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352. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk1

Johnson: Hello.

Rusk: Hello. Yes, sir.

Johnson: Yes, Dean.

Rusk: Mr. President, I’ll put you on with George Ball here in just a moment. [inaudible] he’s been meeting with Bob McNamara about the Congo, but the essence of it is that the Belgian cabinet is now meeting at this moment to decide their view on whether it is in the best interest of the hostages to go ahead and drop these fellows tomorrow morning. But let me put you on with George Ball to bring you—, to give you a little more detail on it. Hold on just a minute.

Johnson: [inaudible]

Ball: [inaudible] Spaak’s own view is that it’s necessary to go ahead with the drop tomorrow morning. He feels that not to do so when that force is assembled would in his words be grotesque. The situation is that the column is moving by road and should be there not later than mid-morning. The drop would take place at the first light of dawn, but the combination of these two would,—one would reinforce the other.2 And we’re expecting within the next half hour word that the Belgian cabinet has made this decision. It’s,—we have to make a final decision in order to get the word there by not later than 5 o’clock this afternoon our time here, which is about three and a half hours from now. So we wanted to get your reaction to this situation as it’s now developing, Mr. President.

Johnson: I don’t think we’ve got any choice, have we?

Ball: I beg your pardon.

Johnson: I don’t think we’ve got any choice, have we?

Ball: I wouldn’t think so. We’re all unanimous. Bob McNamara is right here and standing by, as well as Dean, and we’re all in agreement as to what we have to do if the Belgians decide, as appears to be the case now, that they want to go ahead.

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Johnson: What domestic reaction are we going to get from the Negroes in this country?

Ball: I think that what we have prepared, Mr. President, is a dossier of the kind of messages that we have been getting out of Stanleyville about the killing and the threats to eat and burn and so on these hostages. I think that this could be represented quite properly as a strictly humanitarian effort and I don’t think that it should create any problem of that kind. We’ve made it clear that our rescue efforts are directed towards the Congolese as well as toward our own people. That is, that it’s not solely a matter of saving the white hostages.

Johnson: Is this in any way going to involve us in getting us in there and getting us tied down there?

Ball: Well, we’re very conscious of that and of course these are not our troops that are being—.

Johnson: I understand that. I understand that.

Ball: And we’re all sensitive to the idea that we get out just as fast as we can, that this is not a commitment to get into a land fight in the middle of Africa.

Johnson: OK. We’ll talk a little later, I gather.

Ball: Now we’ve just had a message while I’ve been talking to you. I was just handed a note saying that the Belgian cabinet has formally approved the Spaak recommendation and that if the United States concurs, they would give the order for tomorrow morning.

Johnson: Well, you’re in agreement then.

Ball: We’re all in agreement.

Johnson: Well, all right. Let’s go.

Ball: Right.

Johnson: You don’t think we need to check any more?

Ball: Not unless there’s some new development, Mr. President. Would you like to speak to Bob McNamara? He’s right here.—Hello.

Johnson: How are you?

Ball: I said, do you want to speak to Bob McNamara?

Johnson: Yes, yeah.

McNamara: Yes, Mr. President. How are you?

Johnson: Very well, sir.—

[Omitted here is discussion of an unrelated subject.]

Johnson: Any other troubles?

McNamara: No sir, other than this one George was talking about, which is a very great trouble, but which we’re all agreed on. We should go ahead if the Belgians request that we do so. They have so requested.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Secretary Rusk, November 23, 1964, 12:24 p.m., Tape WH 6411.28, 6451, Side A, PNO 2. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume. Rusk was in Washington; President Johnson was in Texas.
  2. See Document 347, for a record of Ball’s November 22 telephone conversation with the President in which he reported that the military had recommended holding up the paradrop operation one more night so it could be coordinated with the arrival of the column at Stanleyville.