160. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara1

McNamara: Mr. President, the North Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong forces in that Plei Mi area have been moving back and forth across the Cambodian border attacking the South Vietnamese troops and our troops in that area. Lodge sent a cable to you today2 in which he recommended that our troops and the South Vietnamese troops be authorized to fire on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese forces in self-defense, even though they might be on the Cambodian side of this ill-defined border area. George Ball, Mac Bundy, Bill Bundy, Buz Wheeler and I all recommend acceptance of Lodgeʼs request.

Johnson: “All right.”

McNamara: Secondly, we believe it would be wise tomorrow to report to U Thant that the border incidents are occurring and urge again that the UN ask Cambodia to authorize the assignment of a UN force to that area to patrol the border. In the spring of 1964 incidents of this kind [Page 356] occurred. At that time we joined with other members of the UN in approving the assignment of about a 3,000 man United Nations force to patrol that Cambodian border. Sihanouk at the time refused to allow that force to be installed. We think it would be wise to report increasing border violations by the Viet Cong and to ask U Thant to again consider the matter.

Johnson: Are you all together on that?

McNamara: We are all unanimous on this. The only possible difference was that Mac and I would have done it tonight and the others all preferred to wait until tomorrow.

President: All right. Just go ahead.

McNamara: Fine. Thank you very much.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a telephone conversation between Johnson and McNamara, Tape 6511.06. This transcript was prepared by the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume. No classification marking.
  2. Unnumbered telegram from Saigon (No. 333 for the President from Lodge), November 20. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)