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tv   LBJ Triumph and Tragedy  CNN  February 21, 2022 6:00pm-7:00pm PST

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here. >> he would grab you by the lapels, 6'3", 230 pounds. he could stare you down. but you felt that you were doing something important that had real meaning, so you put up with that. >> stay with cnn for the breaking news on ukraine. the cnn original series "lbj: the cnn original series "lbj: triumph and tragedy" starts now. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com president johnson's victory was breathtaking to behold. >> we have the opportunity to move upward to the great society. >> selma had the reputation of being one of the toughest towns -- >> you've got two minutes to turn around. >> this bill will strike down restrictions to voting. >> you had this enormous high sign of the voting rights act and then a couple days later,
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the riots. >> and we shall overcome. >> every person here should ask himself and herself today, what am i doing to better humanity in the time allotted me? what will i have done? >> president johnson was motivated by one thing, to get as many things done as he possibly could. and that's why he was always racing against time and had us racing against time. >> he was very conscious that he took office by an enormous landslide with tremendous capital. and that's why he was always so, we have to move fast, we have to move fast. >> i only deeply, deeply, deeply regret that we took the wrong path in southeast asia. >> for lbj, in terms of what to do about vietnam, he was caught
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between a rock and a hard place. there were people, particularly in the military, calling for escalation, calling for the commitment of u.s. ground troops. lbj wasn't ready to do that. this idea that lbj is the ultimate warmonger is not true. i think at the end of the day, ljb is the ultimate escalator. but i would also insert in that lbj was also the ultimate gradual escalator. he could not be another democratic country that loses yet another asian country to communism. the best route to take was right down the middle. >> vietnam as dangerous as it could be. roosevelt can't end the war with hitler on a chosen day, and i can't end it either. >> you're carrying a heavy burden of your office. it's a hell of a calculation to know what is enough and what is too much.
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♪ >> lbj put all of the power that he has as president, the voting rights act, which he considered to be one of the crown jewels in his legislative accomplishments, and it's just not enough. >> it began with the arrest by white officers of california highway patrol of two young negros. the story of police brutality quickly spread through the community. more than 1,500 people were in the streets, many hurling rocks or potholes at the piece, some attacking the cars of people, white or negro, of people just passing by. the rioting started over again shortly before dawn. >> when riot breaks out, johnson is at his ranch in texas.
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and he literally just goes out at his ranch and just wanders in the fields. he is upset with what happened. >> i had an enormous hard time getting to the president. he didn't want to talk about it. it was a strange thing. >> the violence scares him, there was something really dark in the country, that things could really unravel. >> i spent the biggest part of my life, the last four years, on civil rights bills. but all of it comes to not if you have a situation like war in the world or a situation like in los angeles. >> lyndon johnson took it personally almost to the effect, well, how can you be doing this after what i've just done? 1964 civil rights bill, the 1965 voting rights legislation. and less than a week then the
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ink is dry. you're right. you are right. >> hello? >> yes, doctor king. >> yes, mr. president. how are you today? >> johnson requested king go to watts to assess the situation. it's an assumption on johnson's part that king will have the credibility on the streets of watts to be able to function in that role. >> all over the united states of america, the negro must joint hands, and we must work -- >> king goes there to appeal for calm, for non-violence. and he's shouted down. >> i know martin was surprised at the depth of alienation of black people. toward the administration and what some of the things had been achieved. to them and their community, it didn't seem to make a material, tangible difference. >> how do you see it?
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>> well, i'll tell you, mr. president, i'm not optimistic at this point about the possible outcome of this. i'm fearful that if something isn't done to give a new sense of hope to the people in that area, they are poverty stricken, that a full scale race war can develop here. >> even if he's not johnson's confidant, there are moments johnson speaks very frankly to king about what he's feeling. >> what should we do about it? what's your recommendation? >> i think that poverty, if they could get in -- this poverty program going in los angeles. >> we can't wait, and let's get busy, and let's get into this, let's get into this unemployment, let's get into
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this health, let's get into this social security situation, let's get into education. we've got to get some jobs. the clock is ticking. >> he's making a moral argument and a practical argument. surely if we are a great country and we want to continue to be a great country that does great things, we can't leave millions of people behind. we're a different kind of dentistry. anything it takes one whg to me dentistry work for your life. so we offer a complete exam and x-rays free to new patients without insurance - everyday. plus, patients get 20% off their treatment plan. we're on your corner and in your corner every step of the way. because your anything is our everything. aspen dental. anything to make you smile. book today at aspendental.com, walk in, or call 1-800-aspendental. if you wake up thinking about the market and want to make the right moves fast...
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lyndon johnson deeply believes in politics, but he also deeply believes in legislation. he has a concept of what the united states should be. we can treat everyone. we can house everyone. we have the economic strength to do so. that's what johnson is setting out in 1965, a new way to think about what society can be, what the united states can be, and how the federal government can help the country achieve that. >> he sees that there's a need for further civil rights. he sees that there is a need for greater access to education, greater access to health care, for immigration reform, for expanding the arts and humanities, for protecting the environment. and so his aides are driven to work as hard as lbj did. >> he could be tough, demanding,
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impulsive, impetuous. he worked his staff hard. >> lbj expected us there early in the morning and late into the evening. he expected us there on saturdays and sundays when necessary. he never asked more of us than he did of himself. he was up early in the morning. he worked til somewhat a late lunch. it was always a working lunch. he would take a nap, get back into action, and work often until 11:00 when he would have a, quote, working dinner. >> johnson had an arrangement that we called bedroom detail. i would get there at 7:30, 7:45, and go to his bedroom. he might get up, go shower, and then be brushing his teeth, shaving. he might still be talking. i'd be there while he was in his dvds. >> he would be sitting on the commode doing his business, and he would still be dictating and
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giving us information as though he's just oblivious to the fact that, you know, that's not really very appropriate. >> i've seen work on people. when the president really wanted to make a point with somebody, he would really work on them. >> lbj could be mean and tough, demanding. if he was trying to persuade you to do something, it wasn't at all unusual for him to take his fingers and sort of punch you here. >> he would grab you by the lapels. he's 6'3" and 230 pounds. he could stare you down. but you felt that you were doing something important that had real meaning, so you put up with that. >> he had a half a dozen things that moved there today that were awfully important like transportation and like that teachers' core. and you got your narcotics bill. >> we think we're in reasonably good shape. we got a good social security
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pocket in. then we have our conservation, our dabs, our public works, and our medical care and my education and immigration. >> these were significant pieces of legislation. and he did it in such a short period of time. health care was a significant component. so many presidents have tried to move health care. truman had lost big and painfully. and president kennedy, to his credit, picked up this idea of health care, to focus on the elderly. >> a third of all americans over the age of 65 lived in poverty, unable to afford the most basic of medical expenses. it had been a chronic problem in modern american history at that point. >> so, when lyndon johnson picked up this issue, he was facing the same kinds of forces that had been arrayed against it before. the american medical association, and a growing conservative movement. the american medical association
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was making arguments that the government's going to come between you and your doctor. this is going to be the beginning of socialism. >> one of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. we can say right now that we want no further encroachment on individual liberties and freedoms. and at the moment, we do not want socialized medicine. >> lbj knows, given his enormous mandate in 1964, that he could get it passed in 1965. he has the votes. in order to recognize harry truman, who tried in vain to get medicare passed, they travelled to the truman library and johnson not only signs the medicare bill but gives them the first two medicare cards. it has become a poverty program.
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it's become a staple in america. it's fundamental to who we are as a nation. one of the most pivotal parts of the great society was the immigration act of 1965, which literally changes the face of america and ultimately the soul of america. >> this bill says simply that from this day forth, those wishing to immigrate to america shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationships to those already here. it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of american justice. >> the 1924 national origins act had limited the number of immigrants into america to between 150 and 160,000 for a year. it severely limited the immigration of non-whites into the united states. so, bigotry not only stood within the united states but at
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our borders. lbj, with the immigration act of 1965, abolishes the quota system in u.s. immigration forever. at the end of 1966, the 89th congress becomes the most productive legislative session in the history of the united states. 113 laws opposed, 97 passed. >> i think lyndon johnson would be seen today as one of our, perhaps, top three greatest presidents because of all that he did on civil rights and domestic policy. >> the question is what i'm doing this year compared to last year. they're going to say that we had to fight a war so we can't do these other things. but we're rich enough and powerful enough that we can do both. >> but he made one bad mistake. and it was a very bad mistake.
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as you get farther into johnson's presidency, the strains of everything he's facing really begin to wear johnson down. by the summer of '65, you're starting to see the first
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stirrings of the antiwar movement. and johnson moves into what is his core policy in vietnam, which is to try to pressure the north vietnamese to the negotiating table. >> between the gulf in march 1965 for basically tit for tat air bombings. lbj thought the north vietnamese will stop their infiltration of south vietnam, that this will be enough, this will bring them to their knees. >> mcna ma rah and general wes morland were convinced as you up the ante, they would drive to johnson's terms, which were really surrender. in the first three months it was clear to mcnamara and others that the north vietnamese weren't responding to the bombing campaign in the way that was hoped for.
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the viet cong accepted the loss of factories. they accepted enormous destruction in the country. >> we think they are winning. now, if we think they're winning, you can imagine what they think. >> nif they win it, why would they want to talk? >> lbj's worse fears about vietnam come to fruition in june of 1965 when general wes morland requested 150,000 ground troops. and he spends the next six weeks agonizing on what will become the most pivotal decision of his administration. >> you have lbj, who cares deeply. the problem was he campaigned in being the peace candidate, the one who wouldn't send american boys 9,000 to 10,000 miles away to fight a war that south
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vietnamese boys ought to be fighting. >> westmoreland wants more men. >> where do you stop? >> you don't. you either get out or you get in. >> there were those in his administration telling him, if you let vietnam fall to the communists, other nations in the region could fall like dominos. and it would embolden the soviet union and the people's republic of china. >> i don't want to pull down the plague and come home running with my tail between my legs. but on the other hand i don't want to get in this war with china and russia, so i've got a pretty intern problem. i pray every night to get direction and judgment and leadership and permit me to do what's right. >> i woke about 5:30.
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you hear lyndon say, almost as if he were in the middle of a sentence, but he'd been interrupted, i don't want to get in a war but i don't see any way out of it. >> i think vietnam really pulled him apart. there's a picture of president johnson in the cabinet room listening to the tapes that west moreland had brought from vietnam. just the look on his face, the who who knorr, the number of boys dying, he wasn't used to that. >> i never saw anyone who wanted peace more than lbj. lbj said more than once he would love to be in the same room with ho chi ho chi minh. he offered to give a billion dollars to rebuild the delta. but ho chi minh was unmoved.
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>> very pressed about it, so i see no program in either defense or state that would give me much hope of doing anything except just praying and gasping to hold on and hope they'll quit. and i don't believe they're ever going to quit. and i don't see how we have any way of -- either a plan for a victory militarily or diplomatically. >> he both believed that it was probably a mistake, increasing troops on the ground, but that he also did not believe that he had any option other than to press forward and try to find an answer. >> he was making choices that were deepening our engagement in vietnam. it's almost like you make one mistake and you try to fix it with another. and sooner or later you realize that you've made a series of decisions based on a series of mistakes. >> i think i'm going to work out a deal where i give westmoreland
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what he needs, about 30,000 each, between now and the 1st of december. >> once lbj gave westmoreland 150,000 ground troops, really there was no turning back. how do you say to the american people, we've just put 150,000 troops on the ground, but guess what, now we're going to pull back? at that point, lbj's credibility is at stake. >> it was a tuesday night. we're walking down pennsylvania avenue, walking to the white house, and the presidential limousine drives up. he turns to his assistant and said, i think i got time to get these folks a scotch and soda. so, we went to the white house. we walked with him down to the lincoln bedroom. and they said, sit on the bed. he said, i come down here every night, and i call the situation
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room and i say, how many of my boys didn't come back today? i don't want to do that anymore. doing what is right is easy, he said. knowing what is right is the hard part. walked over to a portrait of lincoln on the wall. he said, i sure hope i have better generals than he had. y'. at prices you're really feelin. shop the lowe's bath style & save event now in-store and online. ancestry's helped me really understand my family's immigration experience. ♪ i've been able to explore and learn a tremendous amount about how chinese americans have experienced civil rights and immigrant rights and what life must have been like for them. and as i pass it on to my daughter, it's an important part of understanding who we are.
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>> the most recent escalation of action is moving people closer to world war iii, and we have no right to commit the world and especially our own people to world war iii unilaterally or by the decision of a few experts. do you care to express any reaction? >> yes, i don't think i have any right to commit the whole world to world war iii. i'm doing everything i know how to avoid it. >> the relationship of president johnson with the president was a very complicated relationship. >> quit acting like children. i don't know why we don't give them a push. they're supposed to be intelligence. they ask it on the spur of the moment, they ought to be able to
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ask it. >> lbj always was watching the news. he had the three tv sets in his bedroom, three tv sets in his office, three tv sets at the ranch. it wouldn't be good enough to see the ticker. he would open up the lid to see it typed. every day read the newspapers. >> johnson probably read more newspapers than any president. he knew what we were saying all the time. >> he wasn't happy with the press, and the press wasn't happy with him. he liked to be in control, and he wasn't particularly interested in press interpretation. >> he was not good at relaxing in a presentation.
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he never met the camera, and that came across as being funny. >> he was always trying to win over the press. it pained him to read something that was bad, particularly if it was true. often he would call a press officer to talk with the reporter about something that he felt was wrong, a mistake. but more often than not, he would call the reporter directly. or if it was something that he was really upset at cbs about, he might just go around dan rather and go straight to frank statin, the president of cbs. >> frank, i wanted to tell you, if i hang my head in shame in the industry, i think the industry is wrecking all of us. if these reporters got to get their personal society politics in this thing, i damn tell them that it's dangerous business and they're playing be fire. you just can't keep punching a guy in the nose without getting something back. >> if you got up and asked him a tough question, he would lean forward and just look at you.
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those laser-like -- he would burn right through you. and you would say to yourself, uh-oh. >> there's been a great deal of talk lately about your image, some writers discussing what they call a credibility gap. do you feel you're doing things wrong? >> well, i would not want to make an indictment or review all of y'all's contributions. in my own judgment, we've done the best we could. >> there was a huge credibility gap between what the reporters saw in vietnam and what the johnson administration was saying about the war. the big lie was optimism. from the beginning, he kept asserting that the war was going well and was winnable. >> we will, make no mistake about it, win. >> in 1965, i set out to get the "star telegram" to send me over
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to vietnam. i was out on a ground operation with some marines, and they had sent a company of south vietnamese soldiers to go with us. and we were going across this open field, and approximate the south vietnamese set down and said they wouldn't go because there were supposed to be viet cong on the other side. and i said, you know, this is not going to work. >> what's working in vietnam is a reporter for the associated press. what i was doing and other reporters were doing were direct challenges to the official picture of what was going on. i'd done a story from the soldiers' point of view about the terror that they were facing. and westmoreland called the office and told the bureau chief, what the hell is he doing? why is he interviewing soldiers?
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what do they know? if he wants to get an idea what's going on here, he should call me. >> the military wanted to show they were winning the war, and they did this by showing inflated body counts. >> the american public was being lead around by the nose by the numbers of vietnamese killed, the number of americans killed. and it only seemed like we were killing ten of them every time they were killing one of us. >> it looked like the military was winning. >> we have killed many, many north vietnamese troops, far more than beknow about. >> i saw information coming in from the washington, the pentagon, the state department, and i saw cnn and the reporters, the press, reporting very differently. there were two very different streams of information coming in. and in some remarks, the associated press was more dangerous to us than the italian
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viet cong. >> in a way, president johnson retaliated against me for my coverage. he called in vice president of the ap for personnel, keith fuller. lbj said to him, now, look, keith, what about that guy? don't you think he's been there long enough? >> i don't think the president knew if he was telling something that wasn't true. but there's no question that the administration simply didn't tell the truth. >> i'll never forget one time, i was up in the danang area, there was a kid there, his mother had written to me. i tracked him down. and i said, i'm bop schaffer, from "the star telegram." your mother asked me to see how you were. and he just broke down in sobs.
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it was -- i'll never forget that kid. these soldiers, i mean, my god, i mean, these kids some of them 17 years old. and they were there because their country had sent them there. and they came home and people spit on them. going to vietnam was, i think, the most important thing that i did as a reporter, not because i got any scoops, because i made the day a little better for some of those kids. six weeks after i was there, i realized that this was simply not going to work. no matter how good our intentions were. and what i never understood for years is why if i could figure it out in six weeks, why didn't he figure it out?
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>> with the tide turning on vietnam and an election on the horizon, lyndon johnson made an unexpected decision. >> my fellow americans -- >> that's what the country all but came apart. >> "lbj: triumph and tragedy" continues next on cnn. now wash day is a dream for your curls. new elvive dream lengths curls micellar shampoo with hyaluronic acid. a sulfate-free formula for deep clean without stripping. it's not a dream anymore. new elvive dream lengths curls from l'oreal paris. we're worth it. ♪ pepto bismol coats and soothes your stomach for fast relief and get the same fast relief in a delightful chew with pepto bismol chews. ♪ ♪ at lowe's, you never have to be finished with your finishing touches. with aisles of ways to refresh and restyle.
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lbj still has the majority of the american people on his side, as it relates to his policy in vietnam. but the tide starts to really turn in 1967. >> you get to a point where there are hundreds of thousands of people protesting the war, and there is a strong sense of, we don't even understand why we
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are there. >> the tone that the white house was very sober. the vietnam war was dominating everything. we kept thinking that we were going to go to the table and sit down and negotiate a deal. and that kept being postponed. i really believe that the president could end the war. >> one evening, i was sitting in the backseat with him going out the gates of the white house, and the protesters, mostly young, were shouting, hey, hey, lbj, how many kids did you kill today. >> every morning he would get a body count. and he just agonized over it all the time. >> lbj said, tom, i wish they knew that i want peace as much as they do. >> as the divisions of vietnam
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spread throughout the country, much to lbj's chagrin, he isolates himself. this is a guy who wants to do something for young people. he wants to give them education and civil rights and environmental protection, and yet he's sending young men off to vietnam. and it's something that young america can't forget lbj for. >> when you stood on the lincoln memorial that day in august '63, you said, i have a dream, did that dream envision a war in asia, preventing the federal government doing for negros that which you think had to be done. >> no, i didn't envision that then. i must confess that period was a moment of hope for me. it was a high moment, a great watershed moment. but i must confess that dream i had that day has at many points turned into a nightmare.
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>> i think dr. king had lost patience with the gap between johnson's rhetoric of antipoverty and the great society and the reality of the billions that were being invested in this deepening conflict in vietnam. >> in late 1966, dr. king had gotten the call from the pentagon, from at point one of the highest ranking black officers in the united states military. and the black officer wanted dr. king to come down to washington to see them as soon as possible. dr. king said, well, i can't. he says, well, can you send down somebody, one of your most trusted advisers? so, i go into the pentagon, and there's i radio playing. he says, i hope you have a good memory because i'm going to let you read some -- he's not saying this. he's writing this down.
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the recent casualty reports from vietnam. 12% of the population, negros, were experiencing a high kill and wounded ratio from a low of 27% to a high of 35%. when i showed dr. king this rea information, his first reaction was, i knew it, i knew it. it's killing i disproportionate number of our people. so, it's against that background that on april 4, he's invited to be the principle speaker at riverside church. dr. king begins tying his criticism into the absence of
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funds to fight the war on poverty because the funds to fight the war on poverty were being, in his words, squandered in the war in vietnam. >> king saw, quite frankly, more african americans being sent to vietnam not coming home and recognizing that they were fighting for democracy, that they were not benefitting from here in the united states. >> i live in philadelphia. we have one high school that lost 56 boys, all black. is that a civil rights issue or is that just about war? >> there were those who were immediately opposed to them taking a public stance. he says, no, no, i'm a minister of god. and as a minister of the gospel, i do not segregate my moral
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concerns. the vietnam war is either morally wrong or morally right. i may be the last man standing. i don't care if everybody turns against me. i do not care. >> i knew that i could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest p purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government. >> they don't make them like that anymore. >> martin luther king jr. was the baddest black leader, political leader, because he -- he had no fear. dr. king's speech at the riverside baptist church is not only an indictment of the war in vietnam. it's an indirect indictment of the president of the united
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states. >> king was warned by many of his staffers that you should not mix the issue of civil rights with the antiwar stance. >> dr. king's answer was, i can't be for non-violence at home and then advocate violence abroad. >> but he had no idea of the vengeance that would come down on him after that speech. one that did not have an editorial against him was the louisville courier. >> this apostle of nonviolence believes war is the worst crime that lyndon johnson can wage against humanity. >> he was unhappy about it. >> that was the straw that broke
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the camel's back and the relationship between martin king and lyndon johnson. stuff. we love stuff. and there's some really great stuff out there. but i doubt that any of us will look back on our lives and think, "i wish i'd bought an even thinner tv, found a lighter light beer, or had an even smarter smartphone." do you think any of us will look back on our lives and regret the things we didn't buy? or the places we didn't go?
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. lyndon johnson used to say, you've got to get the american public to support a war if there's going to be a war.
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and if the american public doesn't support it, you can't succeed. >> the order of 1967, president johnson began what he called the optimism campaign. lbj invited general westmoreland back to washington to give speeches and interviews talking about the great progress that they were seeing in the war. >> i am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965, the enemy was winning, today, he is certainly losing. >> lbj's cheer sort of force of will. i'm going to bring westmoreland back for this and he's going to speak in front of television and say the end is near. the victory is in sight. >> they all knew better. they knew it was a stalemate. >> johnson really believed the idea of the best and the brightest can come in and solve these problems and come in with
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his algorithms and come up with a slolution for vietnam. that was really thrown into doubt by the course of the vietnam war. >> secretary mcnamara was an emotional wreck in those ultra private meetings. i saw robert mcnamara in a near breakdown mode. talking about tears. lbj was worried that he would as former secretary of defense, and commit suicide. lbj created this position, put secretary mcnamara at the world bank and named his old ally, clark clifford, as secretary of defense. >> the tet offensive is the turning point for the war. americans see the regardless of how many troops are sent into vietnam, how many bombs are dropped on vietnam, the enemy
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will keep on coming. >> on the first two natures, the viet cong and north vietnamese forces struck across the entire vietnam. >> the viet cong pulled off one of the most surprising things in history. >> the detet offensive happenedn saigon. a lot of it got caught on film. >> the terrible quality of the war in vietnam came home to people. it was the feeling, part of a vast number of americans, that these guys didn't want to quit. >> suddenly the u.s. embassy came under attack, you had to ask the question. i thought we were winning here. and they're attacking our embassy? >> westmoreland saw light at the end of the tunnel.
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we have this tet offensive that most of vietnam is attacked by viet cong and the north v vietnamese and say, where the hell is that light at the end of the tunnel stuff? we're being run over all over. >> right up to the tet offensive, westmoreland talked about military victory. the white house talked in terms of military victory. the tet offensive ended that talk. >> cold hard facts, we do not have control. >> lbj is fending off the doves that want to cut and run and fending off the hawks, saying we'll need a couple hundred thousand more immediately. at this point, he's very much alone. >> cronkite's report -- >> in these ruins can be seen physical evidence of the viet cong's tet offensive. >> young people will not realize
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that one journalist could be as powerful in his influence as walter cronkite. >> middle america loved his commentary and his lack of judgment. he was not given to making comments that wril advised. >> walter was famous for never expressing an opinion. that was his strong point. he was a straight down the line journalist. >> to say we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past. to say we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. to say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic yet unsatisfactory could not class. >> that's when lyndon johnson said, if i have lost walter cronkite, i've lost the country. america is shocked and saddened by the slaying of dr.
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martin luther king. >> 1968, historians say it was the single most consequential year of the 20th century. >> that's when the country all but came apart. >> ten hours before he is about to address the nation on the future, he hasn't made the decision. >> he said i may have a little ending of my own. >> good evening, my fellow americans. lbj is becoming more and more isolated. he's an island in the white house. >> hey, hey, lbj, how many kids did you kill today? >> if the american public isn't supporting, you cannot succeed. >> i thought we were winning. >> cold hard facts. we donal have control. >> he could no longer do the thing he is best at.

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