89. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

[Here follow opening comments.]

LBJ: Whatʼs happening in Vietnam?

RSM: Oh, I think weʼre getting along pretty well. I havenʼt actually checked up this morning. I did yesterday and we were getting along [Page 273] pretty well. This big engagement is very favorable to us. And I keep my fingers crossed but actually the progress is better than I thought it would be at this time. Weʼre engaging more Viet Cong and the fatalities are Viet Cong.

LBJ: Looks like weʼre killing a thousand. How many does North Vietnam have? 250,000?

RSM: They have about 250,000 in their regular force, but they also have an ability to expand that very substantially—I was going to say from reserves; theyʼre not really reserves—to mobilize additional manpower. But, as I said, weʼre killing more VC than I thought we would at this time.

LBJ: Now, Bob, you sure youʼre shooting ʼem as fast as they can take ʼem, just as quick as we can get ʼem out there?

RSM: Absolutely. Iʼm just sitting here right now with Cy [Vance] and thatʼs exactly what weʼre working on.

LBJ: Well, ask each one of your services now, quit belly-aching and do it now or for[ever] hold your peace. Because thereʼll be times here when we want to say stop, look, and listen.

RSM: I know that. I know that.

LBJ: And letʼs get some more men in there, if we can, right now. I think itʼs a good psychological time to get ʼem in.

RSM: I completely agree with you and thatʼs just exactly what weʼre doing, Mr. President. Weʼre just going to send out another instruction today in writing to be absolutely sure that this is clear because theyʼre conjuring up all kinds of problems that stand in the way of meeting the manpower requirements out there and thereʼs a tendency to hold back on some unless youʼre sure you can send all. But our instructions are very clear. Weʼve made it personally and in writing that we want to accelerate in every way the movement of men there. Again, Iʼll call ʼem myself personally today.

LBJ: And then make also this notation, do everything we can to cut some lead time off the Australians and Koreans any way in the world we can, because thatʼll help us if they are in there when youʼre gettinʼ these big bills through up here along the middle of the year. If theyʼve moved, itʼll be some help.

[Here follows a brief discussion of Senator William Fulbright.]

LBJ: Have you ever got settled down on your reserve policy yet? Are they still—?

RSM: Reserve and Guard reorganization?

LBJ: No, on reserve—

RSM: Oh, call up the reserves? Well, weʼre still fighting the battle on that.

[Page 274]

LBJ: See you announced that you donʼt have to, but have you got them to where theyʼre not agitating you on it?

RSM: No, no. But everyday weʼre getting a little stronger in our opposition to those that want to call up the reserves. And this is just exactly what weʼre working on now, right in my office at the moment. And I, myself, am convinced, Mr. President, that we will not have to call up the reserves to support some 350,000 or so strength in South Vietnam. And I donʼt think weʼll get much above 350,000 before the end of this year. So my view is we wonʼt have to call up the reserves before the end of this year.

[Here follows a short discussion of briefings of the President and the public by military personnel from Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation between Johnson and McNamara, Tape F66.12, Side A, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared by the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.