Learn about the beta

190. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Nixon: If it’s not television, it’s gone. You see, the point is that you have to realize that that’s what, what really matters in terms of the public thing. After all, the television at the present time is—it has zeroed [Page 2]in on these people. It’ll zero in on the demonstrations Saturday,2 and then they’ll try to play it over the next two weeks. They’re stringing it out, and it’s highly-unconscionable reporting on the part of television—

Kissinger: Oh, it’s awful.

Nixon: Highly unconscionable. They’re—they’re just, just—They—

Kissinger: Well, they want to destroy you, and they want us to lose in Vietnam.

Nixon: I really think that it’s more—it’s more the latter. They’d destroy me. I think it’s—If they think—they know—They know that they’re, that they’re both the same.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: But deep down, basically, you want to realize that critics of the war are furious that when they thought they had it licked, when they threw Johnson out of office, they thought, “Well, now, we’ve won our point on the war.” Now, we’ve come in, and it looks like we’re gonna—they know what it is.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: They do, because—despite all the way we put the cosmetics on, Henry, they know goddamn well that what our policy is, is to win the war.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And winning the war simply means—

Kissinger: But it—

Nixon: —letting South Vietnam survive. That’s all.

Kissinger: To come out honorably—

Nixon: That wins the war.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Now, with this in mind we’ve got to realize that we are dealing—that, that they’re—this is—that’s your TV people, that’s your newspaper people. I mean, despite—who was it? One [unclear] guy says that, “Some of my colleagues want you to lose, but we don’t—I don’t.” Was it Sevareid3 who told you that?

Kissinger: Hubbard.4

Nixon: Hubbard. Okay, maybe, maybe he believes that. He doesn’t represent the majority. Those guys out there in that pressroom, 90 percent of them, want us to lose.

[Page 2]

Kissinger: No, now the masks are coming off. [unclear] for example, I mean—or whoever wrote this Washington Post editorial today5—they now say we have to give up our interest in the future of the South Vietnamese Government. That’s the only way we can get out. They want it to lose. I mean, that’s now—they used to have cease-fire, and 50 other things.

Nixon: Yeah. But now, they say—they point out when I said that one, one condition, which I’ve always said, is that the—that Vietnamization, basically, in—by an—by definition means a withdraw—Our policy is not a withdrawal. Our policy is a withdrawal in a way that will let South Vietnam survive.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: We always said that. And now, you see, we—I think it’s good we forced them out now, so that they’re finally saying that, that they want—They say, “We must give up on the right of the South Vietnamese.” Even the Christian Science Monitor, I know, has an editorial to that effect.6 Well then, if we did, then nobody—there wouldn’t be any recrimination in this country, because nobody really cares what happens to South Vietnam. They’re crazy as hell.

Kissinger: They’re crazy as hell.

Nixon: They’re crazy as hell because, afterwards—

Kissinger: That’s what the radicals understand: they want to break the government. They want to break confidence in the government. They don’t give a damn about Vietnam, because as soon as Vietnam is finished, I will guarantee the radicals will be all over us—or all over any government for any of it—for other things. These tactics of confrontation aren’t going to end it. And, our tremendous national malaise—right now, the Establishment has the great excuse of Vietnam.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: No matter what goes wrong, they blame Vietnam.

Nixon: That’s right. Well, I told you what the college presidents, at the time of—do you remember, they were just—they were really relieved, really. That, as they say, their campuses were politicized. Do you remember the torrents—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: —of frustration because of Cambodia? But, they were relieved, because it took the heat off of them.

[Page 2]

Kissinger: Well, they told you, “If you go on national—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —television, don’t talk about university problems, talk about international affairs.” When you asked, “What should I talk about,” they said, “Don’t talk about university problems, talk about international affairs—”

Nixon: And one day, when the war is over, then they’ve got to look in the mirror. And, they don’t want to do that, do they?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: That’s the real thing.

Kissinger: And face the real issues. I remember four—three years ago when Arthur 7 first flew up. I told the liberals there that two years from now it will be infinitely worse with all the concessions you’ve made. You meet every one of these points, you’ll be worse off. Last year when the radicals smashed every window in Harvard Square, one of those professors was honest enough to call me up and say, “Yes, now I see.”

Nixon: Did he?

Kissinger: Yeah. But, it got—now, now they have big riots at Harvard. They’re not reporting them, or big to-dos—

Nixon: Are there riots going on, now?

Kissinger: Well, they have a tremendous campaign on against professors they consider right-wing, with a slogan: “No Free Speech for War Criminals.” In other words, the movement that started as a free speech movement in Berkeley is now a “No Free Speech” movement for war criminals. And they’re after—

Nixon: Oh, boy.

Kissinger: —some of my colleagues—

Nixon: Isn’t that a shame?

Kissinger: Sam Huntington, who would be—

Nixon: Yeah, I know—liberal.

Kissinger: Liberal—well, he’s honest.

Nixon: I know him, I know him. I know who he is.

Kissinger: And they want to force him off the faculty.

Nixon: I hope he doesn’t go.

Kissinger: No, but I—the Dean of the School of Public—the Kennedy School—called me yesterday and said, “We’re holding a meeting, [Page 2]and we’re convincing our faculty to vote for him.” I said, “Why do you have to have a meeting to affirm that you are against the ‘No Free Speech,’ and that—and why do you have to convince anybody? That ought to be taken for granted—”

Nixon: Who is “they,” when they say “No Free Speech for War Criminals—?”

Kissinger: That’s the SDS chapter. The—

Nixon: But, my God, does that represent the whole school? [unclear]

Kissinger: No, but it’s the 10 percent of the activists, and the others are cowardly. But, I think it’s the macrocosm of our society, Mr. President. I think the big problem in this country—I feel that as a historian, it’s going to happen after the war is over. They know the war is over—

Nixon: Even if we end it right well?

Kissinger: No. No—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —but that’s why the radicals—the radicals understand what they’re doing. You—You cannot win for two reasons: one because it’s you; you’re so anathema—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Two—

Nixon: They never—they know that they never will influence me.

Kissinger: And, and, therefore, you don’t panic. You’re not Johnson. And, secondly, because they think the war is a magnificent opportunity to break the self-confidence of this, of this country.

Nixon: And the system, really—

Kissinger: And of the system. So, they use both of it. But, they’ll be back next year with the war over, and they’ll find some other issue. These conference—if the war is over next year, or whenever it will be—

Nixon: Hmm?

Kissinger: —or two years from now, when it’ll surely be completely over—and they’ll find enough in Vietnam for a good long time, because—

Nixon: And then, we will be supporting the ThieuKy government with military assistance—

Kissinger: They’re already starting that.

Nixon: —economic—oh, I know, and I know they will, Henry. Just like they do in Cambodia.

Kissinger: In fact, I am wondering, Mr. President, if—it can’t be done this minute [unclear] shouldn’t go on the offensive against them. Whether one isn’t—

[Page 2]

Nixon: Yeah, I know. I know.

Kissinger: —on the wrong wicket, batting back the balls they throw? Whether one shouldn’t accuse them of turning the things over to the Communists? I just don’t have the sense that this is a soft country.

Nixon: I think I have been on the offensive as much as I can be.

Kissinger: You have been the—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: You have—

Nixon: You know, everything I have said in my speech, in that meeting with the editors was hard-line—

Kissinger: You couldn’t do—

Nixon: Hell, there’s—What, what more could I—I couldn’t [unclear]—

Kissinger: You can do no more. You can do no more.

Nixon: —a thing. Do you think? Or should I do more? I think—

Kissinger: Not right now.

Nixon: —I can hit them harder.

Kissinger: Not right now—

Nixon: I know. I don’t think I can and still maintain any—you know, we’ve got to still maintain, basically, the [unclear]—that kind.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: That’s our problem

Kissinger: No. No.

[Omitted here is discussion about the impact of the end of Vietnam War on the press and politics, Kissinger’s discussion with Thomas W. Braden, and John Connally’s response to the press.]

Kissinger: Well, I’ll be interested to see what the North Vietnamese are going to do. I—I think if we—as long as you stay in your present posture, I think we are—we may have a chance of breaking it this year.

Nixon: We’ll see.

Kissinger: Or getting [unclear]. Or getting them to turn it down, and if they do, we can—we’ll surface that, because then we don’t need anything from them.

Nixon: Well, what I was going to tell you is that I think when you go to Paris8 that you’ve got to present it in a way—listen, I want it to be done in way so that everybody—so that, so that—that with the [Page 2]assumption that we will want to be able to tell Rogers and everybody else that you’ve gone.

Kissinger: Right. Oh, I’m going openly.

Nixon: Openly, that’s what I mean. Then you—but when you—You’re meeting them, as you already know—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: And then you have your meeting, and then we will say nothing about it in the event that anything’s going to come out of it. If something does not come out of it, however, then let’s say something about it and say, “Well, I was over there, and we knew it.” And have in mind the fact that we’ll surface those portions of it that will serve our interests.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And, and—in other words, make an offer. Make an offer.

Now—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: I—in other words, try to think in terms of, of—if you get to the point where you’re talking to them, and they’re dancing around, make an offer that is so outlandish—you know, not outlandish in terms of it—that they really ought to accept it. In other words, move the date and, right after, say, “We’ve offered this.” You see what I’m getting at?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And they won’t. If—they’re either going to make a deal, or they’ve determined to sit it out. If they’re not going to make a deal, then, the thing to do is to make an offer that makes them look absolutely intransigent. See?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And then, with the idea that the purpose is, is not to get them to accept the offer—we hope to Christ they don’t; we know they won’t—but that the purpose is to make an offer that is—

Kissinger: What I thought is, in the first meeting, I wouldn’t give them any date, so that it can’t fail on that. I’d say, “We’ll give you a date, if you’re willing to do—have a cease-fire and a repatriation of prisoners.” So then, they can’t say we gave them a, a lousy date.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: If they accept that in principle, then, we can go ahead. If they don’t accept it in principle—if they say, “You’ve got to overthrow Thieu, Ky, and Khiem, too—”

Nixon: It’s out [unclear].

Kissinger: —then—then we can give them any date.

Nixon: Yeah. Then I’d off—then I would simply say, “All right, here’s our date. This is it. We offer it,” and I’d make it awfully good. I’d make—

[Page 2]

Kissinger: But one thing we might consider, Mr. President—it just occurred to me this week—as long as we’re playing it this way—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —whether it—depending—if they don’t accept it, or if they keep it in abeyance—if, at the end of the meeting, I don’t tell Xuan Thuy to talk to me alone for five minutes with just his interpreter present.

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: If I tell him, “Now, look, this President is extremely tough. You’ve been wrong every time. If you think you’re going to defeat him, if you don’t accept this, he will stop at nothing.”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And imply that you might do it—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Use nuclear weapons—

Nixon: And then you could say—

Kissinger: Do—do the Dulles ploy—

Nixon: You can say that. You can say, “I cannot control him.” Put it that way.

Kissinger: Yeah. And imply that you might use nuclear weapons.

Nixon: Yes, sir. “He will. I just want you to know he is not going to cave.”

Kissinger: If—if they, then, charge us with it, I’ll deny it.

Nixon: Oh, sure.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 487-7. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. This exchange is part of a larger conversation, 11:56 a.m.-12:19 p.m.
  2. The anti-war movement had scheduled a major demonstration in Washington for Saturday, April 24.
  3. Eric Sevareid, a CBS News journalist.
  4. Henry Hubbard, White House correspondent for Newsweek.
  5. On April 23, The Washington Post ran an editorial entitled “American Interest in Re-electing Thieu” (p. A 22).
  6. Apparently a reference to a front-page editorial in The Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1971.
  7. Possibly a reference to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., then Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities, City University of New York.
  8. See footnote 4, Document 188.