176. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Reflections on Omaha and Los Angeles

What struck me about the Governors was their honest eagerness to hear the facts and to hear what we think and why.

It is clear that even these mature and able men have not gotten a clear picture of all the elements in our policy and how they fit together.

It is also clear, talking with people out here, that your Omaha speech2 was a personal breakthrough, against the background of your decision to go for POL.

I recommend, therefore, that we organize a campaign to drive home each of the themes of the Omaha speech:

  • —We are fighting aggression; we are confident (not optimistic: we donʼt want to promise too much, too soon); we shall persist; we shall succeed.
  • —We are proud of our skillful, brave, compassionate men fighting in Viet Nam; and we shall back them to the hilt.
  • —There is a vital Free Asia emerging behind our defense of Viet Nam. (Several governors came up afterwards to tell me this was new, exciting, hopeful.)
  • —There is a vital, modern South Viet Nam emerging. (The Honolulu program is slowly gaining credibility. We donʼt want to over-sell it; but I found by talking about how Korea emerged after 1961 I could make them see why it was possible.)
  • —Peace. Why we believe that there is a fair prospect of a relatively tranquil era ahead if we see it through in Viet Nam, but only trouble and more war if we bug out.
  • —Food and Development. This is the real war for all to fight. (At some stage you should consider a statement like that I got into President Eisenhowerʼs April 1953 speech after Stalinʼs death:3 you are prepared to recommend to the Congress that we put a proportion of what we save in [Page 492] military expenditures, when the war in Viet Nam ends, into increased development assistance. This would put extra pressure from developing nations on Hanoi and Peiping.)

These six Omaha themes must be repeated until every newspaper in the country knows them; every knowledgeable citizen; every commentator.

Repetition is the heart of both politics and teaching.

You should consider a series of talks in which you refer briefly to them all and then elaborate one of them at length.

Secretaries Rusk and McNamara should do the same.

And all our other foreign policy spokesmen should follow suit.

You may wish to send a memorandum to this effect to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara.4

In short, I believe the POL bombing and Omaha have caught the nationʼs attention. Our people sense new determination; new ideas; new hope.

Now, in a quite systematic way, we must drive the lesson home.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 8. Confidential. Drafted by Rostow en route by airplane from Los Angeles, where he had attended the Governors Conference, to Washington, and transmitted from the White House to the President in Texas at 6:21 p.m.
  2. The President spoke at Omaha on June 30. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 679–685.
  3. “The Chance for Peace,” delivered before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953. For text, see ibid.: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 179–188.
  4. In a July 8 memorandum to Rusk and McNamara, Rostow indicated that the President wanted the “six themes, developed in his Omaha speech, elaborated and driven home systematically in speeches and statements made by members of the Departments of State and Defense on Vietnam.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)