384. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Former President Eisenhower1
Eisenhower: Well, how’ve you been, Mr. President?
President: I’m doing fine under the circumstances. We’re getting this government off reasonably good. I don’t want them to bother you, but I sure do want to keep you informed, and I told McNamara to see you because I thought it would be good for McNamara. I think that he and General Goodpaster—Goodpaster is just wonderful—but I thought maybe a little touch of you, given your views and philosophizing with this fellow, would be a little helpful.
We’ve got a project we call Buttercup that shows that the South Vietnamese are kind of playing a little bit with the NLF and talking to them about exchanging prisoners and we got some exchanged yesterday for the first time. And then they are talking about how they might talk and this fellow Thieu, most of the people think, I’m not very good at evaluating him, but most of the folks think, Westmoreland and Bunker and them—and incidentally, Mr. President, I think we’ve got the best team we could have, so I just have confidence in them and try to support them—but they think that Thieu is going to be better than [Page 985] Ky. He’s a little more reserved and a little more judicious and a little tougher and maybe not quite so gay and showmanship, you know. And so we are working on that a good deal and I am having a meeting, I just called it now for 11:30, to talk to Rusk and McNamara and them again about releasing some more prisoners. They want some more exchanges. So that is rather encouraging.
Eisenhower: That is.
President: General Bradley just came back. He says …
Eisenhower: From where?
President: From Vietnam. He says they have 12 and 13 year old kids, and the report from Bunker this week shows that one province out of Saigon in the III Corps that’s made up of about 500,000 people, and the Viet Cong have just picked up and evacuated. They just can’t live. They are running out of food and their battalions are splitting up. So all of these little things, and we are afraid to say it because they hit our credibility and if it doesn’t come true why this happens. Bunker is coming in here. If you could sit down with Bunker—do you know Bunker?
Eisenhower: Oh, very well. He was Ambassador when I was President—in India.2
President: Well, he was a Republican businessman in Vermont that made a good deal of money, somebody said, and decided to retire and retired. They started to pull him into the government for every tough assignment and in the Dominican Republic it was impossible, but he went down there with all of those Commies—there were three groups of them: Chinese, Castro, and Soviet—and he whipped them all. And he says that he is bringing this thing through. I’d like for you to see him when he comes back. He’s going to be here in about 10 days.
Eisenhower: Well, I’m going out to California the first of December.
President: I am jealous of you. I want to quit and come out there and play golf myself.
Eisenhower: Well, I’ll tell you, I will be here through November, though.
President: Wonderful, wonderful. Well, if you are and if you can, I’d like to send him over and spend 30 minutes with you.
Eisenhower: Well, I’ll tell you, I get my briefings that I’ve had, I am very much encouraged on the military side of this, and particularly what has pleased me is the increasing percentage of those people that have the courage to go and vote. That shows that they’re getting greater confidence.[Page 986]
President: General, we took us from 1776 to 1789 to get a Constitution in this country, and we had all that Anglo-Saxon heritage and background and freedom. Now these people in 13 months have had 5 elections and we have shoved them and Bunker has shoved them, maybe a little too fast, Westmoreland. But the fact is that they had a higher percentage of their total people voting than we have and they’ve had five elections and they have ratified a Constitution and they’ve elected a House and a Senate and a President and Vice President and I think that is pretty encouraging.
Eisenhower: I do too.3
[Here follows discussion of personal matters and comments on the political situation in South Asia.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Eisenhower, November 4, 1967, 10:05 a.m., Tape F67.14, Side B, PNO 3 and 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.↩
- Bunker was Ambassador to India during the years 1956–1961.↩
- In a briefing for Eisenhower on November 9, Goodpaster told him: “He [Johnson] plans to plead for a ‘common sense’ approach on the war. He thinks that many of the current charges against it are being made out of ignorance.” (Memorandum for the Record, November 9; Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, President Eisenhower (1965–1968) [1 of 2])↩