42. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Everett Dirksen1
Dirksen: Are you at liberty to make some comment on Hubert's speech last night?2
President: Except in the greatest confidence, I would just say that it depends a lot on the interpretation of it. He did not discuss it with our people, Rusk or Rostow, or anybody that we're aware of. The first I knew about it was when the press called me and pointed up that it was on the ticker. So, it was prepared without our knowledge and without our advice. It interpreted, I think—a literal interpretation would show there's no great difference in our present policy. I think his intention is to try to do that without and still leave the impression that there is—get what I mean?
Dirksen: Yeah.[Page 110]
President: Well, so here is our present policy—that we're ready, anxious, willing, eager to stop the bombing just as we are eager to stop the war. But we just can't stop one side of it. The other side has got to stop something too. We found that when we stop and they don't stop, it kills more men. So we've said to them, “If we did stop the bombing, what would you do?” They're now considering that. They have not given us a firm answer.
Now one of the things we've said to them, “If we stop the bombing, would you de-militarize, would you reinstitute the DMZ?” Up to now they've said “No.” Now, Hubert's speech, the way I read it, and I emphasize I, the way I read it says that before taking any action, he would have to have direct or indirect deed or word that they were reinstituting the DMZ. Now if that is a fact, that's all right, that's what's important.
Now the second thing we feel we ought to have—we think that we can't go to this, can't make a peace for that area like Hitler and Chamberlain did without Czechoslovakia being present—we don't think you could make a peace for that area without the elected government having its voice heard anyway. We don't object to their bringing whoever they want to—NLF, anybody. We've always said their voice could be heard. But they refuse to have anything to do with this government that is elected and has a million-man army that's doing a lot of the fighting. We don't ever report it and don't give them credit for it, but they're losing more everyday than we lose, and they're just 14 million and we're 200.
So that's the second consideration. They must talk to the GVN. Now if they don't, and this group walked out from under us, we'd really be left—we'd stand to lose a lot. The thing that both Bunker and Abrams, the two best men we have, are more concerned about than anything else is something that would make them wobbly and make them distrust us and make them think we'd sell them out. Now, Hubert's speech says that they'd have to negotiate in “good faith.” If he means by “good faith” talking to the GVN, which he could, that's what we think ought to be done. He doesn't say that, though, spell it out. He just says they'd have to negotiate in good faith.
The third thing—if I stop the bombing, and they shelled Saigon tomorrow and Danang tomorrow and kill thousands as they did during Tet, everybody in this country and all the soldiers there would certainly demand that I do something about it. So, I would have to reinstitute the bombing. Now if you're going to reinstitute, there's no use stopping it. So we ought to know that they wouldn't shell the cities. Now the only way he would know it is to have some understanding with them that they “act in good faith"—that's the phrase that is used.[Page 111]
Now both Ball and Goldberg think that you ought to stop the bombing, just quit bombing. Clifford thinks you've got to have conditions to it. Bunker and Abrams think you've got to have conditions to it. Now Bunker is a liberal, progressive fellow and a hell of a good diplomat, best in the service. But he's an old Republican businessman before he ever got into the service, although he's progressive, and he just says, “You'll lose everything if you don't have this government present.” Rusk feels very strongly about it, and needless to say, I do. Now, up to now, the Vice President has pretty generally agreed with us. I can't interpret his speeches any more than I can interpret Nixon. But if he means by his statement that “direct or indirect” that they give him before he takes action assurances on the DMZ, well, that would be very appealing. But of course Rusk thinks that Hanoi will knock it down today. They've never been able to tell us that. We don't know why they'll tell him that next January. Do you follow me there?
Dirksen: Yes, I follow you.
President: So, I would think that Nixon's position that he would take would be, with these conferences going on, that he add all the information, that he's not in touch with them, that he's not responsible, that he doesn't want to do anything that would appear to divide this country, and therefore it is the Democrats’ responsibility, period, and not to get into the war thing any more than he has to. I would think that would be the best thing for Hubert, but apparently he's trying to get the McCarthy vote. Now, the way I see the thing, there are 43 percent of the people for Nixon, 28 percent for Hubert, 21 percent for Wallace. So when you take 43 and 21 on Wallace and Nixon that's 64 percent. Now there's only 8 percent undecided—let's assume all of those are McCarthy people. That doesn't do him any good. If he puts 8 percent with his 28, he's just got 36. So he's got to do something to get at some of the Nixon [supporters] back or some of the Wallace people back. And I wouldn't think that this kind of a speech would get either of them—I may be wrong. I believe he's been losing because they have been doubtful on Vietnam and a lot of the Democrats, particularly in our section of the country, have been going to Wallace. That's my judgment.
Dirksen: Yes, well, that's the way I size it up.
President: So, I have said all along, and Nixon has said all along, that we've just got one government and we've got to stop at the water's edge and we can't play politics with the war and we just cannot ignore Bunker and ignore Abrams, our commander in the field, we cannot ignore all of our Joint Chiefs—there are four of them, we can't ignore our Secretary—we can't ignore our Secretary of State, we can't ignore the President, who have all the information involved. So that's the way we see it.
Dirksen: Well, thanks much.[Page 112]
[Omitted here is general discussion of ambassadorial and judicial nominations.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Dirksen, October 1, 1968, 10:31 a.m., Tape F6810.01, PNO 7. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Johnson telephoned McCormack immediately after this conversation at 10:45 a.m. and discussed the same topics. (Ibid., Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McCormack, October 1, 1968, 10:45 a.m., Tape 6810.01, PNO 8-9)↩
- See Document 40.↩