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Dean Rusk: Johnson Years

Served as U.S. Secretary of State (1961-1968) and member of the Georgia Law faculty (1970-1984)
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The Johnson Presidency, 1963-1968

November 22, 1963 - Lyndon Baines Johnson becomes President. Rusk offers his resignation which Johnson refuses. Rusk found Johnson "a man of great complexity and easily the most powerful personality I have ever known." He was driven and highly intelligent. (Rusk, 332)

December 6, 1963 - Appears on the cover of TIME magazine. He was seen as "a promise of continuity and action." (Schoenbaum, 409)

Like Kennedy, Johnson was committed to civil rights. Rusk considered Johnson's March 15, 1965 speech on the voting rights and civil rights bills to a joint session of Congress to have been the finest of Johnson's presidency. Johnson said,

It never occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of [the students he taught as a teacher in West Texas] and to help people like them all over the country. Now I have that chance, and I mean to use it. And I hope you will use it with me." (Rusk, 335)

February 4, 1966 - Appears on the cover of TIME magazine for the second time.

January 23, 1967 - Seizure in international waters of USS Pueblo, a state-of-the-art intelligence gathering ship, by North Korea. The administration's priority was the lives of the crew.  "In diplomacy many situations are better resolved if decision makers work behind the scenes and keep their mouth shut in public." (Rusk, 392)

The U.S. and North Korea negotiated a settlement after eleven months of captivity. Pueblo type ships were decommissioned and intelligence gathering activities were carried out by ships like destroyers with defensive capabilities.

In an age increasingly threatened by international terrorism, far more so today than the 1960's, the Pueblo affair taught us that patience and negotiation can work. We could have mounted a more forceful response. But when contemplating action, the policy maker must consider not only the first step but the second, third, fourth, and fifth steps. A wrong response by us could have led to the execution of [Capt.] Bucher and his crew and even a second Korean War. (Rusk, 396)

January 27, 1967 - The U.S. signs the Outer Space Treaty, "one of my favorite arms control treaties. ... Outer space would be reserved for international cooperation." (Rusk, 344, 347)

June 5, 1967 - Beginning of the Six-Day War and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the entire Sinai peninsula, and the old city of Jerusalem. This crisis was the first use of the hot line between the Kremlin and the White House. (Rusk, 253)

The Israeli's attacked an American communications ship, USS Liberty. Rusk appears not to have accepted the Israeli explanation that they misidentified it as an Egyptian ship. The Israeli government paid restitution to the families of the 34 dead crewman and to the wounded.

End of the Johnson Administration

Rusk firmly believed that foreign aid was an insurance policy to protect American interests. But he had to work hard to obtain aid from Congress as both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson expected their cabinet officers to take primary responsibility for getting legislation for their departments through Congress. Rusk testified 32 times on behalf of foreign aid during his eight years. (Rusk, 403) (Schoenbaum, 566 for list of Congressional testimony)

In reviewing the accomplishments of the Kennedy-Johnson years, I claim only one for myself, that with the agreements negotiated and our constant talking with the Soviets, my colleagues and I helped add eight years to the time since a nuclear weapon has been fired in anger. (Rusk, 353)

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