Where would Lyndon Johnson fit on the political spectrum today? Would he even be a Democrat? What was the Vietnam War about at its core? And why did LBJ, a white politician from the Jim Crow South, embrace and eventually champion civil rights?
We sat down with Mark Atwood Lawrence, director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum on the UT campus, to discuss these and many other questions. Before taking the library’s reins in January 2020, he was an award-winning teacher of history at UT, where his classes focused on American and international history.
Lawrence is author or editor of numerous books on Vietnam and American foreign policy. His most recent book, The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era, chronicles America’s lofty plans at the start of the 1960s to transform the Third World and the rapid abandonment of those plans by the end of the decade.
He explains why he became interested in Vietnam, what the term “Third World” referred to during the Cold War, and what new alignments in the world order look like now. Lawrence also gives his take on the teaching of history and whether we are teaching the history students need to know.