47. Notes of Meeting1


Chuck Bailey: How did your discussion go with General Ridgway?2

The President: We talked about the Pueblo incident and the increase in the number of incidents along the demilitarized zone in Korea. I asked for his advice as I have asked for the advice of many others who have experience in the military and diplomatic field.

Frank Reynolds: What are the North Koreans up to?

The President: It appears to have been an irrational act on their part, perhaps to help their brothers in North Vietnam.

Max Frankel: What is General Giap doing?

The President: I always over-estimate Giap. You see what he did to the French. He is extremely able. I don’t know what will happen.

I asked the JCS to give me a letter saying that they were ready for this offensive at Khesanh. They have 40,000 men to our 6,700. We have 40,000 men within 40 miles and we do have air mobility. There are 1,200 B–52 sorties per month going into Vietnam.

Max Frankel: What do you believe Ho is thinking?

The President: I do not know. I felt by February 3 we could have expected the major offensive to begin. What Ho thinks I do not know. I believe he thought that the people would rally with them. They did not. There have been much sporadic activities. The ferocity was not anticipated.

They did not get into the Chancery of the embassy. They sent 19 men. All 19 were killed.

[Page 107]

[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Chuck Roberts: In light of the advance intelligence, were we in a state of sufficient readiness in Vietnam?

The President: Yes, anybody who could count can see that we were.

Chuck Bailey: Were the South Vietnamese prepared and how did they conduct themselves during this?

The President: Yes, the South Vietnamese were ready. I have heard nothing that would indicate any cowardice or lack of responsibility on their part.

The President then read to the group the Thomas Paine quote:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”

Chuck Roberts asked if there had been any change since the San Antonio formula was given.

The President: We put many long hours and days into the text of the San Antonio speech. We said then and we still believe that that is as far as we can go with honor. We stressed prompt, productive, and “it is assumed.”

We do not want another Panmunjon. Sure, there will be some regular resupply. We undoubtedly will send in more planes and food and supplies for our troops. We expect them to do something along the same lines. We haven’t hit Hanoi or Haiphong in a couple of days. There is good reason to what we are doing. Clark Clifford said what I stated in San Antonio and said it better.3 But it all means the same thing.

The formula still stands, although you will notice I almost withdrew it yesterday at the Medal of Honor ceremony.4 Anybody who sees [Page 108] what they are doing out there now knows they do not appear very interested in peace talks.

Jack Horner: Do we have any information that North Korea is planning a massive raid across the DMZ?

The President: We have no information of that type. They are not on an aggressive alert with any evil intentions as far as I know. It just looked like they had a chance to make a contribution that then cost them militarily.

Sid Davis: What is your own gut feeling about Ho? Does he really want to talk this year before the elections?

The President: No, I don’t think he wants to talk, but he may have to. I would think he would be better off before the election than after.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Ray Scherer: Do you think there will be a partisan issue made of this by Nixon, Percy and others?

The President: I do not know. I know of a lot of people being worried. I do not say this is the last gasp by the North Vietnamese. It is a kamikaze type thing. They are not getting a good return on their investment.

Ray Scherer: What are the Russians doing?

The President: I think they want to live in this world with us. I do not think they are anxious to have any major confrontation over this.

They won’t be too enthusiastic about getting into a war with us.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Confidential. The meeting was held at the White House. According to a covering memorandum from Johnson to the President, February 3, the attending correspondents and the press organizations which they represented were: Max Frankel, The New York Times; Charles Bailey, Cowles Publications; Richard Saltonstall, Time Magazine; Chalmers Roberts, Newsweek; Frank Reynolds, ABC; Dan Rather, CBS; Ray Scherer, Washington Star; Sid David, Westinghouse Broadcasting; Jack Sutherland, U.S. News and World Report; and Forrest Boyd, Mutual Broadcasting. Rusk, Clifford, Taylor, Rostow, and Tom Johnson also joined the meeting. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. The President met with General Ridgway, the former commander of U.S. forces during the Korean war, at a luncheon lasting from 2:15 to 4 p.m. and attended by Humphrey, Clifford, Rostow, Christian, Tom Johnson, McConnell, Moorer, Harold Johnson, Chapman, and Helms. Among the topics discussed were the war in Vietnam, Kennedy’s recent statements, and the Pueblo. (Ibid.) Notes of the meeting have not been found.
  3. See Document 27.
  4. In the ceremony presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Dthlefsen, USAF, the President stated: “Until we have some better signs than what we have had these last few days—that I hope any American can see and read loud and clear—that he [the NVA/VC enemy] will not step up his terrorism; and unless we have some sign that he will not accelerate his aggression if we halt bombing, then we shall continue to give our American men the protection America ought to give them, and that is the best America affords.” For the full text of the President’s remarks, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book I, pp. 145–147. Earlier that day, the President conferred with the press, noting that U.S. forces in Vietnam were aware of the enemy’s offensive in advance. For the text of the President’s statement at this conference, see ibid., pp. 155–163.