211. Diary Entry by the Ambassador to the United Kingdom (Bruce)1
Meeting with the British delegation this morning.2 Mac Bundy had seen the President earlier, and it was arranged that LBJ would receive the Foreign Secretary alone at 11:30. I rode over to the White House with the two Michael Stewarts. On our side, Bill Tyler, Tom Judd, Harry Shullaw and Lloyd Hand, Chief of Protocol, were present. We waited in the Cabinet Room with the British Minister. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary talked to Mac Bundy, before being closeted with the President. To our surprise, after about fifteen minutes of this duet, we were all summoned into the oval office, where we were joined by Hadow (Foreign Office Press representative) and Bundy. Marvin Watson wandered in and out, trying to preserve the President’s appointments schedule, whilst the British were concerned lest Stewart miss his engagement to lunch and speak at the National Press Club. This did not divert LBJ, who was in talkative form. It was great theatre; he fed us oratorical sandwiches, with layers of gravity and levity. At one time, after he had enumerated the variety of criticisms to which he was daily subjected over Vietnam, he remarked “Sometimes I just get all hunkered up like a jackass in a hailstorm.”
Stewart kept reverting to the uproar in Britain over the use of non-lethal gas by the South Vietnamese air force. The cable lines are hot with protests, petitions are pouring forth from MP’s, Americans are being denounced for resorting to barbarous and horrible weapons. I thought the President dealt well with the attack, explaining that the gas was one in common use by our own police forces, was frequently employed for quelling riots, and was stocked by many countries. The chief trouble, I believe, is that no warning was given in advance from Saigon of its prospective utilization, nor until yesterday, did our top men in Washington seem to know anything about the occurrences. From a public relations viewpoint, the Saigon authorities, and secondarily our own, have behaved idiotically. “Gas” is widely regarded as a dirty word, and everywhere [Page 472]evokes images of World War I brutalities. The affair is further complicated by the allegation that supplies of this type were left behind by the French army, when they evacuated Indo-China, and that some of it was manufactured in the UK. We are now explaining that on the occasions it has been used in Vietnam, it was largely ineffective.
LBJ discoursed for more than an hour, explaining his objectives, hopes and fears. He is power sublimated, like Niagara Falls. He read us a long letter3 from an American soldier in Vietnam to his “Mom”, strongly supporting American policy. I think he impressed his audience by his grasp of the issues involved, and his own mastery over decisions, but must have puzzled the British by the alternations of his manner. He told Stewart he had no objections whatever to negotiations if any one could offer a reasonable prospect of their succeeding.
There was a brief session for photography; the cameramen made their onslaught in two waves. Then the Foreign Minister was released, after ninety minutes of an experience he is never likely to forget.4
Mac and I stayed behind for a while. The President said that Stewart had not offered a single practical or helpful suggestion, nor had General deGaulle, or any other foreigner. Then he repeated what he told Stewart about fierce domestic pressures on him. Some favored abandonment of all our commitments in the East, and retreat to Hawaii. Others wanted us to bomb the hell out of China. Others would kill all the civilians, as well as military, in the Hanoi district. He intended to continue to make measured responses to aggression from North Vietnam until it ceased. We had obligated ourselves under three Presidents to assist the South Vietnamese to preserve their liberties, and that commitment would be carried out. He thought it insulting for politicians to come chasing over to see him, to expound for home consumption their condemnatory statements from the White House steps, unless they had practicable solutions to offer for American problems.
[Here follows information unrelated to Vietnam.]
- Source: Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327, January-March 1965. Secret. Bruce returned to Washington to take part in the discussions with Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, who visited the United States March 22–23. Also see Bruce’s diary entry for March 22, which briefly describes a meeting with McGeorge Bundy on how the President should receive Stewart the following day. (Ibid.) For Stewart’s recollection of the visit to Washington, see his Life and Labour: An Autobiography, pp. 152–153.↩
- Rusk, Ball, and Bruce met with Stewart and other members of the British delegation at 10:30 a.m. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) The meeting apparently dealt exclusively with Southeast Asia and was described in two separate memoranda of conversation. One memorandum is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–10 VIET S. The other is ibid., POL 27 ASIA SE.↩
- Not further identified.↩
- A formal memorandum of the conversation between the President and Stewart is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S.↩