LBJ Knew Early Vietnam Was Quagmire

Private Tapes Reveal His Struggles

As President Bush leads the nation into a new kind of war, 60 Minutes examines the mindset of President Lyndon Johnson when he led America into Vietnam over 35 years ago.

According to an audio diary made by Lady Bird Johnson, her husband faced a depressing dead end in his own mind, convinced he had no choice but to send American troops to Vietnam to wage a war he knew they could probably not win. Lesley Stahl's report, which includes the first lady's audiotape as well as President Johnson's secretly recorded tapes, will be broadcast on the show this Sunday.

Mrs. Johnson's tapes, never aired publicly before, quote the private words of a deeply troubled president. "He said 'Vietnam is getting worse every day. I have the choice to go in with great casualty lists or to get out with disgrace. It's like being in an airplane and I have to choose between crashing the plane or jumping out. I do not have a parachute.'" Mrs. Johnson recorded these words on July 8, 1965.

Four months earlier, President Johnson recorded a phone conversation with Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia in which he expressed the futility of the war in Vietnam -- well before he began sending thousands of American soldiers to their deaths. On the tape, to be broadcast Sunday, President Johnson responds to Russell, who is afraid there may be no way out of Vietnam.

"That is exactly right and we're losing more every day. We're getting in worse. A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere, but there ain't no daylight in Vietnam. There's not a bit," Johnson says in the phone conversation he taped on March 6, 1965.

Historian Michael Beschloss, whose upcoming book -- his second on the Johnson Administration -- contains transcripts from the personal tapes of President and Mrs. Johnson, was surprised at the tapes. "At the beginning of 1965, not the defense secretary, not the generals, but the president knew that this was a war we were very unlikely to win -- a president who was sending hundreds of thousands of Americans into harm's way," he tells Stahl.

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