130. Editorial Note
On March 15, 1968, the President met with his advisers from 5:15 to 7:10 p.m. to discuss the call-up of reserves and the Program 6 deployment to Vietnam. Those present at the meeting included Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze, Justice Abe Fortas, General Maxwell Taylor, Special Assistant Walt Rostow, and Presidential aides George Christian and Tom Johnson. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Clifford began the meeting by stressing the need for two call-ups, one of 50,000 and the other of 48,000 men, and whether they would necessarily be sent to Vietnam:
“Clifford: As far as the numbers are concerned about this first call-up, this 50,000 call—that number comes out, because everybody knows about it and all you have to do is begin to figure out who has been called and it doesn’t take anybody very long to put those numbers together. Now, as far as the deployment of the men is concerned, and no decision has been made on that, that I know of, insofar as the announcement [Page 386] is to be made, that is open. That is the 30,000 plus the 13,000 [Westmoreland] says he needs as support troops, so there is 43,000 that we presently plan on sending to South Vietnam in addition. Now …
“President: What does this bring your ceiling up to? Your strength …
“Clifford: It’s going to bring it up to, I’d say, 579 [thousand]. The original figure of 525 [thousand], then you must send that emergency shipment of 10.5 [thousand], I believe we call it. I believe with the 82d Airborne and 27th Marine [Divisions], that really became 11 [thousand]. I think …
“President: You add that on to 525 [thousand] or 510 [thousand]? I didn’t think we had reached the ceiling on them.
“Clifford: Oh, but we had. They had fellows in the pipe line to bring it up to the ceiling. That was definitely in addition to the 525 [thousand]. You got 525 [thousand], then the 11 [thousand with] the 82d Airborne and 27th Marines, your new group of 30,000 which you are sending over, and this support group of 13,000, and you have a total, when they all get there, of 579,000.
“President: So it’s 10–525–10.5 sent in emergency the other day and 43 are going?
“Clifford: That’s right.
“President: That makes 579.
“Clifford: 579 is right.
“Christian: Don’t put in that 12.5 [thousand].
“Clifford: On that civilianization program, we had left that out because there is still a possibility that Westmoreland may be able to find 12.5 [thousand] civilians and fill those slots. If he doesn’t—if he can’t find 5 or 6 thousand or so, that would bring the total up a few thousand or more depending on how many slots are unfilled when he tries to fill them with civilians and he can’t.”
Following a further discussion of civilian personnel and the possibility of Australian augmentation, the conversation turned to the public announcement of the move:
“President: Now what would we do—we would say that roughly half of those people would be in strategic reserve, the other half over a period of from now until August would be available for Vietnam. We would not announce when they went to Vietnam until after they had arrived. Is that a fair statement?
“Rusk: Well, you would want to say that in advance or would you say that you are calling up 90,000, in the course of the next 30 days, or whatever the period is to get these two groups, to strengthen the strategic reserve forces in the United States. We anticipate that some of those may be available and may have to be used to strengthen General [Page 387] Westmoreland’s forces and that others simply will be used to strengthen the strategic reserve.
“President: It’s going to leak out, just what you do, and the first man you consult.
“Christian: Let me put this out. The Washington Post already has the 98,000 figure. They’ve got it [wrong]. I got an inquiry just before we came in here—couldn’t understand what he’s talking about. He said the Pentagon reporter has said 98,000 men had been told they are being sent to Vietnam. He’s got the figure though.
“President: That’s before I got it.
“Clifford: We just got the 98,000 figure—as Paul and Buzz and I worked the figures over at luncheon today. Now, there had to be a meeting this morning of a number of military personnel and civilians to work out this whole package, but we finally worked out these numbers here, then we came around to this figure of 98,000 at luncheon today.”
The group then discussed the desirability of announcing two smaller augmentations. Both Rusk and Clifford noted that the difficulty with this approach lay in attempting to communicate to the public what percentage of those being called up would go to the strategic reserve and how many might be deployed for service in Vietnam. Clifford stated: “There is always the present intention that exists, it seems to me—I think the President takes quite a burden right now if the story gets out—that there are 98,000 men being called up and the administration is rather hazy about it—so the supposition is that they are all going to go to Vietnam. So the headline is ‘100,000 more men to go to Vietnam.’” In response, the President later interjected: “I think it goes back to what I said originally. We are going to call up 98,000 and half of them will be scheduled for the strategic reserve and the other half will be deployed in Vietnam between now and August. Now that’s the facts and I don’t know how you do it. We’ve been doing it that way all along up to 525 [thousand] and try to change it now.”
The issue of broaching the augmentation to Congress received considerable attention:
“Christian: Mr. President, I think we might consider, in view of what you have just said, as to whether or not this might be the appropriate time to expand on what Secretary Rusk told me the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee about studying from ‘A to Z’ and maybe use that in connection with the announcement on the call-up of reserves—sort of a double-barrel formalization of something—just for talking purposes here as to whether this might help offset all the hollering we are going to get tomorrow and over the weekend and make it appear, and truthfully so, that we are taking a good hard look at the Vietnam situation in conjunction with …[Page 388]
“President: I had interpreted the Secretary’s statement a little differently on ‘A to Zs’—that each day we study what everybody ought to be trying to do and what we are doing and we’re flexible and we’re hoping for suggestions. But that does not mean that we are considering a policy and trying to form a new one and that the one we’ve had is a mistake.
“Christian: I think it is dangerous to do that whether we are—if we could do it in such a way to show that we want to expand on what he said—not go beyond …
“Rusk: I don’t see how we’ll get out of that without a lot of speculation without substance.”
The President recognized, and Rusk underscored, the importance of informing the Congress of any public announcements that the administration would make beforehand. The following discussion ensued:
“Fortas: I wonder whether it is necessary to say that you are going to do step one and step two about the reserves all at the same time. Listening to what you say, it seems to me that this could be cut up into two parts. I’m not talking about the conversations of disclosure with the Congressmen, but in terms of what the official statement will be. If you say we are calling up 98,000 people, no matter what you say after that the public impression is going to be that 98,000 will be going to Vietnam. If you could break that up with an interval of time between the two and still handle it so that there is no—that you don’t mislead anybody which I suspect would be quite possible because there are two separate and discreet actions—I think it would avoid getting a wrong impression to the public. For example, if in your first statement that is made, it is that we are going to call up 48,000 for the reserve and they will be available to go to Vietnam and we are surveying what the need will be for an additional call-up for our ready reserve within the United States. And don’t let anybody push you into a figure on that. I mean in terms of public—and do that later because I—it seems to me that if you say you are calling up 98,000 people and no matter what you say after that, it’s going to be 98,000 people to Vietnam.
“President: I think it could be justified too, if you could figure out those that are sent out—Airborne and those that are sent out, Marine—I think there would be much merit in our saying if we—General Westmoreland—must have 30,000 people now and for that reason in addition to what he has and we have to support him. And so we’ve got 48,000 [sic]—that’s what is going out now. And then when we make the other announcement two weeks later we could say that we have sent from this country recently up to 50,000—we’re going to have to replace those—we’ll call-up some to take a position in this country for those that have gone out of country—if that is an accurate statement.[Page 389]
“Clifford: I have had the same feeling that Abe has had from the very beginning, that as soon—and I think he made a brief reference to it earlier—as soon as you pick out some 98,000—some odd [number] that immediately becomes 100,000 and the headline is ‘one hundred thousand more troops to go to South Vietnam’ and there is nothing that you can say to them that is going to persuade them any to do different. I think we are much better off if we can separate them and there is no real problem in that regard.”
The President reached a decision near the end of the discussion:
“President: Well, let’s move our people then. Let’s decide that one. Let’s brief our people on the fact that we have gone over with Westmoreland and there have been a lot of figures published and some said 200 [thousand] and some said 100 [thousand] and some said 90 [thousand] and we have it down now to where we are ready to recommend or considering suggesting to the President after consultation with you, approximately 50,000 that will go out there, which will give us 30,000 fighting men plus the supporting units and so forth.
“Clifford: All right.
“President: Now, we are undertaking a study to see how we call-up our strategic reserve and we’ll probably have a figure—we would hope not any bigger than that, but just to give them an idea that [it] won’t be too large; we’re studying that and we don’t want to get accurate, but just give them an idea that won’t be too large—we’re studying another figure and we’ll come up with that when we get it.
“Clifford: Because that’s going to be the first question that Senator Russell will ask. He will say, ‘Well, okay, if Westy thinks he needs them, all right, but now what are you going to do about the reserve?’ We’ve been talking to him—well, then, it brings very much into focus, and we’re studying it.
“President: Well, I wouldn’t get definite on it but I would say we are hopeful that we can get that figure where it won’t be any more than the other one, maybe a little less—fill out these units specifically.
“Clifford: I think there’s …
“President: 48,000, you see …
“Clifford: I think there is real value in the public [announcement].
“President: You can say it will be a little less. I think that will keep them from announcing a figure because they won’t know, you see, and it will actually be, if we go through with it, if we decide that it would be. So watch that we don’t make either decision, but for consultation purposes you will say to them that you’ll send—this is the figure you’ve got—and say, ‘Now we will study in the next weeks ahead. We’ll be back in touch with you with that, but we think now just from the glance [Page 390] that we have made at it—and not being firm—that it will be probably less than this figure.’ All right, Abe, go ahead. Is that satisfactory, Buzz?
“Wheeler: Yes, sir. If we can do this a week or ten days afterwards, then we can cut it.”
The discussion then focused on the necessity to cut back on troop deployments elsewhere in the world and what Fortas termed “the impact of it in terms of expense and particularly in terms of public attitudes.” The meeting concluded with additional discussion on budgetary constraints arising from the augmentations. (Ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)