Monday, September 17, 2012
the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt three)
from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:
Yes, in 1961, Johnson's predecessor John F. Kennedy had promised at his inauguration, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." But Johnson's promise was not Kennedy's; Johnson promised to resist the expensive temptations of foreign wars and to build a Great Society at home instead. He promised not to escalate in Vietnam. He promised he would not allow the United States to get "tied down in a land war in Asia." But then, despite the promises, despite his determination not to, Johnson got dragged to the conclusion that the United States needed to be fighting in Vietnam. He moved to convince the American people and Congress that he should have the authority to use military force there--the wildly exaggerated Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 would be the basis for the only congressional authorization Johnson ever sought for war. Then, with only halfhearted gestures toward trying to keep the country on board with a war he never really wanted to fight, Johnson set about trying to fight his war in a way the American people might hopefully not notice too much. "We don't think we'll ask for much money," Johnson confided to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richard Russell, in the summer of 1965, as he made plans to increase the ground forces in Vietnam from 80,000 to 180,000, "because we don't want to blow this thing up."
LBJ "tried to fight a war on the cheap," one of the Johnson administration's key intelligence men, George A. Carver, would say years later, "and tried to fight a war without acknowledging that he was fighting a war."
The agonized president was trying to thread a new and difficult needle: taking the nation's armed forces to war without taking the nation as a whole to war. And central to that effort was once crucial decision. Against the advice of his secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the outright objection of the chief of staff of the US Army, Johnson simply refused to call up the modern parallel to those old Jeffersonian state militias, all those men living in our neighborhoods: the US Army Reserve and the National Guard. The Guard or Reserves had been called to fight in every American war in the nation's history--even in the nonwar that was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963--but in Vietnam, Johnson hesitated. In part he was worried that a full-scale mobilization would draw the Russians and the Chinese into the war, but mostly he didn't want to get Conhress and the rest of the country all het up and asking too many questions.