386. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant (Jones) to President Johnson1


  • Luncheon meeting with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, Walt Rostow, CIA Director Richard Helms, George Christian and Jim Jones.

Meeting convened at 2:20 p.m., Saturday, November 4, 1967

Meeting adjourned at 3:55 p.m.

[Here follows discussion of the Middle East, consideration of Deputy Ambassador Eugene Locke for the post of Ambassador to the Philippines, and crime in the District of Columbia.]

The President asked that Rusk and Wheeler and Helms and McNamara put together a high level task force to make a campaign pamphlet of three pages answering all the questions on Vietnam, such as stopping the bombing and negotiations. The President said to get the ten most asked questions and get them answered so that all a person has to do is make a speech from the pamphlet.

The group adjourned for lunch and the President opened the luncheon conversation by asking about Buttercup response. “Are both Bunker and Westmoreland coming back?” the President asked.

McNamara replied that Bunker would be leaving on November 9 and Westmoreland on November 15.

On Buttercup, Rusk said that Bunker is inclined to release several of the Viet Cong before they agree to release the Americans.

The President said I am inclined to agree, at least let the first five or six go. The President said that he does not like to override his man in the field (Bunker) nor does he like to see McNamara and Rusk override him any more than McNamara or Rusk like to be overridden by the President.

Rusk said “You’ve got to make arrangements with the other side. Bunker can tell the other people you are ready to release …”

The President then read the cable2 and reiterated that he does not believe we should overrule Bunker’s recommendation.

Rusk said it would be alright if we could add the following “after taking fully into account our observations back here.”

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The President asked how we are going to do a better job of winning the war in the South. He asked if we could not have a military government put in the provinces and make them city managers like Tom Fletcher is in the District of Columbia. The President said “we’ve been on dead center for the last year.” The President also wondered whether the bombing of the small tire factories, steel mills and airfields are “worth all the hell we are catching here.” The President thought perhaps we should get into a position where we could strike and restrike. He pointed out that it’s very possible that we could get a no confidence vote any day now.

“Gallup and Harris say anyone could beat us. Gallup takes these polls a month old, jiggles them a little, and makes it look that way and the public believes them,” the President said. The President mentioned that Senators Hartke, Fulbright and McCarthy are going to all the colleges and stirring up problems and we are not answering them. He pointed out that Princeton got a resolution just yesterday.

The President turned his attention to the troubles at home and said “I’m not going to let the Communists take this government and they’re doing it right now.” The President pointed out that he has been protecting civil liberties since he was nine years old, but “I told the Attorney General that I am not going to let 200,000 of these people ruin everything for the 200 million Americans. I’ve got my belly full of seeing these people put on a Communist plane and shipped all over this country. I want someone to carefully look at who leaves this country, where they go, why they are going, and if they’re going to Hanoi, how are we going to keep them from getting back into this country.”

Dick Helms said under the laws today you cannot prosecute anybody for anything.

The President said that the Leadership of Congress told him Monday at their weekly meeting3 that they would give the President anything he wants. “In fact, they are trying to give me an anti-riot bill which I do not want.” The President said he talked to General Eisenhower today.4 “I think you (Eisenhower) would be good for Secretary McNamara, and McNamara would be good for you. I told him that I would give him anything he wants in the way of a map room, intelligence briefings or whatever to keep him informed. General Goodpastor is doing a reasonably good job with him or he would not be with us,” the President said.

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The President said we should emphasize that there are no deep divisions among the Joint Chiefs and the other advisers, and he said that’s one of the reasons why he has not picked a Marine Commandant yet. “I’m going to take that man’s blood pressure and make sure he’s loyal. It doesn’t do any good to win the fighting over there (Vietnam) and lose it over here. We’ve got to get our story told,” the President said.

The President said he wants to make a tour on November 10 and 11 of military installations throughout the country so that he can salute the men “who keep me free.” The President said that Eisenhower told him that we have forgotten what it means to be patriotic. The President said we need to get some of our secondary men like Kohler and Nitze, etc. to go out and speak and get our story across.

Secretary Rusk said concerning Vietnam, that if they are ready to have private talks without stopping the bombing, we should follow through. He said some encouraging signs have been heard this week by the Communists and Kosygin who are beginning to draw the line between Hanoi and the NLF. Rusk admitted however, that he does not think Moscow, nor for that matter Peking, has enough horsepower to deliver Hanoi.

The President asked if someone could talk to Thieu and get the corruption cleaned up. The President also said we are mishandling our information from Vietnam. He said Sigard Larmon has just come back from Vietnam and he is violently upset with the way the press is handling the situation there.

General Wheeler said that he sent Westmoreland a cable5 and asked him if he could find some way to preclude the press from flying on these combat missions.

The President said that all we have to do is to read what we’ve done in World War I and II and the Korean War concerning the information problem. He pointed out that we have not dealt with censorship at all. “Perhaps we should send three good editors out there to take a look at the situation and make some recommendations on how we can handle this better. Perhaps we could send Bill Stevens of the Chicago Sun-Times and Palmer Hoyt and maybe Hedley Donovan from the east coast,” the President said.

[Here follows discussion of U.S.-Japanese relations.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Meeting Notes File, Folder #5. No classification marking.
  2. Document 383.
  3. The meeting with the Congressional leaders actually took place on Tuesday, October 31, 5:40–6:45 p.m. In attendance were Congressmen Albert, Moss, and McCormack, and Senators Mansfield, Long, and Byrd, as well as Postmaster General O’Brien. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found.
  4. See Document 384.
  5. Not further identified.