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LBJ-VIETNAM-1ST-LEDE 10-09

Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall stands behind U.S. President Lyndon Johnson at the White House on June 13, 1967, as the chief executive announces he is nominating Marshall to serve on the Supreme Court.

LBJ’s Vietnam agony seen

Tapes released Tuesday show a U.S. president furious at news media coverage of a war, worried about a fledgling democracy thousands of miles away and trying to rally a skeptical public, even as members of his own party criticized the war.

It was President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, and he fretted nonstop about Vietnam.

As critics of the Iraq war compare it with Vietnam, the tapes released Tuesday give an inside glimpse of a president who was losing faith in his defense secretary and lapsing often into bitter diatribes against war protesters and fellow Democrats.

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The 30 hours of phone conversations released by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin show that night and day, Johnson agonized throughout 1967 over whether U.S. bombing of North Vietnam would force Hanoi into peace negotiations. It did not.

"Suppose you’re president and you know damned well that we haven’t thought this bombing’s going to save our life," Johnson told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in February 1967. "And we’re just hoping against hope that we could get out of it, some way or other, and we could get to a table."

Johnson grew so desperate that in November 1967 he reached out to a beloved politician from the other party. He asked former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower to amplify the support he’d voiced for the U.S. war effort, perhaps writing an article for Life or Look magazine.

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