If you study the JFK assassination and get into the weeds – read many books about it, listen to many YouTubes, and join several Facebook JFK assassination groups to discuss the event – you will inevitably come across quite a bit of material critical of LBJ. I must admit that, at the time in the 1960’s and until recently, my view of LBJ, apart from his role in the Vietnam War, was a fairly positive one, as he came across on TV as a kind of benign uncle looking out for the welfare of the American people.
There is no question about his stellar record in the civil rights movement. One could make the argument that JFK was pulled kicking and screaming into civil rights for Afro-Americans, but LBJ jumped in with both feet, and was certainly one of the important leaders of that movement, if not an indispensable one. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have happened without him. As for his declaration of war against poverty, how can any American not tip his hat to a president who is that idealistic and that bold — the goal being a “Great Society” where you have actually eradicated all poverty. Wow! Just wow.
But when you begin to delve into the JFK assassination material, a frequent critical commentary you come across immediately concerning LBJ is the assertion that just before he was assassinated, JFK was about to pull the plug on our involvement in Vietnam, but that when LBJ was sworn into office, he reversed that decision and ordered full steam ahead. There seems to be documentation that proves that this actually is what happened – that the Vietnam War might have been avoided had JFK lived, but LBJ instead proceeded with the war with a vengeance. We all now know about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that was in response to an event that never actually happened — when you really want war, you become inventive, it seems.
You will find many allegations about LBJ’s use of his political office for graft to enrich himself. There is no doubt that, like many politicians, he ended up an extremely wealthy man – with assets in excess of what one would expect him to have amassed based on his various salaries as an office holder, although he could have just made some shrewd and lucrative business decisions to amass said wealth. But the graft allegations really don’t surprises me or even bother me very much. American politicians and graft go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, my somewhat cynical view is that graft is just part of the compensation we owe our politicians for doing what is often a nasty and certainly contentious job. Look at all the abuse and venom we heap upon them, even the good ones. (I wouldn’t want the job.)
But the one allegation that you will come across that really was surprising to me and kind of shocking, given my view that LBJ was a sort of kindly old man looking out for the country, that is, the image that he managed to project on TV, was that LBJ was indirectly involved in several murders (Henry Marshall, Agriculture Secretary; George Krutelnik, an FBI informant; Ike Rogers and his secretary; Harold Orr, another FBI informant; Coleman Wade, yet another FBI informant; Josefa Johnson, LBJ’s own sister; John Kinser, Josefa’s boyfriend; and, last but not least, President John Kennedy).
It is alleged that several of these murders were carried out by LBJ’s supposed personal hit man, Malcolm (“Mac”) Wallace, who was actually convicted of one murder, sentenced to only 5 years despite the murder being described as “murder with malice,” but the judge in the case — guess this! — suspended even that modest sentence, which is itself kind of astonishing, that is, suspending a sentence for a murder conviction. All of this legal chicanery in a murder with a conviction when there was talk of the death sentence happened when LBJ was governor — what the governor wants the governor gets. That LBJ may have had his own sister murdered certainly takes the cake. (I confess I did not know LBJ even had a sister or that she and her boyfriend had been murdered.)
People who put the murder allegations out there usually point out that the image LBJ projected in public was a far cry from the real person – that the real LBJ had this ferocious, uncontrollable temper that could erupt at any moment, and that in fact the man had strong psychopathic tendencies. I must admit I was shocked to read about these provocative revelations not once, but over and over again, from many different authors. I felt like the dopey American who believed, naively, his champion politician was some kind of a saint when in fact he was anything but. But allegations are a far cry from proven facts, and I really have no way of knowing whether there is a scintilla of truth to any of the murder allegations. He may not have been guilty of anything more criminal than showing us that scar. (See the site below for just one reference in regard to the murder allegations — there are many others.)
I won’t go into all the JFK assassination theories related to LBJ — the conspiracy theorists have a field day with him, as he was after all next in line and so had motive, and there’s some credible evidence that he wasn’t all that fond of Jack his boss, Mr. Ivy League as well as Jack’s condescending brother — but let’s just say my view of LBJ, the sweet old man looking out for his country, as projected on TV, has been modified somewhat.
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