In This Review

Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam
Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam
By Lloyd C. Gardner
Ivan R. Dee, 1995, 610 pp

A richly detailed and well-crafted account of the escalation in Vietnam. Gardner, a prolific historian at Rutgers, makes Johnson into an oddly sympathetic figure--"a man by his own aims empoison'd, And with his charity slain." The president emerges as a leader imprisoned by historical analogies--the New Deal showing the wonderful curative powers of governmental intervention on behalf of economic development, Munich demonstrating the folly of negotiations with aggressors, Korea the dangers of uncontrollable escalation, and the Cuban missile crisis the virtues of using American power in a tough yet calibrated fashion. Add all this up--as Johnson, the consummate consensus politician, was ever ready to do--and the all-out limited war to defeat aggression seems utterly inevitable and massively overdetermined. Only divine intervention might have stopped it, and divinities, as Gardner shows, were in short supply. It is always instructive to read of prophecies unrealized, experts confounded, and ideological axioms transmogrified into caricatures of themselves. Happily for the author, though not so for the nation, his materials do not fail to offer him an abundant array of such examples.