Does Nixon’s ‘Treason’ Boost LBJ’s Legacy?

Exclusive: The Vietnam War has doomed President Lyndon Johnson to a lowly status among presidents, overshadowing his domestic successes. But LBJ’s ranking might change if the new evidence on Richard Nixon sabotaging LBJ’s Vietnam peace talks were factored in, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times cited complaints from Lyndon Johnson’s daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, and veterans of LBJ’s administration that the late president’s legacy was excessively tarnished by the Vietnam War, obscuring his landmark social legislation advancing civil rights, medical care for the elderly, and environmental protections.

Pegged to Presidents’ Day weekend – and the upcoming half-century anniversary of many LBJ accomplishments – the article cites a recent CNN/ORC poll asking Americans how they rated the last nine presidents and putting Johnson at number seven behind Jimmy Carter and ahead of only George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.

President Lyndon Johnson

President Lyndon Johnson

But what isn’t addressed in the article is how Americans might have assessed Johnson if his plan for ending the Vietnam War in 1968 had not been sabotaged by Nixon’s presidential campaign, a reality now well established by documents and tape-recordings declassified by the National Archives but still outside the frame of most mainstream journalists and ignored by conventional historians.

I encountered this “lost history” when doing research at the Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, in 2012 and published a lengthy story at Consortiumnews.com and in my latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative. After my reporting, the BBC published an account in 2013 recognizing the significance of the new evidence.

But there appears to be a stubborn refusal at places like the New York Times and among establishment historians, like Doris Kearns Goodwin, to acknowledge this new material. Perhaps they’re waiting for the ponderous LBJ authority Robert Caro to bless the information in his final volume on the 36th President.

Or perhaps it would embarrass them too much for having missed this crucial material in their own writings about Johnson. Or maybe they think the evidence seems too conspiratorial, including the fact that many of the documents are contained in a file that LBJ’s national security adviser Walt Rostow labeled “The ‘X’ Envelope” and that archivists at the library privately call their “X-File.”

Whatever the reason, the failure to address this remarkable cache of evidence has distorted how Americans regard Johnson. It would seem to me that if the people knew that Johnson really was committed to bringing the war to an end before he left office, they might view him more charitably and regard Nixon with even greater contempt.

Reluctant Warrior?

That wouldn’t mean that Johnson would – or should – escape blame for his decisions that sent a half-million U.S. combat troops to Vietnam and inflicted unspeakable carnage on the people of Indochina. More than 30,000 American soldiers died during LBJ’s presidency along with possibly a million Vietnamese.

While Johnson’s defenders have called him a reluctant warrior – his daughter was quoted as saying “nobody wanted that war less than Lyndon Johnson” – he nevertheless signed off on the decisions that dispatched the troops and ordered the bombing campaigns. Even if he felt cornered by the ghosts of Joe McCarthy and other anti-communist zealots, Johnson still was the chief executive principally responsible for the catastrophe.

Yet, what is also clear from the new evidence is that Johnson genuinely wanted to bring the war to an end before he left office. Many Americans, including myself, had long doubted Johnson’s sincerity. After all, there had been many lies that paved the way into the hell of the Vietnam War – and Johnson had told his share of them.

However, when I began listening to the audiotapes of Johnson phone conversations from fall 1968 and began reviewing the documents from Rostow’s “The ‘X’ Envelope,” I couldn’t escape the conclusion that Johnson was committed to ending the war as quickly as possible.

Walt Rostow's "'X' Envelope"

Walt Rostow’s “‘X’ Envelope”

When Johnson learned of Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks – by getting South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to boycott them in exchange for promises of a better deal under a Nixon administration – LBJ referred to the maneuver as “treason” and fumed to his confidantes, including Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.

And among the White House inner circle, Johnson seemed the most inclined to go public with the evidence before the 1968 election, but he was dissuaded by several top aides, including Defense Secretary Clark Clifford who told Johnson, “Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected.”

Impact on Watergate

This new history on Nixon’s “treason” also changes our understanding of the Watergate scandal, which began to take shape nearly three years later. The fact that Johnson in January 1969 secretly ordered Rostow to take with him the file on Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage – what Rostow then labeled “The ‘X’ Envelope” – clarifies the longstanding mystery of why Nixon launched his “Plumbers” operation in June 1971, thus setting in motion what would become the Watergate scandal.

In June 1971, after U.S. newspapers began publishing Daniel Ellsberg’s leaked Pentagon Papers which catalogued mostly Democratic lies about Vietnam through 1967, Nixon immediately recognized his own vulnerability to a possible sequel if the missing file on his 1968 treachery ever surfaced.

After entering the White House in 1969, Nixon was told by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about the existence of the file but a search by top aides, Henry Kissinger and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, failed to locate it. So, on June 17, 1971, as the Pentagon Papers dominated the front pages of American newspapers, Nixon ordered a redoubling of the search for the missing 1968 file, even to the point of authorizing a break-in at the Brookings Institution where Nixon thought the file might be.

In other words, understanding the significance of Nixon’s “treason” in 1968 not only changes the accepted history of the Vietnam War and of Johnson’s presidency, but it could fundamentally alter the conventional wisdom about Watergate as well.

In one small blessing, this fuller understanding of Watergate – and what Nixon was desperate to cover up – might finally drive a stake through the heart of the Watergate-era trope endlessly recited by the mainstream U.S. news  media that “the cover-up is always worse than the crime!” That silliness might not survive a recognition that the “crime” that Nixon was ultimately covering up was his treachery that blocked peace talks which might have saved the lives of more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers and maybe a million more Vietnamese.  [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dark Continuum of Watergate.”]

But perhaps two such radical rewrites of supposedly well-known histories – the Vietnam War and Watergate – were too much for the likes of the New York Times and establishment historians to absorb. Indeed, knowing the fuller story might make them look like utter incompetents for missing such important aspects of two pivotal events from such a recent era.

So, for the purpose of face-saving at least, it might make more sense for the Times and “respected historians” to simply leave the old narratives in place, even if that distortion of history serves to further discredit President Johnson and his historic accomplishments.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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11 comments on “Does Nixon’s ‘Treason’ Boost LBJ’s Legacy?

  1. Thom Hartmann talks about the treason regularly on his show and plays the recording of the conversation between LBJ and Everett Dirksen. Why am I not surprised the corporate media avoid reporting the obvious? Johnson’s family is suffering in silence also? Why?

  2. yojimbo2002@hotmail.com on said:

    His legacy could be improved somewhat by this, but why not call them out at the time? Nixon was a traitor to the U.S. for his own personal gain.

    Although, it should always be remembered that LBJ was also a willing party to the Gulf of Tonkin lies, which led to the U.S. declaring war on Vietnam. Being from Texas and backed by Brown & Root as well as oil company interests, his Presidency may have more than a coincidental similarity to Bush43 and the start of the Iraq war.

    Also, since you are talking about tape recorded conversations, perhaps, his legacy should also be shaped by how he handled the whitewash of the JFK assassination. The installing of Allen Dulles on the Warren Commision, as well as the recorded phone calls with Earl Warren in which he essentially says if Lee Harvey Oswald is not found to be the lone assassin, it could trigger the start of World War and would kill millions of people.

    Since the Nixon WH sent the Watergate burglars (many of whom had ties to the CIA, the Bay of Pigs invasion and rumored involvement with JFK assassination) while having such a large lead in the polls over McGovern, the only conceivable reason for the break-in was to determine what kind of oppo research the Democrats may have had on him.

    Whether it was the JFK assasination or sending Anna Chennault to convince the North Vietnames to walk away from the peace talks with the Johnson WH, it proves that Nixon was not only a crook, but a traitor to his country as well. Kind of like the what the Republican party is today.

    • Chennault was sent to the South Vietnamese gov’t (Nguyen van Thieu & Nguyen Cao Ky) NOT to the North Vietnamese gov’t; also the U.S. never “declared” war on Viet Nam – they just made war on Viet Nam, using the fallacious and pre-ordained Gulf of Tonkin attacks/Resolution — and, by the way, the U. S. mess in Afghanistan is not the longest war in U.S. history – the war against Viet Nam is still the longest – the first U. S. combat forces were introduced there in November 1955 — it was almost a 20 year war, until. April 30, 1975. As for LBJ, he listened too long to McNamara and other business types until he realized that the U.S. military leadership was a bunch of incompetent and mendacious fools; I was in Nha Trang when Westmoreland gave his exculpatory speech for not being prepared for the 1968 Tet offensive. The GI’s I was with then, booed and cursed at the radio receiver. Many called him “Waste more land”.

      • Dr. Frans B. Roos, Ph.D. on said:

        I learned a long time ago to read the comments.
        Greg Driscoll,
        Thanks, you saved me my time and effort to correct the incorrect items.
        I’m like you spend my time in Vietnam, the difference being,not killing, but instructing technical people to maintain equipment.
        Thanks again for you being on the ball.
        Sincerely,
        DrfransBRoos, Ph.D.

        • Frans Roos – I was in Viet Nam as a Signal Corpsman (1966-19670 and then a communications technician for a contractor (1967-1968). I too was not directly killing people. The only good things for me that came from that war were meeting my wife there, and “wising up” about authority. ~ Greg

  3. Stop putting quotes around “treason” when you speak of Nixon and Vietnam. It WAS treason, pure and simple, to impede ending a war just to get yourself elected. Ask the moms of any soldier killed after the summer of 1968. (Not that the justification for those killed before was much better.)

  4. Joe Tedesky on said:

    If, “you break it you own it” ever was to be applied to a politician this would be applied to LBJ.

    Actually, this article is asking us to determine who was the worst of the two evils.

    I spent the whole past summer reading about JFK’s assassination so you will need to excuse me for voting LBJ as the worst of the worst. Seriously, George W Bush should be last, but I am sorry LBJ out does baby Bush by many, many miles!

  5. Of course Nixon was sabotaging LBJ. And of course LBJ was not serious about ending the Vietnam War and of course LBJ was spying on Nixon to boot.

    Lyndon Johnson murdered John Kennedy. LBJ orchestrated with Israel the attack on the USS Liberty. And LBJ was fully responsible for getting us into Vietnam.

    LBJ is burning in hell right now.
    If you want to get quickly “up to speed” on the JFK assassination, here is what to read:

    1) LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination by Phillip Nelson
    2) The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ by Roger Stone
    3) JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters by James Douglass
    4) Brothers: the Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot
    5) The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
    6) Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty by Russ Baker
    7) Power Beyond Reason: The Mental Collapse of Lyndon Johnson by Jablow Hershman
    8) Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III by Peter Hounam (LBJ engineered the attack on the USS Liberty)
    9) Inside the Assassinations Records Review Board Volume 5, by Doug Horne
    10) Watch “The Men Who Killed Kennedy – the Guilty Men – episode 9″ at YouTube –
    best video ever on the JFK assassination; covers well Lyndon Johnson’s role
    11) Google the essay “LBJ-CIA Assassination of JFK” by Robert Morrow
    11) Google “National Security State and the Assassination of JFK by Andrew Gavin Marshall.”
    12) Google “Chip Tatum Pegasus.” Intimidation of Ross Perot 1992
    13) Google “Vincent Salandria False Mystery Speech.” Read every book & essay Vincent Salandria ever wrote.
    14) Google “Unanswered Questions as Obama Annoints HW Bush” by Russ Baker
    16) Google “Did the Bushes Help to Kill JFK” by Wim Dankbaar
    17) Google “The Holy Grail of the JFK story” by Jefferson Morley
    18) Google “The CIA and the Media” by Carl Bernstein
    19) Google “CIA Instruction to Media Assets 4/1/67″

    • Hillary on said:

      Many people believe that a Coup d’état was orchestrated with the assassination of President J.F.Kennedy on on November 22 1963.

      This Coup emboldened “them” to get the US moving in their intended direction.
      As long as “they” continue pulling the strings the US will continue its course to war and we can not expect a true change in direction.

      http://americanfreepress.net/?p=13765

      The attack on the USS Liberty also took place on LBJ’s watch .

  6. I can remember hearing last year a recording of a private conversation that LBJ was having with someone where he expressed severe doubts about getting further involved in Vietnam. I can’t remember who it was but I was surprised to hear it considering what occurred in the future with LBJ and Vietnam.

  7. LBJ was America’s Macbeth.
    Macbeth ruled Scotland for 13 years and was considered one of the better kings — until Shakespeare got hold of the story.