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

McNamara: Uh, yes, I did, at least I read what the wire said it was. I didn’t read the …

[Page 168]

President: What is it—just hold out a little hope that’s not there?

McNamara: Yeah, well it …

President: I told Walt to tell the British that this could get up false hopes, and that if we were going to be partners in this thing, he had to constantly remember that for 3 months now we had no reply from Hanoi, and I didn’t know anybody that ever quoted Hanoi on anything, and how in the hell could he say that you can have peace with somebody that never has even answered you?

McNamara: Yeah. Well, I think its extremely important that you not be put in the position of torpedoing peace again. And this is just exactly what Wilson would try to do to bring glory to himself. He had it all made, and you screwed it up. I wouldn’t put it that vulgarly, but that’s about the air he would give the whole thing. And then he would go on to say, “Of course, if peace ever comes, it will really be because of my efforts and my ability to finally pound some sense into the head of the Americans.” Now I think we have to be prepared to counter that. The first thing to do is just what you have done—have them call—tell—David Bruce to turn that off. The second thing to do is to have a good contingency story here. I talked to Walt after I talked to you and he said he would prepare one. I also called Nick [Katzenbach] and asked him to work on it as well. And I’ll put this out right away.2

President: Right.

McNamara: Bye.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, February 13, 1967, 12:31 p.m., Tape F67.06, Side A, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. George Christian read the following statement by the President during his news conference at 4:15 p.m. that day: “It had been our hope that the truce periods connected with Christmas, New Year, and Tet might lead to some abatement of hostilities and to moves toward peace. Unfortunately the only response we had from the Hanoi government was to use the periods for major resupply efforts of their troops in South Vietnam. Despite our efforts and those of third parties, no other response has yet come from Hanoi. Under these circumstances, in fairness to our own troops and those of our allies, we had no alternative but to resume full scale hostilities after the cease-fire. But the door to peace is and will remain open and we are prepared at any time to go more than halfway to meet any equitable overture from the other side.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, p. 178)