There is a cosmic irony in the role payed by Vietnam in Lyndon Johnson’s career….What increased the irony was that Vietnam turned against him that group in society whose approbation he most desired—the college students. Nothing bewildered him more that the sieges of the White House by half-naked hippies chanting: “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?”
He thought he had done everything for them—college loans, scholarships, subsidies—and he considered their conduct nothing but the grossest ingratitude. They were not showing the same concern for his problem that he had shown for their problems—or, at least, that was the way he reasoned.
October 22, 1967, Sunday morning. It is the day that the March on the Pentagon protesters’ permit will expire, LBJ and Lady Bird are coming back from church services:
"Lem Johnson reports that when they were almost back to the White House from Church, the President asked Mrs. Johnson if she would like to take a ride over there to the Pentagon and see what they were doing.
At the Lincoln Memorial, it looked like there were about 150 people sitting on the steps — just scattered around the area. We drove around the Memorial one and one-half times —looked at the Mall area and the reflecting pool area.
"Mrs. Johnson particularly noticed the litter and refuse left by those gathered the Memorial yesterday. The President was highly interested in what a hippie looked like, their dress, age groups, and items they carried. ..some were carrying flags, bed rolls, blankets, flight bags, flowers…
"We then drove across Memorial Bridge and turned down Shirley highway—the road was blocked, but we told the Park Policemen we were secret service, and they let us through. We went around the blockade and up the highway, looking to the right up to the line of soldiers guarding the highway. We drove slowly, and looked carefully at the Mall Entrance of the Pentagon — we circled around, crossed the median strip, and then drove back to the White House.”
Oct 21-22, 1967.
"This exorcism business is getting pretty exciting….The Pentagon happening transcended the issue of the War. The War is Over, sings Phil Ochs, and the protest becomes directed to the entire fabric of a restrictive, dull, brutal society,
"The protesters become total political animals.
"A totality emerges that renders the word political meaningless. ‘The war is over.’ Everyone’s yelling and screaming. Someone writes LBJ loves Ho Cho Minh on the wall.”
Abbie Hoffman, Revolution for the Hell of It, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1970, p 46.
Photo from USMarshalls.gov, which has a very different perspective on the weekend’s events.
Oct. 21, 1967
"In support of civil authority, we have the very delicate and difficult job of upholding constitutional rights of free assembly and expression and protecting government operations and property….We must avoid either overreacting or under-reacting. We must act in a way which holds to the absolute minimum the possibility of bloodshed and injury; which minimizes the need for arrest; which distinguishes to the extent feasible between those who are and are not breaking the law; and which uses the minimum force consistent with the mission of protecting the employees (military and civilian), the operations, and the property of the Government.”
David E. McGiffert, Memorandum to the Chief of Staff, U.S.Army, Oct. 20, 1967, “Anti-Vietnam Demonstrations,” Papers of Warren Christoper, Box 8, LBJ Library. As quoted in Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, New York: Random House, 1995, p. 303-304.
October 20, 1967. Across the US people are responding, especially on college campuses, to the escalation of protest and conflict over Vietnam. This clipping from the Austin American-Statesman newspaper was sent to LBJ by old friend—now Congressman—Jake Pickle.
It describes the efforts of eight “long-haired, casually attired” University of Texas students on motorcycles as they attempt to recruit students from Southwest Texas State College (LBJ’s alma mater. now Texas State University). The “UT peaceniks” are turned away by the SWT dean, to the delight of Cong. Pickle, and, presumably, the President.
Note, Jake Pickle to the President, 10/20/67, Ex HU 4, WHCF, Box 60, LBJ Library.
Oct. 20-21, 1967. The March on the Pentagon begins.
100,000 people arrive in Washington on Friday and convene Saturday morning at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool on the Mall. The weather is sunny and pleasant, and so far the mood is calm.
LBJ Library photo 7051-33, and 7051-35, public domain.
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October 19, 1967. LBJ, assistant Joe Califano, and Attorney General Ramsey Clark meet to discuss preparations for upcoming protests at the Pentagon.
"The Justice Department had been monitoring and reporting to the President on the planned demonstration since early October, and it too was concerned about far left and Communist involvement. Johnson decided to prepare for the worst. He had troops, including regular Army soldiers, marines, and police, deployed or on the alert to protect the Pentagon, the Capitol, and the White House. Army troops were even secretly stationed in the basement of the Commerce Department, so they could rapidly assume positions surrounding the White House if such action became necessary."
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, New York, Simon and Shuster, 1991, p. 199. LBJ Library photo 7018-5, public domain.
October 11, 1967. LBJ assistant Marvin Watson learns that coordinated demonstrations are being planned for overseas in connection with the October 21 March on the Pentagon. It is a foreshadowing of the extensive overseas and domestic antiwar protests of the years to come.
Memo, Sither to Watson, 10/11/67, #47, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [2 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.
“It was our purpose to hold down the number of arrests, that is, the department’s purpose under the Attorney General. The thinking was that those who were marching on the Pentagon had as their purpose the creation of conditions which would lead to a large number of arrests. The number of arrests was approximately six hundred and seventy-six. That was a large number, but I think it was smaller than perhaps we had feared….
“It gave the federal government a chance to show the nation what orderly processing in a civil disturbance would be. It came not long after the very inadequate processing which was possible in Detroit, for example, where persons were held on buses for substantial periods of time following their arrest….
“One of my assignments was to make backup arrangements for the necessities of life—portable toilets, water, and first aid—in the event march leaders failed to carry out their agreed responsibility to provide such facilities. In fact, they did fail to carry out their responsibilities in that regard, and we had to provide some backup help.”
—-Steven Pollak, First Assistant, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice, in his oral history, page 33-34. Photo: the aftermath of the riots in Detroit, Bentley Image Bank, Bentley Historical Library via the Insititute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Sept, 22, 1967. The White House receives more details about the planned demonstrations in the capital, and LBJ’s aides immediately notify Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
Top: Flyer, Oct 21, 1967 Demonstration, #20a, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [1 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.
Bottom: Memo, Sither to Watson, 9/22/67, #64, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [2 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.
September 16, 1967. LBJ’s assistant Marvin Watson receives this memo notifying him of a planned march on Washington DC for October 21, 1967. At this time, details are sketchy—and most of the information reported in this memo will be proved inaccurate, or, for one reason or another, will not come to pass.
Memo, Sither to Watson, 9/16/67, #70, “Demonstrations (October 20-21, 1967) [2 of 2],” Office Files of Mildred Stegall, Box 64a, LBJ Presidential Library.
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Oct. 20, 1967. Lady Bird records in her Diary:
"Lyndon said, as he often has, that he would give a piece of his life if Speaker Sam Rayburn would be back with the gavel and he (Lyndon himself) were over in the Senate for just one week. In discussing President Eisenhower, he said: ‘He has paid me back one hundred percent for what I did for him when I was Majority Leader by just trying to be decent.’”
October 20, 1967. Lady Bird has a candid conversation with LBJ’s physician, Dr. James Cain, about his health and their future:
"I told him my feelings—that I did not want to go through the grueling six months of a campaign, and that even more, if we should win I did not want to face another four years as devouring as these last four have been….There are so many things I want to do! My list is a mile long. And for the first time in my life I believe that Lyndon, too, could be happy….
"I asked Jim frankly, as a medical man, what advice he could give me. He said, ‘Obviously he has aged. The last four years have taken a lot out of him, But I cannot say, as I think the doctors should have said to FDR when he ran for his fourth term, that he won’t live out this next term….’
"And so the dilemma continues.”
—Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary, New York: Dell Books, 1971, pg 643. Photo:A1798-34, 1/24/1966.
Oct. 20, 1967, LBJ and Yuki share a moment in the Oval Office.
LBJ Library photo A5010-10, public domain.