154. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Mike Mansfield1

[Here follows discussion of several topics, including Vietnam and Senator Dirksen.]

LBJ: What do you think about Vietnam?

MM: Well, Iʼm not happy about it any more than you are.

LBJ: No. Nobody is.

MM: I was a little bit disturbed by Lodgeʼs first paragraph in his weekly report2 to you about heavier bombing which I assumed meant the Haiphong-Hanoi complex or was leading up to it. I think it would be a serious mistake because those places have been evacuated to a degree except for industrial needs so there wonʼt be much damage hurt. But youʼve got Giap with his 320,000–330,000 man army waiting and if you knocked him out of there heʼd say, “What the hell. Weʼve got nothing to lose. Letʼs go.” And they wonʼt come down in divisional strength. Theyʼll just disperse those divisions into guerrilla units, and it will be awfully hard for us to maintain the ratio needed. As far as petroleum is concerned, I donʼt think it plays a hell of a lot in the life of the Viet Cong, or the Vietnamese rather. As far as mining or blockading Haiphong Harbor is concerned, youʼve got more stuff going out of Haiphong than going in. Very little is coming in at Haiphong. The ships have been reduced considerably. What British ships are left are usually under Hong Kong registry and are struck maybe under the ownership of the Communists. You run up against other nations and here the situation is already difficult; you make it more difficult. Itʼs just a hell of a can of worms. If you really go at ʼem, this could turn into an open-ended war and other countries would begin to criticize us more than they are at the present.

LBJ: I think that nearly everybody—well, theyʼre not gonna mine anything and theyʼre not gonna bomb any industrial complex. What theyʼre gonna try to do is take out the POLs. They find the petroleum supply is almost double what it was last year—their needs are; and their supplies are stored there. And theyʼre trying to get rid of that storage and disperse it. And theyʼre scattering it around where we canʼt get to it with the individual bombs. Theyʼre puttinʼ it underground and puttinʼ it in concrete and they wonʼt take it out before itʼs all gone. And theyʼre just [Page 418] about to walk out on it. They think itʼs a tragic mistake not to destroy that petroleum thatʼs supplying ten thousand trucks that are coming down now. Itʼs in the edge. Itʼs kinda like Mt. Vernon, Alexandria, Arlington, and Washington, DC I seem to be the only one thatʼs afraid that theyʼll hit the United States Capitol or hit a hospital or hit a school or something. They donʼt think so. But I see so many of these airplanes that get off all the time—like this B–70 thing. They just constantly make mistakes.

MM: Yes. And you donʼt know when these planes will fly over to China—two or three or four already.

LBJ: Oh, they do that. They do that. They do that. I donʼt think thatʼll be a problem here, but just as they do get off over there theyʼre liable to get off here. And if they get off one little inch here you could drop a bomb on a school or on a hospital and thatʼs quite different from the oil. Now, the experts say that the oil is not going to infuriate or inflame them more than the bridges that weʼre taking out running to China now. That is about as big a needle as we can put in them, what weʼre doing now. But the oil is so much more important because they gotta have it for their trucks—and then now, weʼve got their light plant knocked out and they knocked out one of ours yesterday, too—that weʼve got to take out the oil. Now we just keep delaying these decisions for various reasons. Itʼs somebody going on a mission. This time Rusk is in Brussels—you canʼt do it. When you get back weʼve got another fellow going to Hanoi. And things of that kind that itʼs pretty hard to do this while this is going on ‘cause theyʼll say that you do it. But the military and the fellows out there, Westmoreland, just feel like that youʼre just lettin’ ʼem shoot our men unnecessarily. That you ought to stop this—you ought to make it as difficult—we canʼt stop it, but make it as difficult for them to get supplies as possible or you oughtʼn to be in there. And thatʼs another thing. None of them think you can get out this year. They all think that while they just—the casualties are hell, like hell. They killed several hundred yesterday in one raid. We just give ʼem a mopping up every time we meet ʼem. They nevertheless think that weʼre gonna be there all year.

MM: Well, I think so. I wish it was only for just a year, Mr. President, but Iʼm afraid it may be longer unless thereʼs a break somewhere in between.

[Here follows a brief discussion of peace negotiations.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation between Johnson and Mansfield, Tape F66.16, Side B, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared by the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. Document 153.