73. Letter From the President to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1

Dear Bob: One of the most important things you can do for me in South Vietnam is to talk privately on my behalf with Cabot Lodge. I have the highest regard for him as a patriot and a public servant, and I want him to know at first-hand of my determination that we in Washington must do everything we can to back him up as the top American in Vietnam. He is an old friend of mine from the Senate, and the simplest way of emphasizing my high opinion of him to you is to say that I recommended him for your job after the election of 1952.

When we had our first meeting with Ambassador Lodge, on November 24,2 I told him that I counted on him to take full charge of our effort there and to press our views as strongly as possible on the Government. I also told him that we would back him up in every part of the country team. We have made all the personnel changes which he has requested, and which it was quite proper for him to request in his effort to discharge his responsibilities. You should make it clear that we mean to continue to be responsive to his needs, and that just as we count on him to insist on first-class performance out there, we have taken fairly energetic steps of our own to ensure that the team in Washington working on Vietnam is as good as we can make it.

I have asked the Ambassador to make sure that we know of any new recommendations and proposals which he or his colleagues may wish to press with us, and on his only specific proposal relating to our own support of the struggle in Vietnam-the support for the military pay raise-I believe we have responded promptly.3 We are also doing all that we can through Ambassador Bohlen, and here in Washington with Ambassador Alphand, to get across to the French the importance [Page 133]of their own posture in Vietnam, and while Bohlen does not. think we can get the public statements that Ambassador Lodge wants, we have pressed him to do everything that he can in this direction.

As I read the messages from Ambassador Lodge, these are the specific areas in which he has asked for our support, but I want you to be sure to tell him that we will rely on him and his associates to keep us fully and currently apprised of their needs as they see them. We may not always be able to achieve what they ask, but we will always try, within the limits of our resources and capacities.

Sincerely,

Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Presidential Instructions. Secret.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IV, pp. 635–637.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 53. On March 9, Forrestal prepared for McGeorge Bundy a memorandum assessing “the extent to which we have responded to Lodge’s requests.” After reviewing the cable traffic since January 1, Forrestal concluded that there were only two major policy requests from Lodge which were still unresolved: the proposed statement from De Gaulle clarifying his call for neutralism of Vietnam, and Lodge’s tentative requests for bringing pressure on North Vietnam. Forrestal explained that the need for considerable planning and policy decisions at the highest level were responsible for these requests going partially unanswered. Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. V, Memos; published in Declassified Documents, 1978, 128C)

    McGeorge Bundy passed a copy of Forrestal’s memorandum to the President on March 11 stating that further action should await McNamara’s return and “that I think we are in slightly better shape on both issues than Forrestal makes out.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. II)