The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 582
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Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly
impressive for any politician, but it was quite extraordinary for a white
southerner like Lyndon Johnson.
Admittedly, even Johnson's legislative successes have generated criti-
cism. Conservative critics, like Charles Murray, have charged that the
social reforms of the Great Society hurt rather than helped the poor by
increasing their dependency on the state and destroying incentives for
self-improvement. Radicals, on the other hand, have attacked Johnson,
and indeed all his liberal predecessors, for failing to transform Ameri-
can society completely and to eliminate all inequities and injustices
stemming from race, class, and gender. In short, Johnson failed to
create an American utopia. Despite these attacks, Johnson's domestic
record still enjoys considerable acclaim, and rightfully so.
The far more serious threat to Lyndon Johnson's political and his-
torical reputation comes from another source-the Vietnam War-
what the late historian T. Harry Williams refers to as "the great sim-
plifier of so many judgments of the 196os."' Johnson's responsibility, or
partial responsibility, for America's only military defeat in the twentieth
century has aroused the enduring anger of both the Left and the Right.
The Left sees the Vietnam War as confirmation of American imperi-
alism and the misguided character of our anticommunist policies since
the end of World War II. The Right sees Vietnam as a failure of will-
the will to use all the military resources at our disposal to defeat a much
weaker but still dangerous enemy.
The assumptions and conclusions of both the Left and the Right
about this war are, I would argue, as flawed as Johnson's own judg-
ments, but there is no denying the magnitude of the Vietnam disaster:
the loss of 57,000 American soldiers; the expenditure of over $150 bil-
lion in a lost cause; the eruption of traumatic generational and class
conflicts inside this country; the fragmentation and decline of the lib-
eral coalition that championed the cause of domestic reform; the un-
leashing of massive destruction and slaughter in Vietnam and else-
where in Indochina; the consolidation of ruthless Stalinist regimes in
both Vietnam and Cambodia that inflicted additional and perhaps even
greater horrors on their captive populations after the fighting ended;
the onslaught of serious inflationary pressures that contributed to the
weakening of the American economy in the 197os; and confusion over
America's role in world affairs that has persisted to the present day. Be-
cause of the Vietnam War, Johnson's record cannot escape the stigma
of impending tragedy-for the United States, for Vietnam, and for
'T. Harry Williams, "Huey, Lyndon, and Southern Radicalism," The Journal of American Hts-
tory, LX (Sept., 1973), 288.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/660/: accessed March 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.