166. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson1
- Two Meetings on Viet Nam with Democratic Members of the
On June 28, I met with two groups of Democratic Senators to consider the
question of Viet Nam. Participants in the first meeting were Committee
Chairmen or their designees. Those attending the second meeting were
drawn from the bottom of the seniority list of Democrats in the Senate,
in order and as available.
The meetings were held on a confidential basis. Completely free
discussion was encouraged. Members were asked to speak out on whatever
aspects of the Vietnamese question were on their minds.
There was no attempt to obtain a consensus. What was sought rather was a
free flow of the concerns, ideas and attitudes of the older and the
younger Democrats in the Senate. Yet, in the general outpouring of
thought, there were several points so constantly reiterated and so
unchallenged as to suggest areas of very heavy agreement. They may be
stated as follows:
- There is general support for you among the Members in your
overwhelming responsibilities as President;
- The prompt end of the war is seen as most essential and there
is confusion and deep concern that we have not yet found the way
to end it, either by extension or contraction of the military
- There is no sentiment among the Members for an immediate
- There is a strong conviction that candidates of the Democratic
Party will be hurt by the war.
Enclosed are brief summaries of the various lines of thought and ideas
which were expressed at the two meetings on yesterday.2
There is also attached herewith a copy of a memorandum which was sent to
you after a similar discussion on Viet Nam among a group of Senators
from both parties which took place a year ago.3
June 28, 1966, 12:30 p.m.
DISCUSSION OF VIET NAM BY COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN OR
The following Senators attended:
- Russell (Ga.)
- Long (La.)
- Williams (N.J.)
Summary of Principal Lines of Thought and Ideas Expressed
A. General Comment
- We may have gone too far in trying to obtain negotiations last
year, even though we want the matter settled honorably at a
- We ought not to withdraw unilaterally, but we are in a fix,
and it is not clear how we are going to get out of it.
- To get out in present circumstances would be very destructive
of our stature in the world.
B. The War and Policies
- We already have 400,000 men in the area and the cost will soon
reach $2 billion a month.
- Unless stable government can be had, the war is not going to
be won, and the pressure to pull out altogether will
- Stability of government in Saigon cannot be expected soon, and
we make a mistake by emphasizing it. Any government there is
going to be a “puppet” for the present. What is involved here is
that “this is Communismʼs last stand” and the problem is to hit
the Communists harder while giving whatever puppet government we
have in Saigon the economic support it needs.
- The only moral reason we have for being in Viet Nam is the
contention that the South Vietnamese people want us there but
have we tried [Page 466] to find
out whether this is really so or not—whether, in fact, the
people want us?
- The Secretary of Stateʼs theory of the conflict has been that
we are facing an aggression pure and simple; it is a wrong
theory. We face, in fact, a situation not too different than
that faced by the French.
- Recent broadcasts by Eric Sevareid and Bill Lawrence have been
very revealing and suggest we have not, heretofore, been getting
a complete and accurate picture of what is happening in Viet
C. Other Nations, International
Organizations and the War
- Beyond Viet Nam, the problem is the containment of China. The
Chinese, however, are not likely to become active participants
unless we put forces into North Viet Nam.
- The only major country supporting us is Britain which is
totally dependent on us.
- Most friendly countries are concerned by our preoccupation
with and entrapment in Viet Nam.
- Although the Australians will stand with us, there are
indications that they want us to get out.
- The U.N. does not want in, in
this situation. It may be that the Geneva group can be helpful
- Improvement in relations with Eastern Europe is stymied by the
- If we cannot get a stable government, we should agree to
elections and get out as best we can; and sooner rather than
later, because it is a very expensive war. It is not
dishonorable to have a conference and get out.
- We must think of our prestige and honor even if the area is
not vital in a geographic sense.
- The Communists are seeking to protract the war in the hopes of
U.S. impatience; we must contract the protraction or get
- The question is not to stay in or get out but how to get
- Increased military pressure is necessary. If we back off in
Viet Nam, the U.S. public will support no President in any
effort to save any part of Southeast Asia.
- It may not be possible to settle the war by negotiations; both
sides would save face if the war just peters out.
- The bigger the war is expanded, the more it is going to be
lengthened; a quick ending by expansion is a fallacy.
- The way to get negotiations is by calling for a cease-fire and
- The President should get his advice from the Armed
- The President should call groups of Senators together and tell
Rusk and McNamara to be quiet while
- Is there not some way in which the U.N. can be brought in?
E. Political Implications
- The Democratic Party is badly hurt by the war even though
individually some Democrats may not be troubled.
- If war drags on, the Party will suffer badly. People want a
decision, by a step-up of the war; they are not interested in
casualties. Indeed, it might be a good idea to stop televising
what is going on over there.
- The people are following the President but not with
enthusiasm, in part, because they do not understand the
importance of the war. There is a lot of worry over why we are
- It is not a major war, but its consequences are being felt by
many families in the nation.
- The war is hampering domestic programs of
- Democrats are badly split in West Virginia; the matter is not
an issue in Virginia; the political difficulties among Democrats
in New Jersey over the war, as recently reported in the New York Times, were vastly
- Viet Nam is worse than Korea and remember what Eisenhower did
with the latter.