149. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson0


  • Remarks to the National Security Council1

The following is cast in the form of a short talk by you, but it is really intended only as a memorandum of what you said this morning for you to draw on as you please.

[Page 541]

I want to say a word of welcome to the Speaker who will be with us from time to time when his very heavy duties permit it.2 I hope that all members of the Council will show the same readiness to keep him fully informed in this great field that they showed to me as Vice President.

And I want to welcome you all to the first NSC meeting of this Administration. Most of us have served together now for nearly three years; I know the quality of your work and place great reliance on all of you.


This Council is the formal meeting place for the men in the Executive Branch who have top responsibility for the safety of our nation. I want you to know that I look on these matters of security as the No. 1 business of the Government, and I propose to run my own office and my own business with that priority. Not all the work of National Security can be done in meetings of this Council, and I expect to go on with special meetings for special purposes, but I do plan to use this Council from time to time as a forum in which these matters can be examined. I welcome candid and open expression of views and differences of opinion, and I also welcome the opportunity which these meetings give for making my own positions clear.

As a beginning, I want to take a few minutes this afternoon to state the essentials of U.S. policy as I see it.

The greatest single requirement on the world’s statesmen today is that we should find a way to ensure the survival of civilization in this nuclear age. This group knows better than most what a general nuclear war would be like, and my view is simple: such a war would be the death of all our hopes, and it is our task to see that it does not happen.
From this there follow two basic rules for U.S. policy: (1) we must be strong, and (2) we must be temperate.
On strength and the need for fully effective defenses I yield to no one. I have been concerned with the strength and effectiveness of our Armed Forces for 30 years, and I mean to continue with energy the great work which Bob McNamara and the Defense Department have carried forward in the last three years. He and I have reemphasized the need for economy in recent days and we mean it—but we do not mean the kind of economy cuts into the necessary strength of the Armed Forces. The basic improvement in the balance of power which has taken place in the last three years is one-half of the explanation for the sense of hope that was developing in President Kennedy’s last months. I have not become President to give away this advantage.
But we must be temperate, too. One of my first concerns after the terrible event of November 22 was to make it clear to the Soviet Government and to Mr. Khrushchev personally that the U.S. will go its part of the way in every effort to make peace more secure. I do not agree with everything Walter Lippmann3 says, but I do agree with him on the importance of the progress we made in this area, too, in the last three years. I made this point forcefully to Mr. Mikoyan4 at the same time that I was emphasizing our continued and intense interest in the strength of our alliances to such men as Chancellor Erhard and Prime Minister Douglas-Home.5 I strongly supported the limited test ban treaty and I want Bill Foster to know that I look on his work as part of National Security, just as much as the work of Bob McNamara.

I won’t take your time today to give views on all the major issues we will be working on together, but I do wish to signal my concern on two specific issues:

We are heavily committed in South Vietnam with 18,000 Americans there, and we should all of us let no day go by without asking whether we are doing everything we can to win the struggle there.
We have to live on the same world with the Soviet Union, but we do not have to accept Communist subversion in this Hemisphere—or, indeed, in any free country that can use our help effectively. But especially in this Hemisphere I think we should let no day pass without asking what more we can do against Communist subversion and against the Castro government in particular.

I have scheduled separate meetings on both these subjects next week.

But being against subversion is not just a matter of fighting Communism. We have the positive job of helping to make the democratic system effective and attractive, both in our own country and wherever we have influence. This positive job, too, is of first importance.
I’ll make just one more comment: We are all here to serve the interest of the United States, but I think we can serve that interest better if we always remember that the other man sees things in his own way. We need to show patience and understanding of other systems as well as our own, and each of us should ask himself when he deals with other nations how he would feel if he were in the other man’s place.
The business of this meeting is to hear the intelligence assessment of the current situation in the Soviet Union, and I will ask Mr. McCone to take over.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Volume I. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 150.
  3. Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts was, as Speaker of the House, Johnson’s successor in the event of the President’s death in office.
  4. Walter S. Lippmann, author, foreign policy analyst, and syndicated newspaper columnist.
  5. Anastas I. Mikoyan, First Vice Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers and full member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.
  6. Ludwig Erhard, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, British Prime Minister.