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The Confederate Lawyer
July 7, 2010

The Cold War
Part IV: Johnson Brings the Cold War Home

by Charles G. Mills
fitzgerald griffin foundation

GLEN COVE, NY — When President John Kennedy was killed by a communist, Lyndon Johnson became President. Growing dissatisfaction with our gradual losses to the Soviets led to the 1964 Republican nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater, a man firmly committed to victory in the Cold War.

Johnson waged one of the most dishonest and vicious campaigns in American history. His massive propaganda campaign sought to persuade Americans that Goldwater would expand the war in Vietnam and even destroy the world in an unlimited nuclear war.

After his reelection, Johnson quickly realized that Kennedy’s dream of victory in Vietnam without committing American troops was unrealizable. Shortly before Johnson's inauguration, Kennedy made the disastrous mistake of involving the United States in the murder of Vietnamese President Diem and his brother. This changed America’s role from protector of self-determination for South Vietnam to meddler in the nation’s internal affairs.

American soldiers fought well in Vietnam, winning every battle of any significance. Although the newspapers at home depicted the Tet offensive as a defeat, it was actually a major American victory. The war was not turning out to be a success, however. Johnson tried to simultaneously wage a war abroad and fund a huge expansion of programs at home. He sought to save money on the quality of ammunition. He kept changing the rules of engagement, especially regarding what we could do to the communist lines of supply. His biggest mistake was his refusal to allow a real pursuit of victory, which required making war on North Vietnam.

One of Johnson’s policies is particularly difficult to understand. Members of the Army Reserve with sophisticated military specialties and substantial military experience were never called up. Officers who had been forced out in their middle ages were not allowed to come out of retirement. Instead, a million young men without any military experience were drafted. The Reserves and National Guard, restricted to a supplementary role in emergencies, became havens for draft dodgers.

The greatest effect of Johnson’s policy, however, was to destroy the 20-year-old national consensus to oppose communism. Unlike the patriotism and unity that Americans displayed during the Korean War, the Vietnam War was characterized by bitter division at home. Draft cards were burned, and students wore shirts with images of hammers and sickles. Domestic communists began to dynamite campus buildings and murder people. Johnson had truly brought the Cold War, and not in a particularly cold form, to our shores.

Johnson destroyed the political viability of the Truman doctrine of containment. In the aftermath of the Goldwater campaign, the Republicans stumbled uncertainly toward becoming the party of victory over communism. The anti-communist Democrats from the South and Cold Warriors like Senator Henry Jackson began to lose the Democrat Party to appeasers and left-wing extremists.

Johnson’s policies led to the events at the 1968 Democrat Convention. Outside the convention hall, huge crowds of opponents of the Vietnam War, and indeed of the Cold War, rioted and clashed with the Chicago police. Inside, the anti-Cold-War Senator Abraham Ribicoff made an absurd motion to adjourn and re-convene in another city. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley stood up and screamed obscenities at Ribicoff. Confrontations occurred between delegates and security guards. Events expected to occur in prime time took place at three or four in the morning.

Johnson left office with violent mobs in the streets seeking America’s defeat. The Democrats were laying the groundwork for the champions of Cold War defeat -- men like Senators Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Robert Kennedy -- to seize control of the Democrat Party.

While the Republican Party was not yet ready to favor victory unequivocally, a pro-victory majority within the party was forming.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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