352. Memorandum From the President’s Special Counsel (McPherson) to President Johnson 1

I have been thinking about how to present our Vietnam case more convincingly. Bob McNamara thinks he and Secretary Rusk have pretty much lost their credibility on the subject, and I’m afraid I agree. I think you can reach the people with arguments such as you presented at San Antonio, but the question is, how often can you speak on the subject?

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Often—if the format is right. Big speeches before big audiences have occasional value, primarily for the applause that signals agreement, but

  • —people accustomed to the conversational tone of TV tend to “turn off” when conventional crowd-rhetoric begins, and
  • —big speeches require big climaxes—hard sells—that make the home TV listener uneasy.

I believe you should consider this kind of format:

A regular—either monthly or bi-monthly—television report to the people.
You would speak first, for five or ten minutes. Then you would introduce Ellsworth Bunker, and then General Westmoreland, who would each give a five-minute report: Bunker on political progress, Westmoreland on military progress. Occasionally this could be varied to include a soldier’s report of a combat operation, or a civilian pacification worker’s report of a village operation, or a doctor, etc.
The purpose would be to “de-politicize” your reports on Vietnam—to make you more of a commander-in-chief, and less of a beleaguered political figure trying to defend what is happening.
If it is begun now, it will be a natural event by the Fall of 1968, and hence not subject to charges of “politics.”
Bunker’s and Westmoreland’s reports would be filmed in Saigon, and flown here. Both theirs and yours should take a candid line, albeit hopeful. They should point out set-backs, incompleted actions, etc., as well as demonstrable progress. They must not be “snow-jobs”, or people won’t listen.

Do you think this is worth exploring?2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Office Files of Harry McPherson, Memoranda for the President, 1967. No classification marking.
  2. The President checked the “yes” option. At the President’s request, both Westmoreland and Bunker returned to the United States in mid-November for a series of public relations appearances.