216. Editorial Note

Immediately following his meeting with the President on March 23 (see Document 211), Foreign Secretary Stewart spoke at the National Press Club and criticized the reported use by the United States of gas warfare in Vietnam. No text of his remarks has been found, but a summary appeared in The Washington Post, March 24, 1965, p. A2. On March 24 McGeorge Bundy telephoned Ambassador Bruce, who was still in Washington, and asked him to prepare a draft letter to Prime Minister Wilson “expressing the President’s indignation over Michael Stewart having answered a question at the National Press Club by replying with a citation from the Declaration of Independence, coupling British objections to the use of gas with a quotation about the ‘decent observance of the opinions of mankind.’” When Bruce met with the President at 1 p.m. March 24, the President decided not to send a rebuke to Wilson, a decision that Bruce welcomed since he considered it “undignified and unnecessary” to do so. (Department of State, Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327, January-March 1965)

On March 23 six Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Johnson deploring the use of gas warfare in Vietnam and requesting an immediate halt to its use. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IX) The six included William S. Broomfield (Michigan), Frank J. Horton (New York), John V. Lindsay (New York), Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. (Maryland), F. Bradford Morse (Massachusetts), and Stanley R. Tupper (Maine). On March 24, following a 50-minute meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense Vance, all except Tupper and Mathias agreed to say no more about the gas issue. Vance ’s meeting with the six representatives, along with other aspects of Congressional opinion on the controversy, are described in McGeorge Bundy’s March 24 memorandum to the President. (Ibid.)

In view of the heated controversy over the reported gas warfare, the President decided that Secretary of State Rusk should issue a clarifying [Page 482]statement at a press conference on March 24. That morning U.S. Information Agency Director Rowan called the Secretary of State. A memorandum of their conversation reads:

“R said he had talked to the President about gas business and he asked R to talk to Sec before his noon statement; R felt we had to say that we were willing not to engage in military use of gas; and were we willing to say this. Sec said in gas warfare, but Sec was not willing to make a flat commitment that closes the door in the future. R said he felt the word tactical use was causing us trouble. Sec asked if R saw the second thoughts of the British newspapers. Sec told R what he was going to say. R said we are absolutely unsuccessful in selling something that goes under the name of gas; we have a significant eroding away of third country support for this effort; R told of Japanese reaction. Sec said he did not think he should say guilty but we will not do it again; we should not be in the dock like a criminal.” (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls)

For text of Rusk’s remarks concerning the gas warfare charge at his news conference on March 24, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pages 845–846.