Lyndon Johnson brought to the presidency a political outlook steeped in New Deal liberalism and the idea of government intervention for the public good-at home or abroad. Seeking to fulfill John Kennedy's pledge in Southeast Asia, LBJ constructed a fatal coupling of the Great Society and the anti-Communist imperative. Pay Any Price is Lloyd Gardner's riveting account of the fall into Vietnam; of behind-the-scenes decision-making at the highest levels of government; of miscalculation, blinkered optimism, and moral obtuseness. Blending political biography with diplomatic history, Gardner has written the first book on American involvement in the Vietnam War to use the full resources and newly declassified documents of the Johnson Library, and to tell whole the story of Johnson and Vietnam. The book is filled with fresh interpretations, brilliantly incisive portraits of the president and his men, and new perspectives on America's most divisive foreign war.
Gardner describes for the first time how, as tragedy swirled around the deliberations in Washington, Clark Clifford and Dean Rusk struggled for the president's soul, culminating in the bombing halt of 1968 and the Johnson decision not to run. The war finally sundered the liberal cold war consensus, Gardner argues, and brought to an end the New Deal politics that had dominated American political life since 1933. Pay Any Price is a major work of history by one of our most distinguished historians.
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US Kirkus Review »
An accidentally timely rejoinder to Robert McNamara's recently published memoir. Historian Gardner (Rutgers; Spheres of Influence, 1993, etc.) traces the trajectory of the Vietnam War from a small-scale police action to a full-scale (but undeclared) conflict, showing how its conduct coincided with Lyndon Johnson's attachment to New Deal - era programs meant to improve the lives of the downtrodden. Johnson's making the war an international expression of Great Society ideals of freedom and prosperity, Gardner demonstrates, introduced entangling political elements into a military problem and cast a certain unreality on the whole affair: "If one could go to the moon," Gardner imagines a loyalist reasoning, "and if one could help grandma with new medical miracles, surely it would be possible to convince Ho Chi Minh to accept a dam on the Mekong River instead of a residence in Saigon." Manipulated by Rusk and McNamara, Johnson consistently valued bad advice over good, believing that his schemes of regional economic development would bear him out as a savior of the world's oppressed. So strong was this conviction that an advisor said, "The president is prepared to stake everything on this vision of what we can bring about in Southeast Asia" - whether Southeast Asia asked for it or not. The well-known result of the president's hubristic gamble was disastrous: civil unrest and the erosion of confidence in the American way of life, to say nothing of a military defeat far from home. And, as the protagonist in Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers puts it, "What a bummer for the gooks." Gardner's suggestion that Vietnam was in some measure a moral drama played out in the dark recesses of LBJ's conscience is an intriguing, controversial contribution to the ongoing debate on the war, one that he backs up with thorough research and sound scholarship. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Lloyd C. Gardner
Lloyd C. Gardner is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University and author of more than a dozen books in American diplomatic history, including Spheres of Influence, Approaching Vietnam, A Covenant with Power, and Architects of Illusion.