70. Notes of Meeting1


  • Secretary of State Rusk
  • Secretary of Defense Clifford
  • General Earle Wheeler
  • Walt Rostow
  • Tom Johnson

The President: Senator Smathers said the word is out that we are making an effort to throw the election to Humphrey. He said Nixon had been told of it. Nixon told Smathers he did not want the President to be pulled into this, that wrong results could flow. Nixon said he is afraid we would be misled.

Senator Smathers said he assured Nixon that the President would move if an opportunity for peace presented itself.2

Secretary Clifford: I doubt it would have any effect on the campaign.

The President: Both sides think it would.

Secretary Rusk: George Ball is coming down tomorrow.3 I will give him nothing.

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Secretary Clifford: The people have made up their minds on the election already.

Mark Twain said “when in doubt do right.”4

The President: That is right. But let’s not be pulled in.

When does Paris want it announced?

Secretary Rusk: By midnight tomorrow.

There was a discussion of the draft cable outgoing to ambassadors in troop-contributing countries.

The President: Do the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel we are on solid ground completely? Do all of you think this is the right course?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir. We have unanimous agreement. Abrams is strong for it.

The President: Do you know this is what we ought to do?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, sir.

Secretary Clifford: I have absolutely no doubt that this is right.

The President: All right, go ahead and execute (7:39 p.m. EDT).

The decision was made to send out the draft cable—attachment A.5

Senator Russell said we need to do this.

In San Antonio, we said

In Detroit, we said

In New Orleans, we said

  • We are in close touch with our negotiators.
  • We concluded we should stop bombing to test their faith.
  • Ordering it at a certain time.

Gorton, Holyoake will take it. The Koreans, Thais will give us trouble.

Secretary Rusk: Let’s amend the GVN so that South Vietnam are at the table the next day.

The President: Are we all in agreement that we should stop the bombing if the GVN are there?

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If the GVN are not there do we resume the bombing?

Secretary Rusk: Yes, if they Don’t agree to sit down.

Secretary Clifford: I agree.

The President: Do we resume bombing if they hit cities or attack across DMZ?

Secretary Rusk: Yes.

Secretary Clifford: Yes.

The question is, should we place any limitation on the bombing?

Secretary Rusk: No limitation. It will depend on circumstances and the degree of violation as to what we do.

Secretary Clifford: I am aboard.

Secretary Rusk: I am aboard.

General Wheeler: I agree. So do all of the Chiefs.

The President: I do not want to be the one to have it said about that one man died tomorrow who could have been saved because of this plan.

I do not think it will happen, but there is a chance.

We’ll try it. We’ll be scared, but let’s try it.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Eyes Only for the President. Eyes Only for the President. The meeting lasted from 7:15 until 8 p.m. and was held in the Cabinet Room. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  2. The President, along with Jones, met with Smathers from 6:55 to 7:15 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A full transcript of the meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  3. Rusk met with Ball from 11:25 to 11:55 a.m. at the State Department. (Ibid., Dean Rusk Appointment Book, 1968-1969) No record of the meeting has been found.
  4. According to the full transcript, Clifford stated: “I can understand how Mr. Nixon feels. He doesn’t want anything that could possibly rock the boat. He likes the shape that it is in now and any little new development might rock the boat, so he would be opposed to it. But what’s the matter with rocking the boat? Remember what Mark Twain once said that occasionally is relevant. He said, ‘When in doubt, do right.’” (Ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)
  5. Attachment A was sent as telegram 255243 to Bangkok, Seoul, and Saigon (repeated to Canberra, Manila, Paris, and Wellington), October 15. In it the Department discussed the evolution of the breakthrough in Paris and requested allied concurrence in the understanding to end the bombing and begin substantive negotiations. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/Double Plus, Vol. I)