It’s heart-breaking to listen to the Johnson tapes. In 1965, Johnson was bemoaning the conundrum left him by Kennedy and the mess in Vietnam. He was desperately trying to find a way to leave, telling Eugene McCarthy he would do anything to find a way out. This was before 95% of the casualties yet to come. The problem was that in a democracy, it’s very difficult for the leader to tell mothers whose sons have died, that the war they are in is a war of choice; not one of necessity. The U.S. had been involved in the overthrow of the Diem government in an attempt to find political stability, but nothing we did seemed to help. The result was more troops, a surge if you will. The tapes reveal Johnson knew he was tying the country to a failed policy, but because of political pressure believed he was unable to just leave.
Source: Conference on Vietnam and the Presidency. American Radiowerks.