110. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Clark Clifford and Bus Wheeler are against your sending a message to Gen. Westmoreland at this time along the lines of the draft which I forwarded to them.2

There are two major reasons:

  • Clark believes very strongly that we should not now take an optimistic view of the war, but let the facts speak for themselves and hope that in 4 or 5 months things will obviously be better.
  • —He also believes we should not influence Westy in what tactical course of action he should pursue: perhaps pursuing the enemy all out is right; perhaps not. He does not believe the President should get into this.

Quite aside from the message—and addressed more specifically to the report of the backgrounder in Vietnam yesterday—Clark would like to speak with you about our general public stance towards the war, in Presidential and other public statements. He would like to urge great caution about optimism.

Hold message3

Arrange appointment for Clifford

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs N–Z and AA–KK. Secret.
  2. An attached telegram from the President to Westmoreland drafted on March 6 reads: “As you know, we are considering most seriously the suggestions Gen. Wheeler brought back from his trip to Vietnam. In the meanwhile, I wish to tell you how much comfort and inspiration your message to General Wheeler of March 4 brought to me. I was raised by Mr. Rayburn to believe that West Point produced better professional military officers than the halls of Congress. My feeling at this distance is that the enemy has been hurt by the first five weeks of his winter-spring offensive more than our side. Like all great battles, this may be close. But my instinct tells me you are right: every South Vietnamese, U.S. and allied unit—every cook and bottle washer—ought to be inspired in the days ahead with an offensive spirit. Within the limits of what you regard as prudent, I believe it is now time for our side to go all out. In any case, as you enter this crucial counteroffensive, you should know you have my confidence and my prayers.” (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, 2 C (8) 3/68, General Military Activity)
  3. The President checked this option.