Artworks by Mark Vallen
 

"Hey, Hey, LBJ…"
President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Poster Art: 1962 – 1968
Published December 1, 2009, on the occasion of President Obama deploying
30,000 combat troops to Afghanistan.
Written by artist, Mark Vallen.

The Posters: Hells Angel - He Who Meddles - Surgery Scar - The Great Society - King Kong’s Song - MacBird! - Heroic LBJ Statue - Psychedelic LBJ - Nuremberg Trial - Bonnie & Clyde - Eastern Theatre Production - Escalation - Guilty Of Murder - The End Of The War - All The Way With LBJ

Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto
President Lyndon B. Johnson making a speech to supporters in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1966. While opposition to the Vietnam War was growing, large sectors of the population still backed L.B.J.’s war plans. Smaller signs in the photo express support for Cyrus Vance, who at the time was L.B.J.’s Deputy Secretary of Defense. Initially a hawk on Vietnam, Vance would eventually advise L.B.J. to withdraw U.S. forces from South Vietnam. Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto.

On December 1, 2009, in an address to the nation delivered from the United States Military Academy at West Point, President Obama announced the sending of an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan in order to wage what he calls a "war of necessity" - and by doing so he stepped into the abyss that previously swallowed-up President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Like many others from my generation, I remember Lyndon Baines Johnson, or L.B.J., mostly for one thing – America’s war on Vietnam. My assessment of the Democratic Party and of mainstream U.S. politics in general was in large part shaped by the Texas-born Johnson. He served as Vice President to President John F. Kennedy from 1961 to 1963, and then succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of Kennedy; becoming the 36th U.S. President from 1963 to 1969.

While there are those who peddle Johnson as a strong "hands-on progressive" who knew how to rally the Democratic party base to "get things done", what I remember most vividly about the Johnson presidency was the chant his antiwar opponents made popular from coast to coast; "Hey, Hey, L.B.J., How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?”

Not so long ago president-elect Obama was unendingly compared to the 32nd president of the U.S., Franklin D. Roosevelt, and liberals were abuzz with talk of Obama implementing a "new New Deal." But after less than a year in office, Obama became more often compared to President Johnson. On August 22, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled, Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam? That article stated bluntly: "The L.B.J. model - a president who aspired to reshape America at home while fighting a losing war abroad - is one that haunts Mr. Obama’s White House as it seeks to salvage Afghanistan while enacting an expansive domestic program."

In an interview with director Emile de Antonio regarding his powerful 1968 anti-Vietnam War documentary In The Year of the Pig, the filmmaker commented, "I don’t think history is Kleenex, it is not a disposable item you put to your nose and chuck out. History has to be recaptured - history dies unless we recapture it." Here then through the antiwar poster art of the 1960s, along with some of my personal recollections, is an attempt to recapture a bit of the forgotten history surrounding L.B.J., a liberal Democratic President who ended up destroying his presidency - along with a good number of people - by escalating an unpopular foreign war. To my knowledge this is the first comprehensive illustrated essay on historic U.S. posters that were critical of L.B.J.; a presentation that no doubt holds timely lessons as President Obama spends hundreds of billions of dollars on expanding the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan while sending ever more combat soldiers into the quagmire.

HELLS ANGEL LBJ
This is the earliest poster of L.B.J. displayed in this presentation - that alone makes it a notable work. Remarkably, the poster was designed and distributed by New York designer Bob Dara in 1962, while L.B.J. served as Vice President to President Kennedy. Today this satirical poster may seem tame as a critique; it may even be misread as praise for a president "cool" enough to fit the outlaw biker mystique, however, the poster designer most likely meant to ridicule Johnson. The artwork would even prove to be of a prescient nature.

Across the knuckles on L.B.J.’s left hand are tattooed letters spelling out, "BULL." The lapel buttons and badges on the president’s sleeveless leather motorcycle jacket read, "ME." Appearing on the bike’s gas tank is a fictional name for the motorcycle’s manufacturer - "HARLEY BIRD." The poster depicts L.B.J. as an antisocial desperado to be avoided. His wife Lady Bird and their two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines, all had the initials of L.B.J., but it was the nickname of Johnson’s wife that seemed to attract the most attention – especially from critics. "Bird" became a common reference to the president, something I will expand upon later in this article.

Bob Dara’s poster took on new meaning when L.B.J. ascended to the presidency after the assassination of Kennedy in 1963. In October 1965, the Hells Angels motorcycle gang assaulted a crowd of 5,000 anti-Vietnam War protestors in Oakland, California, ripping up banners, attacking protestors for being "communists", and promising more violence against future antiwar demonstrations. Further hostilities were averted when an entourage of hippies - led by poet Allen Ginsberg (who by that time was closely identified with Hippie and the antiwar movement of the L.B.J. era), visited the home of Hells Angels leader Sonny Barger to negotiate an uneasy peace. While the agreement between the hippies and the Angels held, Dara’s poster transforming L.B.J. into a motorcycle tough sent a powerful message; the Commander in Chief had a war to win and he was willing to ride roughshod over his opponents.

Poster art by Bob Dara

Untitled - Bob Dara. 1962. Offset poster. 109 x 74 cm. Image supplied by Lincoln Cushing - Docs Populi archive.

While Bob Dara was distributing his L.B.J. biker poster in 1962, President John F. Kennedy had his hands full with not-so-secret operations in Vietnam. On March 14, 1962, Kennedy said, "I would go to Congress before committing combat troops" to Vietnam, but J.F.K.’s remark was a subterfuge. Months later the New York Times wrote an explosive October 17, 1962 editorial that read in part:

"The death of three American flyers and the injury of another this week revealed to the American people what the Communists have known for a long time - that United States Air Force planes, manned by United States pilots, as well as many Army light planes and helicopters have been engaged in active combat against the Vietminh guerrillas."

Since 1961 Kennedy had sent 16,000 U.S. Special Forces and military "advisors" to Vietnam, as well as authorizing the creation of "free-fire zones" and the use of U.S. piloted jet planes in dropping napalm and defoliants on Vietnamese guerrilla fighters. Much of this was kept hidden from the American public but eventually revealed in 1971 when a top-secret Pentagon study, The Pentagon Papers, were leaked to the New York Times by military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg. [back to top]

Poster art by Vic Dinnerstein

He Who Meddles In A Quarrel Not His Own
Vic Dinnerstein. Offset poster. 1965.
Image supplied by CSPG.

He Who Meddles In A Quarrel Not His Own
L.B.J. had a pair of beagles named Him and Her that were seemingly inseparable from the president, and the press regularly photographed Johnson with his dogs. In May of 1964, while playing with the beagles on the White House lawn, L.B.J. lifted Him up by the ears. A photographer captured the moment and the photo was published around the world.

Vic Dinnerstein, a designer who lived and worked in Los Angeles, California, saw the photo of L.B.J. mishandling the pup and had a sudden realization. "Like the man who seizes a passing dog by the ears is he who meddles in a quarrel not his own" was a Biblical Proverb (26:17) that perfectly described the photo of the president - especially since L.B.J. was meddling in Vietnam. Dinnerstein would combine the photo with the Biblical Proverb to create a poster he titled, He Who Meddles In A Quarrel Not His Own.

By the time Dinnerstein published and distributed his poster in 1965, The U.S. Congress had passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964, giving President Johnson the power to attack North Vietnam without a formal Declaration of War. In February of 1965 Johnson launched Operation Rolling Thunder - the sustained aerial bombing campaign of North Vietnam. Serious opposition to the Vietnam War was just beginning in the U.S. in 1965. In March the Students for a Democratic Society organized the first anti-Vietnam War "teach-in" at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Students at thirty-five campuses across the nation followed suit. In April the first mass march against the war took place in Washington, DC, drawing over 25,000 protestors.

Some of America’s most determined opposition to the Vietnam War was organized and carried out by the nation’s religious community. On April 4, 1965, the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Clergymen’s Emergency Committee for Vietnam published a full page ad in the New York Times in opposition to the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam – the ad was signed by 2,500 priests, ministers, and rabbis.

Clergy Concerned About Vietnam was founded in New York in October, 1965, changing its name and focus a year later to become Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV). The multi-denominational group of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, quickly grew into a national network, and by 1967 CALCAV was organizing civil disobedience against the war. The Reverend William Sloane Coffin Jr. was just one prominent member of CALCAV who supported non-violent resistance to the war. He led an October, 1967 church service in Boston were over 1000 draft resisters turned in their draft cards in open defiance of the government. CALCAV issued a "Statement on Conscience and Conscription," in which the group promised to assist those who were non-violently resisting the draft, a document that over 1,300 clergymen would sign. [back to top]

Drawing by David Levine
Untitled – David Levine. Pen and ink. 1966.

David Levine's "Surgery Scar" Cartoon
When L.B.J. underwent gallbladder surgery at Bethesda Naval Medical Center on Labor Day weekend in 1965, U.S. troop levels in Vietnam had reached 184,000 and the average monthly death toll for U.S. soldiers was 172 (U.S. troop levels would reach 200,000 by year’s end). After his release from the hospital Johnson met with reporters, and to everyone’s surprise he lifted his shirt to display the surgical scar that ran across his abdomen. Charles Tasnadi of the Associated Press snapped a photograph of L.B.J. just as the president was pointing at his scar with his right hand - the instantly famous photo became a godsend to opponents of the Vietnam War.

In 1966 the illustrator and editorial cartoonist David Levine created a pen and ink drawing of L.B.J. that was loosely based upon Tasnadi’s photograph, but where the photo had revealed a surgical scar, Levine’s interpretation turned the scar into a map of Vietnam. Commissioned and published by the New York Review of Books, Levine’s drawing revealed the obvious; L.B.J’s Vietnam policy had become a self-inflicted wound. His "Great Society" was rotting away in the humid jungles of Vietnam. I seem to recall the cartoon being reproduced in underground newspapers and on antiwar flyers of the period - it certainly was widely discussed, hotly debated, and very influential. While Levine created other hard-hitting barbs aimed at Johnson and the Vietnam War, it is his "map" cartoon that is best remembered. [back to top]

The Great Society
In the anonymous 1967 silkscreen poster, The Great Society, L.B.J.’s ghostly white face hovers above an apocalyptic scene of despair and violence as the racial powder-keg of U.S. urban centers literally goes up in smoke. The president’s huge disembodied head is juxtaposed against a tiny African American child - the disparity in their sizes indicative of the political and economic power Whites held in comparison to Blacks.

The multi-layered complexity of the poster’s message is found in its portrayal of soldiers vs. citizens. It is a given that the depiction is of African American communities occupied by the U.S. military during urban insurrections, but the tableau could just as easily represent U.S. combat troops occupying a village in Vietnam.

Through domestic reform initiatives meant to transform the U.S. into a more equitable nation, L.B.J. attempted to bring about what he referred to as "The Great Society"; but his Vietnam policy complicates the matter of establishing his legacy as "progressive." Great Society legislation included the creation of the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (the so-called "War on Poverty"), as well as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

While some of L.B.J.’s programs continue to the present-day, overall his Great Society was sidelined because prosecuting the war became a higher priority. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his April 1967 oratory, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence:

Great Society poster by anonymous artist

The Great Society – Anonymous silkscreen poster. 1967. 40 x 26 inches. Image supplied by CSPG.

"It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S during L.B.J.’s tenure made significant gains but it also suffered terrible losses; the list of violent acts of repression and outright acts of terror and assassination committed against Blacks is much too long to mention here, though the history is well documented. In the early 1960’s African Americans were still unable to exercise their rights as citizens in Southern states, and the Democrats who enabled racial discrimination and oppression throughout the South came to be known as Dixiecrats. In his January, 1963 Inaugural Address as the Democratic Governor of Alabama, George Wallace forcefully declared: "In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

In his April, 1964 address, The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X described the Democratic Party and its relationship to the power structure of the Deep South in the following manner: "A Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise. The titular head of the Democrats (L.B.J.) is also the head of the Dixiecrats, because the Dixiecrats are a part of the Democratic Party. The Democrats have never kicked the Dixiecrats out of the party." Malcolm X ended his speech by challenging L.B.J. to go to the U.S. Congress to "denounce the Southern branch of his party", or else the President would "be responsible for letting a condition develop in this country which will create a climate that will bring seeds up out of the ground with vegetation on the end of them looking like something these people never dreamed of." Less than a year later, Malcolm X was assassinated in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, February 21, 1965.

Mississippi not only denied voting rights to Blacks, it barred them from the Democratic Party altogether. In 1964, civil rights activists from the state of Mississippi organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which sought to unseat the segregationist Mississippian Democratic Party delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The MFDP wanted Black and non-racist Whites seated as delegates to the DNC, but President Johnson and his Democratic Party refused them. L.B.J. feared losing the support of White Southerners in his campaign against the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. L.B.J. attempted to negotiate a "compromise" with the MFDP, offering them two observer seats among the delegates, but the maneuver was rejected by the civil rights activists. L.B.J.’s treachery represented a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.

L.B.J. did persuade Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (outlawing racial segregation throughout the U.S.), and later the 1965 Voting Rights Act (guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote). Nonetheless, L.B.J’s integrity continually eroded as Black opposition to the Vietnam War grew. Draft age Blacks could not accept the admonition to remain nonviolent in the struggle to secure their civil rights at home - while at the same time being drafted to fight, kill, and die in a war supposedly waged for democracy. To this younger generation, L.B.J. became known as "Lynch ‘N Burn Johnson", and the cry of "Burn, Baby, Burn" was heard from coast to coast as Black urban centers exploded in riot and rage against racial oppression. [back to top]

King Kong LBJ poster by anonymous artist
King Kong’s Song – Anonymous artist. Offset poster. 1967-1968. Published by "Black Light. © Los Angeles." Image supplied by CSPG.

King Kong’s Song
The anonymous artist who created the 1967 poster King Kong’s Song, was making an obvious reference to the milestone 1933 film, King Kong. The gargantuan anthropomorphized ape in the artwork bears the face of L.B.J. and wears his ten-gallon hat; straddled atop the Empire State Building the mighty Kong howls his "song" of war as the U.S. crumbles in his shadow. Instead of clutching Fay Wray the giant gorilla holds two men in his grip. One is labeled "Peace and Freedom", the other "Civil Rights" - the ideals of a democratic state held captive by war.

The poster design alludes to the U.S. flag, incorporating the red, white, and blue of the national banner. The deep blue sky is replete with the white stars of Union states, but something is amiss with the vertical red and white stripes in this flag. The white bars have been transformed into sheep that frolic into a Washingtonian Draft Board; the herd exits wearing army helmets.

As Johnson escalated the war, military conscription or "the draft", became increasingly unpopular. There was active resistance to the draft during the 1960s, from students taking advantage of legal exemptions and medical deferments, to militant expressions that included draft-card burnings and blockades of draft boards and induction centers.

By 1967 African American conscripts accounted for 16 percent of casualties in Vietnam, though Blacks were only 11 percent of the U.S. population. By 1969 well over 80 percent of U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam were draftees.

In its January 6,1966 Position Paper on Vietnam, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick") asked: "Where is the draft for the freedom fight in the United States?" That same year heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, stated that he would not fight in Vietnam, declaring; "I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." In 1967 the U.S. government convicted Ali of draft evasion and sentenced him to a five year prison sentence with a $10,000 fine. He was stripped of his heavyweight title, banned from fighting in the U.S., and had his passport revoked.

On April 15, 1967, tens of thousands of antiwar demonstrators took part in the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, holding rallies in New York and San Francisco that were at the time the largest anti-Vietnam War protests to have been held nationally. Stokely Carmichael, then Chairman of SNCC, addressed the demonstration of over 130,000 held outside the United Nations in New York City (view a reenactment of the speech). He said the following to the massive crowd:

"Our position on the draft is very simple: hell no, we ain’t going. (....) The President has conducted the war in Vietnam without the consent of Congress or of the American people - without the consent of anybody except Luci, Linda, and Ladybird (L.B.J’s daughters and the First Lady). In fact, the war itself is for the Birds! (….) The draft is white people sending black people to make war on yellow people in order to defend the land they stole from red people. The draft must end: not tomorrow, not next week, but today." [back to top]

MacBird!
In 1967 the average monthly death toll for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam had reached 779. That same year in New York Barbara Garson premiered her Off Broadway stage production of MacBird!, a comedic send-up of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. The play was a searing critique of the Kennedy administration, L.B.J., the Vietnam War, and the liberal political establishment - taking its mocking wordplay title from the name of L.B.J.’s wife, Lady Bird. Well versed in Shakespeare, Garson borrowed the famous line from Richard III ("Now is the winter of our discontent"), and altered it so that when denied the position he felt he so richly deserved, the character of MacBird grumbled in a Southern drawl - "This here is the winter of our discontent."

Grove Press published a book version of the play, the text based upon the Off Broadway production. Selling over 200,000 copies in 1967, the book’s cover art portrayed MacBird dressed in kilt and cowboy boots, armed with lance and presidential shield, rushing onto a battlefield - which was undoubtedly Vietnam. Charles Tasnadi’s photo of L.B.J. showing off his surgical scar inspired the poster announcement for the January-February 1968 engagement of MacBird!, which ran at the Memorial Auditorium Little Theater in Sacramento, California. The poster depicted L.B.J. pointing at his scar - the stitches still in place spelling out "MacBird."

MacBird! ran in theaters on both coasts of the U.S. (enjoying a long run in Los Angeles in '67); a recording of the Off Broadway production was released as a record album, which in turn was broadcast on listener sponsored Pacifica Radio up until the late 1960s.

Macbird! theatrical poster by anonymous artist

Macbird! – Artist unknown. Offset theatrical poster. 1967. 38 x 27 cm. Image supplied by Lincoln Cushing - Docs Populi archive.

Macbird! book cover art by anonymous artist
Macbird! – Artist unknown. Book cover. 1967. Grove Press.

The controversial play was another indication of just how deeply divided the country had become; the counterculture and antiwar activists embraced it wholeheartedly while the corporate press generally maligned it. Time magazine’s March 3, 1967 review of the play being a typical example:

"MacBird is a mangy little terrier of a satire, nipping at the trouser cuffs of the mighty. Its bark is its bite. Holier than thou in its complacency and self-indulgently assured of how In-funny it is, MacBird is an off-campus transplant of college humor. (....) Garson's ineptitude as a satirist is her determination to testify in the courtroom of drama to so many things she knows to be not true. Her tactic for showing aversion to the Viet Nam war is not to question the logic of that war but to imply that Johnson, like Macbeth, has 'supped full with horrors' and is an unfeeling, bloody-minded monster."

Time magazine’s hostile review should come as no surprise since the magazine had supported the U.S. war in Vietnam from the start. Time defined its editorial stance in its May, 1965 edition: "The Vietnamese conflict is the right war in the right place at the right time." (One can hear echoes of Obama’s assertion that Afghanistan is the "right war.") This was pretty much standard fair from mainstream publishers and broadcasters of the period; as a for-instance, the April 21, 1967 edition of Life magazine described Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech as "demagogic slander that sounded like a script from Radio Hanoi."

It should be noted that Garson's stage play enjoyed a revival in the fall of 2006 when the American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, restaged MacBird! [back to top]

Heroic LBJ Statue
In this 1967 poster, an anonymous artist imagined a patriotic statue to celebrate the glorious martial achievements of America’s Commander in Chief, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Printed in red, white, and blue, the poster mockingly quoted the aesthetics of ancient Greek statuary; the artist presented a likeness of President Johnson as a classical nude marble statue, wearing only an Eagle crested war helmet and a pair of cowboy boots.

The statue of the heroic leader is shown standing upon a vanquished foe, a small Vietnamese rice farmer. Instead of a sword the Chief Executive’s likeness holds a missile in its right hand, as if to salute marching armies; the marble base of the statue is fractured and crumbling, winter winds have blown off the leaves from nearby trees - not to mention the statue’s fig leaf.

In the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, Vice President Johnson was sworn in as president. Broadly hailed as a "progressive", L.B.J.’s administration was greeted with initial approval.

His landslide electoral victory against the Republicans in the presidential elections of 1964 renewed L.B.J.’s honeymoon with political elites, the press, and the general public; largely because Johnson’s reign was viewed as an extension of the "Kingdom of Camelot" that was the Kennedy White House.

Anti-LBJ poster by anonymous artist

Untitled – Anonymous artist. Offset poster. 1967. Published by Pentagonal Dodecahedron Ltd.-The Bindweed Press. © San Francisco, California. Image supplied by the CSPG.

Kennedy’s election to the presidency on November 8, 1960 was accompanied by a corresponding cultural phenomenon, the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. With words and lyrics by librettist Alan Lerner and music by Frederic Loewe, the production was loosely based upon the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet, Camelot opened on Broadway a month after Kennedy’s election. The musical won four Tony Awards and ran for an astounding 873 performances. Its original cast album became a top-selling LP in the U.S. for an unprecedented 60 weeks - the music heard by virtually anyone with a television or a radio.

More importantly, Camelot served as thinly veiled if unintentional Cold War propaganda. Lerner and Loewe’s vision of a just and magical kingdom ruled by charming and benevolent monarchs struck a chord with Americans, who viewed the majestic castles atop Camelot’s hills as a metaphor for the Whitehouse. Likewise, President Kennedy and his enchanting wife, Jacqueline, were seen as mirrors of Camelot’s elegant King Arthur and Queen Guenevere. The President and First Lady were enamored of the Camelot soundtrack, and the hit song "Camelot" was a personal favorite of J.F.K.’s. The tune, and the very concept of Camelot, became the not-so-unofficial visage of the Kennedy administration.

The Washington Camelot saga was obliterated by an assassin’s bullet, but myths die hard. L.B.J. managed to prolong the fantasy for a time, but he did not possess the glitz and glamour of the Kennedy clan; moreover, the Knights at Johnson’s Round Table were Cold War hawks who pressed for escalating the war in Vietnam, and L.B.J.’s ideas were always in tandem with those seated at his Round Table. It did not take long for the gleaming castle spires of Camelot to sink beneath the rice paddy mud of Vietnam, and within a short period of time L.B.J. became the target of intense public ridicule due to the hubris of his directing the unpopular foreign war.

Even though the ruins of the shimmering city of Camelot had been washed away in torrents of blood by the end of L.B.J.’s period in office, and all vestiges of its ancient walls lay buried and forgotten; some have recently insisted that Barack Obama is capable of "Reviving Camelot." Those with a slightly more pessimistic view of things have still found it necessary to call Obama, "Camelot’s New Knight." Now that our President in Shining Armor is sending off young soldiers to do battle in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan - perhaps it is finally time to cast aside the Camelot illusion. [back to top]

Psychedelic LBJ poster by Sture Johannesson
Untitled – Sture Johannesson. Offset poster. 1966. 70.5 x 45 cm. Image supplied by Lincoln Cushing - Docs Populi archive.

Psychedelic LBJ
The psychedelic poster designed in 1967 by Swedish artist Sture Johannesson offers valuable insight into the alternative culture of the period. The poster’s visual language is a perfect example of how counterculturists and political activists of the era were intermingling and becoming unified.

From a design standpoint the poster’s dreamlike imagery and opposing primary colors were pure psychedelia; the style found in hippie newspapers like The San Francisco Oracle and the plethora of concert posters and handbills widely distributed during the 1967 Summer of Love.

Located at the very top of the poster is an all seeing eye, a transcendental icon flanked by images of mind-numbing horror. On the left, corpses of dead Vietnamese are spread out at the feet of U.S. soldiers, on the right; the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, self-immolates during the massive 1963 Buddhist protests against the U.S. backed government in South Vietnam. The poster’s not so inconspicuous emerald green background consists of a verdant field of marijuana.

The focal point of the poster is a depiction of L.B.J. standing at the entrance of a citadel composed of U.S. corporate logos; Ford Motor Co., General Electric, Goodyear, Honeywell, IBM, Westinghouse, and others - a good number of which were military contractors for the Vietnam War.

This particular poster is significant for bringing attention to the economics behind the war. In fact, a group called the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) representing some of the most powerful companies in the U.S., met at the Pentagon three times a year from 1962-72; their mission - to obtain lucrative war production contracts from the U.S. military.

On the desk over which L.B.J. stands can be seen a paper that reads, "DOW shall not kill"; the twisting of a biblical commandment to include the name of the Dow Chemical Company, the sole supplier of napalm to the U.S. military. Dow also supplied the U.S. military with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, which was sprayed by planes over vast areas of Vietnam to deforest the country, thereby denying Viet Cong guerrillas jungle cover and food. The U.S. military ultimately sprayed more than 21 million gallons of the herbicide on South Vietnam.

Hippie aesthetics and philosophy were to a great extent inspired by the spirituality found in India’s Hindu tradition as well as the metaphysics of America’s indigenous tribes. That sense of the mystical is found in this poster as well, though what was being pointed out to the viewer was not the sacred - but the unholy. The poet Allen Ginsberg touched upon this theme of spiritual evil in his 1956 poem, Howl. In that work humanity was preyed upon by a monstrous unclean spirit named "Moloch." The ancient Hebrews knew Moloch as a shameful entity that demanded sacrifices of blood and treasure, but Ginsberg wrote of the monster as the personification of America’s hyper-materialist society. Sture Johannesson’s poster can be read as an evocation of Ginsberg’s vision, the "all seeing eye" in the artwork is that of Moloch, the entrance in which L.B.J. stands is Moloch’s open maw, with the folds of the drapes behind L.B.J. taking the appearance of the monster’s fangs.

Printed at the very bottom of the poster in faux Germanic script are the words "Take a day and walk around - watch the Nazis run your town", a line lifted from the 1967 song Plastic People, by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Of course at the time a wide range of musicians were writing songs that either directly or indirectly condemned L.B.J. and the Vietnam War, from Folk musicians like Pete Seeger (Waist Deep in the Big Muddy) Phil Ochs (Ringing of Revolution) and Peter Paul & Mary (The Great Mandala), to rock bands like Country Joe and the Fish (Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag, Superbird) and The Doors (The Unknown Soldier). [back to top]

Nuremberg Trial
At the close of the Second World War in 1945 the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union established the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany to prosecute major war criminals from the defeated Nazi regime.

The Nuremberg Trial charged Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Albert Speer, and dozens of other Nazi war criminals, with; "common planning or conspiracy to carry out a war of aggression or a war violating international treaties, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity."

At the November 20, 1945 Formal Opening of the Nuremberg Trial, an unknown photographer took a series of photos that showed 21 of the Nazi defendants sitting in the courtroom awaiting trial.

Poster art by John Jeheber

Nuremberg Trial – John Jeheber. Offset poster. 1967.
Image supplied by the CSPG.

In 1967 artist John Jeheber altered a reproduction of one of the Nuremberg Trial photos, transforming the image into one calling for a new war crimes trial against the U.S. architects of the Vietnam War. Using the photomontage technique to construct his artwork, Jeheber glued photos of U.S. President Johnson, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, into the Nuremberg courtroom scene. Retouching the combined photos with paint and brush, the artist painted a circle around the U.S. defendants for added emphasis. The explosively controversial poster thus equated the deeds of L.B.J. and two members of his war cabinet with those of Nazi War criminals.

McNamara and Rusk were both part of the so-called "Best and the Brightest" inner-circle of Democratic Party intellectuals that served in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Though liberals, the Best and the Brightest were Cold War hawks whose militant anti-communism lead them to formulate policies that proved disastrous in Vietnam. In March 1964 Robert S. McNamara had said "We will stay in Vietnam for as long as it takes. We shall provide whatever help is required to win the battle against Communist insurgence." Dean Rusk was an articulate point-man for L.B.J.’s policy of escalating the war. Rusk was villainized and reviled by the antiwar movement. In January of 1966, responding to criticisms that L.B.J. was escalating the war, Rusk averred: "It is not McNamara’s war; it is not the United States’ war… it is Ho Chi Minh’s war. Maybe it is Mao Tse-Tung’s war."

The creation and distribution of John Jeheber’s updated Nuremberg Trial poster in 1967 coincided with an event that received much international attention, but very little mention in the U.S. - the 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal. Founded by British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Bertrand Russell, and by French philosopher and playwright, Jean-Paul Sartre, the International War Crimes Tribunal was conducted in two sessions; Stockholm, Sweden (May 2-10, 1967), and Roskilde, Denmark (Nov. 20 - Dec. 1, 1967). The aim of the tribunal was the exposure of crimes against humanity committed in Vietnam by the U.S. government and military. In his closing address to the Stockholm Session, Bertrand Russell said the following about the U.S. war on Vietnam:

"The United States is using fascist states to facilitate its plans for new levels of crime. Each day bombers leave Thailand to saturate Vietnam in steel pellets and liquid fire. Has one American city been attacked? Are Canada and Mexico bases for the destruction of America by a power on the other side of the world? If one American city suffered two hours of bombing such as has been inflicted for two years on Vietnam the world press would inform us rather fully. This imbalance is a clear indication of the great injustice we are investigating. The difference in power is matched by the indifference of the powerful and those who serve them or depend on their favour."

In his address, On Genocide, presented to the Denmark Session, Jean-Paul Sartre stated that: "America is guilty of following through and intensifying the war, although each of its leaders daily understands even better, from the reports of the military chiefs, that the only way to win is to rid Vietnam of all the Vietnamese." [back to top]

LBJ and Lady Bird as Bonnie and Clyde - anonymous artist
Bonnie & Clyde – Anonymous artist. Offset poster. 1968. Published by "Alexicon Corp. © New York, New York." Image supplied by CSPG.

LBJ Bonnie & Clyde
In 1967 Warner Brothers Studios released director Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, a blockbuster film starring Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Gene Hackman. Based somewhat loosely on the lives and misadventures of the Great Depression era bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the film was extremely popular and received ten Academy Award nominations - winning two Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Cinematography.

What is important to realize here is that the Bonnie and Clyde film was groundbreaking for its unprecedented graphic violence, the likes of which had never before been seen in movies. The bloody onscreen mayhem was understood as a reflection of the real world; the agony of Vietnam was on everyone’s mind, as were the cities burning across America in uprisings against racial oppression. 1967 would be the year African American radical H. Rap Brown proclaimed: "Violence is as American as cherry pie."

In 1968, tapping into the immense popularity and mythos of the Bonnie and Clyde movie, an anonymous artist published a poster depicting President Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, as members of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde gang. The widely distributed print was based on the artist’s cleverly executed photomontage, and the artwork delivered an unmistakable message - L.B.J. and his liberal Democratic administration were little more than brutal gangsters.

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. A week later Bonnie and Clyde received its two Oscars at the Academy Award ceremonies in Hollywood, California. [back to top]

Vietnam: An Eastern Theatre Production
1,163 U.S. soldiers were killed in Vietnam during the first month of 1968, the same year David Nordahl designed the widely distributed mock movie poster, Vietnam: An Eastern Theatre Production.

A parody of Hollywood action movie advertisements, the poster featured a nonchalant L.B.J. relaxing on a lounge chair with a cool drink in his hand while the horror of the Vietnam War swirled all around him. Nordahl’s poster not only damned L.B.J., it rebuked the viewer for passively watching the war as if it were the latest B movie from Tinsel Town. The text on Nordahl’s poster reads from top left to bottom right:

"An Eastern Theatre Production: SEE…A Cast Of Thousands! SEE… Modern Atrocities In Full Color! SEE… The Accounts Of A Nation Destined To Save The World In Spite Of Itself! Gripping… Moving… A Film The Whole Family Is Sure To Enjoy - VIETNAM. Filmed thru the courtesy and cooperation of the entire military forces of the world’s mightiest and most benevolent nation. Filmed In Real Blood ‘N Guts Color. 'A Truly Remarkable Portrayal of American Foreign Policy', 'Beautiful-Poignant. ' PRICE OF ADMISSION: YOUR SON PLUS TAXES."

Poster art by David Nordahl

Vietnam: An Eastern Theatre Production – David Nordahl. 1968. Offset poster. 28 ½ x 22 5/8. Image supplied by CSPG

President Johnson’s assertions that the war was being "won" and that there was "light at the end of the tunnel", were swept aside when National Liberation Front guerillas and North Vietnamese regulars launched a coordinated massive offensive during Tet - the Vietnamese New Year. The military campaign began on January 31, 1968, when communist forces attacked over 100 cities in U.S. controlled South Vietnam, even penetrating the U.S. Embassy compound in downtown Saigon. During the February high-point of the Tet offensive, 2,197 U.S. soldiers were killed; in the following three months 5,000 more would loose their lives. In March of 1968, U.S. soldiers under the command of Lt. William Calley, massacred over 300 unarmed Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai. The heinous atrocity was not made known to the American public until November, 1969. [back to top]

Animation still by Ward Kimball
Escalation – Ward Kimball. 1968. Hand painted animation cel from Ward Kimball’s anti-L.B.J. animated short.

Ward Kimball's "Escalation."
A particularly devastating critique made of L.B.J. and the Vietnam War came from one of the most celebrated animators from Disney Studios, Ward Kimball (1914-2002). Mr. Kimball belonged to the group known as the "Nine Old Men", the brilliant senior animators that formed the core of Disney studio’s animation division.

A very short list of Kimball’s accomplishments at Disney Studios would have to include his being an animation supervisor for Fantasia (1940), an animator for Cinderella (1950), and animation director for Alice in Wonderland (1951). Walt Disney himself referred to Kimball as "one man who works for me I am willing to call a genius."

Quite apart from his work at Disney, Kimball produced and distributed Escalation in 1968 on his own time and with his own money. It would be the only independently produced animation any of the "Nine Old Men" would create, and as a piece of animation it was about as far removed from the conservative "family values" reputation of Disney as one could possibly get.

Kimball’s two-minute animated short began with a dirge-like drum beat and a numerical countdown. It alluded to the countdown used in the infamous anti-Goldwater "Daisy Girl" television advertisement that Johnson and the Democratic Party released during the 1964 presidential elections; an ad that cast Johnson as the "peace candidate", while implying Goldwater would use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. In fact, Johnson’s sustained aerial bombardment of Vietnam with conventional bombs far surpassed the destructive power of the atomic weapons dropped on Japan. During a single 1968 bombing operation dubbed, "Operation Niagara", "U.S. air forces dropped bomb tonnage equivalent to 10 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs" on communist soldiers massed at Khe Sanh [Source: The Vietnam War 1956-1975 (Essential Histories) Publisher: Routledge - July 24, 2003. ISBN-10: 0415968518.]

Following the countdown in Kimball’s animation, a crippled and dying cartoon white dove of peace painfully flapped its way across the screen, followed by an enormous portrait bust of L.B.J. wheeled out from stage right. At first the bust had the visage of a Mardi Gras float, but when L.B.J.’s nose began to grow long like Pinocchio’s (Kimball had created and animated the Jiminy Cricket character in Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio), it took on the appearance of a bizarre battle tank. A voice actor imitated the president singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic as the Pinocchio-like nose kept getting bigger and bigger, taking on an undeniable phallic symbolism. Ultimately the exaggerated cannon-nose-phallus discharged in what can only be described as an orgasmic visual explosion of Americanisms. The animation ended as the smoke cleared, death-bells peeled and L.B.J.’s mechanized portrait head cracked, fractured, and fell to pieces.

Kimball’s animated film was screened across the U.S. at film festivals and on college campuses where it was well received by the antiwar students who formed the animation’s natural fan base. It should go without saying that Kimball’s animation was not screened or even discussed by mainstream venues or critics. One can only imagine the slack-jawed reaction to the film from Democratic Party stalwarts and supporters of the war. In a 2000 interview shortly before his death, Kimball complained that Escalation had in no way garnered the recognition it deserved, and that not a single animation historian had bothered to write about it. In 2007, Ward Kimball’s estate posted Escalation, where it can presently be viewed. [back to top]

Guilty Of Murder: LBJ-USA
The unbridled fury aimed from some quarters at President Johnson and U.S. foreign policy was evident in this 1968 street poster, Guilty Of Murder LBJ-USA. The poster utilized the artwork, Calavera Huertista (Skeletal Follower of Huerta) created by the Mexican printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada in the last year of his life. The anonymous poster designer no doubt chose this image by Posada (1852-1913) because it was an attack against the followers of Mexican President, General Victoriano Huerta, who seized power in a 1913 military coup.

The contemporary designer therefore was able to draw a connection, albeit an obscure one, between L.B.J. and one of Mexico’s most reviled military despots. Huerta’s reign lasted a year before he was driven from power by the combined revolutionary armies of Álvaro Obregón and Pancho Villa.

While the controversial LBJ-USA poster was based upon an appropriated or un-credited "borrowed" image, the graphic was fairly well known as having been created by Posada, whose legacy was undergoing a renaissance in the U.S. at the time thanks to the burgeoning Mexican American civil rights and Chicano arts movement. Furthermore, the anonymous poster was not utilized to garner profit nor boost someone’s career in art; its purpose was strictly and solely meant to serve political ends - remaining an anonymous production even till this day. [back to top]

Anti-LBJ poster by anonymous artist

Guilty Of Murder. LBJ-USA. – Anonymous. Offset poster circa 1968. 57 x 45 cm. Poster based on an image created by the Mexican printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada. Poster image supplied by Lincoln Cushing - Docs Populi archive.

The End Of The War - poster by anonymous artist
The End Of The War – Artist unknown. Offset poster circa 1968. 58.5 x 40 cm. Poster image supplied by Lincoln Cushing - Docs Populi archive.

The End Of The War
The Straight Theater in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco was a central cultural venue for the Hippie movement between the years 1966 to 1969. It was an old abandoned vaudevillian theater that was transformed into a massive hall for acid rock concerts and psychedelic lightshows. With a 1,500 person capacity, the renovated Straight had a 5000 sq. ft dance floor and 40 foot high walls upon which experimental films and lightshows were projected from a balcony.

The roster of psychedelic bands that played at the Straight is still impressive: The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Moby Grape, Janis Joplin & Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and many others. On April 5, 1968, the Beatles arranged the West Coast premier of their Magical Mystery Tour film at the Straight, an event attended by some 2,000 people. The Straight produced psychedelic posters and handbills for all of their events, and many of those artworks have subsequently been published in books or acquired for special collections.

On the very day of the U.S. presidential election, November 5, 1968, the marquee on the Straight read, "The End of The War." The theater was presenting a wild kinetic happening that evening against the Vietnam War and the state of the country, an event co-sponsored by the Diggers, Haight-Ashbury’s anti-capitalist countercultural provocateurs. The political atmosphere surrounding the revelry was explosive; the war was raging, Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy had been slain by assassins, U.S. cities were set afire in uprisings against racism, peace demonstrators had been beaten bloody in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention - where conservative Democrats nominated Hubert H. Humphrey as their presidential candidate. The flower children of the 1967 Summer of Love had wilted away to be replaced by tough new hybrids unafraid of the word, "revolution."

An anonymous artist working for the Straight designed the poster for the event, an artwork that depicted President Johnson hugging Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). The artwork’s aesthetics were in keeping with the flood of psychedelic images hitherto produced by the Straight. Most psychedelic posters were highly detailed and intricate, offering drawings or distorted photographic images of things supernatural, hallucinogenic, surrealistic, and dreamlike. But aside from psychedelicized Art Nouveau maidens and flaming flying eyeballs, what poster image from '68 offered a more delirious and otherworldly vision than that of the leader of the capitalist U.S. embracing the leader of communist North Vietnam?

An over capacity crowd showed up for the free event at the Straight that included throngs of naked dancers writhing through the gathering, an intense multimedia lightshow, and an unannounced performance by the Steve Miller Band - who performed an extraordinary version of When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. The End of The War was most definitely the concept everyone had in mind, but the anguish of Vietnam would continue to grind on for years to come.

The pro-war Democrats lost the election to the pro-war Republicans, and L.B.J.’s war became Richard M. Nixon’s. What happened next - Nixon’s 1969-1973 secret bombing of Laos (where the U.S. dropped more bombs than it had on Germany and Japan during World War II); the 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia (protested in the U.S. by a national student strike of over 4 million students, and culminating in National Guard troops massacring four unarmed students at Kent State University); and the massive aerial "Christmas Bombings" of North Vietnam during December 1972 – are subjects for another essay. [back to top]

All The Way With LBJ
L.B.J. ended up being completely overwhelmed by opposition to his Vietnam War policy, so much so that in the run-up to the 1968 presidential election campaign he surprised the nation and the world by announcing; "I shall not seek, nor will I accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President." In a last defiant gesture, L.B.J. backed his Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey - a hawk on Vietnam - as the party’s candidate for president. Infuriated by the choice, peace activists who had already vowed to demonstrate against the war at the '68 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago, Illinois, had further grounds for protest. Humphrey was long derided by people in the peace movement; one of the many reasons for his being scorned was an ill-famed remark he made in 1965 - "Only the Vietcong has committed atrocities in Vietnam." Afterwards, activists derisively nicknamed Humphrey, "the Hump."

In the run-up to the Democratic Convention, an anonymous artist in San Francisco, California designed a mock Democratic Party election poster that altered L.B.J.’s campaign slogan, from: All The Way With LBJ, to: All The Way With HHH (Hubert H. Humphrey). The artist made use of a clever visual pun, depicting L.B.J. riding the Democratic Party mascot, but in this case the donkey was in actuality a stand-in for Hubert H. Humphrey. The poster’s message was clear; a victory for Humphrey really meant another term for L.B.J. and a continuance of the Vietnam War. But the jackass L.B.J was riding was not on the road to electoral victory, rather it was on the path to nuclear apocalypse. To the poster’s patriotic color scheme of red, white, and blue, the artist added a background of mourning funeral black - indicating the death of democracy.

Anti-LBJ poster by anonymous artist

All The Way With HHH – Anoymous. Offset poster 1968. 18 x 24 in. Published by Happening Press, San Francisco.

At the contentious 1968 Democratic Party Convention, the Democrats ended up nominating Humphrey as their presidential candidate. Outside the convention hall, upwards of 20,000 police and National Guardsmen were deployed to repress some 10,000 antiwar demonstrators. As the Chicago police gassed and beat people live on national television, protestors chanted: "The Whole World Is Watching!" Just prior to his nomination Humphrey said: "I think that withdrawal [from Vietnam] would be totally unrealistic and would be a catastrophe. (....) The roadblock to peace, my dear friend, is not in Washington, D.C. - it is in Hanoi, and we ought to recognize it as such."

It should be remembered that during the earlier U.S. presidential elections of 1964, L.B.J. ran as an "antiwar" candidate against the ultra-conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. Referring to his Republican opponent, Johnson said on August 12, 1964: "Some others are eager to enlarge the conflict. They call upon us to supply American boys to do the job that Asian boys should do." Johnson and the Democrats attacked Goldwater as a dangerous right-wing extremist who would send U.S. soldiers into Vietnam and bomb North Vietnam - possibly with nuclear weapons. "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home", became the slogan used in L.B.J.’s campaign ads."

After his landslide victory against Goldwater, Johnson ultimately sent 543,000 soldiers to Vietnam. He also began the devastating and sustained bombing of North Vietnam on March 5, 1965; a campaign that would last three and a half years, dropping a daily average of 800 tons of bombs on the North. One of the specifics listed in the 1971 Pentagon Papers release, was the revelation that L.B.J. had made his decision to bomb North Vietnam – before he was elected president in 1964. However, L.B.J.’s secret decision did not prevent him from using campaign rhetoric that suggested a Goldwater presidency would mean the bombing of North Vietnam. [back to top]

What is past is prologue

As Shakespeare wrote in his play The Tempest, "What is past is prologue." While people around the world debated whether or not Obama would intensify the war, the expansion was a fait accompli. In early '09, he deployed 21,000 soldiers to war shattered Afghanistan. In a backdoor escalation he then sent - unannounced - an additional 13,000 "support troops"; bringing the number of U.S. soldiers in the war by the end of '09 to 71,000 - the largest contingent to the US/NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal. By early 2010, the combined US/NATO military force in Afghanistan will number around 103,500. President Obama’s latest deployment of 30,000 combat troops will increase that number to 133,500; a tally that does not include U.S. "support troops", additional NATO troops, nor the over 68,000 "private contractors" (i.e., mercenaries) in Afghanistan that are working for the Pentagon. By contrast, the army sent into Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s never topped 104,000 soldiers in any given year.

WAR IS PEACE !
Political button from the 2008 presidential campaign.

The cost of sending an individual U.S. soldier to Afghanistan - and maintaining that soldier’s presence in the field for a year - is $1 million, which is the finding of the White House Budget Office. A recent breakdown of costs calculated by the Pentagon controller’s office put the price tag of sending 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan at $1 billion; an estimate the Obama administration used in determining the cost of deploying more troops.

The same Pentagon report stated that it costs an average of $400 to put a single gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle in Afghanistan. The real question is - what will these costs be years from now? At an August 13, '09 Pentagon briefing a reporter asked Obama’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates how long U.S. soldiers would stay in Afghanistan; his answer was - it’s a mystery.

It can be of no comfort to Mr. Obama that in a CNN poll released in September '09, 58 percent of Americans expressed opposition to the war in Afghanistan. He anticipated the Afghan presidential elections of August '09 would provide legitimacy for his escalating war - instead the elections have been revealed as a complete sham. They were so catastrophic that Reuters posed the question: "Can President Barack Obama ask Americans to send more of their sons and daughters to die in Afghanistan to defend a government willing to steal an election?"

While President Obama continues to insist that Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose the gravest of threats to the U.S., General McChrystal stated in September of 2009 that he saw no "indications of a large Al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now." In early October 2009, U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones said that he believed there are fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan. Is President Obama actually deploying 30,000 combat troops to Afghanistan to fight fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda terrorists, or is the war really about securing wider U.S. geopolitical interests? Might the U.S. presence in Afghanistan have something to do with Central Asia having tremendous reserves of oil and natural gas, with Afghanistan being a crucial transit corridor for transporting those resources out of the region by pipeline?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech in Los Angeles, California, on February 25, 1967, titled The Casualties of the War in Vietnam. In that speech King declared, "The bombs in Vietnam explode at home - they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America", a judgment still applicable even though the bombs have today been retargeted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just as L.B.J.’s Great Society crumbled in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, so too will Mr. Obama’s "Hope & Change" presidency be broken on the craggy mountaintops of Afghanistan.

The Democratic Party and their "antiwar" candidate, L.B.J, were in large part responsible for the disaster that was the Vietnam War, a fact that receded from the collective memory of Americans. Senator Obama campaigned for the presidency in '08 on a promise to send thousands more U.S. combat soldiers into Afghanistan, pledging to make that country his central front in the "war on terror", yet his supporters praised him as an "antiwar" candidate. On October 9, 2009, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Scant hours after winning the Nobel Prize, Mr. Obama gathered his "war council" of military and political aids for a White House Situation Room strategy session on how best to win the so-called "Af-Pak" (Afghanistan-Pakistan) war; it was an irony noted by people around the world. President Obama shall be the first U.S. Commander in Chief to direct two foreign wars as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In a September 14, 2009 interview with the New York Times and CNBC, President Obama rejected his Afghan war escalation being compared to Lyndon Johnson’s intensification of the war in Vietnam, saying: "You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam." In this article’s description of Sture Johannesson’s anti-L.B.J. poster, I made mention of Pete Seeger’s folk song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. President Obama’s metaphoric language regarding stepping into a river conjures up the refrain from Seeger’s piece of music: (….) "Every time I read the papers, that old feeling comes on; we're - waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on."

Images supplied by the Docs Populi archive and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics unless otherwise noted.
The opinions expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.