266. Letter From Senator Mike Mansfield to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

In spite of your repeated efforts and those of Arthur Goldberg and others, a way to open the door to negotiations on Viet Nam has yet to be found. With the passing of time, I am afraid that the options are growing fewer and that we are beginning to run out of alternatives.

It would be my hope, as I know it is yours, that we lose neither the desire nor the will to continue to try to bring about an honorable conference. In my judgment, the negotiation of a just and mutually acceptable settlement in the near future is the one possible way to end this war in accord with the interests of the United States. The alternative of looking for a way out by continuing to raise the military ante gets us in deeper all the time, with no terminus in sight. In the end, we are likely to wind up either in war with China, or all of Viet Nam (if not all of Southeast Asia) will be so devastated and depopulated by protracted conflict that the great delta areas of that vast region may become once again, as in the remote past, “natural” areas for colonization by the surplus rice farmers of China.

So I would say, with all due respect, that we should go to very great lengths to try at once to reduce the intensity of the struggle, both from the point of view of checking the rising cost in lives and resources, and as a possible prelude to negotiations. We should do so, not out of fear of the Viet Cong—the war is far more miserable for them than it is for us—and they know it. We should do so, not because we lack the means or will to stay with this conflict—we have both for as long as it is necessary and useful, and the world knows it. We should do so, rather, because a prompt settlement is the best, if not the only way, to serve our interests and those of the people of Viet Nam whom we set out to help in the first place.

On the basis of this view, I would respectfully suggest that the following points be considered for incorporation into existing efforts to bring about negotiations:

We should be prepared to terminate the bombing of North Viet Nam abruptly, without indicating whether it is permanent or temporary, but in the expectation that it will help to open negotiations in any reasonable forum, whether it is Geneva, the U.N., and Asian conference, or some other.
We should be prepared for an immediate and reciprocal “hold-fire” (“fire only if fired upon”) in South Viet Nam, to be succeeded by a [Page 725] firm “cease-fire” and “stand-fast,” as soon as the conditions thereof can be agreed upon in negotiations.
We should be prepared for a token and unilateral withdrawal of 30,000 U.S. forces, to be completed during the first week or ten days of negotiations, and we should be prepared to work out a time-table for joint and total withdrawals of all forces alien to South Viet Nam as part of a settlement by negotiations.
We should be prepared for the full participation of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front in all negotiations, with the understanding that they can be represented separately or together with Hanoi, as they choose, along with the Saigon military government.

If these points seems useful in your judgment, I would suggest, further that U Thant be enlisted, in his diplomatic capacity, to convey their content, as he sees fit, to the Hanoi government. If, for some reason, his services cannot be effectively used at this time, other routes such as Rangoon, Paris, or the Vatican or even a direct U.S. approach to Hanoi might be considered. However, these would be of considerably less utility, in my opinion, than the mediation of U Thant, with whom I am sure, on the basis of your New York meeting, you have a closer rapport.

In writing you, I have advanced what I hope are helpful suggestions for you to use or discard as you see fit. Some of them you may have already considered, because all of them, in my opinion, fit in with public statements of our position which you have made in the past.

While a military victory against us is impossible, our national interests seem to me to require of us that we seek a restoration of peace at the earliest possible time. The approach suggested above is not “tuck tail and run.” Rather, it is proposed in the hope that it will be useful in producing bona fide negotiations which will accord with our interests, the needs of the Vietnamese people, and the hope and expectations of the world.


Mike Mansfield
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 15. No classification marking.