Secrets, Lies and Telephone Tapes: LBJ

Sylvia Ellis has been listening in to LBJ’s taped telephone calls from the Oval Office and finds they have much to tell the historian about the man behind the escalation of the Vietnam war.

In the last few years, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas has released recordings of President Johnson’s telephone conversations. They constitute a crucial, largely untapped, source allowing historians a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ view of the Johnson presidency. No other president has ever authorized the regular recording of his telephone conversations, and so this material is truly exceptional as a historical source, providing scholars and the public with unique insights into the workings of a modern presidency. But for those who have pored over the materials held in the Johnson library, especially foreign policy papers, they offer more. Johnson rarely wrote on memos and reports, and it has been difficult to know why he made decisions he did. The tapes help shed light on some of his motivations, although certainly not all.

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