The Ghost of LBJ

by NORMAN SOLOMON

A few days after the inauguration, in a piece celebrating the arrival of the Obama administration, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the new president has clearly signaled: “No more crazy wars.”

I wish.

Last week — and 44 years ago — there were many reasons to celebrate the inauguration of a president after the defeat of a right-wing Republican opponent. But in the midst of numerous delightful fragrances in the air, a bad political odor is apt to be almost ineffable.

Right now, on the subject of the Afghan war, what dominates the discourse in Washington is narrowness of political vision — while news outlets are reporting that the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is expected to “as much as double this year to 60,000 troops.”

It’s heartbreaking now to read the admixture of profound humanity and nascent war madness in the inaugural address of Lyndon Johnson. “In a land of great wealth, families must not live in hopeless poverty,” he proclaimed. “In a land rich in harvest, children just must not go hungry. In a land of healing miracles, neighbors must not suffer and die unattended.” And that wasn’t just rhetoric. LBJ went on to launch Great Society programs with great effects and far greater promise.

But the same inaugural speech foreshadowed the massive slaughtering of people in Vietnam, and the undermining of the United States — with what Martin Luther King Jr. two years later likened to “some demonic destructive suction tube” — bringing home terrible depths of human pain and bitterness. “If American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in countries we barely know,” Johnson said at his inauguration, “that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and of our enduring covenant.”

Pundits and congressional leadership nodded sagely as the president cited the threat of communism and proceeded to boost U.S. troop levels in Vietnam. Similar nodding — and nodding off — is now underway as the president cites the threat of terrorism and prepares to boost U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

Down the line, some key words from Obama’s inaugural address — telling dubious foreign leaders that “your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy” — will need to face a reflection in the mirror.

Lyndon Johnson’s capacity to deliver on hopes for a Great Society shattered on the jagged steel of a war that, year after year, few pundits were willing to acknowledge was crazy. The war effort in Vietnam was the essence of supposed rationality.

Now, hopes for the Obama administration are vulnerable to destruction from an escalating war. “Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency,” the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Many independent journalists and authors, such as Chris Hedges and Sonali Kolhatkar, have written from depths of knowledge about the derangement of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. That effort won’t bring “victory,” but it can multiply the suffering endlessly.

Several weeks ago, a Bob Herbert column made a practical moral argument: “Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.”

Days after the inauguration, the news has included a fresh spate of stories about Afghan civilians killed by U.S. missiles. Hamid Karzai, in effect the president of Kabul, declared that the Pentagon’s frequent killing of civilians in Afghanistan “is strengthening the terrorists.” And so it goes.

Escalation of a crazy war will make it crazier. Pretending otherwise will not make it any less insane — or any less destructive.

And, as we heard in Obama’s inaugural address, “people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of Made Love, Got War.

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal