19. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Viet-Nam and Related Matters


  • For Australia:
    • Rt. Hon. Harold Holt, Prime Minister
    • Rt. Hon. J. McEwen, Minister for Trade and Industry
    • Rt. Hon. William McMahon, Treasurer
    • Rt. Hon. C.F. Adermann, Minister for Primary Industry
    • Hon. Allen Fairhall, Minister for Defence
    • Senator Denham Henty, Minister for Supply
    • Hon. A.S. Hulme, Postmaster General
    • Hon. David Fairbairn, Minister for National Development
    • Hon. C.F. Barnes, Minister for Territories
    • Senator J.G. Gorton, Minister for Works
    • Hon. L.H.E. Bury, Minister for Labour and National Service
    • His Excellency Mr. J.K. Waller, Ambassador to the United States
    • Sir John Bunting, Secretary, Prime Ministerʼs Department
    • Mr. Peter J. Lawler, Deputy Secretary, Prime Ministerʼs Department
  • For the United States:
    • Hon. Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States
    • His Excellency Mr. Edward Clark, Ambassador
    • Mr. Farris Bryant, Director, Office of Emergency Planning
    • Mr. Walt Rostow, Special Assistant to the President
    • Mr. Marvin Watson, Special Assistant to the President
    • Mr. James W. Symington, Chief of Protocol
    • Mr. E.M. Cronk, Counselor of Embassy

The Prime Minister introduced members of the Cabinet. In welcoming the President and inviting him to address the Cabinet, the Prime Minister declared the pleasure which he and his colleagues found in the historic visit of a President of the United States to Australia and the importance which they attached to the opportunity for an intimate discussion of issues of mutual interest.

[Page 45]

The President recalled his contact with Australia during World War II and spoke of the stimulating experience for him in returning now as President of the United States.

Underlying the world importance of the Asian area from the standpoint of population, needs, and potential, the President referred to attitudes in the United States in earlier years, and even now, particularly in the American press, which tended to be oriented toward Europe. His experiences in the area during World War II had changed his own views about Asia. While he attached great importance to keeping NATO together, the United States must also work for unity in Asia. He wished to see more emphasis put on the problems of poverty, disease and ignorance in the depressed areas of the world.

The President spoke of the series of alliances which America had entered into since World War II—NATO, SEATO, ANZUS—so that members of these alliances could join in meeting aggression where it occurred. Once the United States had pledged its word, there would be no faltering—the would-be dictators of Asia should understand that. However, the United States had been disappointed in the SEATO alliance on the issue of Viet-Nam, in particular with Britain. It was a great disappointment to him that Prime Minister Wilson had dissociated Britain from the United States position in Viet-Nam.

The Communists had been making great efforts to influence the thinking of the peoples of the free world. They sought to induce in the public mind a false image that the United States was acting alone to impose its will on the people of Viet-Nam and that we had no reason to be there.

The President said he had not come to Australia to ask for a man or a dollar or anything else: Australia would continue to reach its own decisions in offering assistance. He paid tribute to the job Australian forces were doing. He was here, and the U.S. had committed forces, because the Communist aggression in Viet-Nam was dangerous for Australia, for America and for freedom everywhere. If the United States were to pull out of Viet-Nam tomorrow, other countries of Southeast Asia would quickly fall. The aggressor would get to Australia long before he got to San Francisco.

There were in America some who thought the U.S. should bomb our way out of Viet-Nam and some who thought we should sell out. He did not want to get into a war with China, but equally he did not want to surrender. Between these extremes the United States would pursue a policy of putting pressure on the enemy to the point where they would be convinced that they could not win. The United States was committed to put-ting in whatever was needed to achieve its objective, not of unconditional surrender or the overthrow of the North Vietnamese regime, but of a solution such as had been achieved in Greece.

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With respect to the Manila Conference, the President said there naturally would be a review of the military situation which looks better than many realize. But he did not want to see the Conference turn into a military exercise. The United States was anxious to discuss better means to pacify and develop areas liberated in Viet-Nam. In one area where 62 schools had been built, 55 had already been destroyed by the Viet Cong. They would have to take steps to give better guidance to people who have never had stable government. In this he was looking particularly to the views and leadership of Mr. Holt and Mr. Holyoake in the Conference.

The recent election in Viet-Nam had been most encouraging, but this process must be carried forward. The U.S. wished to see Viet-Nam make it on the path of political development, but at the same time we have to recognize the great problems that they faced in doing so. On the economic front there was much to be done in overcoming corruption, controlling inflation, in long range planning, land reform, and so on. But these were sensitive matters with the Government of Viet-Nam so it would be necessary to work quietly behind the scenes. President Marcos might want to bring forward proposals for an early peace conference. The U.S. wanted a peace conference, but offers of an early conference would not put pressure on Ho Chi Minh. The President said that at Manila he would follow the Tran Van Do formula of July. Certainly the U.S. wanted peace, but it could not be a unilateral matter. The demonstrators for peace in Western countries did not need to worry about the United States intentions; they ought rather to concentrate their energies on Ho Chi Minh. But these demonstrators had an influence out of proportion to their members. They were people in universities, intellectual circles and in the news networks and they were using their liberty to destroy themselves.

The Communists entertained a hope that his (President Johnsonʼs) position on Viet-Nam would be repudiated by the American people in the November elections.

But this entirely misjudged the temper of the American people. While there was a lot of political infighting, there was unity on the defense issue. The vote in the Senate on a recent appropriation bill for Viet-Nam was 87 to nothing.

The President said the United States intended to treat its obligations seriously in Viet-Nam, just as it had in Greece, Turkey and the Dominican Republic, and as it had not done in Cuba. They would put into Viet-Nam the resources needed to do the job. However, they wanted Australia and others to stand up with them to show that it was not just an effort of the United States. The seven participants in the Manila meeting might get this across to a hundred other nations.

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The President said he had not come with a formula for peace. Nor did he think peace was just around the corner. It would not be achieved until enough power had been applied to make the Communists desist. However, as long as they thought they could win in Washington or promote disunity among the allies they would pursue their aggression. One thing the United States wanted out of the Manila Conference was that more countries should become interested in what is happening in Viet-Nam.

The Prime Minister said the Australian situation was clearly known to the President and his advisers. Australia had played her part with the United States in World War I, World War II and in Korea and Viet-Nam and had suffered half a million casualties. Australia saw herself with a problem of economic growth and development. This was important to Australiaʼs allies since the stronger she became the greater contribution she could make.

It was also of mutual interest that Australia should continue to maintain a military presence in the Singapore/Malaysia area, not only for herself but as a means of influencing Britain to maintain forces east of Suez. There were also the demands made by the development of Papua and New Guinea.

The Prime Minister said he mentioned these things because it was important to see the total picture of Australiaʼs defense and development. The Government would not hold back. He had repeatedly drawn attention to Australiaʼs vital interest in the outcome in Viet-Nam. The Government had introduced conscription (National Service), the first time this had been done in peace-time, and this had become the principal issue in the current political campaign. The Government welcomed this. They wanted to be able to say that the people had endorsed the policy of conscription at the forthcoming Federal election.

The Prime Minister and the President agreed that they should issue a joint public statement on the discussions which they had had.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Australia, Vol. II, Memos, 1/66–7/67. Secret. There is no drafter indicated, but Jorden of the White House approved this memorandum on November 23. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at Parliament House. President Johnson was on a trip to Asia and the Pacific, October 17–November 2. He visited Australia October 20–23. The centerpiece of the Asian visit was the meeting in Manila, October 24–25, with those allies who contributed troops to the conflict in South Vietnam. Extensive briefing papers prepared for this trip are ibid., International Meetings and Travel, Asia. There is also a history prepared by the NSC on the Manila Conference, which contains summaries and copies of documents on the Presidentʼs discussions in Canberra and his related talks in Wellington, October 20–21, see ibid., NSC Histories, Manila Conference.