240. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Vietnam

PARTICIPANTS

  • US
    • The President
    • Ambassador David K.E. Bruce
    • McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President
    • William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • Ambassador Lloyd Hand
    • Thomas M. Judd, EUR/BNA
  • UK
    • Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart
    • Michael Stewart, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., British Embassy

Following a private conversation with the Foreign Secretary, the President called in the other participants. He said that the Foreign Secretary had expressed to him the views of the British Government on the situation in Vietnam which he then summarized. He went on to explain what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam. The President said we had several alternatives. We could simply stand and take it like animals do in a storm. We could leave Vietnam. He did not think that the British and our other allies wanted this. The President did not think that the British, if they were in our place, would pull out. If we did pull out, where would the retreat stop? We had learned from the dealings of Prime Minister Chamberlain with Hitler that appeasement did not pay.

Another alternative which was being urged upon him, the President said, was to carry the war to Hanoi and Peking. He had resisted these pressures and had instead chosen a very carefully measured policy of striking at the enemy. This policy was perhaps better understood and supported by our soldiers in Vietnam than it was here in the U.S. He read from a letter received from a soldier in Vietnam.

The Foreign Secretary asked if the U.S. realized what the consequences of these policies might be. There were no signs that our tactics would bring the communists to negotiate. Even if they did, how [Page 487]could we get an agreement providing any real guarantees for South Vietnam. And even if such an agreement were possible, could we be sure that the South Vietnamese Government would be able to control the situation within its own boundaries. The Foreign Secretary referred to the need for the British Government to go a bit further in suggesting negotiations than the U.S. would like. He referred to pressures from the Labor Party backbenchers and from others in the UK.

The President replied that we could not be sure of course that our policy would produce the desired results. Nothing was certain. He again referred to the alternatives. The President said he would welcome any practical suggestions for other policies. He said he did not think, on the other hand, that it did any of us any good to air our differences in the press. This helped our enemies.

There was a discussion on the use of tear gas in Vietnam and the strong reaction this had produced in the UK. The President pointed out that tear gas was widely used for crowd control purposes by law enforcement agencies in this country. It was considered preferable to more forceful measures.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 347, CF 2482. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Judd and approved in the White House on March 29. The meeting was held in the President’s office. Foreign Secretary Stewart visited Washington March 21-24. Briefing papers and memoranda of his conversations with Secretary Rusk are ibid., CF 2481-2482.