355. Notes of Meeting1


The President discussed his visit with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.2

Rostow: We need to get him with Reston and Joe Kraft.3

Helms: He would be good.

The President: He is vulnerable on Senator Jackson’s4 question on how many troops does he have in Vietnam?

It looks as though the news is all bad.

The President then read a memorandum about a large group of protesters in Oakland, California. The President also read a Situation Room report which showed in a battle late yesterday that 58 U.S. men were killed in Operation Shenandoah.5

General Wheeler: The battalion had about 100 casualties out of a battalion of 900. Of course, the battalion is still operational.

The President: They really worked on our planes yesterday, didn’t they?

Secretary McNamara: Yes, they hit three of four. I think they were lucky hits rather than any refinements in their anti-aircraft defenses.

The President: Well, let’s have it analyzed so we will know what to say.

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What did you think of the McCarthy speech?6

Secretary Rusk: It was a confused statement. I resent the “yellow peril” junk.

The President: I thought your press conference was excellent, Dean.7

Secretary Rusk: I have a problem with the Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright asked me to come again for a public session. I do not like them saying that I am scared of them. That doesn’t set well down in Cherokee county.

I think the appearance in 1966 was a plus, but I do not want seven hours of public debate. What is your judgment?

The President: I haven’t talked to anybody who didn’t think your press conference was the best you have ever had. Prime Minister Lee told me that today.

The Committee is entitled to a report and a response to their questions on our national interest. I do not think you need to have it televised. I resent that they did not carry your press conference on television.

Secretary Rusk: They wanted me to tell them in advance that I was about to announce a major new policy on Vietnam before they would carry it live.

The President: Well, I would go to the hearings and hit them hard and solid. I applaud your raising your voice. You speak for a lot of people, including 500,000 men out there who can’t speak for themselves.

Secretary Rusk: The response from young people has been overwhelming. I’ve had a number of them ask for my autograph, and there have been many letters including one from Abe Fortas.

The President: Lee said the great mistake in Vietnam was not made in 1965 but was made in 1961.

[Here follows discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

The President: What is the current feeling about Pennsylvania?

Secretary Rusk: There has been nothing back from Hanoi. We should get M and A to agree that we have had nothing back.

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Secretary McNamara: I think we should keep our option of making this whole sequence of events public.

The President: I agree. We should let Secretary Rusk disclose it under strong questioning.

We should make the record clear that we said we would stop the bombing for productive discussions. They said no.

I think we should let our folks know that we have tried. We quit bombing August 22 inside the 10-mile perimeter of Hanoi. It has been two months.

Secretary Rusk: There is a difference here between stating the substance of what took place and identifying the individuals.

The President: I would not identify the individuals. I would say that we had outside, fresh new professorial minds at work on this.

Secretary McNamara: If you are not going to have a pause, let’s make as much of this as we can.

The President: I would say it at executive session. It will take about two days for it to leak. After it does, we will be prepared to completely handle it.

Secretary McNamara: It would be good to have a white paper on this whole episode.

The President: Yes, we should say that we had good outside help. We have to have something to carry us in this country. Every hawk and every dove and every general seems to be against us.

Buz, your generals almost destroyed us with their testimony before the Stennis Committee. We were murdered on the Hearings.8

The President then discussed a credibility analysis which he received last night.

The President then asked how long we should wait on Pennsylvania.

Secretary Rusk: We should wait at least until Friday.9

Activity on Phuc Yen is high. The Joint Chiefs are anxious to get it out of the way. I would include it as part of the 10-mile perimeter and do nothing before Friday.

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General Wheeler: We lost three aircraft to MIGs. We’ve taken out other air fields. We recommend Phuc Yen, the Hanoi bridges and canals and the Hanoi thermal power plant.10

The President: None of this can be hit until after we finish up on Friday.

Secretary Rusk: I am not for a big fireworks display. Some people have advised me that it would take a hundred aircraft on Phuc Yen.

Secretary McNamara: What is scheduled is for four groups of 24 attack aircraft each.

Secretary Rusk: I am running out of gas on this.

The President: We will open up the whole thing on Friday.

[Here follows discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

The President ended the discussions with a review of his talks with Prime Minister Lee. Lee told the President that Singapore would be the first to go down the China chute if the U.S. gets out of Vietnam.

The President said he told Lee he intended to stay but the opposition in this country was steadily mounting.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. The President received Lee in the Oval Office in the afternoon and again at dinner. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  3. James Reston and Joseph Kraft were nationally syndicated columnists.
  4. Senator Henry Jackson (D–WA).
  5. The memorandum and situation report are not further identified. Operation Shenandoah was an effort to clear the VC from Phuoc Thuy Province.
  6. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D–MN) asserted that Rusk was obfuscating by injecting the issue of a “yellow peril” into the debate over Vietnam. See The New York Times, October 17, 1967.
  7. In his October 12 press conference Rusk described Vietnam as vital to U.S. security. In addition, he discussed continued efforts by the U.S. Government to seek peace in Vietnam and described the September 29 San Antonio statement by the President as “an essentially reasonable and fair proposal for anyone who is interested in peace.” See Department of State Bulletin, October 30, 1967, pp. 555–564.
  8. See footnote 4, Document 287.
  9. October 20.
  10. In response to a September 12 request from the President for recommendations on the air war, the JCS submitted JCSM-555–67 on October 17, which recommended 10 new military measures against the DRV. See footnote 12, Document 357. On October 23 the President authorized a one-time attack on the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant as well as the specified targets in the Hanoi prohibited area, including two major bridges and the Phuc Yen and Gia Lam airbases. See Document 363.