The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998 Page: 398
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
the work of a practiced hand. Ron Tyler is to be congratulated on a book
that will serve many purposes for many years to come.
El Paso Museum of Art BECKY DUVAL REESE
Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars. By Frank E. Vandiver. (College
Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. Pp. xv+396. List of illustrations,
preface, acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN
0-89096-747-4. $29.95, cloth.)
Frank Vandiver's book is an important and welcome contribution to the
growing literature on Lyndon Johnson's leadership during the Vietnam
War. Although the author hardly applauds the presidential decisions to
transform the war in 1965 and the subsequent character of American mili-
tary involvement, he abstains from the relentless condemnation of
Johnson's actions that characterizes so many other studies. While acknowl-
edging the serious problems that arose from the American war effort,
Vandiver is more concerned with understanding why Johnson did what he
did than leveling criticism. Vandiver also places Johnson's direction of the
war in the context of all the other challenges, both at home and abroad,
that he faced as president.
Striving for balance, the author draws generally reasonable and persuasive
conclusions about Johnson's conduct: he sought advice and information from a
wide range of sources, including critics of his policies, and rarely succumbed to
the siege mentality that Doris Kearns and others emphasize; he agonized and
confronted his hawkish advisers with tough questions before ordering the
bombing of North Vietnam and the massive deployment of American troops;
he was sincere in his pursuit of a negotiated settlement even though he rejected
calls to abandon South Vietnam; he was concerned about the well-being of the
South Vietnamese people despite the carnage and destruction that American
firepower inflicted; his Wilsonian vision of democracy, social reform, and eco-
nomic development represented the core of his foreign policy for the Far East.
Vandiver is particularly insightful as he explores the impact of Johnson's polit-
ical methods and instincts, which were shaped by his long experience in domes-
tic politics, on the war-making process. Johnson usually sensed when his advisers
were withholding information or trying to manipulate him in other ways. At his
best, Johnson was both intuitive and systematic in his approach to difficult issues.
In the words of presidential aid Jack Valenti, whom Vandiver quotes, Johnson
would "circle the problem, approaching it from all sides, determined to find its
soft spots ... " (p.124). At the same time, the president's quest for consensus,
his discomfort with military men, his tendency to postpone decisions as long as
possible, his insistence on secrecy, and his willingness to play the semantic game
of redefining troublesome questions into more manageable forms-all these
patterns of behavior invited trouble.
For all the strengths of this book, Vandiver's treatment of a number of
basic questions lacks depth. How compelling were Johnson's reasons for
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998, periodical, 1998; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/m1/467/?rotate=90: accessed December 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.