I. F. Stone, “A Man the Whole World Has Begun to Distrust”, 7 June 1965
After a year and a half with Lyndon Johnson as President, one thing can be said about him with certainty. It is dangerous to trust anything he says. His favorite stance on the platform is that of a country preacher, brimful of Gospel. Events have shown that beneath his corny brand of idealism is a hard-boiled operator who believes in force. The difference between him and Goldwater is that the latter candidly espoused what the former covertly practices. The Arizonian lost because he was more honest and less clever. But there is a limit to cleverness, and Johnson has about reached the limit.
The good will built up by Kennedy for our country in every section of the world except East Asia has been dissipated by his successor. It is no exaggeration to say that Johnson is today distrusted everywhere: in Latin America, where he has destroyed the hopes aroused by the Alliance for Progress; in Western Europe, where he is regarded as impulsive and high-handed; in India, where he affronted Shastri by canceling his visit rather than risk hearing an Asian dissent on our Vietnamese war; and in Eastern Europe, where the Russians had expected a continuation of the detente begun under Kennedy and the satellites had hoped for a continued thaw in the Cold War as their one sure means of liberation. Rarely has one man blasted so many hopes so quickly.
In Mr Johnson’s recent V.E. day address to Europe, he touched on “the dramatic contrast between this twenty years and the twenty years which followed World War I” and said that on 11 November 1938 “Munich was just six weeks old and war less than a year away.” Perhaps he spoke too quickly. Many of his listeners must have wondered whether a general war might not again be only another year away. Others must have recalled that it was behind the Pied Piper banner of anti-Communism that the Japanese began their incursions into China in the thirties and the Germans their mobilization for their second attempt in a generation to rule the world. The League of Nations was destroyed in the process as the United Nations is being destroyed by our own policy of unilateral military intervention. Humanity has long feared that some day a reckless man would his finger on the H-bomb. Johnson has himself to blame if people are beginning to fear that maybe he is that man.
In a flurry of recent speeches and press conferences, Mr Johnson has shown himself on the defensive. He is finding his critics much less ready than they were in the campaign to be taken in by sweet talk. He has tried first of all to counteract the widespread resentment in the press corps and in the colleges over his inability to take criticism and his effort to stifle independent reporting and foreign policy debate. He is trying to sound like Jefferson in public while he sounds more like McCarthy in private. He told an entourage of reporters at the White House recently that he knew that Communists were behind the teach-ins. He said he had instructed J. Edgar Hoover to root them out. “How rare is the land and extraordinary the people,” he said at the National Cathedral school, 31 May, “who freely allow, and encourage as I have on many occasions, citizens to debate their nation’s policies in time of danger.” But after so warmly patting himself on the back, he refused to answer at press conference next day when asked whether this meant that he approved “university teach-in techniques”. Even a pretended magnanimity is beyond him. The real Lyndon Johnson is reflected in U.S. News and World Report (7 June) which says: “The White House is known to be concerned about the number of extreme ‘left-wingers’ getting across their views in newspapers and on television and adding to U.S. troubles.” This will be news even to moderate “left-wingers” accustomed to being sealed off from access to major communication media. Apparently any criticism is regarded in the White House as “extreme” left-wing.
Mr Johnson said at press conference that the other countries in [the Americas] had long ago declared Communism incompatible with the Inter-American system. This does not mean they agreed that the U.S. Marines could march in whenever we thought a government leaned too far left. Just how far offbase we are in Santo Domingo is indicated by the fact that two well known anti-Communist Latin American experts, both violently anti-Castro, have attacked Johnson’s Red scare excuse for intervening in the Dominican Republic: Theodore Draper in the 24 May issue of the New Leader and Robert J. Alexander in the 20 May issue of New America, organ of the Socialist Party. The Administration’s Dominican intervention was not made to look less silly by Secretary Rusk’s defense of it at a press conference, 26 May. “There was a time,” Mr Rusk said, to demonstrate the power of a handful, “when Hitler sat in a beer hall in Munich with seven people.” The Washington correspondent of The (London) Times (27 May) commented tartly, “Apparently, however, tens of thousands of American troops are not to be deployed whenever eight suspicious men gather together over glasses of beer.”
What we found most repulsive in the press conference was Mr Johnson’s unctuous call for plastic surgeons to go to Vietnam. An easier way to meet that need would be to stop dropping napalm on its people.
“Rarely has one man blasted so many hopes so quickly” — though there has been an ongoing competition on that score by most of the Presidents since Johnson.
“[T]he United Nations is being destroyed by our own policy of unilateral military intervention.”
The Socialist Party included members who were “anti-Communist” and “violently anti-Castro”? Shocking.
It’s nice to know that inappropriate Nazi comparisons were already a feature of public discourse only twenty years after the war.
It’s also useful to remember that throwing everyone to the left of the White House under the bus did not start with the advent of DFHs.
“[E]ffort to stifle independent reporting and foreign policy debate” caused “resentment in the press corps”? *sigh*
“How rare is the land and extraordinary the people, who freely allow, and encourage as I have on many occasions, citizens to debate their nation’s policies in time of danger.” Irony has apparently been dead for a while.