315. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

President: Yes, Dean?

Rusk: Was I too much of a hawk?

[Page 919]

President: No, not at all. I didn’t hear the prepared statement. I got in about six minutes late because the operator here couldn’t get us connected. But when I got connected, I heard it, and it sounded like you had a bunch of Viet Cong questioners all day.2

Rusk: Yes I did. I think that my press fellows tell me that there’ll be some question from some of the boys like Chalmers Roberts and others as to whether this is a change. I would suggest that if George Christian gets that question, he simply say, “No, that the President’s views are contained in the March 31st statement and in the Honolulu communique and that the Secretary’s remarks were wholly within the four corners of those two things.”

President: I told George Christian you ought to say there’s been as near as we can tell no change in either side since March 31st; that we’ve taken the position that we will stop 90 percent of it if they’ll take some action, and we do not interpret that they have taken any, and while they did not hit Saigon yesterday, they did hit Danang the day before—the 119 rockets, and infiltration is now the highest point it’s ever been, and for us to say to our men that we’re going to expose not only to the 70 percent that’s coming in but to the other 30 percent that we’re now destroying in return for we know not what, the answer is a loud, strong “no.”

Rusk: Well, I’ll try to get a transcript over so that you can see the first part of it as quickly as you can.

President: Fine. And I’d have your man tell them too that this is exactly March 31st and Chalmers Roberts as usual is just roaming around trying to read things into something that’s not there.

Rusk: Right. Thank you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, July 30, 1968, 11:54 a.m., Tape F6807.02, PNO 15. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.
  2. At 11 a.m. that day, Rusk convened a press conference at which he read a statement noting that the enemy had moved significant numbers of its forces near South Vietnam’s cities and continued large-scale movements through the DMZ. In response to reporters’ questions, he insisted that the U.S. Government had not received an adequate reply from Hanoi regarding peace overtures. See Department of State Bulletin, August 19, 1968, pp. 185–192. In a telephone conversation with Governor Richard Hughes of New Jersey, Johnson criticized the activities of various antiwar Senators and made the following comment: “What they’re asking me to do is be the biggest boob of our time. Just as the Communists get ready to hit us, they want me to do what I did at Tet—take a vacation, let our men accept a Tet holiday, and as I do it, and call off our bombing, let them hit me full length, and I just—I just—I just don’t see it. Now, Rusk doesn’t see it. He covered it fully in his press conference today. Although, God, I want to be a hero, and I want to get the war over, and I’ve got two boys in it, both of them in combat every day, and one of them has lost over half of his men, I just can’t do any more than I’m doing that I know of.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Hughes, July 30, 1968, 8:46 p.m., Tape F6807.02, PNO 17; transcript prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian)