147. Notes of Meeting1


  • President, Vice President, Rusk, Clifford, Fortas, M. Bundy, B. Bundy, Bill Jorden, W. Rostow, G. Christian, H. McPherson, Amb. Goldberg, Tom Johnson

President: I asked all of you here to help me prepare a well thought out, well-balanced statement. Let’s explore ways to strengthen our ways militarily and diplomatically; let’s find new ways to strengthen our society and our nation. You are people of good experience, imagination and initiative. Let’s look at every suggestion.

Let’s see what we could do we haven’t done better.

Let’s see how we can improve ourselves.

Let’s do what we said we would do at Johns Hopkins.2 If we are silent and nothing new is said, people really will think we are stale. Harry has drafted a statement.

Economic people believe we must have a tax bill if we are to have a dollar.

  • 10–10–5 billion.
  • 10 billion in taxes
  • 10 billion in appropriation cuts
  • 5 billion in expenditures

We know it is going to be tough. Last year we put in a 10–2 formula. We have a strain on the economy, not just by Vietnam. We must add on $5 Bill. for Vietnam.3

This speech ought to have in it for our needs to get:

  • —military strength
  • —economic strength
  • —diplomatic strength
  • —peace

I want war like I want polio. What you want and what your image is are two different things.

  • —let’s meet emergency needs in strength
  • —a reasonable offer on peace

I want McGeorge Bundy and Arthur Goldberg and the Vice President and Rusk and Clifford and Fortas and B. Bundy (what not to do).

Mac and Harry will have …

M. Bundy: Let’s not worry over draft. Let’s go around room.

  • —what troubles people most
  • —what can we do
  • —a lot of easy answers are being peddled on other side of street.

President: Any suggestions?

Rusk: Major peace proposals aren’t promising unless there is a cessation of bombing. There are serious political and military risks to bombing halt. We have been exploring bombing limitations in North, leaving open bombing above the DMZ. It also would look bad to segments here at home to have bombing halt at same time as calling up reserves.

We are being divided by rejections by Hanoi.

(Rusk read statement he proposed that the President use.)4

Unless we are prepared to do something on bombing, there is no real proposal for us to make.

We put two ideas to Bunker:

San Antonio formula without any indic. from other side
limited cessation in northern part of NVN

He was negative on both.5

You can’t couple a reserve callup with a bombing cessation. Let’s make a generalized speech without a major move.

[Page 434]

Rostow: Criticism (should be Critics) of our position believe we’re intent on creating a constitutional and democratic government by pursuing last VC until he is dead.

They see capacity of VC to hit the cities.

I do not think we can move Thieu to a Greek solution—offer of VC coming into govt.

Part of peace thing:

—Communists have tried to overthrow GVN and ARVN. They failed.

We are seeking one-man, one-vote constitutional system.

We need to turn war to the ballot box.

Rusk: Public opinion has taken element of hope from so many people.

M. Bundy: I think the problem is to have to make a statement when weight of feeling is well, another …

  • —tax issue
  • —more troops
  • —more costs ($5 billion)

Is there a way of conveying an impression that we are more willing for peace. Or say “this is about it.”

It will get better. Moral of Tet was GVN … (sic).

It would be irresponsible to say we could, but we want to.

Clifford: 3–4 important functions:

Need reiteration of importance of Vietnam. People are asking themselves that question again.
Danger that is inherent if we lose all SEAsia. Those who have the simple, easy solutions are not visible (viable?).
Why are we sending more troops.

Sen. Stennis said I am not in favor of sending more troops to VN unless we expand the war.

Stennis said he was against another buildup. Enemy has moved in more troops in northern I Corps.

There are indications that next 3–4 months could be critical period in the war.

Support Marine bases
Increase our effectiveness
Critical period

Must answer charge that this is becoming an American war.

People are very concerned about ARVN sitting back and letting us do the work.

[Page 435]

Coupled with needs of military we do have [something] to offer?

We have made reasonable offer to Hanoi.

They have made no effort in that regard.

Offering a program of de-escalation of the war.

We could offer a beginning of gradual de-escalation.

We could … stop bombing 75 mi S of Hanoi-Haiphong (20th).

We would stop all bombing N. of 20th if enemy would stop artillery, mortars and rockets in DMZ area.

This would be acceptable trade for the military.

They would get some benefit out of it.

This could be considered reasonable.

Then we will have another.

This takes edge off “war candidate” vs. peace candidate.

Rusk: We would expect them to stop bombing in DMZ.6

M. Bundy: Suppose you turn it around.

Say you can’t stop bombing without their doing something.

Idea of getting something started is good.

Clifford: Could say Hanoi would withdraw its men from DMZ.

M. Bundy: Aren’t you better off if you do this privately?7

Clifford: Value of it is psychological.

They are not likely to accept any proposition.

Kennedy and McCarthy aren’t coming up with much.

“Let’s try something like this.”

M. Bundy: That’s OK.

[Page 436]

Rusk: Whether or not this is a step toward peace is up to Hanoi.

M. Bundy: President is not about to escalate like you say. But what do you lose.

Bombing that far north doesn’t do that much good.

President: It brings fury and violence from abroad.

M. Bundy: Risk is that our campaign friends will say we have President running.8

Goldberg: Our problem is profoundly serious. I am going to talk frankly. I have a different approach. If a peace move is to be made without hope … You have tried to use both hands. It has not been successful in convincing world opinion or domestic opinion. Peace move must be realistic one. Say I cannot offer you the prospect of anything better. Let’s don’t go with a proposition which will not be acceptable. Let’s be realistic. Only thing Hanoi wants is suspension of bombing. Where it will lead nobody knows. Hanoi sees it as a possibility for starting talks. I think we should do that.

M. Bundy: I agree with you on a full suspension.

Goldberg: I thought militarily we could do it.

Cessation doesn’t mean … Khe Sanh would be unprotected. Reinforcements could continue. No departure from San Antonio.

To move this way would be a meaningful thing.

You yourself have made this point. Hanoi said they wanted government in South to settle issue.

We could put on agenda

  • —Hanoi stop aggression against South
  • —U.S. stop bombing against North.9

[Page 437]

President: Would I combine with talk on reserves?10

Goldberg: I would not combine it with troop speech.

I would make peace proposal or a support of war speech.

I would not combine the two.

In UN Eastern Europeans are fed up with being taxed by this war (Czechs, Poland).

Do know it is costing USSR over $1 billion a year.

They may have their Bill Fulbrights too.

Clifford: If that was fruitless, would that interfere with an all-out effort later on?

Goldberg: It won’t be seen in good faith if you couple it with troops.

Rostow: In world opinion, bombing of Hanoi-Haiphong has impact. One Soviet indication, he made distinction between bombing battlefield and around H–H.

M. Bundy: Restraints have not been made clear.

B. Bundy: They were disclosed on background.

President: We paused 6–1/2 months around H and H.

[Unattributed comment]: Russell said he would support callup only if we take out Haiphong.

President: You won’t change Bobby or McCarthy by this.

Goldberg: You have made many approaches.

President: 30 of them.

Clifford: Is it your feeling that the President could make this proposal of stopping the bombing …

Goldberg: Doesn’t use “permanent”.

Clifford: Is it your belief they would talk?

Goldberg: It is my hope. I think talks … should talk.

Rusk: Why shouldn’t they talk. They get talks and put in men and a sanctuary.

[Unattributed comment]: I never said anything about Laos.

President: You have another Panmunjom.

Goldberg: On Panmunjom, commonly assumed we lost more men when talk started.

Suppose you had continued with no Panmunjom, how many men would we have lost?

[Page 438]

We have lost handful of men since Panmunjom. We get more out of this.

President: Wouldn’t you remove one of Marines, … one of their most protective elements?

Goldberg: I would double sorties around troops. Use more effective sorties in South.

Clifford: As of now, would not have an appreciable effect.

By mid-April weather will improve.

Would mean giving up more then than now.

President: Think bombing keeps lead out of our men’s bodies.

Clifford: It is not a clear-cut case. Military thinks it adds to difficulty of NVN getting supplies to South. Airpower is not proving to be very effective in this war.

M. Bundy: If we lost at Khe Sanh while stopping bombing we would be in a hell of a shape.

Rusk: Moscow cares more about what is happening in NVN than what is happening in South.

President: Bunker says you are trying to crawl. He says let’s pour steel to him.

Fortas: 1) Speech should have limited objective

Reasons for callup

Economic impact

No architectural plans for conduct of war and search for peace.

2) This is time when we must be firm and courageous. It is possible to make some bad mistakes of timing. No time for a major offer. It will be seen as sign of weakness.

3) National concern is a question as to whether SVN affairs are being maturely, competently handled. It is a feeling of insecurity.

This is due to mixture in carb(uretor?). It is because of our own sensitivity to criticism, our own dislike of bloodshed.

In my opinion—on this speech—Clifford lined up points well to sending more troops. Must be in framework of strength and resolution.

I can consider it most unfortunate to state offers now. Senators Kennedy and McCarthy will see it as empty gesture. Hanoi will see it as an admission floundering around in an effort to get a bigger piece of candy.

On that point, problem of a cessation of hostilities … we can never handle except on the merits.

Time may come in June or July. Meanwhile, we must be firm in our hearts and in our resolution. We must avoid unilateral proposals.

[Page 439]

I weigh evidence.

Cessation of bombing. I don’t see it.

That is a one horse-one rabbit deal. That is wrong time and wrong occasion for that.

Should stress what SVNese are doing.

Can we get SVN General placed on Joint Council.

Our people give SVN little credit for their victories.

Clifford: I feel a great sympathy for that approach.

We must talk about ultimately we will prevail. Conditions were susceptible. That did lead to ultimate victory.

Continued application of strength and power does not show us the road to ultimate success.

[Several unattributed comments]:

That disturbs me.

Mere application of physical force doesn’t do it.

You must stop the supply lines.

You can’t unless you go with force into Laos. Then Cambodia. Then Haiphong. What about docks harbor at Haiphong.

Doesn’t stop. Would make it more difficult, but they could still bring them in.

Clifford: I don’t believe any approach to Hanoi at this time will be accepted.

Fortas: Neither do I.

Time and sequence of events is not right. Very little is to be gained from unilateral moves at this moment.

The task is to give this country confidence in the competence of handling this war.

Need feeling of calmness and soundness of military side.

President: How can you give them confidence?

  • —more troops
  • —more taxes
  • —more reserves

Fortas: Let’s don’t show lack of confidence in our competence. People don’t understand.

President: Bill, what is your …

B. Bundy: I see alternatives as Goldberg.

Hanoi is not ready to do anything.

Hanoi really doesn’t want to talk.

I would defend the record.

[Page 440]

We should explore 3rd party efforts.

Let’s give SVN front and center and let them build themselves.

Stress somber picture,

I find it somber, indeed.

Enemy has more maneuver bns. than we in I Corps.

M. Bundy: Could you add in language of Thieu notion we are trying to get their proportion of the effort increased.

B. Bundy: [No remarks indicated]

Goldberg: Isn’t real issue if we continue our effort with additions with SVN additions, can we do it without erosion of public support be far more difficult? [sic]

Aren’t we in a race for time if we continue as we have? Isn’t continuing the effort and increasing it—the economy’s involved—wage and price controls may be required. Can we do it?

I don’t believe we can.

President: I visit with folks who have worked on this problem.

I will meet with group in coming days.

I agree with what Goldberg started out with. Real question is that we may be misleading them.

Let’s separate peace things. Do it right. Take Italian proposal—Clark proposal—Let B. Bundy get all they have got.

Let’s work up an agenda on possibilities. See which are worth pursuing.

Harry, you get with the 2 Bundys.

Get two proposals.

Rusk (?) Proposal.


support our men
meet their new troops
different strategy

Let’s look at this tomorrow.

President: Is there any advantage of having Souvanna Phouma here to discuss danger to his country?

There is nobody but us who will stand up.

British won’t.

Theories of our treaties was that we would stop the Hitlers of tomorrow.

If they march, they will be met.

Let’s get peace out of it except we’re ready to talk.

[Page 441]

Situation at moment is very serious one. We must support the men we have there.11

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. Transcribed by Jorden on February 13, 1970, from Tom Johnson’s handwritten notes. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. McPherson also took notes of the meeting; his handwritten notes are mistakenly dated March 19. (Ibid., Meeting Notes File)
  2. Reference is to the President’s speech at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, Document 245.
  3. Earlier that day the President and his chief economic advisers discussed the costs and impact of the new program for Vietnam. The total package involved a $10 billion tax bill, a $10 billion reduction in obligations, and a $5 billion reduction in expenses. At one point during the meeting, Fowler noted: “On the floor, a tax bill is related to the Vietnamese addition. I see a sharp loss in the Democratic votes. The reason is the same as that given by Church or Proxmire—economically they don’t agree. They must have a national unity package. I would present this as a bipartisan bill to restore confidence in the dollar.” (Notes of the President’s Meeting with his Fiscal Advisers, March 20; Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings)
  4. The statement read: “After consultation with our allies, I have directed that U.S. bombing attacks on North Viet-Nam be limited to those areas which are directly related to the support of their forces invading South Viet-Nam. No reasonable person could expect us to fail to provide maximum support to our men in combat. Whether this step I have taken can be a step toward peace is for Hanoi to determine. We shall watch the situation carefully.”
  5. See Documents 137 and 145.
  6. According to a transcript of this meeting, the course of discussion at this point went: “President: Dean, do you want to make any observations on that? Rusk: I think, that, if you—that would mean that we would expect them to stop shooting in the vicinity of the DMZ while we continue to bomb heavily in there. I don’t see how they can be expected to stop something and then they would be subject to the most intensive bombing we could lay on them.” (Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
  7. The meeting’s transcript reads as follows: “Rusk: Would you offer them the two northern provinces of South Vietnam? Clifford: Well, what we would like to do would be, Dean, to make the proposition one that would be reasonable enough so that there would be some chance I suppose. McGeorge Bundy: Aren’t you better off without a definite proposal in the speech? If you simply say that you’re doing this and you’ve made communications to show why you’re doing it you keep the channel available to them. You look more open than if you offer a trade to which everyone will say it is unreasonable—if he wants to. Clifford: I’m not sure just the words will do it. McGeorge Bundy: It’s unilateral, if you do something, you’ve really done something and I’ve never been a believer that the real pause of the kind that the Times wanted would get us anywhere and I think it is militarily very dangerous. But I think this speech does need a left hook in it somewhere.” (Ibid.)
  8. Bundy’s full response is transcribed as: “I think there is risk about it—that we ought to look at (it) which is our campaigning friends will say, ‘Well, that’s half a loaf now we’ve got the President running—if he would only put the other half on the table then I wouldn’t have to run’ or whatever they say to that. I don’t think that is a very good argument, but I think we ought to walk around it.” (Ibid.)
  9. Goldberg made an additional comment here: “What would be the logical subject for talks with Hanoi if the United States and Hanoi entered into talks? The logical subject would be this. Say to Hanoi that you stop your war against the South. The United States, you stop your war against the North. I do not believe, I haven’t seen what Ellsworth said, that that type of agenda should disturb the South. It eliminates the air war, the problem of a simple agenda, and it relates to stopping the war in Hanoi against the South and the South against the North. And that is the subject particularly within the accomplishment of the United States and Hanoi. We are bearing the brunt of the war against the North. And Hanoi is carrying the war to the South so that the problems which really—we’re not agreeing or promising to discontinue the war in support of Saigon in the South. There is commitment on that, and no agreement. That may enter into discussions. And if it does enter into discussions, then, of course, the discussions will have to be enlarged. But I have often wondered at this stage of the game why it was that Hanoi has so pinpointed the discussions to be the United States and Hanoi—and has not put up the barriers for those talks or anything of that sort.” (Ibid.)
  10. According to the transcript, several individuals interrupted Goldberg by voicing questions at this point. Goldberg’s response was: “I am asked two questions. Would I combine this proposition together with your talks about reserves and what about the shelling?” (Ibid.)
  11. The President had made two hard-line speeches in the days prior to this meeting. On March 16 he spoke before a meeting in Washington of the National Alliance of Businessmen. His speech was a rousing call to rally around his Vietnam policy: “As your President, I want to say this to you today: We must meet our commitments in the world and in Vietnam,” he proclaimed. “We shall and we are going to win.” See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, pp. 402–405. In remarks to the National Farmers Union Convention in Minneapolis on March 18, the President stated: “We hope to achieve an honorable peace and a just peace at the negotiating table. But wanting peace, praying for peace, and desiring peace, as Chamberlain found out, doesn’t always give you peace. If the enemy continues to insist, as he does now—when he refuses to sit down and accept the fair proposition we made, that we would stop our bombing if he would sit down and talk promptly and productively—if he continues to insist, as he does now, that the outcome must be determined on the battlefield, then we will win our peace on the battlefield by supporting our men who are doing that job there now.” See ibid., pp. 406–413.