237. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

McNamara: Hello.

President: Bob.

McNamara: Yes, Mr. President.

President: I never did hear from General Taylor, did the Chiefs think that was all right?

McNamara: Well, he tried to call, he didnʼt get them all, but frankly they were for the hardest possible line. LeMay wanted to go in and bomb the place and Max told me on the way over, driving over this afternoon, that he felt the Chiefs would prefer alternative one, they hadnʼt actually seen it in that form, but thatʼs what he thought they would prefer. When you asked him to call, he tried to call, he got one [Page 587] or two, he didnʼt get them all. But I think we can safely say they would prefer one or two. I didnʼt tell you at the meeting, because I didnʼt want to interject it in the conversation but I called Russell as you asked me to and he would prefer alternative one.

President: Yeah. I knew that. There was one thing that worries me. I think one is all right except for that word reduce.

McNamara: Well, I agree with you. I would have much preferred discontinue.

President: We probably just ought to put discontinue in regardless what they said. I just didnʼt want—Rusk had gone along with us and I didnʼt want to have a fight with him, but in doing it now—you reduce them or put them on that base, I mean discontinue them or put them on the base.

McNamara: Yeah. Iʼm sending people down there tonight. Theyʼll get plans and bring it back here, then weʼll get it moving on it.

President: Now do you think weʼre going to have some static with the press on this thing, you think some of our own crowd will be building it up.

McNamara: I donʼt think so. I donʼt think we will. I hope we donʼt have any.

President: Why donʼt you meet with some of the press tomorrow.

McNamara: I can do that.

President: Iʼd background them and have Taylor in there with you and tell them, give them a little the dangerous side if they continue, if this guy can cut you off, your water, he can cut you off your people, and youʼve got to have security at these bases, so that, so that they think weʼve done enough. Now my real concern, Bob, is that theyʼre going to think we havenʼt done anything.

McNamara: Well, that was my concern, thatʼs why I wanted to get away from two onto one. I agree with you. I think thatʼs the real danger in this country.

President: But I couldnʼt understand McCone. Heʼs pretty hard nosed, and I just couldnʼt find out where he was.

McNamara: I couldnʼt either. I just told somebody here that when I find myself being accused by McCone as over-reacting, I really begin to wonder.

President: Maybe we better go back to Ford. Will you take me with you.

President and McNamara: [laughter]

President: Goodbye, thank you. Iʼm going to leave now. Iʼve lost a real good friend. Iʼve got to go to a funeral. But I want you to take care of things while Iʼm gone.

[Page 588]

McNamara: Dean 2 and I will both be here.

President: All right, okay.

McNamara: Thank you.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara, Tape F64.12, Side A, PNO 3. No classification marking. President Johnson placed the call. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. The President called Rusk after talking with McNamara and urged Rusk to meet with the press and “your columnist folk” tomorrow to “go over this thing pretty carefully” so that they would think that “we had a stronger line than some of them” and yet were not “too provocative.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Dean Rusk, February 7, 1964, 7:26 p.m., Tape F64.12, Side A, PNO 4)