In the 1960s President Lyndon B. Johnson implemented a set of social programs that were collectively referred to as the Great Society measures. As the prosperity experienced following WWII dissipated there was a need to address the poor conditions that the lowest socioeconomic classes were experiencing before it could spread throughout the entire country. Another motivation for the Great Society programs was the increasingly volatile racial tension that was fueling violence and intolerance as demonstrated by the outbreak of several riots. These and many other concerns led Johnson to develop the extensive Great Society plan and several programs that will support the concept.
One of the most lasting impacts of the Great Society is the War on Poverty movement. Programs under this concept helped to provide the public with several assistance sources and employment opportunities that were not previously accessible by the economically disadvantaged. The War on Poverty, in combination with major tax cuts as previously proposed by Kennedy, laid ground for a new era of prosperity in the nation. Johnson also set a major precedence by providing significant financial aid to educational institutions through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ending the tradition of abstained government school funding. Additionally, health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid addressed the increasing medical vulnerability of large population segments. The extensiveness of the Great Society is beyond the scope of a simple summary. The plan made improvements to virtually all aspects of government social involvement, including improved transportation, environmental measures, support of the arts, and building cultural centers. A final but potent consideration is the Civil Rights Act, which aimed to ease tensions, eliminate discrimination, and stop segregation.
Johnson and Vietnam
As a believer of the domino effect, Johnson believed that allowing the expansion of communism in Vietnam would lead to the spread of the ideology to nearby Asian neighbors who would then continue to extend the effect. As a result, he would rescind Kennedy’s previous reduction orders and boosted the troop presence in the small war-torn country. Unfortunately for Johnson, these tactics would come to mar an otherwise solid presidency and overshadowed the many accomplishments of the Great Society.
The destruction and loss of life caused in Vietnam is perhaps the most lasting image of the conflict. Opposition to American involvement began early and only increased as the futility of the intervention became more apparent. Even those who supported an offensive began to turn on Johnson due to failed strategies and questionable planning. However, rather than bending to his critics, Johnson believed that he could persuade the country to adopt his views. Early in his term, the president gained the right to use full military force in Vietnam by means that he would later describe as being false pretext. This initial move would provide the opportunity to send large numbers of Americans into the war, which resulted in increased losses rather than advancement.
Protests became larger (See picture 7051-33 on JBL Library Website) and more vocal as the war continued without any sign of victory or peace. The impact of the war on Johnson’s political career was highest after the Tet Offensive of 1968, when Johnson tried unsuccessfully to characterize the incident as a loss for the enemy. The country was less convinced than ever that Johnson could attain victory given his apparent credibility issues. Johnson would eventually break and seek a peace settlement, while later expressing regret and frustration about his entire involvement with Vietnam.