Power is Where Power Goes
To their tragic, fatal, detriment then, the Kennedy brothers ignored the wisdom of legendary Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu's oft-quoted, maxim: 'keep your friends close, [and] your enemies closer'. Although it's likely Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) was aware of the Sun-tzu dictum, his own more prosaic political maxim -- 'Power is where Power Goes' -- probably served him just as well.
And LBJ's ambitions went beyond just being president; he wanted to be the greatest goddamned commander in chief ever. Yet if he did arrange to take over the Oval Office accordingly, then he may have sold his soul to Old Sulphur Breath to accomplish it. And this was (ahem) one 'hell' of a deal. Moreover, LBJ was convinced that to be a truly great POTUS, he had to be a wartime president. And to be "wartime president", he had to have himself, well, a war. He might have got his war OK, but unfortunately, so did the rest of us!
With or without the JFK rap then, there may still be a little moral causation (trade name: 'karma') to be had in the case of Johnson. As hinted, there has been some suggestion that he'd began to feel remorse for his past, and that even the "master of denial" could no longer keep it all in check. If this be the case, the master of illusion may have morphed into the master of delusion, and from there into the 'servant' of despondency, disillusion and despair, his very own Pandora's Box sans any hope, the one thing the original had going for it.
Phillip Nelson notes in his book LBJ: From Mastermind to "Colossus" that Johnson's grandmother predicted he'd end up in prison -- a prediction he was determined to prove wrong. But it would appear Grandma Johnson was on the money after all -- LBJ metaphorically speaking ended up in a prison of his own making, and may have been in one all along. The downside is that he visited so much misery and tragedy into the lives of millions inside and outside of America whilst inhabiting his own personal panopticon, the legacy of which is still sadly very much evident today.
And yet maybe this was the 'fine print' in the Faustian pact LBJ made with el Diablo in that he would not just forfeit his soul after he was dead, he lost it before the Grim Repo Man came a-knocking. In this case, to paraphrase one of Johnson's favourite expressions, it may have been after all the Lord of Fire and Brimstone that had LBJ's 'pecker in his pocket' the whole time. And as I'm frequently reminded by many God-fearing folk of my acquaintance, for the wicked amongst us, it is He who usually gets the better part of the deal.
As for Johnson's purported desire in his final years to balance the scales, or seek some redemption of sorts in expressing such regrets, we may never know. If he did, it's possible he may have been saying that to portray a more human side for posterity and provide some ballast to his diminished legacy, the poor state of which he'd have been well aware of in his last years, no matter how deluded he was.
According to some folk Johnson -- who had been receiving psychiatric treatment in his twilight years -- may have 'fessed up to his shrink before the Grim Reaper stopped by the LBJ Ranch for his first and last house call. What Number 36 might have spilt his guts about if at all no-one knows, and until and unless those patient records become public, we can all but speculate on both counts. In the meantime it would seem, the Big Fella from Johnson City, TX., like he's been doing for over well over half a century now, will keep us all guessing. Which according to some folk, may have been his intrinsic game-plan from the off.
And if his records are ever released, given his "unique psychopathology" and the extent to which we are now familiar with it, every PhD psychiatry student on the Big Blue Ball would doubtless be willing to give into his/her inner Oedipal proclivities to get a piece of that action. This not to mention every conspiracy theorist and JFK 'tragic' who ever lived and breathed the 11/22 gunsmoke-scented Dallas air. Of this we can be sure. At this point, we have probably only scratched the surface where LBJ's concerned.
And, according to Nelson and many others of a similar mindset, that's just with The JFK Thing.
Give us Liberty, or Give us Death
Richard Nixon is generally portrayed as one of the most deranged, venal, contemptible, amoral, delusional, corrupt, paranoid, criminally inclined, psycho-pathological presidents in modern American history. However, as Nelson illustrates, it is LBJ who ticks all these boxes and others Nixon wouldn't have thought of if he'd 'done an FDR' and served three plus terms, and died on the Oval Office 'john' with his boots on. Up close and personal, avec warts and all, Johnson, as one observer has stated, was a man to see "with the bark off".
Be that as it may, it was what LBJ was like and what he was up to when we couldn't "see" him "up close" that should be of greater interest to us herein, and this doesn't just apply to The JFK Thing. As we will see, LBJ was no One Hit Wonder!
Again Nelson observes, one of the least examined episodes in LBJ's presidency is that in 1967 he "personally ordered" Israel to bomb and destroy the USS Liberty and its entire crew of 294 Americans! And when the mission failed and Sixth Fleet Commanders ordered the rescue of the Liberty crew, Nelson states that LBJ personally ordered that rescue operations be called back, "at least twice". He wanted the boat sunk!
Against all odds, the Liberty survived but after the attack, "34 Americans lay dead" with many, many more injured. The Liberty -- a surveillance vessel -- was defenceless against the firepower of the Israeli armada that descended upon it with "relentless and unspeakable terror". Israel claimed that it was a tragic accident based on "mistaken identification". The U.S. government "accepted" the explanation, after which a massive cover-up ensued, orchestrated by LBJ and his secretary of defense Robert McNamara, and kept under official wraps since.