Johnson, Lyndon B.

Johnson, Lyndon B.

(dreams)

Former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson (1908—1973) suffered from chronic nightmares, a childhood condition he carried into his adult life. As a young child he often dreamed that he was sitting, paralyzed, in a chair as he faced an oncoming cattle stampede. After becoming the vice president in 1961, the setting of his nightmares changed to the Executive Office Building, but the paralysis theme remained the same. He dreamed he was sitting at his desk, just finishing a pile of paperwork. But when he got up to go home he discovered that ankle straps bound him to the heavy chair he was sitting in. Since he was unable to move, he resigned himself to continuing to do more paperwork.

After the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam, the content of his nightmares altered yet again, but the paralysis theme remained. He was now lying in a bed in the Red Room; he was unable to move or even speak, but he was able to observe that he possessed the frail, paralyzed body of Woodrow Wilson. The trauma of these nightmares carried over into his waking life, so much so that Johnson regularly looked at the pictures of Wilson that hung in the White House halls just to assure him self that, while Wilson was dead, he himself remained alive and capable of action.

Johnson found himself in a difficult predicament as the Vietnam conflict continued and casualties mounted. He felt he could not withdraw the troops and maintain his (and America’s) honor, but he also knew that the opposition was building throughout the country. If he were to remain in office, support for the social programs he was promoting would be jeopardized because of his stance on Vietnam. Once again, Johnson’s nightmares reflected the fears and uncertainties of his waking life. He dreamt that he was being swept down a river, struggling to swim to the shore. When he tried to reach the nearest bank, he discovered that, no matter how hard he swam, it never go any closer. He then tried to swim to the other side, but the results were the same and he found himself swimming in circles, exhausting all his energy. This nightmare embodied the impossible situation that Johnson was in, and he realized the only way to rectify the situation was to remove himself as an active participant. Shortly after having this nightmare, he announced his decision not to seek another term in office.

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