Capitalist democracy gives those who really run the country — the billionaires — the opportunity to blame the voters for whatever becomes unpopular. You elected him, didn’t you? Why are you complaining?
The Vietnam War became tremendously unpopular. So did the system of segregation that shackled the Black population in the South, as well as the racism in the North that kept African Americans in the poorest housing, schools and jobs — and still does.
During the six years that Lyndon Baines Johnson was president — 1963 to 1969 — the resistance to both the war and racism hit a high point. Mass rebellions broke out in the oppressed Black communities. Youth from all backgrounds were joining the Freedom Rides, tearing up their draft cards and refusing orders to go to Vietnam and kill people.
Whether he wanted to or not, Johnson in that period faithfully executed the orders of the geopolitical planners for U.S. imperialism, who saw Southeast Asia as a potential source of enormous profits.
We are now hearing from LBJ’s descendants that he didn’t deserve the reputation he got during that period. The popular chant “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” probably still haunts them. His younger daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, recently told the New York Times: “No matter how hard he tried, he didn’t seem to be able to get out of that quagmire.” (Feb. 15)
They want him to be remembered fondly for signing the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, along with implementing many social programs of the 1960s under the guise of the War on Poverty, etc., rather than for escalating the war and putting down rebellions at home.
But bourgeois historians tend to forget that it was the mass and determined Civil Rights Movement that pushed him to sign the laws and implement these progressive programs.
But the same year that Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he also made J. Edgar Hoover head of the FBI for life — the same Hoover who targeted the anti-war and Black Power movements and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. LBJ was recorded calling Dr. King racist epithets in conversations on the White House phone.
As early as Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnamese proved in the Tet Offensive that they had the loyalty of the people in South Vietnam as well as in the north of the country. They carried out incredible attacks on U.S. military targets inside the south’s largest cities — without anyone tipping off the occupiers in advance.
Johnson announced on March 31 of that year that he wouldn’t run for re-election. If he really had been against the war, why didn’t he run so he could sign the order to bring the troops home? That’s what the people wanted. But Johnson probably worried that he would suffer the same fate as John F. Kennedy if he did what the people wanted and got out of the war.
It wasn’t until 1973, when the U.S. military command literally faced mutiny by its own troops, that the U.S. ruling class decided to cut its losses by signing the Paris Peace Accords and began withdrawing. Even then, the war continued for two more years, until the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam chased the last Marine from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
Johnson’s responsibility for the war — which killed millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians and left its scars on a generation of young people in the U.S. — can’t be eradicated from the history books. What should be added to those books, however, is the culpability of the billionaire ruling class that really runs this country. Johnson was carrying out their bloody orders when he sent young draftees to Vietnam and unleashed the FBI on Black and Brown people here.
Bourgeois politicians come and go, but we won’t be free of war and oppression until the one-tenth of 1 percent and their profit system have been dealt with.