Tonight on Bill Moyers – Lessons From A Quagmire

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Cross-posted at DKos

Tonight on PBS, Bill Moyers Journal will focus on the LBJ telephone and office tapes created during the escalation in Vietnam, in a program called “Hearing History”.

Bill Moyers considers a President’s decision to escalate troop levels in a military conflict. Through LBJ’s taped phone conversations and his own remembrances, Bill Moyers looks at Johnson’s deliberations as he stepped up America’s role in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson’s taped conversations are a treasure-trove for both historians and current policy makers. On the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers explores the tapes to review Johnson’s deliberations as he stepped up America’s role in Vietnam. Some of the names on the tape, such as Robert F. Kennedy, will be familiar to Americans young and old – others less so.

The origins of the Vietnam War lie in 1945, when the British ignored Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence and restored French rule to the country.

After a protracted conflict with Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist forces and a massive defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French left Vietnam in 1954.

During the Cold War many foreign policy analysts subscribed to “The Domino Theory” – which contended that should one country come under communist rule, its neighbors were likely to follow suit. President Eisenhower, worried about the spread of communism, sent U.S. advisors to train forces in South Vietnam in 1956, and President Kennedy increased American forces significantly, with 12,000 U.S. military advisors stationed in Vietnam by 1962.

But it was under President Johnson that the U.S. escalated the conflict to a full scale war.

Bill Moyers served in several roles in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, among them stints as LBJ’s chief of staff, and LBJ’s Press Secretary.  For my money, it will be difficult to find anyone who can speak more knowingly about White House events during the Vietnam War.

There is a timeline for events in Vietnam, paired with clickable audiotapes of LBJ, on Moyers’ website, as well as a Who’s Who of the Vietnam escalation debate.

Must. See. Tee. Vee!



UPDATE:  Transcript is now available.  Moyers’ closing remarks:

Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.




  1. Political action took place within unrestrained cultural experimentation, and Vietnam was the focus of most of the energy (Civil Rights was right there too). It wasn’t just the immorality of the war and the absence of any serious justification (other than replacing one colonial occupant with another and invoking the domino theory). It was also that a hell of a lot of us were looking at possibly being drafted, and the nightly news wasn’t real comforting. I recall waiting for the lottery with many others. It wasn’t fun. I’m glad I lived, fought, experimented, marched and demonstrated for what I/We believed in.

    We despised LBJ. Most of us were far Left Democrats. Issues came first. And in spite of the 68′ convention fiasco, Humphrey barely lost (if I recall correctly). It seemed like the 60’s quickly faded around 1970-72. And when the book was closed on Vietnam in 74-75, well over 1,000,000 Vietnamese were dead, and 70,000 U.S. soldiers killed and thousands more wounded and psychologically maimed.

    So here we are again. No assassinations this time. But clearly the same mindset of the Pentagon; the executive branch, I don’t know. Different country/ies, but the same type of domino reasoning i.e. get them there or they’ll come here etc. etc. Except with Vietnam, it was at least a theory, now it’s just propaganda.

    I’m waiting for a movement to erupt. But as a philosopher once said (it may have been jose ortega de gaset), revolutionary action is generational, and it takes the young to lead.  I’m proud of the action we took, despite the impression that many have of us dirty f**g hippies.

    Obama’s got to step up like LBJ didn’t; or like in 1968, the Dems may be shown the door. And this time it may not be Nixon, but a hell of a lot worse for a rickety, fractured Republic. I shudder to think of it.

  2. transcript link and Moyers’ closing comments.

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