Lyndon B. Johnson] did not confide [that he did not seek a World War
II-style unconditional-surrender victory] to the Americans he was
sending into harm's way in Vietnam. Indeed, within a week of his first
large escalation of ground combat forces in 1965, Johnson told an
audience, "America wins the wars that she undertakes. Make no
mistake about that." Later he exhorted soldiers to "nail
the coonskin to the wall" and told them, "We know you're
going to get the job done." [However, as his secret] tapes reveal,
Johnson was privately tormented as early as February 1965 by the suspicion
that in Vietnam he would fail even to achieve the limited goal [of
negotiations.] He tells Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that he
can't imagine anything "as bad as losing" and doesn't see
"any way of winning." A few months later, he says of the
Viet Cong adversary, "I don't believe they're ever going to quit."
Johnson's dread in 1965 that his Vietnam war would end in catastrophe was why he sank into the depression that his wife, Lady Bird, describes in her taped diary transcripts. She says LBJ told her: "I can't get out, I can't finish it with what I've got and I don't know what the hell to do." She has him telling her that regarding Vietnam, he felt as if he were in a crashing airplane and "I do not have a parachute." These are not the words of a man confidently expecting that his escalation in Vietnam will lead to a North Vietnamese cave-in and negotiation.…What is chilling, however, is how brilliantly Johnson understood in 1965 -- not '68 but '65 -- the tragedy that was about to unfold. On the secret tapes, he privately predicts that the Senate and the American people will abandon his war and the nation will not be able to sustain such a commitment based on such a small and shrinking reservoir of support. He predicts America will lose in Vietnam, that the Viet Cong will fight on and on. He does not disagree with the hauntingly accurate prediction of his old Senate mentor, Richard Russell, that the Vietnam War could take a decade, kill 50,000 Americans and end in our first defeat."
-- Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian, in "LBJ's Secret War" in the Washington Post, Saturday, December 1, 2001; Page A25, © 2001.