166. Memorandum From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson 1


  • Two Meetings on Viet Nam with Democratic Members of the Senate

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 effort;
There is no sentiment among the Members for an immediate withdrawal;
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

[Page 465]



The following Senators attended:

  • Russell (Ga.)
  • Ellender
  • Eastland
  • McClellan
  • Magnuson
  • Fulbright
  • Robertson
  • Long (La.)
  • Anderson
  • Yarborough
  • Jackson
  • Bible
  • Jordan
  • Randolph
  • Inouye
  • Pastore
  • 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 conference table.
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 increase.
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 Nam.

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 in negotiations.
Improvement in relations with Eastern Europe is stymied by the Vietnamese war.

D. Suggestions

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 out.
The question is not to stay in or get out but how to get out.
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 neutralism.
The President should get his advice from the Armed Services.
The President should call groups of Senators together and tell Rusk and McNamara to be quiet while they talked.
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 there.
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 Administration.
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 over-stated.
Viet Nam is worse than Korea and remember what Eisenhower did with the latter.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Senator Mansfield. No classification marking.
  2. Attached, but only the summary of the first meeting is printed.
  3. Attached. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. III, pp. 270278.