135. Notes of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K said he had just talked with Ben Reed. Reed said that Humphrey is taking a terrible time about his statement today.2 Said it’s as bad as during the campaign. P said “You mean they’re getting after Humphrey?” And then the P asked if H was sorry. K said no, he was asked about it at a later press conference, and his answers shouldn’t cause any trouble. P said “they made him trim?” K said yes. K said the response was bad from the press and the left wingers. P said, well, the H move is very important, very helpful to us. K asked the P if he had [Page 451] asked H to speak. President said no, he’s a decent human being. Says he flops around, but he’s a decent man. P said, of course, this drives the press right up the wall; the tide is good; the democratic leadership is not against us.

K said he had just seen some Newsweek people and had a feeling that they were a little bit shaken. Said he felt they thought the peace demonstration had gotten out of hand. P asked in what way. K pointed out that all the people getting into the scene were forcing, or trying to force, a government of confrontation. He said all of the American ideas aren’t going to mean a damn if confrontation becomes our national style of politics. He said Newsweek is usually against us, and it’s possible that these men were just baiting him, and warned the P not to expect the Newsweek piece to be friendly. The P said no, but we don’t care, we’ve just got to try.

K said he is drafting a statement.3 The P said he was seeing Lodge at 3:00 Monday and he thinks he should make a statement after seeing Lodge.4 K said it should hit the papers Tuesday; confuse people. K said that Newsweek people said it was a very good day for us, Hershey and Humphrey. P said he hated to throw the old man out just as a sop to the students,5 but that Humphrey, of course, was a good move.

The P said, by 72 the war is going to be over, and he is going to be the man who ended it. If we do it—put it right to the bastards—after all we’re in there they’re not. There’s a lot of rough stuff coming up but the thing to do is to sail along. K said what the P must do is keep giving them a dignified manner. (P said oh of course.) K said no asking for sympathy. P said “God no.” K says for him to point out that he was elected and because of this he has responsibility for the country.

P said it isn’t just this issue, but the next one and the next one that comes up. What about Korea? What about Berlin? K said he is convinced that if we yield on this one we’re just inviting the Soviets into a confrontation.

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P said it’s like Acheson’s statement about where is the line of demarcation.6 K said yes, but it’s different because here there is no line of demarcation if we yield. P said we won’t yield. P said he doesn’t want the enemy to think that we are affected by them [the protesters].7 He had said he would not be affected by such things and he’s not going to be. K said it is sure they were just feeling us out, that we must show that there will be no policy by confrontation.

P asked again about Humphrey; asked if Humphrey’s man had said it was worse than before. P said those sons of bitches were playing a partisan line, that they were now out to destroy Humphrey. K said people were saying that the P is like Johnson; said they just want the P to be another Johnson. P said but Johnson was so inept with his hardness, that we are not going to fool around.

K said the November 3 speech8 should be a factual listing of what the President has done. K said that was very impressive. P said he’s not going to restate all that on television. He said we would put that out, but he’ll be speaking to two audiences: home and abroad. He said for the home audience he simply wanted a simple, uncomplicated and very brief statement, not a long restatement of what he’s done. K said, but make the public understand that you offered to send emissaries. The P said, and we received their emissaries. K said the P had made two overtures before the inauguration—that would be very impressive to the people. P said he would mention that for the first time he revealed what had before been diplomatically classified material; that he wanted the people to know. P said to K that he wanted him to get all the Rogers and Lodge contacts so that we could put that in. K pointed out that Lodge, Habib, and Rogers had had many meetings and he (K) had also—that that should be mentioned, and then the P should list all the things he did. K can list secret contacts.

P said in the Joint Chiefs meeting on Saturday [Oct. 11]9 he was going to let Wheeler give a report; said he was going to force them to talk about Vietnam. He wants the discussion to be about that. K said Wheeler should give about 10 minutes on Vietnam, and the P said then he would ask them what to do about Vietnam. P said they would probably give him the standard answers about the 42-month plan, and he would say that was no good. K said they should believe that P is serious about the November 1 plan; if not, they won’t give him any planning [Page 453] cooperation. Must be careful about telling them it’s inadequate; they’re terribly sensitive.

K said he thinks that really by November we ought to be in as good shape as possible. P said yes, it’s got to be ready. P said whether the United States will be able to see this thing through at the present level is a question, but if they escalate, we have got to respond. K said if we can keep casualties down over the next four weeks it will be good. But if they go up dramatically, we have an excuse for what we are planning to do.

P said Laird put out the word—that he had changed the orders—thank God that he did. I told [omission in the source text] that I changed them when I talked to Abrams—I am not going to let Rogers get credit for what we thought up. We changed the orders. K said yes, the P did it on the plane to Saigon.

P said the best news all day is the Cambodian strike. He said he is convinced—he knows K disagrees with him on this—but he is convinced that this is more important than anything else. P said bombing in the North was [omission in the source text]. Here we are hitting them and hurting them and they don’t get anything out of it. K said that they had found a new area, just north. Same rate of explosion, something like 70 secondaries. P said “suppose it blows in Cambodia.” P said, we could just say we were just hitting areas on the border. K said we can stop it at any time. P said should we; K said I don’t think we should. P said it indicates a certain toughness to them. K said we might stop it as we get closer to the first [of November]. P said why not stand down everything. K said you get into the same flap that you did last time. P: this time just stand down and don’t say why. K said I think the best thing on the third is just to give a straight account. It’s a damned impressive record.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. On October 10 former Vice President and Nixon Presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey met with Nixon and endorsed his plan to end the war. After the meeting Humphrey stated that Nixon was “proceeding along the right path” in Vietnam and “we have to give the President time to carry out his proposals, to carry out his plans and policies.” Humphrey noted that “the worst thing that we can do is try to undermine the efforts of the President.” (Stanley Millet, ed., South Vietnam: U.S.-Communist Confrontation in Southeast Asia, Vol. 4, 1969, pp. 160–161)
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Nixon and Kissinger met with Lodge and Habib from 3:44 to 4:56 p.m. October 13. (President’s Daily Diary; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No other record of this meeting has been found. A briefing memorandum from Kissinger to the President, October 11, in anticipation of the meeting is ibid., NSC Files, Box 77, Vietnam Subject Files, Memos to Pres/HAK on Lodge.
  5. On October 10 Nixon accepted General Lewis B. Hershey’s resignation as the Head of the Selective Service System and announced his intention to appoint him as an adviser to the President on manpower mobilization. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, p. 788)
  6. The so-called Acheson “Defense Perimeter Speech” made before the National Press Club in Washington on January 12, 1950; see American Foreign Policy, Basic Documents, 1950–1955, Vol. II, pp. 2310–2322.
  7. All brackets in the source text.
  8. See Document 144.
  9. See Document 136.