209. Notes of Meeting1


The President was asked if he would be willing to talk a little bit about how he thought the campaign year was likely to develop and if he had any ideas on the subject.

The President reported that he did, but that he was not the best informed; that he had not been in as close touch with it as he normally was and would like to be. He said that he felt back in March when he made the announcement that he felt that was the best thing he could do to try to bring about talks and some solution of this serious problem that is killing so many of our boys and killing so many other people every day out in Vietnam.

The President said:

“I had the impression—rightly or wrongly—that as a candidate, being in the nose cone, so to speak, or the volcano, or the typhoon, that others in the world would misjudge our situation and feel like they had pressures on the President that would require him to take actions that he might not think were most desirable because of his own political problems. I thought the simplest and easiest and best thing to do would be to just say that I did not want to become involved in any personal partisanship in the campaign myself and that I would try to keep the Presidency from being involved during this period.”

The President told the group that he felt the best interests of the country could be served better if he did not get into partisan politics. They asked him if he thought the Vice President would run and they were told he had not been confided in. He told them he did not feel he could do what he was doing and at the same time sit behind the scenes and manipulate some campaign.

The President told the group there were several conflicting viewpoints on the success of the Tet offensive. Some people think that as a [Page 600] result they are anxious to talk. The President did not agree. He expressed the opinion that he did not think the Tet offensive was a gain for them militarily. He felt that psychologically they would benefit from it and believed they had. Other viewpoints differed among some of the professional people.2

The President told them that there was no difficulty in meeting in private and trying to select a site for any possible talks, but for public meetings—that was a different story. He told them that we had said we would meet in Geneva or any other suitable place. They came back and said they would meet in Cambodia or Warsaw or a mutually acceptable place so it narrowed down to suitable or mutually acceptable—those three words. Ours was suitable and theirs was mutually acceptable. They indicated they would like to do it near at home and not far away and where maybe Russia is present, China is present and they would be wanting to talking to them. On the other hand, we would want to be talking to the South Vietnamese probably, the Australians, the Koreans, Philippines and others. The President then told them of a number of suggested sites. Warsaw, Cambodia, and Laos were some of those. The President said that places like Warsaw—we would have no way of communicating with our people and in Cambodia it was being used as a haven for North Vietnamese and he felt that these things would not be good.

The President then outlined to them some of the things that were taking place in the war in Vietnam, how the North Vietnamese were moving supplies, etc. from over in Cambodia to be used against our men. He said the same thing was true in Haiphong; that it was an arsenal and the streets were just packed with implements and storage which have been unloaded from the docks and it’s just one great big armory and they are completely immune from anything.3

The President said:

“I think our two big problems, the two biggest problems I have as President. I’m not talking about personal problems, but Presidential problems. One, trying to keep the country from dividing to a point [Page 601] where we are impudent [imprudent?] and two, trying to keep Ho Chi Minh from dividing us to the point. The Intelligence report this morning practically all of it was devoted to what Minh had said about the lack of wisdom of our government. And North Vietnam is really putting it out quoting our own people to do their job for them.

“So that is a problem I have tried to meet on March 31st. I mean in some degree to get it away from them. The second one is to keep him from dividing us with our Allies. They are frightened to death. And I think they have that same feeling in South Vietnam, that if this ball bounces the wrong way that they—all of them—will be assassinated and they would be run over, they would be locked up and they would be in concentration camps and they’d be slaves—if the Communists take over they would be slaves for the rest of their lives. And they don’t think they are going to be guaranteed anything so they are upset. And my two big tests, I think, are whether I would be able to get our country to think our policy is a reasonable one and give me support, not as a Democratic candidate for re-election, but as President of the country until January.”

The President was asked if he thought there was any chance of getting a settlement in Vietnam by January. He told them he would not want to prophesy; that he wanted to and hoped so and that he was working feverishly at it, but did not want to make any predictions.

The President said he did not see why they would not accept something which he thought would be to their advantage—“we will come home and you go home and we will take whatever resources we can get the Congress to give us and we will try to help rebuild North Vietnam and South Vietnam and Laos and Southeast Asia like we did in Europe with the Marshall plan. That ought to be pleasing to Ho Chi Minh. I think presently he feels like he is entitled to South Vietnam and he’s going to try to get it if he can and I don’t think he can get it during my political lifetime. I don’t think he could have got it if I had been there four more years. But I think he feels that he is somewhat immune, that we are not going to take over his government and we are not going to try to install a new system in his country. He had had his eye on this country all these years and I think that he feels that sometime he can do in Washington what he did in Paris. I think that he must be realizing that he cannot—that it is unlikely that he will have another Dien Bien Phu. But he must be encouraged by the performance here.”4

[Page 602]

There was then discussion on the proposed march on Washington.

[Omitted here is discussion of the international economic situation.]

One of the group said he wanted to ask one last sixty four dollar question and that was whether or not there would be anything that would make the President change his mind about running. His answer was that he did not think so, that he did not see any.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. These notes are a summary of the transcript of the meeting’s recording. Those attending the off-the-record session were the President and Tom Johnson and a group of editors and reporters from the Washington Star that included Newbold Noyes, Crosby Noyes, A. William Hill, Charles Seib, John Cline, Burton Hoffman, John Cassady, Paul Hope, Mary McGrory, Tommy Noyes, Jack Horner, and Bernard Gwertzman. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. In a brief news conference an hour prior to this meeting, the President responded to a question about variant reporting out of Vietnam concerning the military situation: “I don’t know what conflicts you are talking about.” The unidentified questioner responded, “Stories about an impending attack and then reports to the contrary.” Johnson replied, “We do have reports like that.” The President also announced Goldberg’s resignation and replacement by Ball. For the full text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, pp. 537–539.
  3. According to the full transcript of the recording of the meeting, the President noted that 70,000 more NVA troops had infiltrated southward since the partial bombing halt. Admitting that only 30,000 of this number had infiltrated since March, Johnson did, however, see this as an overall increase in infiltration. (Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
  4. The President added: “And I was trying to take away some of that encouragement by letting Senator Kennedy and Senator McCarthy and [Republican candidate Harold] Stassen and Nixon and them talk out these political issues and debate their views on Vietnam and other things and try to keep the government together. That’s what I am going to do if I can.” (Ibid.)
  5. The President added a final comment on Vance’s appointment to the peace delegation, in particular noting: “He has a serious physical problem and a serious financial problem and I keep him working just as much of the time that the body will bear and the bank will permit.” (Ibid.)