240. Editorial Note

During a telephone conversation on Vietnam with President Johnson that began at 5:30 p.m. on September 19, 1966, Secretary of Defense McNamara made the following comments:

“What Iʼm much more concerned about, Mr. President, is what we should be doing on the bombing, and the force levels, and our whole position out there. Once you have time I want to talk to you further about it. I myself am more and more convinced that we ought definitely to plan on termination of the bombing in the north but not until after the election, and I hate to even talk about it before then for fear of a leak.”

Following an unintelligible interjection by the President, McNamara continued:

“So I havenʼt said anything in this building yet, but I just wanted to exchange some views with you when you had time on it. And I think also that we ought to be planning as I mentioned before on a ceiling on our force levels. I donʼt think we ought to just look ahead to the future and say weʼre going to go higher and higher and higher and higher—600,000, 700,000, whatever it takes. It will break the economy of that country and will substitute U.S. soldiers for South Vietnamese and will distort the whole pattern of conduct in South Vietnam if we do. We ought now to be planning on the ceiling of our forces. I would think they ought to be somewhere around—somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 ought to be the ceiling; and after the election we ought to tell that to our military commanders to get their planning on it.”

The President did not respond to McNamaraʼs comments prior to concluding the conversation. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Telephone Conversation between Johnson and McNamara, Tape F66.25, Side A, PNO 1)