, or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office. accordingly, i shall not seek and i will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president. i've talked to many people about this. they know exactly where they were when they heard this. they looked at each other to say, did i hear that right? nobody believed johnson was going to give up a chance to
secure another term in office, did they? only a few people so close to him, and they weren't sure. yet here is one of the most powerful presidents in american history that transformed the country, for better and worse, giving up power to search for peace. that's pretty big. major step. and it all relates to what? what's the issue? vietnam. he didn't say it's civil rights, did he? he did say because he was worried about the balanced budget. he said it was vietnam. this period from january of march 1968 is one of the most intense and important in u.s. history. because it's going to set the country now down a different path.
and that path is going to be about negotiation. negotiating our way out. and really going full circle to what cronkite said. negotiating as an honorable people. here are just some of the pictures. in the book, don't you love that picture of lucy sitting behind him? and just -- you can tell she's not in good shape. she's on the couch. they're watching on the three channels. that's all they had at the time. and the president is going to say about this, this was the most momentous decision, and the one where i do feel like i sacrificed for the country and its betterment. do you think it's as monumental as i tried to make it out to be?
why? derek, your thoughts? >> -- his powers were greatly deminished because he didn't seek re-election. >> he's putting all his energy now towards vietnam. that's what you have to keep in mind. now, four days later, all hell breaks loose, when martin luther king is assassinated and the whole country blows up. this is why vietnam, it is central, but it's always been affected by things around it. and you've got u.s. troops being sent in to all the major cities or many of the major cities to quell the revolt of people in those towns in relation to the assassination of king. so all the momentum he gains on march 31, and we know his polls flip to 67% almost overnight.
that's monumental. but king's assassination pulls the rug right from under it. so they got mauled in the tet offensive. mainly the vietcong got mauled that. is -- they are the ones who bore the brunt. some make the argument they did that on purpose. if they don't get mauled nearly as bad as what the vietcong groups do. but by may, the north vietnamese do agree to at least meet to discuss the peace process. you read about cyrus vance, he's
going to be our main representative. but there will be a whole series. what is an irony where they choose to meet? where do they choose to meet? >> paris. >> why is that ironic? >> the north vietnamese had already defeated the french, so sort of returning to the site of their victory, in a sense. >> right, right. the french prime minister is the one that encourages them to come to paris. as sort of a neutral place. but the optics of that. i don't think the johnson administration is thinking as much about the optics. remember those frenchmen in 1954 that we defeated? let's visit them again.
we have significant ties to the french. that was the colonial power for almost a century. but that is ironic in so many shapes and form. they don't go to geneva. that would have been better probably. replication of 1954. but we go to paris. now, it doesn't go very well, because what are going to be some of the major sticking points would you believe? there was a major one, right? who gets to come? who did the north vietnamese want that the south vietnamese don't want? who would be the obvious? the vietcong. they don't want to recognize them, do they? some of you studying for your final paper project, reading the vietcong memoir.
so they don't want them represented. and the north vietnamese are like, we don't want that puppet government in see conrepresented. did you see some of the problems that could result? who gets to come to the table? and then they argue what is the table going to look like? do we do a circular or a square, who is going to make that determination? basically here is what the north vietnamese are doing. and ho chi minh's picture is there, but ho had been outmaneuvered for the last two to three years. he pushed the tet offensive, even though others were saying not a good idea. continue to try to wear them down. putting our forces out in the open makes it easy for them. but he thought and he believed generally that the south vietnamese people were ready for
the revolution. he's a hard liner. the negotiating tactics is this. talking while fighting, fighting while talking. what does that imply? yes? i thought you were ready. okay, go. >> the guerrilla tactics don't stop while the negotiations are going on. >> what are you trying to do? >> work out peace while the war is still happening. >> and trying to work it out where you'll have better options and have more territory and have a better position, right? so don't stop fighting. keep up the pressure. and then in may of 1968, they launched the mini tet, where once again, they're in saigon. they hit many of the areas.
and many argued that the north vietcong were finished. this certainly contradicts many elements oh of that argument. they haunlaunched another one wn three months. this is not nearly as violent as the original tet offensive, but they demonstrate what? are we still capable? so we're going to talk while we fight, and fight while we talk. you see this playing out of these pictures running down the streets. and here's something that tet has demonstrated to people like walter cronkite. millions of people are displaced. how do you run a government in the middle of a war? how do you create stability? millions of refugees, many driven out of the country side into the city, which means overpopulation.
how are you building the economy? again, in the midst oh of a war? easy process? absolutely not. so this is the challenge. so what johnson has talked about for a while now, we have to get those vietnamese boys to fight their own fight. that's the way he would characterize it. we need them to do their own fighting. too many american boys are dying. i was at the lbj ranch last thursday and at the library wednesday, so i can do the accent with the best of them. but yeah, we got to get them boys over there fighting, because all i want to see is more dead vc. but here's the problem. eric, you made a very good point on this, he's a lame duck. what pressure does he have to
bear? especially on the south vietnamese who are looking and going, well, he's not going to be president in four months. yeah, his successor hubert humphrey might be, because july of 1968, the other major competitor for the democratic nomination was assassinated. robert kennedy was killed in early june. so they needed him, and johnson is trying to give him the johnson treatment. conjoling, telling stories, trying to get him to take a bigger role, trying to get him to go to paris and work out, hammer out a piece that we could all be satisfied with. and ultimately he says, he had no apprehensions at all concerning the u.s. commitment. he further asserted that his government was determined to
continue to assume all the responsibility that the skill of forces of south vietnam and their equipment will permit. think about that quote. to continue to assume the responsibilities that the scale of forces that south vietnam and their equipment will permit. what does that say? he still wants their supplies, he wants their support. is he making an open ended commitment to get americans out? absolutely not. so two presidents agree that south vietnam should be a full participant, playing a leading role in the discussions concerning the substance of the final settlement. full participant. how do the northerners see that? didn't i just make the point. do they see them as a legitimate
government. do they see them as a puppet? yeah. that's how they see it. that's maybe not the reality but how they see it. the north vietnamese respond this way. the position of the united states remains obstynent. does there appear to be a lot of common ground to build negotiations around? so what do you think would be the president's biggest bargaining chip? the bombing. making a good-faith effort to reduce the bombing. the bombing had had heavy effects on the north. but it hadn't been proven as nearly as effective as what many americans hoped. but it was a negotiating tool.
what else do we have? we're not occupying north vietnamese territory. the other one is complete withdraw, and they know that's not going to happen. so what are your options? there's also the lame duck president and the question of vietnam. and it's hanging over the head of vice president hubert humphrey. humphrey to the right here. he's trying to escape the orbit of the president. at the same time, is being pulled far to the other side by the peace faction, and what do you think his odds of being able to pull that off are? good, bad, not possible? i would say relatively not
possible. i love this quote. i pulled this one out purposefully. one observer noted for vice president humphrey, "nothing would bring the real peaceknicks back to our side unless hubert urinated on the portrait of johnson on times square in television. then they would say, why didn't you do it before? can you win in that situation? now, here's what johnson really pulls the rug out from under him. you remember in the leadup to the democratic national convention, the committee starts meeting. and the major issue is vietnam. can't escape it. and humphrey works out and fashions a fairly moderate compromise, does he not? he gets the approval and what happens?
[ inaudible ] what happens then? >> i don't know. all hell breaks loose. and we see this. there's never been in our lifetime -- well, you're so young. in some of our lifetimes a more contested convention, that left the democrats hobbling coming out of the chicago convention. outside the convention, every hippie, every anti-war group, every anarchist, every person willing to try to stir things up comes out of the woodwork. there's a group that even goes so far as to nominate a pig for the nomination so that they can get secret service protection. do you remember what the chicago
police did? kidnapped him. so they just got another pig. jerry ruben, a whole group, stirring things up out in the street. but they didn't have to go far to see it being stirred up. you remember the one time abraham rubencoff is up there giving a very passionate anti-war statement. and who is down there screaming at him? do you remember? mayor daley. and what is he calling him? i don't say this since it's going to be on tv, but he was cursing him with anti-semitic remarks about that s.o.b. up there. and this is playing out on national television. the next day they had more of a fight. and this picture stands out. on one side, we love mayor
daley. the other side, brutality does not pay in vietnam, more in chicago. the press are being beat up. the chicago police are beating the nonsense out of the anti-car, throwing tear gas. and it just looks like to a lot of people the world is coming apart. especially for the democrats. at one point humphrey is up along the lakefront, inhaling tear gas. president johnson is down on his ranch trying to make sure they don't compromise too much on the vietnam plane. he also thinks what? what's going to happen? possibly what might happen?
>> johnson said he wasn't going to run, but we're going to draft him any way, because he's our only hope. and he got thrown out in five minutes. >> at one point, some of the kidney people wanted to nominate johnson so they can beat him down on the floor. but wasn't that one of the saddest scenes? a sitting president waiting for him to call it. now his people around him problem hi argued, he wanted to be offered. it was his birthday. and he's sitting down at the ranch, hoping they're going to call him. in fact, they've even planned a fireworks show on lake michigan for his birthday. does the plane ever leave? and humphrey comes out wounded. and the major reason is,
vietnam. arsenic swallowed by the johnson administration, many argue. this carries into the fall presidential campaign of 1968. i want you to look at this graph. very closely. tell me what you see. the blue is humphrey. george wallace stays steady. he is running his own american independent party. george wallace is crazy, but curtis la may even embarrassing wallace. basically wallace is the inheriter of strom thurmond and the 1948 dixiecrats. but he holds steady. what you see in august, what
does the race look like? can you read the graph? what did the convention do to humphrey's numbers, help him? no. in august he's down 16 points. but what do you see happening? he's closing. by the time of the election, it's within one percentage point. nixon's out campaigning, and i love this picture. because it sets up what i'm about to talk about. one of my favorite signs is this one. character is your qualification. some of you laugh, because you know what's coming.
and that brings us to this part, right up to the election. whether it's a matter of treason or not, the chinault affair. many don't know what that was, but anna chinault just passed away last week. so this woman was 94, but he was right in the middle. and the wife of famous head of the air force, the flying tigers during world war ii, had come to the united states and had become a prominent republican fund-raiser. as the election is closing, the nixon people are starting to panic. and their greatest fear is this, there's going to be an october surprise. that surprise is going to help
humphrey over the top. six days before the election, it appears like it might occur. the johnson administration, the people in paris report back that the north vietnamese are willing to take further steps in the peace process. in return for a bombing halt. again, humphrey's closing. and nixon and them are starting to sweat bullets. as early as july of 1968, back into 1967, nixon had met anna chinault. and discussed with the ambassador, the issues relating to south vietnam and the war.
there are people inside the white house, including the guy to the right right here who is advising the johnson administration and the nixon campaign who starts reporting back. they're closing in on a deal. what will happen a week before the election if a major peace advance is made, who is going to benefit, nixon or humphrey? humphrey, no doubt. so, again, they're starting to worry. so the question is, what do we do now? less than a week out, what they start to do, and they had already been doing this to a certain degree, they start telling the south vietnamese government this, we'll give you a better deal. anna chinault communicates this to the president, too. you'll say, how do we know that?
one was, because they had wiretapped the presidential palace in site gonaigon. so johnson placed wiretaps on madame chinault and the embassy. they have, and there's what they call "the x-files." i'm not makes that up. it has all the conversations going on to madame chinault, and going back and forth to south vietnam. johnson has his information. he passes it off to humphrey to use it as you see fit. but johnson hesitates to make it public.
why? why, jose? >> two reasons. one, he wanted to appear above the politics of the election. second, impose a -- he wanted to preserve the integrity of the presidential office. >> there's something ironic about that. but you're right. i think that's a third one. one, you're right. he did -- he wanted to appear nonpartisan like eisenhower appeared in the 1960 election. here's the third point. he didn't want to have to tell people who his sources were. the president of the united states is using the nsa to spy
on our allies in saigon and using the fbi to spy on u.s. citizens, as well as our allies at the embassy. but i think your point is very well made about the idea that he wanted to protect the legacy of the presidency. because he thought, what if i tell people this and he still wins, what does that create for nixon? constitutional crisis, right? potential constitutional crisis. boy, does this sound eerily familiar? one of the greatest tapes, and get this from the miller center at the university of virginia, nixon calling up johnson to deny he knew anything about it in early november of 1968. i chose this picture because i
think it really -- but the picture i really love is in the book, the one where they're in the elevator, and they're faced off. you can just sort of see, there's that story about johnson smiling because he knew he was lying. but he wouldn't pull the trigger. they had him dead to rights probably. here's the say some people ask me, do i know for sure that nixon was party to this? absolutely not. we don't have that smoking gun. but i always joked, if i had to do a criminal case, i problem hi couldn't win. however, if it was a civilian case, highly probable. do i believe strongly that the captain pain was using.
there's no doubt there were s shenanigans going on. they did discuss the logan act, which was a 150 years old but prevented people from intervening in negotiations already being conducted by the u.s. government, private citizens from doing so. but it didn't matter. where they get this x-files is, the day johnson left the white house, he said take this file with all the information and put it away. i don't want it released. now, he obeyed that, took it to the johnson library, put it in a safe, told the director of the library, you can't release this
until like 2025, 50 years after everything. fortunately for us, the librarian ignored the request and in 1991 released the file. it is so interesting to open those and see those. madame chinault was talking to somebody in the campaign that was in new mexico. the only one from new mexico at the time was vice president spirl agnew. the biggest irony is the president worried about this bringing down the presidency. five years later, it did it the itself. one of the reasons, he created an organization called the plumbers.
humphrey chose not to use the information. but what a difference could have been made three or four days before the election. that one of the campaigns is actively involved, undermining the peace process in vietnam. all the different things that could be. is any of this resonating? as in some of the other things in the book like supreme court justices and the fights over civil rights? all these things should resonate very loudly with you. so by january of 1968, again, johnson to his last day is hoping for a breakthrough. he had also been negotiating
with the russians, which i've made the point in the book, hoping for a breakthrough on arms control, but then czechoslovakia comes along in august of '68 and kills that. even until the last moment he was hoping for a summit. but in some ways it's pretty sad. again, when he's at the ranch during the convention, that is just -- i don't know, it was heartbreaking, even though some will say he got what he deserved. but we know january of 1969, johnson is standing there as richard nixon takes the oath of office. i want you the look at this next graph and tell me what you see. what does this tell us about 1968? and the peace process and all the things related to vietnam?
the obvious one, right? [ inaudible ] >> 16,899 americans died. that doesn't count the number of vietnamese civilians. look at the other number to it. how many died in '69 -- add up the number that died in '69,' 70, '71, '72. 12,000 plus 6,000, there's 18,000, plus another 2500. 20,500, plus another say 1,000. almost as many people died in that period, in the determination for the search of peace, because does nixon countermand what johnson sought to do? what does he call for? peace with honor.
he had that secret plan. how did that secret plan work out for those more than 20,000 americans and millions of vietnamese and cambodians? again, i think johnson, if you went back and asked him, had he lived past january of 1973, ironically, he dies only a couple of days after nixon takes his second oath of office. but let's conclude here. look at the picture to the right. to your left. what do you see? is that the same johnson of '68? again, i could take it back to that picture of july of 1968 where he's listening to chuck roth. what do you think destroyed him?
vietnam. only a few days before this, he had gone to a conference at his library in austin. as he gets up to give the address, first thing that he does is he ambles over, he's moving very slowly. look at the hair. does he look like he's aged just immensely in a short period of time? he ambles over and the first thing he does when he gets to the platform is, he takes out a thing of nitroglycerin and puts it under his tongue, six weeks later he's dead. i like this cartoon. i think it sort of sums it up in many ways. he had gallbladder surgery in 1965 or '66, and he showed everybody his scar. the wound. i mean, don't do that. it's gross.
but this cartoonist obviously made a point out of that, did they not? the scar is what? vietnam. i want to give you a final thought as we stop. here's the question. why keep pushing forward? why let vietnam be that death nil? and i think this is something that leaders have to address. i love this quote about lbj, "had never in his entire life learned to confess error." and this quality merely amusing in a private person, resulted in a cosmic tragedy for the president. he thought lbj believed "he had no alternative, to feed more and more draftees into the vietnam meat grinder."
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