16. Editorial Note

On June 23, 1965, President Johnson met in the White House at 5:50 p.m. with his senior advisers to discuss Vietnam. See Document 15 for a record of the discussion during the first part of the meeting. According to William Bundy's recollections, based on notes he took at the meeting, the discussion then turned to the question of the policy alternatives that would be open to the administration at the end of the summer. The general feeling, Bundy recorded, was that more forces would be needed. “Alexis Johnson, back from Saigon on consultation, was skeptical: 15 American battalions was a good level-off point, and we must accept that this would be a long war, without shortcuts and with only the grinding proof to the Viet Cong that they could not win. Ball at once chimed in, giving the gist of his argument that we should stop at 100,000 and then think hard—even about plans for cutting our losses and shifting our focus of action in Southeast Asia to Thailand. Rusk and McNamara[Page 41]objected to the last idea: Thailand, they thought, could not be held if SVN had given up. Rather, Rusk said, we would end up with the only secure areas Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and NATO, with even India falling to the Communist Chinese. It was an extreme statement, and my notes show an exclamation point in the margin—and a note to myself to get an estimate of the consequences of withdrawal from SVN.

“After this exchange, McNamara moved in the opposite direction from Ball. His proposal was a combination of a lot more force, in the South and possibly selectively in the North as well, and a much more intensive negotiating effort than he felt had yet been made. At least, he said, let us show the President what might be done on these two lines, coordinated with each other. He had the ideas on additional forces, and Ball had the ideas on moves toward a settlement; perhaps the two meshed with each other, and were less contradictory than some might suppose.

“The result was at least agreement on the next steps. The President, who had for the most part let the discussion rage around him without injecting his own views, directed McNamara and Ball, with one or two staff men each, to produce studies covering military and political moves over the next three months and beyond. These were to come back in a week, although there was of course no assurance that the issue would then be decided.” (Johnson Library, Papers of William P. Bundy, Chapter 26, pages 22-23)