31. Notes of Meeting1
NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH THE CHIEFS OF STAFF
The President asked the Joint Chiefs if they were completely in agreement that everything has been done to assure that General Westmoreland can take care of the expected enemy offensive against Khesanh.
General Wheeler and all the Joint Chiefs agreed that everything which had been asked for had been granted and that they were confident that General Westmoreland and the troops there were prepared to cope with any contingency.2
General Chapman told Walt Rostow that the special ammunition was in the hands of the troops and fully ready to be used if necessary.
General Wheeler: There have been enemy casualties in the Khesanh area.
The President: Are these figures reasonably accurate?
General Wheeler: We count only the ones we find on the battlefield. There is only a 10 percent margin of error in this count. You must remember that a lot of bodies are lost in swamps and waterways and many of them are hauled off by the enemy.
The President: What are you doing with the other aircraft which are not hitting Hanoi and Haiphong?
General Wheeler: They are striking at the Khesanh area, in Laos and in the other parts of South Vietnam.
The President: If you had your way would you also hit Hanoi and Haiphong?
General Wheeler: Yes, sir.
General Johnson: Yes, we would also like to hit Hanoi and Haiphong, Mr. President. We have the capability of doing that.[Page 72]
General Wheeler: In Vietnam we have the capability of flying 1,000 sorties a day. We’re using only 500.
[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXIX, Part 1, Document 243.]
The President: A senator (Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts) told me he was very worried about our situation in Vietnam. He said that some of our top generals have serious questions about our military strategy in Vietnam. I thought the Westmoreland-Bunker reply was a very good one. Bob (Secretary McNamara), I would go to the Senator and tell him you want to see what the various generals said to determine whether or not they were wrong—or if what we are doing is wrong.
General Wheeler: I told General Westmoreland of this charge plus the one of corruption. I have not seen his response. I have been out there 14 times. General Johnson has been out there several times. General Chapman has been out there several times. General McConnell has been out there several times. Between us, I think we have talked to every general officer in Vietnam. I have not heard one word of criticism about General Westmoreland’s strategy.
The President: Each one of you should write me a memo on the facts and what you have heard. The Senator says the generals think the Bermuda strategy is the one they want. Take this matter up with General Westmoreland, with the Joint Chiefs, and with Senator Russell. Let’s get the right answers.3
General Johnson: There is some corruption. But there is no disagreement over strategy among our generals.
The President: We cannot have perfection. We have corruption here. General Westmoreland and Ambassador Bunker and all of you are against corruption. You should point out how much corruption and crime we have in places like Houston, Washington, New York City, and Boston.
[Omitted here is additional discussion of the Pueblo crisis, also printed in volume XXIX, Part 1.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. Those in attendance were the President, McNamara, Wheeler, Nitze, Moorer and his assistant, Commander Daniel K. Pope, Harold Johnson, Chapman, McConnell, Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- See Document 30.↩
- Chapman reported his opinion in a February 2 memorandum to the President. (U.S. Army Military History Institute, Harold K. Johnson Papers, Memorandum of L.F. Chapman to President, Feb. 2, 1968) In a February 1 memorandum to the President, General Johnson commented on Kennedy’s ideas and the strategy pursued in Vietnam. (Johnson Library, Papers of Clark M. Clifford, 2nd Set [Memos on Vietnam Feb. 1968])↩