All this talk of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has got me remembering Johnson’s real legacy – the Vietnam War.
It’s so funny how the lack of institutional knowledge can warp the future. I heard folks talking on NPR about how much Johnson hated poverty. How he lived beans-to-mouth as a young boy and how the insecurity of that upbringing made him vigilant in his fight against poverty.
Perhaps that explains a lot of things, specifically how Johnson was willing to sell out our nation’s most vulnerable for a personally financially-rewarding relationship with corporate America. Johnson and his CEO cronies were the only real beneficiaries of a war so ill-conceived it overshadow all other American wars.
His familiarity with the desperation that poverty produces likely explains why Johnson was so keen on exploiting urban blacks and poor white boys from the mountains of Kentucky & Tennessee, West Virginia & Alabama and sending them en masse to Vietnam to serve as cannon fodder.
No matter who takes to the airwaves to praise Johnson for his fight on poverty, I will always consider Johnson and his carny sidekick, Robert McNamara, as men without souls. My buddy Joe Galloway shares this opinion. Joe says there is a special place reserved in hell for these two. I wonder if such thoughts doesn’t do the devil an injustice. I’m not sure Satan would keep company with them.
Those touting Johnson’s War on Poverty often fail to recall one of the key components for employing the unemployed: Project 100,000.
Johnson and McNamara sold a plan to the American public that would allow for a change in the standards maintained by the Armed Forces. This change would grant the “uneducated” a special exemption to join the Armed Forces. The year was 1966. The year my father was KIA in Vietnam. The year of the build-up to the Tet Offensive.
McNamara needed warm bodies on the war front. Johnson figured Project 100,000 would be great PR for his War on Poverty plan. Together, they implemented “New Man Standards”.
Has such a GQ ring to it, doesn’ t it? Almost sounds like they were raising the requirements for those enlisting or being drafted.
In fact, the New Man Standards lowered the requirements. McNamara was hoping to get an additional 100,000 bodies. He got far more than he anticipated. Nearly 350,000 men were either drafted or volunteered under Project 100,000. Many of them had low IQs, some as low as 75, earning them the name “Moron Corps.”
Despite the mythology one reads online, these men were not required to meet all the standards of performance required of others. They were given special ID numbers so that their superiors would understand that they were part of the “slow” brigade. Men who couldn’t read at a fourth-grade level or do long-division were sent to the front lines, where they were killed at an average four-times higher than their soldiers who were not part of the New Man Standards. McNamara and Johnson patted themselves on the back for giving what they undoubtedly considered bottom-feeders an opportunity at a better life.
Winston Groom didn’t think Forrest Gump up out of thin air. Groom knew this ugly side of Johnson’s history. And while Bubba and Gump make for a charming movie, the truth is Johnson sent men who would be considered mentally handicapped by any educational standards to the front lines where they were, in essence, lambs to the slaughter.
So spare me the praise for Johnson and his plans to build a prosperous nation. Johnson’s primary concern was always on making himself and his Texas pals richer.