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Lyndon B. Johnson had some great plans in store for America during his presidency. He thought of some great ways to provide social welfare to large segments of the population, he fought a great battle for what he called the "war on poverty," and he even signed some of the greatest civil rights bills into law. All of these great achievements were designed and celebrated as pieces of his "Great Society." In other words, he wanted to make America a better place.
But then he got involved with Vietnam. And Johnson didn't do so great anymore.
Johnson became president of the United States under one of the worst possible scenarios: his predecessor was assassinated. Johnson was John F. Kennedy's vice president, and when Kennedy was killed on November 22nd, 1963, LBJ became the president by default.
What was seen as a hopeful and energetic presidency soon turned into a nightmare scenario that nobody in America thought was possible.
Unfortunately for Johnson, this statement applied to his presidency as well.
To give LBJ a bit of credit, he was willing to make the best out of a no good, terrible situation. His slogan probably went something like this: "when life gives you lemons, you give the people Medicare, Medicaid, accessible education, upward mobility, welfare, and you do your very best to fight the good fight for civil rights."
That seems like a reasonable list, right? Well, not so much…
LBJ had some early successes with these policies. They were both lofty and hugely popular. So lofty and popular that they were called "the Great Society." But just as soon as Johnson started to feel good about his presidency, a hand grenade landed in his lap.
That hand grenade was called Vietnam.
Have you ever had one of those pimples that starts off as an annoying itch, so you give your face a couple of washes and figure that it will go away? Well, imagine if that pimple just got bigger and bigger every day for over 10 years. Then imagine that pimple has machine guns and an army of other pimples ready to join its revolution.
Well, that disgusting metaphor sums up kind of how Vietnam went for Johnson.
The United States had sent military advisors to help out the French beginning in 1950, and JFK began sending troops into the region in the early 1960s. But it would be Johnson who signed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, basically going to war without saying the United States was doing just that. On top of that, Johnson made the decision to deploy regular combat troops starting in 1965.
These were big mistakes. He thought that the whole Vietnam situation was going to be a simple one-and-done operation. But, wow, was he wrong.
Instead of pulling out like the French, Johnson just kept sending in troops. Then he sent some more. And after that, he sent some more.
Nothing seemed to be working. To make matters worse, Johnson was less than honest with the press about the activities in Vietnam. That definitely didn't work. Add this to the growing resentment and discontent from anti-war protestors throughout the United States, and you've got the recipe that ended Johnson's political career.
What had started out as a promising presidency, popular for its stance toward civil rights, turned into a bit of a disaster. As a result, Johnson is most often remembered for his role in the Vietnam War than for anything else.