15. Memorandum of Conversation1



  • Visit of Australian Prime Minister Harold E. Holt, 29 June 19662


  • United States Side
    • Secretary of Defense—Robert S. McNamara
    • Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA)—John T. McNaughton
    • Assistant to Director, FER, ISA—James K. Pont
  • Australian Side
    • Prime Minister—Harold E. Holt
    • Secretary, Prime Ministerʼs Department—Edward J. Bunting
    • Deputy Secretary, Department of Defense—G.E. Blakers
    • Ambassador to US—John Keith Waller
Introductory: Greetings were exchanged and photographs taken. The Secretary said Prime Minister Holtʼs luncheon remarks were most gracious and it was a pleasure to meet with the leader of such a staunch ally. The Prime Minister responded that he believed the Secretary was doing a fine job.

Bombing Hanoi-Haiphong POL Areas: The Secretary indicated the bombings that day had been a successful operation both from the point-of-view of (1) civilian casualties, which available information indicated were negligible, and (2) loss of aircraft, which, as he had publicly released, was only one. He pointed out that the strikes were timed during good weather conditions to reduce the possibility of civilian casualties. Alluding to British “blockbuster” tactics in Berlin and VC tactics against civilians in SVN, Prime Minister Holt stated we should not, and that he would not, be apologetic over the civilian casualty problem. He indicated he viewed this as a matter of military judgment. Such supplies could provide the wherewithal needed by the enemy to inflict injury on US and/or Australian troops. He did not foresee any opposition to such strikes in his government which he could not overcome and he would support the US regardless of the unfavorable British reaction. He then showed the Secretary his short endorsement of the strikes which he would issue later. The Secretary indicated the sincere appreciation of the US for the continued Australian support. He said, “we will do more in the next few days.”

Ambassador Waller then prompted Prime Minister Holt to query the Secretary on how they should handle the question of “prior notice” to the Australians regarding such strikes. The Secretary suggested the Prime Minister state categorically that he was “aware,” but to avoid any details or specific answers as to the timing of such notice. The Prime Minister agreed. Mr. McNaughton then explained that Under Secretary Ballʼs statement of “no decision to bomb” was made after the earlier decision to bomb had been cancelled and before the new one to go ahead had been made. The Prime Minister expressed concern over the behavior of the press in the whole affair. Mr. McNaughton concurred.

The Secretary indicated that certain Congressional critics had begun intensive blasts at the bombings, some of which were of a personal nature and directed toward the President and himself. He went on to say that the Administration was mobilizing its supporters to offset these attacks. Mr. McNaughton noted that while the Wilson statement showed displeasure with bombings near heavily populated areas, it contained [Page 33] two added paragraphs which indicated support of US policy generally in SVN.


British Support or Lack Thereof: In addition to the statement above, other evidence of the lack of British support in SEA became a major topic of discussion. The Secretary said that a possible British public statement of unwillingness to sell munitions to US or Australia for use in Vietnam would be most unfortunate. He added that while we donʼt now need the munitions, such a showing of the lack of support by a major world ally would make the US position seem to be one of going it alone and harder to justify domestically. He reiterated his appreciation for the Australian role, but emphasized the need for more international support as we couldnʼt stand alone in Asia.

Prime Minister Holt indicated that parliamentary problems have probably colored many official British actions. He said he had “jumped Healey in Canberra” over lack of British support and would continue to discuss the subject with them. Mr. McNaughton wondered how much Wilson was influenced by the fringe of his party (“Labor Left” and “Europe-First Group”). The Prime Minister indicated that his contacts with the British indicate a fear of supporting corrupt governments not worthy of support and a feeling that a major drain on resources in SEA would preclude playing the role of a “big European power.” He added this was Australiaʼs first time at fighting without the British beside them and that he had argued with the British along two lines. First, only through the firm stand of the US in SVN and the beneficial counter-effect that this stand has had on Chinese Communist influence, have we been able to achieve the existing successful developments in SEA. He specifically referred to the “remarkable efforts” of the US in Thailand and the beneficial role of the Thais in the Indonesian-Malaysian situation and their assistance in Laos and Vietnam. (He also referred to Thanatʼs criticism of SEATO, aimed at the British and French, that as SEATO didnʼt come to the aid of SVN, US assistance was required.) Among other beneficial effects, he cited the Indonesian developments which he argues would not have taken place had not the Indonesians seen an Asia with an increasing US vis-à-vis Chinese Communist influence. His second line of approach is to query the British on how they can expect to be a major power without being involved in the business of SVN.

The Secretary indicated general agreement that current developments in Asia suggest a favorable trend, e.g., indications from Sihanouk in Cambodia. He continued by saying he had little hope of obtaining British forces for SVN, but believed they must join us in Thailand if we are to be forced to stand in that country. He wondered where the British would stand if not Thailand. With confrontation ending, all the more reason exists for British being with us. He postulated that if we stood in [Page 34] Thailand without the British, support from the people of the US could diminish greatly.

Mr. Blakers asked what type of current role we could see for the British in Thailand. Mr. McNaughton answered by pointing to Ambassador Martinʼs request to provide US pilots to man US helicopters in Thailand. He said that while the requirement was not large when compared with our resources, there were two other factors to consider: (1) we would again be standing alone and (2) the more we do the less indigenous forces tend to do. British participation wouldnʼt have helped the second point, but it would have assisted greatly in the first respect and would have provided a very beneficial effect in the US. He added, however, that the British seemed more interested in SVN than other European countries. He said the Europeans seem to believe that a natural balance would develop in Asia if we allowed it to do so. He offered the hypothesis that the inexpensiveness of such reasoning might help explain its attractiveness. In regard to this line of reasoning, Prime Minister Holt said that he liked to use Vice President Humphreyʼs remark about putting a fox in the chicken coop.

The Secretary again pointed to the US public and Congressional criticism of Administration policy is SVN which stemmed considerably from the need for more and wider international support. When our people see such attitudes as those exhibited by the English, Japanese, and Indians, they wonder if we are not wrong. If not wrong, are we foolish? In addition, there is the fear of perpetuating a regime which doesnʼt deserve it. Prime Minister Holt reaffirmed his belief that we need to show what has been done in the area and that nothing would have been possible without the sense of security established by the US stand in SVN. Our firmness has given such developments a chance to take place and we need to continue providing this opportunity. The Secretary agreed and said he hoped the Prime Ministerʼs public statements, especially those here on this trip, would continue to emphasize these points. The Prime Minister said they would and referred to his statement in Canberra where he used “domino theory in reverse” as a shorthand expression for this rationale. The Secretary expressed his gratitude for such remarks and said they were the kind which the US public needed to hear.

Prime Minister Holt said he had also been telling the British that while Australia has done some planning in regard to possible bases, there was no question about the bases “up there” being far preferable. He said it would somewhat silly to begin all over again just because of some doubts about being able to remain in current areas.


Japan and India: The Secretary asked Prime Minister Holt what roles he expected Japan and India to play in Asia. The Prime Minister indicated he was encouraged by Japanese participation in ASPAC and the increasing trade developing between Japan and Australia. He indicated [Page 35] he was not really an Indian specialist, but he felt that considerable time would be required for India to develop.

The Secretary expressed his view that if Asia is to know stability, Japan and India must necessarily assume greater roles in Asia within the next few years. He said that while Japan is experiencing good economic health, it has no real military power base and is not moving fast enough in the direction of obtaining one. India has a foundation for power but has no political projection. He reiterated his belief that these countries would need to begin assuming a military and political role in order to stabilize the area, especially when viewed in conjunction with the ChiCom buildup which canʼt help but increase. This buildup would probably bring with it an increasing tendency for the Chinese to lean on their neighbors. Prime Minister Holt said he saw a close inter-relationship between economic and military affairs in Japan. The former would continue to come first, hopefully followed by the latter. Japan might be forced into moving more rapidly in the latter direction if it begins to see its sources of supply and hence its economy threatened.


New Zealand and Indonesia: Prime Minister Holt said he felt New Zealand had a balance of payments problem and an over-heated economy. The government could not take remedial steps, however, until after the elections late this year. He asked the Secretary what he heard from the New Zealanders. The Secretary answered that we did not hear very much. He knew they did not want to increase their current contribution to SVN and with the forthcoming elections we were not seeking to pressure them on the issue.

The Prime Minister said that he believed before we embark on extensive aid to Indonesia we must be assured that confrontation is ended and the Indonesians accept British bases in Malaysia.

Australian/Asian Relations: Prime Minister Holt indicated Australians were increasingly being considered as a part of Asia by many Asians. He indicated his people were also now feeling more a part of Asia with a definite stake in Asian affairs. The Secretary said we were delighted with the role which the Australians were playing in Asia. The Prime Minister said there had been a considerable problem in regard to conscriptees being sent to SVN. He added, “the boys behaved so well, however, that the political sting was taken from the issue.” He said that upon his return from his trip to SVN he found a whole new atmosphere. The friendly reception he and the Australian forces had received in SVN and the scenes from Saigon showing normal activity, including the fact one didnʼt need an armored car to get around, had helped considerably in establishing this atmosphere. He added that upon the return of the first battalion from SVN, people stood ten deep to cheer them.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files; FRC 70 A 6648, Australia 333, Jan. ʼ66. Secret. Drafted by James K. Pont and approved by McNaughton on July 7. The meeting was held in McNamaraʼs office.
  2. Holt met privately with President Johnson at 12:50 p.m. in the Oval Office after the official arrival ceremony on the White House lawn and before a 1:06 p.m. luncheon at the White House. (Johnson Library, Presidentʼs Daily Diary) No record of the discussion between Johnson and Holt has been found, but the Department of State prepared a briefing memorandum that suggested that the main purpose of the visit was for Holt “to get acquainted with the President, to continue the close personal relationship which has existed between Australian Prime Ministers and Presidents of the United States, and to get a first hand outline of United States policy and assessments with respect to Viet-Nam and other major international problems.” (Memorandum from Read to Rostow, June 27; Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 AUSTL) Holt also met with Acting Secretary Ball on June 30 for discussions on Vietnam. An account of their meeting is in a memorandum of conversation, June 30; ibid., POL 27 VIET S.