168. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey 1

President: Hubert?

Vice President: Hello, Mr. President.

[Page 486]

President: Glad to hear you, my friend.

Vice President: Glad to hear you, sir.

President: Hubert, there are two or three things that I would suggest. First, I will speak shortly after 8.2 I just got the Joint Chiefs, all the civilian secretaries, the National Security group that normally meets with us. We are waiting on word from Bunker and Thieu. We may have—could have—disastrous consequences if Thieu and the Koreans and so forth Don’t go with us. They agreed to 2 or 3 weeks ago. But there’s been a lot of talk out of the campaign that has influenced them, and they are, just like when you read the paper about what’s happening in Minnesota, you get influenced by it. And the last few days the China crowd has been in it some. And they’ve been telling them Humphrey wouldn’t stick with them at all, so they better put off and not let Johnson make any kind of peace because they will do a much better job; they’ll be much tougher. The Ambassador has been sending that word back, and they have Thieu and them upset about the speech—if you stop the bombing, semi-colon, comma, period—you know. And they have had—we’ve been watching it very carefully, and I know about what I speak. I am looking at the whole cards.

Vice President: I know that.

President: So, I had Thieu on board 2 weeks ago, and he signed up, and we agreed on the text of a joint announcement.3 And then Bundy’s speech came along,4 and they decided they would have to go back to Hanoi, and they went back and considered it. And Abrams won a few more victories, so they decided to go along. And when they did, in the meantime, Nixon’s folks—I don’t know whether he had anything to do with it or not; I don’t charge that he does, I can’t prove it—but some of the people supporting him told Hanoi that they could—that he had no connection with this war, wasn’t involved, that he could be more reasonable, didn’t have any commitments, than anybody who had been fighting them for about 5 years. Then on the other side of the track, they told the South Vietnamese that if they Don’t sell out—let Johnson sell them out here at the conference table and bring into it the NLFHumphrey is going to get beat, and they will have a bright future. So, they have just been holding for two weeks.

So, I finally took the bull by the horns and got Abrams in, got all the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, got every diplomat and every civilian—General Goodpaster, Bunker, Rusk, Katzenbach, Clifford—everybody, and they all agreed that A, we should stop the bombing. I want to issue an order [Page 487] to stop it tomorrow—that is number one. Number two, they’ve agreed with Vance that they will let the GVN come to the table. The GVN is debating now. They Don’t know what to do. They want to put it off. But they can come if they want to. If they Don’t, we’ll go on and talk about what we need to. It’ll be a very bad thing, though, if a million of their men get out, you know, and if Thailand gets upset, and if Korea thinks we are selling them out—white men.

But anyway, the thing they have done they have never done before is allow a prompt, productive discussion they Don’t take advantage of. Now, they’ve agreed that these puppets they said they would never sit down with can come and sit in the room with them and they will talk to them. Now, that is the major thing they’ve agreed to.

Vice President: Yes.

President: The second thing we agreed to is they will not shell the cities and they will not abuse the DMZ. Now, they have not agreed to, either. But we’ve told them that if they do, we have given rules of engagement to Abrams and that he can respond automatically, and that we could not have productive discussions if they were doing either.

Vice President: That’s right.

President: So, we may stop it tonight and start it tomorrow night. And I have just said I’m going to say to everybody—from you to George Ball to Charles de Gaulle to North Vietnam to Mike Mansfield—that you have said to me: “Test their faith and stop the bombing.”

Vice President: That’s exactly right.

President: Now, I’m going to stop it, but I’m just going to start it just as quick as I stopped it if they take advantage and go to killing my boys.

Vice President: Well, Mr. President, we have all agreed on that.

President: But I told them that. Now, there are three things then, really. We can’t say a word about it in the paper. Now, Rusk is very fearful of your position. He thinks that this is the best thing in the world for America, and what’s good for America is you, but he said the temptation is going to be a lot of people to say we did this for you. So, for God’s sake, we know—everybody knows—we Don’t play politics with human lives, but we did what’s right and we couldn’t wait. If we did, we might not have this offer a week from now after somebody was nominated. We Don’t know, and there may be at least 500 killed tomorrow anyway.

Now, this is the first time—they only agreed Sunday5 night. Monday and Tuesday we checked it out with the Soviets.6 Wednesday [Page 488] we got Abrams back. And today I have acted. Now, this is the first time they would give us this assurance. So, if I were you, I would let the laurels come to me, and certainly I wouldn’t crow about it or say that I’ve got this done because then it will look like—they are going to charge us anyway—that we are trying to act in collusion. Now, you and I know we’re not. You and I know we’re going to do what is right if it runs me out of the race and runs you out of the race.

Vice President: That’s exactly right. I said last night, Mr. President, I’m not going to say one word about this, except that I’m grateful.

President: Well, now, every man there tonight said, “We back you up, Mr. President.” And what I’d say if I were you, I’d say, “We can only have one voice in foreign affairs; our government has taken the position—I’m not going to undercut it; and that if I am President November 6th, the President-elect, the President has assured me and has assured Mr. Nixon and assured Mr. Wallace he wants us to come in and sit down and talk to him about it.” Now there’s not much you can get done between now and November 6th because that’s the first day they are going to meet in Paris. In the meantime, I think it is just as well that we all say a prayer and thank God that we have moved this far.

Vice President: Let me tell you what I have said to George Christian so that—I’ve been sitting here in my room, I haven’t left here because I didn’t want to go downstairs and face anybody until I cleared everything. I would say, first of all, that if I come down people know that there’s been a lot of talk around the TV and the radio, and there was some announcement that you were going to speak sometime after 8 o’clock.

President: It will be at 8 and you can tell them I told you all I was going to speak at 8—that I called you on a conference call, that I repeated to you what I had said the other day which you have known for many, many months, since the September [1967] San Antonio speech,7 that we would stop the bombing as soon as we could have “prompt, productive” discussions. Now we’ve got “prompt” discussions. They’ve agreed to meet November 6th. We’ve got “productive.” They’ve agreed to let the government sit in with them. So that meets our standard of “productive.” We said if they Don’t take advantage of them we’ll continue. Now, we Don’t know whether they’ll take advantage or not—you can’t tell about the Communists. But we’re going to give them a chance and test their good faith. If they take advantage of the DMZ and the cities, the rules of engagement have been given to Abrams and were laid out to him in a 2:30 a.m. meeting here the day before yesterday.[Page 489]He is to automatically respond, and we will have tested them and they will have failed. If they do act in good faith, then God help us, we make something.

Now, here’s what Rusk said: “Special Notes to the Vice President8—Ask him to have his men say that the Vice President has been briefed as have all the candidates been given full information. Number one. Number two, suggest that he not attack other candidates on Vietnam unless the other candidates attack him unmercifully. Number three, tell the Vice President not to let his publicity people crow or take credit for his having done this. He should say that the decision was the President’s, and has been in the making for many, many months. Even before he withdrew in March, the President said at San Antonio: ‘prompt, productive,’ and that ‘they do not take advantage of’—those three words. But he, the Vice President, is joining with the President. He hopes that every American is hoping that the door is finally open to an early peace, and as far as you are concerned, whether you are President-elect or ex-Vice President, you will be in there working for peace.”

Now, he said that would give us—would kind of free us from the charge that we are operating for political reasons, and at the same time it will show that we treated them all alike. This is the thing, though, I told you last, oh, a month or so ago—March 31st I concluded that I’ve got to do this if I do anything else in my life, even keeping my family together, I’ve got to do this because they’re out there and I just got to do it. So—

Vice President: I know it.

President: That’s it. But you can say we had a conference call,9 and say what I talked about. Every man at the table the other day, I told them there are these three things. Now, we cannot tell the press about the DMZ and the cities because if we do they’ll say that is reciprocity, and they’ll start shelling them and we’ll have to go back.

Vice President: Mr. President, I am not—the reason I wanted to—I’ve talked to Jim [Jones] and I’ve talked to George [Christian], and here was the only thing I wanted to ask you; I didn’t want to say anything until after you have spoken.

President: That’s all right. That’s all right. What I would say is: “I don’t know what the President is going to say. He told us, though, that he wanted to brief us, and he briefed us, and you’ll see it at 8 o’clock and you’ll get the same briefing we got.”

[Page 490]

Vice President: And I thought that after 8 o’clock what I would say is simply this: “That the President’s action is an important new initiative towards peace. I fully support that initiative, and I am sure that a vast majority of the American people will support it. Let us hope that the negotiations in Paris will now move quickly and that Hanoi will negotiate in good faith.”

President: Well, the only thing wrong with that is it’s not our initiative. They have agreed. Clark [Clifford] wants to put this that we are testing their good faith. We made this last September. What I would try to say, if I could, is that it appears that Hanoi has been willing to agree to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to.

Vice President: Now, let me just see. All right.

President: It appears that Hanoi has agreed to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to. We said we’d stop the bombing if we could have “prompt and productive” discussions. Well, “prompt”—they said November 6th. That is pretty prompt. “Productive”—they’ve said the GVN could be there. So that’s what we wanted. They said they’d never sit down with these folks. There is not nothing [sic] new about this. This is an old one. This just took them—what has happened, Hubert, they’ve lost 250,000 men, and so they’ve agreed to “prompt and productive.” Now, the whole question is whether they’re going to be successful or not, is whether we take advantage of them or they take advantage of us. Now, we’ve said that “You’ll be taking advantage, you’ll bust up the conference, if you shell the cities, if you abuse the DMZ.”

Vice President: We are not going to say anything about that.

President: Not at all, not at all. But you can say “prompt and productive.” And if they Don’t take advantage by doing things that oughtn’t to be done, and you’ll have to see whether they are taking advantage in the next few days, anybody can read the papers and see—nobody knows, I can’t predict, the Joint Chiefs Don’t know. Our judgment is that they have already quit shelling the cities generally. They hit Saigon last night and again tonight to kind of stir us up a little. But they Don’t have the capability, and our judgment is that they are not abusing the DMZ much more because they are taking them out of the country instead of putting them in. But what we believe that—the correspondents—if I were you, Rusk is going to tell them in his backgrounder—say “prompt,” that is the 6th, “productive,” that is the GVN, “not to take advantage,” well, you will just have to watch the paper and see what happens.

Vice President: On the “productive,” can we say that the Government of South Vietnam—

[Page 491]

President: Yes, yes.

Vice President: Will be in the—

President: Yes, sir, yes, sir. They agreed to it. That is what we have insisted all along—that they can come. So, it’s not new on our part. It’s new on their part.

Vice President: I have got you.

President: Okay.

Vice President: It appears that Hanoi has agreed to prompt and productive discussions as outlined in the San Antonio speech of September—that was the month of September. And then I can say that just simply—

President: And then say, “I hope that they do not take advantage of it. That we will have to let time tell.” Now, here is what the man said about it. McConnell said—well, I told you about it. I read you what they all said. Every one of the Joint Chiefs. I have got everybody aboard, and as I understood it, every candidate tonight said we will back you. So—

Vice President: That’s right.

President: So, all the Congressmen and Senators said the same thing. So, you go on and watch the television if you can at 8 o’clock, and you will get all the details.

Vice President: Now, as I go downstairs here because I have a reception, you must tell me so that I don’t make a mistake. I’m going to have a lot of press down there asking me. Are we to inform them—am I to let them know, if they ask me, that there has been a conference call?

President: Yes, I think that is certainly all right. I would be candid. “Yes, the President told us the other day he would keep us informed—we would be the first to know it.”

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: “As a matter of fact, he hasn’t issued his orders.” Say—”he told us the other day, any developments we’d be the first to know it. He has called all of us and briefed us.”

Vice President: Yes, sir.

President: “But I’m not going to make any comment until after the President speaks.”

Vice President: That’s right. I will say that “he has called all of us”—

President: Yes, yes.

Vice President: “But I withhold any comment until the President has spoken.”

President: Yes, yes. Let me see if that is what Jim has told the others. I think that is what—just a second, let me see. Hello?

[Page 492]

Vice President: Yes?

President: Jim says that they hadn’t intended to do anything until 8 o’clock. But if you need to, what you can say is that “the President on October 15th told—let me see if that is okay—October 16th conference call at 11:41 [a.m.] that he would keep us briefed. He called us and briefed us again today, but he enjoined us to secrecy about the contents until his television speech at 8 o’clock.”

Vice President: That is fine.

President: Then at 8 o’clock I’d say that “We all told the President we’d back him and we’d pray for him and that this is not a party matter—this is an American matter—and I’m glad that every candidate is for it.” That way, it will keep them from attacking you for having a “fix-it” deal. This is dangerous because if they thought you and I were trying to fix something, it would hurt us. But if you take the position that you have been treated, briefed, like everybody else—

Vice President: That’s exactly right.

President: That the President has to do this until the 20th and you and Nixon and Wallace all told him the other day that you hoped it’d come any minute—the first minute the better—to keep from killing boys. Now this is peace. This is just a discussion, but it looks like Hanoi has moved and we’ll still have a lot of hard negotiations. You’ll see that in my speech tonight.

Vice President: All right.

President: I tried to call Muriel [Humphrey]. I saw her on television yesterday morning. She was a doll. She was just wonderful. I thought your speech was good last night. I heard it. Then I had a long visit with Luci [Johnson] after she came in.

Vice President: That’s sweet.

President: I think I have an awfully good one for Sunday night on nationwide TV.

Vice President: We’ve been talking about our programs, Mr. President. I want you to know one thing: if I can do half as good a job as you’ve done, if I am elected, I will be happy.

President: Well, you will do good. Have you ever seen my speech last night? You haven’t seen the 15 minute TV [spot] that I did.10

Vice President: No, I didn’t see it. But I will.

President: I will get you a film of it.

Vice President: I have been wanting to call you all the time.

[Page 493]

President: Don’t you do it. Don’t you do it. Don’t worry about me. You Don’t have to.

Vice President: I talk to Marvin [Watson]. I keep in touch.

President: Don’t mess with me. You get people worried who are not going to vote for you.

Vice President: Well, God bless you.

President: Don’t humor me.

Vice President: I think you’re doing the right thing, Mr. President. Let’s hope and pray it works.

President: I am trying to.

Vice President: God bless you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Humphrey, October 31, 1968, 6:52 p.m., Tape F6810.09, PNO 4-5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. A summary of this conversation is ibid. The Daily Diary noted: “The VP called Jim Jones for the President’s guidance on what to say re Congr. Gerald Ford.” (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 169.
  3. See Document 143.
  4. See Document 63.
  5. November 27.
  6. See Document 138.
  7. See footnote 6, Document 35.
  8. Rusk’s notes for the President have not been found.
  9. See Document 166.
  10. The taped speech was broadcast on November 3. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pp. 1110-1113.