On May 27, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson had telephone conversations about Vietnam with McGeorge Bundy, his national security adviser, and Sen. Richard Russell, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. First, to Bundy, he said: "It just worries the hell out of me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there. ... I don't think that we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anywhere. ... I don't think it's worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get out. It's just the biggest damn mess I ever saw. ... What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? ... What is it worth to this country?"
In a second, 20-minute conversation that day with his friend Sen. Russell, he said: "I've got lots of trouble. What do you think about this Vietnam thing?" Russell responded: "It's the damn worst mess I ever saw. ... I'd get out. ... It isn't important a damn bit."
Late in the conversation, President Johnson worried: "The Republicans are going to make a political issue out of it. ... Nixon, Rockefeller and Goldwater all (are) saying let's move (and) let's go into the North. ... They'd impeach a president ... that would run out. Wouldn't they?"
Johnson went on to speak of a sergeant who was a father of six. He ''works for me over there at the house,'' Johnson told Sen. Russell. Then Johnson said: ''Thinking about sending (him) in there ... and what the hell we're going to get out of his doing it? It just makes the chills run up my back.'' LBJ concluded the conversation by saying, "I haven't the nerve to do it, but I don't see any other way out of it." (To listen to those heartbreaking taped conversations, go to http://www.hpol.org/lbj/vietnam.)
As of that spring day in 1964, a total of 201 Americans had been killed in Vietnam since 1956, according to the official records. A few months later, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed by Congress, and the great escalation of our troop levels started. By the time we finally lost the war and brought our boys home, another 57,992 American troops were killed.
Of course, in 1964, only the president knew he was taping his phone conversations. Publicly, Johnson said that it was a war we had to fight and win and that we would win it. Now, of course, we know that he believed we couldn't win even before he sent the first of those 57,992 American boys over there to die. And that he did it because he didn't have, in his words, "the nerve" to follow his best judgment because he wouldn't risk his own political danger, perhaps impeachment.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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