280. Notes of Meeting1

Meeting of the President with Thieu and Ky (Republic of Vietnam)


  • Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu; Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky; Dep. Prime Minister Co; Foreign Minister Tran Van Do; Secy of State for Foreign Affairs, Bui Diem; Amb. LamGVN Amb. to the Philippines

The meeting opened with Thieu asking if the President were tired. The President replied that he missed his naps, but was feeling fine. He added, “I donʼt have as many or as burdensome problems as some of my colleagues.” He then went on to congratulate Ky and Thieu on the success of the election. He said that when Ky had come out in public with a prediction of 60–70% of the registered voters voting—and he thought of our 40%—his thought was, “What the hell are we both going to do when we only fetch up with 25%?”

Ky replied that Ho thought the same, and thatʼs why he is still fighting. (This thought still remains somewhat obscure to me. WWR)

The President reported that an Australian politician dealing with Labor Party attacks on Holtʼs phrase, “All the way with LBJ” came up with the slogan, “Better all the way with LBJ than half a win with Ho Chi Minh.”

The President then asked General Westmoreland how the Australians were doing in combat. He reported they were fine: two strong battalions, two batteries, one manned by the New Zealanders. They were excellent troops. The President then resumed by saying that Honolulu was a much better conference than we were given credit for. It was a big blow to Hanoi. The press systematically misinterpreted it. “Both of us,” the President said to Ky, “must be careful not to let the press bait us.”

The President said our task at this conference was to make it clear that it was not just the “imperialist” Johnson and Generals Thieu and Ky who were running this war, but seven nations were engaged because it was in their interest. We must indicate that we are ready to negotiate on [Page 771] the basis of reason, but we must give no grounds in Hanoi for illusion that weʼre going to give up, or that they can win the job in Washington as they once won it in Paris. The people of the world should get a picture of reasonable people ready to take steps towards peace when the other side is reasonable.

The President then told Ky that he had an enormous opportunity in his speech the next day.2 “The whole world will listen to your words. It will be much more effective than if you gave the speech in Saigon where it might get lost, the way some of my speeches in Australia were lost.” The Presidentʼs advice was this: lean as far away as you can from the “imperialist” Johnson, from the hard-liner Rusk, and that fellow with stars on his shoulders, Westmoreland. You just hold the Bible in your hand tomorrow. You be a man of good will; love your neighbor; but indicate, of course, that you will not take steps which tie your hands behind your back when they are still shooting.

The President then went on to say that many in the West were prejudiced towards Asia because of ancestry, distance, and color. He told the story of his own position vis-à-vis Hawaii, and how he brought about the entrance of Hawaii as a state, pushing the U.S. 2500 miles out into the Pacific. This was one of the major sources of pride as he looked back over his career—to have overcome within the Congress and among the people of his region the color prejudice which had kept Hawaii out of the Union. Now he wanted to push the interest of the U.S. firmly out into Asia, not 2500 but 10,000 miles.

One doesnʼt enter public service to make money. If one is interested in money one goes into a big corporation. In public service the only satisfaction is what you can do for human beings. It is in Asia that the bodies are—2/3 of humanity. It is there that people die under 40; where illiteracy is high and income is low.

One of the purposes of his trip is to turn the spotlight of the world on this area. It is here where the problems of tomorrow must be faced. The President is prepared to do this, he said, because he sees the emergence of new leaders, new voices, new institutions, like the Asian Development Bank.

With respect to the conference, the President doesnʼt think we should produce new battle plans. They should come from the soldiers. And he quoted Sam Rayburnʼs remark when the President once criticized Eisenhower: “If he doesnʼt know more about military matters than you and me, weʼve wasted a hell of a lot of money on West Point.”

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Nor can we expect peace as a result of the conference. The critically important negotiations are not here. What we can expect is a demonstration that we are united (and we must not let the newspapers pull us apart). We are there to stay as long as it is necessary. We are there in a group. We are willing to reason; we are willing to forgive and to forget; we are willing to live and let live; but we are not going to tie our hands behind our back and let them shoot at us. The President then told Ky and Thieu of his reaction to the demonstrators in New Zealand and Australia; they should talk to Ho, not to Johnson. Theyʼve already sold Johnson on peace. Again the President underlined the importance to Ky and Vietnam of his speech so he could do himself, his cause, and all of us a great deal of good the next day. He advised Ky to go into the causes of war—Asian poverty—and to look forward beyond today to the long future of Vietnam and Asia. The President said that every day he listens for a few hours to television. What makes news is what goes wrong—for example, if some of Westyʼs forces hit our men or friendly Vietnamese by accident.

Here all they can report is what you say. Ky should try to reflect the new emerging Asia, young and fresh with great opportunities as well as great problems, beginning to build institutions like the Asian Development Bank, the Mekong Committee, etc. The President then turned to inflation. Ky replied that they had taken quite effective measures, but the problem was still there. This time they hoped to institute measures in anticipation of the inflationary pressures that might arise as the number of troops from abroad expanded. He said that they would deal with port congestion. Ky, going back to an earlier suggestion of the Presidentʼs, said he would love to talk in a speech about the future of Asia. The President advised him to put out the cold hard facts on life in Asia: the facts about health, and life expectancy, and the state of the children.

The President then asked about the effectiveness of Viet Cong propaganda. Ky said that the people of Vietnam under the colonial and post-colonial governments had no reason for confidence. That is why they listened to the Viet Cong. The worst problem in Vietnam is the problem of corruption.

The President then picked up this theme and asked if there were any steps we can take to find and deal with corruption before his critics got there. There were several Congressional investigations about to go forward in this matter.

Ky said that this was his hardest problem. He said, for example, the port is run by his navy. The police and importers and some politicians make money. He gave orders to the police chief to clean it up. They found one case where a general was supposed to have gotten 40 tons of supplies. He informed the police that they must give him the hard evidence on this. They have not gotten back. Ky said he would struggle against these deeply ingrained forces and habits.

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The President then asked Ky what is in the mind of the Viet Cong—do they expect to win? (there was a thoughtful pause) Ky replied: “No. I donʼt think so. I believe they will very soon collapse—if we can get to them the facts.” He said that Westmoreland had reported to him the other day that half the prisoners captured in Operation Irving3 still thought Diem was running the government in Saigon. We must improve our information, get to the people, give them the facts, enlarge the open arms program. Then they will come back to us. As for the port, aside from corruption, progress is being made. The problem is that commercial importers donʼt pull their cargoes out of the warehouses. They hold them awaiting higher prices. The warehouses are clogged. This slows down the unloading of ships. The shortage is warehouse space. The entrepreneurs exploit the fact that the warehouse storage rates are very low. Therefore they are issuing a decree which will specify that if importers donʼt remove their goods in a certain time, the government will pick them up. They will be moved to military warehouses and confiscated. In the interval, the storage rates will rise with the length of time that the goods are in storage. The President asked Bob Komer what he thought. He said he hoped it would be all right. But there have been lots of decrees. Westmoreland added that if it were enforced, the decree would clear the port. He believed it would be enforced.

The President then asked Westmoreland for his assessment of the military situation. He said that by every index, things were improving. He cited Operation Irving as the biggest success of the war. He also cited the favorable trend of relative casualty figures, defections, weapons losses. Above all, an optimistic spirit was now unmistakable in Vietnam. The ARVN are fighting better and are more aggressive. There was improved outlook for pacification which would become the first task of the ARVN as they were retrained. Improved intelligence from the villages permitted more effective police measures. The President asked if the VC would still seek a major victory in October. Westmoreland thought they would try, but they would not succeed. Substantial forces were gathering in Cambodia, apparently aimed at the Kontum area. General Westmoreland then described operations over the past six months in the DMZ.

The President asked General Westmoreland whether he had enough troops. He said he would certainly need more forces. He would like all the allies fighting in Vietnam to increase their forces at least by 35%. The President turned to Secretary Rusk and remarked that he had his work cut out for him. The President asked if there were any more troops to be generated from South Vietnam. General Westmoreland replied that he envisaged an increase of about 22,000—up 20,000—by the end of 1967, but basically South Vietnam was a country whose manpower [Page 774] for military purposes was being stretched to the maximum. There followed some discussion of the possibilities of individual nations generating more forces—the Philippines and Korea were referred to. General Westmoreland would like to see another Korean division, and expressed the hope that as the Philippines went into action, they would generate a national pride of the kind which took hold in Korea, with the passage of time.4

General Westmoreland said that while there was light at the end of the tunnel, we had to be geared for the long pull. The enemy is relying on his greater staying power. It is only his will and resolve that are sustaining him now, and his faith that his will is stronger than ours.

With respect to bombing, General Westmoreland regarded it as very important. We should in no case unilaterally quit bombing. Infiltration continues. The price of infiltration has definitely been raised. The President suggested that General Westmoreland talk with Secretary Rusk, and instructed Rostow to get a fuller version of General Westmorelandʼs suggestions about the future of the bombing program.5

Returning to the conference and summing up, the President told Thieu and Ky that they should bear in mind the importance of projecting unity. Dissent is fine, and we all are for it; but there is a danger if Hanoi interprets dissent as weakness. It will prolong the war.

The conference will be neither a war nor a peace conference. The central lesson will be that we are all together; that we wonʼt give up until it is over.

The President asked Ky if he had anything to add. Ky said no, except the problem of infiltration. Bombing is good, but the establishment of a base camp and patrols above the 17th parallel could do more. This concept was explored at some length.

The President asked how serious was the Cabinet crisis. Ky replied that it was not serious at all. These men were invited to work in the Cabinet as individuals and technicians. They are not representatives of substantial groups in the country. He can easily find replacements for them. He has spoken to each of them and explained his position. They were all present at the airport at the time of his departure. The Acting Premier is one of the dissidents.

The President was grateful for this information, but noted that it was a considerable problem in the U.S., where people thought of Kyʼs government as a European Cabinet. He asked Ambassador Lodge to talk to the press and explain the distinction.

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The President then asked Tran Van Do if he had anything to add. He said that what Ky said was O.K. with him. He said he had already had a discussion with Secretary Rusk.

The Presidentʼs last word was: Donʼt let the newspapermen divide us.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Asian Trip Memcons. Secret. Drafted by Rostow (identified as WWR in the notes). The meeting was held in the Manila Hotel. Rusk, Lodge, Komer, and Westmoreland attended along with the President. (Ibid., Presidentʼs Daily Diary) President Johnson arrived in Manila about 3 p.m. on October 23. He flew from Washington to Honolulu on October 17 and stopped at American Samoa on his way to New Zealand October 18. (Ibid.) For his itinerary during his Asian trip, see footnote 1, Document 277.
  2. The text of Kyʼs speech is in Department of State, S/S-International Conferences: Lot 67 D 586, Presidentʼs Asian Trip, Oct.–Nov. 1966.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 272.
  4. See Document 286 for Westmorelandʼs report of this discussion.
  5. See the attachment to Document 282.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.