48. Editorial Note

On April 30, 1965, President Johnson held several telephone conversations with his top advisers between 5 and 7 p.m. on a proposed statement to the press regarding Communist involvement in the Dominican crisis. In the first of these conversations with Secretary of Defense McNamara at 5:05 p.m., McNamara expressed his strong belief that the President of the United States should not be the person to “point a finger to the Communistsʼ participation in this.” McNamara thought President Johnson would have “a pretty tough job proving that the Inter-American system was being menaced by powers outside the republic and were trying to gain control.” President Johnson responded, “We all know they are. What is wrong with my saying it?” McNamara said, “The rest of US can say things like that and we donʼt have to prove it, but you have got a handful of people there but you donʼt know that Castro is trying to do anything. You would have a hard time proving to any group that Castro has done more than train these people, and we have trained a lot of people and he has trained a lot of people. I think it puts your own status and prestige too much on the line. The rest of the statement I think is excellent, but to say you as President [have] personal knowledge that powers outside the hemisphere are trying to subvert this government or those people, I donʼt think you are in a very strong position to say that.”

President Johnson asked if the CIA could document Castroʼs involvement and McNamara replied that he didnʼt think so. He thought the CIA might show certain people were trained in Cuba, but not that Castro was directing the training. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara, Tape F65.14, Side A, PNO 6)

At 5:40 p.m. McNamara and President Johnson resumed their telephone conversation about the press statement. President Johnson opened the conversation by saying, with a sense of urgency, “I have this feeling if we donʼt take over that island within the next 24 hours [Page 110] or before the last man folds, we never will. I may be wrong, but if I am wrong I want you to tell me.” McNamara responded by again expressing his objections to a statement that includes a sentence “people trained outside [the Dominican Republic] are seeking to gain control.” Bill Moyers, who was in the Presidentʼs office at the time of this conversation, added that he thought such a sentence was unnecessary and to include it “would raise the prestige and status of the Cubans because it declares publicly that “we believe the Communists are behind this.” (Ibid., Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara, Tape F65.14, Side A, PNO 7)

By 6 p.m. when President Johnson talked to McGeorge Bundy on the telephone, the final draft of the press statement was still not approved by the Presidentʼs top advisers. During their conversation Bundy promised the President that he would have a statement before the close of business that evening. President Johnson fearing that would be too late responded:

“I think while we were talking yesterday we ought to have been acting. I think we ought to have been doing yesterday what we did today. I think we finally got some people doing something today. I think theyʼre going to have that island in another 24 hours. I think weʼve got no basis for any action. I think this statement is a predicate and kind of puts your hand up your dress. Morse has just made his speech; he compliments US but he said our only basis of action is to keep the Communists from taking over. We wonʼt even admit that thereʼs anybody down there, that there is any conspiracy. We have run under the table and hid and told them nothing … I know that when we go all day in a hot situation like this without saying anything, and wait until late in the evening until they [the OAS] act, I know that we are going to look like we are just a bunch of interveners and not peacemakers at all.”

Bundy replied that he still felt the President could get his point across by “hinting to these things … by sticking to our existing position.” The conversation ended with the President saying he really wanted to deliver a statement and hoped his advisers would soon reach agreement on a draft. (Ibid., Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, Tape F65.14, Side A, PNO 10)

At 6:25 p.m. McNamara placed a telephone call to President Johnson. Again they debated the contents of what would become the fourth paragraph in the final version of the statement. President Johnson informed McNamara that Rusk had voiced his objections to the Presidentʼs statement saying “there are disturbing signs” in the Dominican Republic because to do so would be to “take on the liberals” and “the Communists.” McNamara agreed and advocated that the President deliver a statement without reference to the line in question, even if it was “just a handout to the press.” But President Johnson did not completely agree. He said: “What worries me, Bob, is that Iʼm not being [Page 111] quite honest with them. I think we do know and every citizen of this country knows that there are disturbing signs there, and there are people trained outside in there, and I think if I donʼt say so it looks like Iʼm concealing it and trying to cover up.” McNamara said that with or without the sentence in question he thought any statement would be worthwhile. The conversation ended with President Johnson undecided about whether he should deliver the statement. (Ibid., Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara, Tape F65.14, Side B, PNO 2)

At 6:30 p.m. President Johnson telephoned Rusk to seek his approval on the latest version of the statement. This version replaced the word “powers” with the word “people” in the sentence “powers trained outside the Dominican Republic are seeking to gain control of the rebel movement,” a veiled reference to Cuba. Rusk said he agreed with this change because “it separates the Bosch people from the Communists.” Mann and Ball who were in Ruskʼs office at the time of this telephone call concurred. (Ibid., Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Dean Rusk, Tape F65.14, Side B, PNO 3)

President Johnson held one last telephone conversation with McGeorge Bundy at 6:35 p.m. before he decided to deliver his statement at 7:07 p.m. in the Theater at the White House. The text of the statement is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, Book I, pages 465–466. During this conversation Bundy told the President he still felt that the latest version of the statement might commit the President to a “civil war against Communists that arenʼt in charge.” Bundy said that although the CIA had identified eight Communist-trained rebels, “nobody has yet said that anyone of these Communists is actually in command of a column.” Bundy said he “wasnʼt sure that these Communists were that much in control of this messy movement,” and he “wouldnʼt this evening point the finger that hard at the Communists.” After Bundy and the President “doctored down” the language by removing the words “disturbing” and “dangerous elements” from the fourth paragraph, the President asked one last question: did Bundy think delivering the statement would “handicap” them. Bundy said, “no, not too much.” With that response the President ended the conversation. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, Tape F65.14, Side B, PNO 4) The portions of the conversations printed here were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.