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American Experience: LBJ
American Experience LBJ
Actors: David McCullough, John Connally, Robert Dallek, Homer Dean, Ronnie Dugger
Genres: Television, Documentary, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
NR     2006     3hr 55min

One of the most controversial U.S. presidents, Lyndon Baines Johnson rose from obscurity to the pinnacle of power, only to suffer disillusionment and defeat. Witness the events that brought LBJ from Texas to Washington, th...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: David McCullough, John Connally, Robert Dallek, Homer Dean, Ronnie Dugger
Creators: Bob M. McCausland, Chana Gazit, Chas Norton, David Grubin, Hillary Dann, Larry LeCain, Laura Jean Ozment
Genres: Television, Documentary, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 02/14/2006
Original Release Date: 09/30/1991
Theatrical Release Date: 09/30/1991
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 3hr 55min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A political death by forces that could not be managed
Charles Ashbacher | Marion, Iowa United States( | 12/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) certainly had the potential to go down in history as one of the greatest presidents the United States ever had. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for the triumph of the civil rights movement, and his war on poverty legislation offered many people a chance where before there was none. Conservatives often deride Johnson's legislation as the cause of the ballooning government expenditures, but that is a phony argument. The programs started by LBJ have been dramatically expanded since then, often under Republican administrations.
However, LBJ was defeated by two powerful forces that he simply could not control. They were the Vietnam War and black anger that spilled out into the streets. In fairness to the man, no one else could have controlled them. Given the political situation in the United States at that time, no American president could have withdrawn from Vietnam. The spectre of the "Red Menace" was overpowering, and no one could possibly consider withdrawing from IndoChina, which would have led to an almost immediate takeover by the Communist North Vietnamese.
What is so tragic is the amount of self-delusion that existed in the United States government at that time. Johnson and his senior advisors really believed that they could win the war in Vietnam, if only they would not falter and show weakness. They never realized that not only was the war not winnable, it wasn't even possible to tie. The best quote about that war is near the end of the tape, when a senior official says, "The North Vietnamese knew that we would eventually leave the country. Therefore, all they had to do was hold out and take over when we left." Johnson realized that the only way to "win" the war was to obliterate North Vietnam, something that could only be done with nuclear weapons. However, this would have led to World War III, as the Chinese and Soviets would not have stood by while this was being done.
John Connally is interviewed on the tape as saying that he advised Johnson to use whatever force necessary to win the war. Connally, as were all the other hawks, was the most delusional of all Americans. The United States dropped more tonnage of bombs on Vietnam, a nation of about 130,000 square miles, than was dropped on Europe throughout the entire Second World War. Since Germany alone was almost that size, and bombs were dropped throughout Europe, it should have been obvious, even to a fool, that more bombs would not defeat the North Vietnamese. There is little value in bombing a bomb crater.
The second force was the pent-up fury that blacks had over the decades of their oppression. Although Johnson was creating legislation that was alleviating the suffering of blacks, it was not fast enough for some and many of the nation's inner cities exploded in rioting. Johnson was baffled by this, confronting the only black man in his administration, demanding to know why blacks didn't appreciate what he was doing.
Therefore, what you see on this tape is a man who was a political dynamo, enormously capable of making political deals. He was a master at insider politics, capable of stroking members of congress just the right way, in order to get what he wanted. His great failing was that he never understood that the North Vietnamese leadership were not members of the U. S. Congress, where he could buy their support by building a dam in their district. So, as the tape progresses, you see the most confident, capable man being slowly reduced to someone who was beaten into submission.
As the narrators emphasize, much of the difficulty was due to Johnson's lack of candor with the American people. He misled the American people so much about the situation in Vietnam that when he told the truth, he was not believed. Tet was a military disaster for the Vietcong forces, they never fully recovered from their losses. However, when Johnson tried to explain it to the public, even longtime supporters of the war began to oppose it.
LBJ was a giant of a man, physically and politically. He put this nation on a course of social change via legislation that we can be proud of. Yet, he is rarely remembered with fondness, it is as if the nation would rather not think of him at all. This tape shows him as he was, talking with pride at the legislation that he put through the Congress, trying to explain his policies in Vietnam, pressuring members of congress by getting right in their faces, showing his surgical scar and sometimes even picking his nose. More history was packed into the sixties than any other decade in the last half of the twentieth century. In many ways, Johnson was the sixties, although the forces of that time destroyed him. From this tape, you can witness his political death from a thousand cuts."
A passionate profile of a man of politics and war
C. MacNeil | Fort Wayne, IN USA | 02/28/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"PBS' "American Experience" has become synonomous with quality television, and its profile of the country's Vietnam War-embattled president, Lyndon B. Johnson, is one of the reasons why. While Johnson arguably is remembered foremost as the president done in by an unpopular war, he is presented here as a man and politician of much more substance and who apparently did have an honest and compassionate empathy for his constituency, especially the impoverished and disenfranchised. After the obligatory recounting of Johnson's birth and childhood, the documentary takes us to Johnson's early career on Capitol Hill and his gradual ascent to power, starting with his selection as presidential candidate John F. Kennedy's vice presidential running mate. On that count, we get a feeling of a tenuous relationship between the charismatic Bostonian and prairie-tough Texan, a political combination that became even more tenuous by the out-and-out dislike between the eventual vice president and Robert F. Kennedy, brother and attorney general of the president. Of course, the shattering events in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963, vaulted LBJ to the pinnacle of world power, a positioned that was solidifed by a 1964 landslide presidential election victory. From there, LBJ sets off to expand his predecessor's social agenda, from voting rights for the country's disenfranchised minorities to the "war on poverty." But, not surprisingly, the unpopular war in Southeast Asia becomes LBJ's highest priority. In the end, of course, the fire of public opposition to both the war and Johnson's handling of it forced the president who just four years earlier was validated by the American people in a landslide victory not to even seek renomination. Though LBJ is perhaps unfairly linked to a presidential administration that was dismantled by civil protest, we are reminded in this profile that he also worked toward a better society for America's poor and disenfranchised. In the end, we actually develop a sense that Johnson was moved more by public service than personal gains of power and can only hope that history treats him kinder than his contemporaries."
LBJ - A Truly Flawed Giant
Dan Redford | 05/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This video is an absolute must for anybody who is interested in not only contemporary US political history but also in the art of politics itself. This superbly crafted set of films gives a vivid account of one of the most controversial and, in my opinion, underated US Presidents.LBJ was a Conservative Democrat. LBJ was a liberal Democrat. LBJ could be the nicest chap you ever met. LBJ could be a real SOB. In short - LBJ was full of contradictions. It is this which is best brought out from both tapes. This is no narrative history. It attempts to really get behind the man.I could go on of course. However, I would not want to spoil the hours of pure pleasure you are sure to attain with this video."
The Turning Point In LBJ's Historical Reputation
givbatam3 | REHOVOT Israel | 03/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"From the time Lyndon Johnson left office in 1969 until the
time this film was made in 1990, his reputation was very
negative: the heartless war-monger and the sleazy wheeler-dealer. However, in the 1980's historians, prominent among them
Robert Dallek, had begun to bring out a more balanced, nuanced view of the man. These historians, whose views appear in this film marked a turning point in the public's view of this most complicated man. Long-time associate John Connally points out that he could be compassionate and cruel, crude or charming, generous or selfish. These different traits are constantly brought to the fore by the many people close to LBJ who appear in the film. Various important points that come out are:
(1) The breakthroughs in Civil Rights in the 1950's and 1960's were largely due to his efforts. As a Southerner he was able to get whites in the south to accept desegregation without a large-scale white backlash.
(2) The controversial senatorial election in 1948 which LBJ won by 87 votes with the help of ballot-box stuffing was hardly unusual in Texas or other parts of the country. Johnson was not involved personally in the incident. Although it is said that "Landslide Lyndon"'s career was stained by it, the same could be said of Harry Truman who was also elected in a similar way in 1934, and yet he managed to shake loose of the allegations.
(3) LBJ was well aware of the risks he was taking in committing
US ground forces to Vietnam. I was stunned when former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford states in the film that any other President would have taken the same decision. The military and CIA quite accurately laid out the risks to the President in 1965, and LBJ accurately predicted to aide George Reedy at the time that Vietnam would be his downfall.
(4) LBJ played an vital role in reassuring the country after the assassination of President Kennedy and prevented the outbreak of an anti-Communist hysteria due to the Communist connections of assassin Lee Oswald which might have lead to war with the USSR.

I highly recommend this film for someone who is interested in American history and the country's Presidents."