125. Conversation Among President Nixon, the Assistant to the President (Haldeman), and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is preliminary discussion of mining Haiphong Harbor and its effects on the summit, and on Soviet military assistance to North Vietnam.]

Kissinger: I think the [May 8]speech should be low key and calm.

Nixon: Oh, I couldn’t agree more.

Kissinger: And very cold. That this is what you’ve done.

Nixon: With this one—

Kissinger: This is what these bastards are—

Nixon: —I’ve heard the tone-outs, already—

Kissinger: Never do this—

Nixon: It’s going to be this: that I have done this, and I’m not going to get any rhetoric in it, and this and that—

Kissinger: And very conciliatory to the Russians, at the end. Put the—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger:—onus on them.

Haldeman: Just to be clever, or—

Kissinger: [unclear] I’d put it—

Haldeman: —bombastic, because—

Nixon: No, no, no, no, no—

Haldeman: —we actually—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: The action is strong—

Kissinger: That’s exactly it—

Nixon: I always say: “When action is strong, rhetoric—it can be weak. When action is weak, rhetoric has to be strong.”

Kissinger: And I think the—they should feel—

Nixon: That’s why [the] November 3d [speech] had to have strong rhetoric2—this doesn’t need—

[Page 457]

Haldeman: This is—

Nixon: —need strong rhetoric—

Haldeman: But this is just the opposite.

Kissinger: I mean—

Nixon: As a matter of fact, I could almost go ahead and say: “Ladies and gentlemen, the—Hanoi has turned down everything that we’ve done, this thing, and so forth, and, consequently, I’m ordering a blockade. Thank you very much. I appreciate your support—”

Kissinger: No, that would—that’d be too short, but I think ten—

Haldeman: That’s, with a little packaging—

Nixon: That’s why I’ve told them it has to be ten minutes.

Kissinger: Ten—fifteen minutes at the outside—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Haldeman: Incidentally, 9 o’clock is the time to go for it, so you’ve figured out how to [unclear]—

Kissinger: Conciliatory toward the Soviets—there should be a conciliatory paragraph to the Soviets—

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: —at the end, sort of putting it up to them, and, perhaps, two sentences on asking public support—

Nixon: How about the Soviet and the Chinese, both?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: To those that are supporting this.

Kissinger: Right. That is it’s not directed at you. We’re asking nothing of Hanoi that a self–respecting people should not be eager to accept. And—but major powers have a responsibility for the general peace—

Nixon: Have you given this to—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —to the speechwriter, yourself?

Kissinger: Yeah, to [Winston] Lord.

Nixon: He should put it in. Lord’ll get it in to me, and I’ll start working on it tonight.

Kissinger: And I had—

Nixon: I’ll work my tail off trying to get something together then.

Kissinger: I’d—well, you’ll have to—

Nixon: [unclear] does not have another speech next week. And we can only go through this—these things about should we [unclear]—

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: I think, Mr. President—the more I think of it—

[Page 458]

Haldeman: Well, if you’ve got a reason, you can do it.

Kissinger: This is going to be dramatically—what I found so interesting is that Nelson [Rockefeller]came in. I hadn’t asked to see him, and he said the same thing—

Nixon: He was great this morning—

Kissinger: —in fact, that Connally said. He said: “Look, the President has no choice.” He said: “If he does something drastic and wins,” he said, “then, there he has no political problems. If he loses, there is nothing he can do in any other area that’s going to—”

Nixon: There’s a more important thing, Henry. The thing that I—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: —I want you to—I want you to have in mind, because I’ve—I think this decision, not only gravely, but probably irreparably risks the summit. I think it very gravely risks the election.

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: And I—but I’m perfectly willing. There is nothing that I can see, however, that is an option which would not—possibly permanently—damage the United States of America. So, to hell with it. I—I know I’m throwing myself on the sword, and I don’t give a damn.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: We’re gonna do it—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: —we’ll do the best we can, but have no illusions about the election. Bob, I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear Colson and Ehrlich—and Ehrlichman, of course, and all the rest—and then they will. They’ll say: “Jesus Christ, why do we have to—”

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: “—demand a peace and the rest.” Crap on them.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: We’ve got to do what’s right and that’s what we’re doing.

Kissinger: And, what’s more, we’ve got to stay ferocious. If only—

Haldeman: If you do what’s right—if you do what’s right it isn’t going to lose the election.

Kissinger: I personally think it might—

Nixon: The whole ferocious thing—Henry, you don’t have any idea. The only place where you and I disagree, at the present time, is with regard to the bombing. You’re so goddamned concerned about the civilians—

Kissinger: Yeah—

Nixon: —and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.

[Page 459]

Kissinger: No, I’m concerned about the civilians, because I don’t want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher. We can do it without killing civilians.

Nixon: We’re not trying to kill them.

Kissinger: We can do it without killing very many, Mr. President—

Nixon: All right—

Kissinger: That’s [unclear]—

Nixon: I’m for that, I’m for that—

Kissinger: We can knock out these railways, we can knock out these docks—

Nixon: But, let me tell you, I am not going to do what Johnson did; pick out every damn target and then say: “Now, you’ve got to guarantee you’re not going to kill any civilians.” I’m not going to do that—

Kissinger: No, but if you don’t watch these military—

Nixon: They go too far—

Kissinger: —they are totally irresponsible—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and—

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: —I mean, we have run this as a very tough thing. What I mean by “ferocious”—that’s not the problem, anyway, about ferocity. The problem, with respect to ferocity, is that people would start nibbling away at: “Can they do this? Can they do that?” The answer has to be: “They can do nothing. No ship is going into North Vietnam.”

Nixon: No, sir. No hospital ships. Nothing.

Kissinger: Nothing. That can go in through China. That any—

Haldeman: Bomb them on the way in.

Kissinger: I beg your pardon?

Haldeman: And then bomb them on the way in.

Kissinger: No, if they want to run a hospital train in, or something like that—

Haldeman: Pummel them.

Kissinger: —but let’s, first, knock out all the rail lines.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And—

Haldeman: So the trains can’t get through. [chuckles]

Nixon: But we—we can do that. They’ll never get—they’ll never be able to use the rail lines. What they will use, though, they’ll—look, there are no rail lines from North to South. What really disturbs me about our goddamned Air Force is that with no railroad lines—when [Page 460]they talk about “highways” down the Laotian Trail, it’s no goddamn highway, Henry. It’s a damn—it’s an animal, dog track—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: —and they are—and they have brought heavy guns and heavy tanks down there—

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: —and have not been knocked out.

Kissinger: And do you know what they’ve been using now against the artillery around Hue?

Nixon: What?

Kissinger: The gunships, which you ordered out there that they didn’t want.

Nixon: Our, our guys are flying them?

Kissinger: Yeah. We have, now, 34 gunships, which we, which we rammed down their throats. If we had, if we had 200 of the goddamned things—we just don’t have them, otherwise, we’d order them out there.

Nixon: You can’t get any more, huh?

Kissinger: So—

Nixon: Remember, Henry, I come back to this, and I know that you vetoed it at the time. Haig did, I think—my, my—

Kissinger: The B–25s?

Nixon: Yes, goddamnit! Sure they are inefficient, and the rest of it, but damn it, they’re better than gunships. The B–25 is a hell of a good close support weapon. You were in World War II—

Kissinger: What they mean by gunship is C–130.

Nixon: I know, Henry.

Kissinger: With cannons on them.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: But the sort of thing which the Air Force didn’t want, which we had to ram down their throats, and that’s what—

Haldeman: And that’s the only thing we’ve got to hit the artillery with?

Kissinger: That’s what they are now shooting—getting the artillery with.

Haldeman: Jesus. That new Vietnamese General3 looks pretty good in the public frame. That’s—we’re getting some good stuff—

Kissinger: No—

[Page 461]

Haldeman: —out of that—

Kissinger: No, that General is all right—I am just—they had a plan to get an extra division up there—well, I don’t want to bother you, because that’s Abrams. If—they were going to scrape that division together by getting a regiment out of one place, a regiment out of another place. Of course, none of these regiments are getting out, because they are all—

Nixon: Scraped together?

Kissinger: —fighting. No, no. Those are the few that are fighting. If we get another division up to Hue, we are going to give them a hell of a fight up there. I’d better go and see my friend—

Haldeman: That new General has some class, though. He went out and started—

Kissinger: I’m going to see—

Haldeman: —he started shooting deserters, and set up an execution wall.

Nixon: Good, good, good, good.

Kissinger: If he says anyone on the—

Nixon: Do it like the North Vietnamese do!

Haldeman: That’s what he did.

Nixon: Good.

Haldeman: He sent a hundred trucks down the road with—and ordering deserters shot on sight—

Kissinger: And he disbanded the Third Division. He made them replacements. He said that’s no longer a fit unit.

Haldeman: And they real—they took an offensive action, which is also reported in the paper, and reopened the highway. And that may not have happened, but that’s what the press is reporting. I mean, it was a damn good story.

Kissinger: That was.

Nixon: Let me ask you this, though, Henry, the thing is that you’ve got to realize is that—remember all of it, the one thing that we all have to do now: there can be no turning back.

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: There can be no—we must not let Laird and Rogers come in here and piss all over this thing,4 and all that and so forth. They are to be ordered.

Kissinger: I think Rogers

Nixon: I am so sick—

[Page 462]

Kissinger: —should be brought back Sunday,5 because it’s a free day on his schedule, so it’s easy for him to get back.

Nixon: Well, the only thing is, I don’t want to have to see him until—

Kissinger: Monday morning.

Nixon: Well, Monday morning, I will. [sighs]

Kissinger: I think that’s the best thing to do.

Nixon: Monday morning.

Kissinger: He can come back—

Nixon: I’ll just tell him that I’ve made this critical decision, and I appreciate your coming in, and, of course, he’ll say: “Well, is it still open, Mr. President?” And I’ll say: “No.”

Kissinger: I’ve got to get Laird in tonight, Mr. President, because there are too many ships being moved—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —and it’s too dangerous—

Nixon: You want me to get him in, myself?

Kissinger: No, I’ll tell him.

Nixon: I’ll do it, if you think it’ll help.

Kissinger: It isn’t necessary. If it’s needed, I’ll tell him.

Nixon: Yeah—no, I’ll tell you what you [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’ll tell you and then you can have him come up for something.

Nixon: No, no. I think what you should do is this, if I may suggest. I’d like you to call Mel and say: “Now, Mel, we’re telling you this. We’re not going to tell Bill until Monday morning, because we know that he’ll probably oppose it. The President believes he will.” Put it that way. Get him in on the conspiracy, and then say: “The President knows that you’re—that you will support this thing. We need your support. It’s decided. He’s—he knows he’s risking everything. It may not work, but he knows nothing else will work, and we’re gonna go balls out. We will not lose in Vietnam.” Just say that.

Kissinger: Of course, we are going to get some sort of Soviet move this weekend.

Nixon: Against us?

Kissinger: No, to calm us down. They’ve got—

Nixon: Never.

Kissinger: No, no, they’ll get it.

[Page 463]

Haldeman: Did you [unclear] letter about it?

Kissinger: No, but, but a senior North Vietnamese is in Moscow now. We can pick it up from VIP traffic.

Nixon: Nah, bullshit, but Henry

Kissinger: No, no, it won’t help us. They may propose a four-week cease-fire, which, incidentally, we couldn’t accept because that means they could build up and then after four weeks kill us. We—we could [unclear]—

Nixon: Whereas we could blockade them.

Haldeman: Sure.

Kissinger: Yeah, but we could accept it only if they agreed to stop re-supply activities in some way.

Nixon: Let me tell you, if they give—if they offer a four-week cease-fire, we might get the best of both worlds. I think they’re not going to offer anything. I don’t think they’re going to do anything but thumb their noses at us. But let me tell you that—let me tell you, Henry, it’s done now, and I know it ended. I told Bob this earlier, that you did exactly what you did this morning, raising questions we can’t have, as you did in Cambodia and Laos—

Kissinger: I wanted you to feel comfortable with the decision—

Nixon: I’m not. I don’t feel comfortable about anything. All that I know is that what—you do what is right, and there isn’t any other choice—

Kissinger: Mr. President, you don’t—I don’t need bucking up, because I’m passionately for it.

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: I—my nightmare was that we would—that, that for a variety of reasons, we would try to straddle the fence, which, which anybody else would have done, even including Nelson [Rockefeller].

Haldeman: That’s right. That’s the obvious truth. It really is—

Nixon: I know it is—

Kissinger: And—and that was—

Nixon: Straddled the fence—

Haldeman: You and Connally are the only two who would—

Nixon: Who’d cross the Rubicon—

Kissinger: I felt strongly—once I realized that you were willing to have them cancel, then we could go all-out on the military side, and then the blockade is better, but I had to give you the way, to give you the other argument so that afterwards you didn’t feel I had blown it away.

Nixon: As a matter of fact, we’ll—when you talk about ferocious, though, believe me, it’s going to be the goddamnedest ferocity, and I [Page 464]am going to—we’ve got to fire some people over there if there are any leaks out of that State Department about a cease-fire, or—and once we—you work on it. Incidentally—but one thing I should tell you about the speech, Henry, when I said that we will lift the blockade if they give us the POWs and international supervised—superviso—what you said—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —cease-fire, and what was the other thing?

Kissinger: And then, four months later we will—

Nixon: And then four months later withdraw. Let me say, except for the POWs, I don’t care about the rest. Put in whatever will let us survive, and what seems to be reasonable. Understand?

Haldeman: Yep.

Kissinger: If we can handle an internationally-supervised cease-fire, because we can negotiate the terms—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —I think, then, it’s an attractive phrase.

Nixon: The POWs—the POWs is going to be one hell of a thing for these sons-of-bitches to be against. Incidentally, we’ll have no more problems with POW wives then for a while, will you?

Kissinger: Yes, and I don’t see what more they could want.

Nixon: Well, the enemy, then, might offer—I suppose they might come back. If I were them—

Haldeman: Give you the POWs?

Nixon: No, they’ll say: “We’ll give you the POWs if you’ll stop the bombing and lift the blockade.” We’d refuse.

Haldeman: That’s the one [unclear]they should have pulled a long time ago. I can’t understand why they haven’t.

Kissinger: We stop the bombing and lift the blockade—

Nixon: They’ll give us the POWs.

Kissinger: I don’t know. They might consider that, but they won’t do that.

Nixon: Why in the world—you mean we would get?

Kissinger: If we stopped the bombing all over Vietnam, or just in the North?

Nixon: In the North, and lift the blockade. We’d get POWs. You mean, we’d put it on them? You mean—

Haldeman: We don’t—

Nixon: —stop bombing for POWs? Why would we, Henry?

Haldeman: You get nothing for that.

Kissinger: Well, because—

[Page 465]

Nixon: You still lose the war. That’s my problem.

Haldeman: We don’t want the POWs.

Kissinger: No, because we could, then—once we got the POWs back—well, they won’t offer that—

Nixon: But, suppose they did?

Kissinger: No, they’ll—first, they’ll wait for about two or three weeks, in my judgment—

Nixon: They’ll hope to build their [unclear]—

Kissinger: —and then they’ll offer something like withdrawal for the POWs.

Haldeman: The worst thing they could have done any time in the last few weeks is to just return the POWs.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Mr. President, if they had accepted—

Haldeman: Put ’em on a boat and send it in to Honolulu.

Kissinger: If they had accepted our May 31st proposal last year, they would have won now.

Nixon: [unclear]

Haldeman: If they had sent back the POWs [unclear]—

Nixon: Henry, remember—

Haldeman: —before the invasion.

Nixon: —don’t give them any impression that we’re going to do anything.

Kissinger: No, I’ll refuse to discuss Vietnam with him—

Nixon: Yeah, just say—just use the term that you’ve just been with the President, and the President has said: “Look, he under—he, he, he regrets that you haven’t been able to do anything, and, and as he’s of—as he’s told you, Anatol, that you recall that this is now our problem, and anything we do is not directed against you, but we want [unclear]. He feels very strongly about going ahead with the summit, now let’s go ahead.”

Kissinger: Now, one—

Nixon: Just—just slobber all over him.

Kissinger: HenryHenry Hubbard was in, and he said he’s in a terrible brawl with his New York office. The New York people say the President has gone irrationally dangerous, that he might go totally irrational, and that, actually, from the point of view—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —of the impact on Moscow, that’s a good story to put out. He said—but I said: “What do you think, Henry?” I said: “I bet you the President’s the calmest man now, that everything he’s doing [Page 466]is cold and calculating and that he knows exactly what his game plan is.” [unclear]—

Nixon: Tell me this: where does this irrational stuff—who the Christ puts that out, Bob, from here? Who the hell is doing it?

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: The Washington Post had a—The Washington Post had an editorial.6 Actually, it’s not, in terms of foreign policy impact, it doesn’t hurt any, but it’s—but what I find interesting is that the people who watch you close up, here—for example, Hubbard told me that the Newsweek man who was on the ranch said it was the coldest, most calculated speech, that there was no emotionalism involved, you knew exactly what you were doing at every step, and—

Haldeman: There’s no question about that. The [unclear]—

Nixon: Well, I tell you what we’ve got, though—you’ve got to have the fact that our left—our left-wing friends are going to try to build up the myth of irrationality.

Kissinger: They won’t get away with it.

Haldeman: Some of ’em.

Nixon: Hmm.

Haldeman: And then that’s a small—you don’t get very much of that. You get it in his circles. you don’t see much of it beyond that. Actually, the Post editorial is not bad, because they say you now have a—have the best chance of all, on both sides, to negotiate. That’s their argument, but then they say that it’s absolutely clear that the President cannot inflict a Communist government on South Vietnam.

Nixon: Did they say that?

Haldeman: Yeah. I couldn’t believe it. I went back and read it a couple more times.

[Omitted here is discussion of the funeral arrangements for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Kissinger departed at 1:19 p.m.]

Nixon: You know, it’s interesting; Henry coming in, saying he wants the speech to be short and calm. Goddamnit, if his people would write the fucking thing—

[Page 467]

Haldeman: He started—he started in with me on that, and I said: “Well, the key thing, Henry, is, for God’s sake, let’s not go through all the litany of who met whom, at what time, on—at what address, because that’s the last thing he needs here. He’s taking an action, and all you need is a very general—you know, that we’ve moved these directions and this is what’s—where we are, this is what I’m doing, and that’s that.” This is one where actions speak much louder than words.

Nixon: And, also, the delivery doesn’t make all that much difference.

Haldeman: You know, if you’ve got a four-week cease-fire and didn’t agree to it until after you’ve mined Haiphong—

Nixon: Hmm.

Haldeman: —it’d be kind of interesting if we just leave the mines there and take the cease-fire.

Nixon: He’s never going to get anything from the Russians. HenryHenry’s always saying he’s going to get something out of the Russians—

Haldeman: Yeah—

Nixon: —through some senior man down there. Christ, there was a delegation that’s been down there.

Haldeman: [laughs]

Nixon: Le Duc Tho stopped [unclear] Russia, on the way back.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: He goes through this litany, time and time, again and again. In fact, he really shouldn’t be lunching with Dobrynin today.7 Right?

Haldeman: Right.

Nixon: Probably he should have canceled it, but he thought that was too much of a signal. I don’t know why in the hell he would be doing it today. Do you?

Haldeman: Except that he had it set.

Nixon: Well, of course. I’d just postpone it. By God, after that meeting, I’d postpone it. But I did give him some good advice, because Henry tends to overreact one way or the other, and I didn’t want him to go over there and be cold, and menacing, and the rest. But I said: “Slobber over the son-of-a-bitch. Dobrynin treats us that way. Slobber over him. Make it appear that we’re not going to do anything.” We’ve got to do something, you know. It’s like, like the bluff with poker. You don’t shout it out and the rest when you’ve got the cards. You just sit there and that’s the whole key to it. [pause]Well, I was going to say, [Page 468] Bob, that we don’t want to allow this business about the—this anger, and irrationality, and so forth to—

Haldeman: Right.

Nixon: —to get to be enough to get out, because—

Haldeman: I don’t think it hurts us—

Nixon: I know something, though. You’re—you are confident that our staff is keeping its damn mouth shut?

Haldeman: Very much so.

Nixon: I mean—

Haldeman: And the—what?

Nixon: Henry, every time I raise this, thinks Scali’s leaking this sort of thing.

Haldeman: Oh, no.

Nixon: I don’t think Scali ever does things like that himself. Right? Haldeman: Scali’s playing the other thing. Scali has—

Nixon: Totally [unclear]

Haldeman: —done a superb job on the stuff that we’ve given him to do.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

[Omitted here is discussion of the media and the President’s public appearances.]

Nixon: Well, in a way, it’s been a rather a good week [unclear] regardless of what anybody might say.

Haldeman: It has.

Nixon: No, really. I mean, in Vietnam we’ve had a few setbacks [unclear] stories. Huh?

Haldeman: But it’s not closing out on too bad a note.

Nixon: What do you mean?

Haldeman: Vietnam.

Nixon: Because why?

Haldeman: Because there’s—it’s calmed down.

Nixon: Not fully enough.

Haldeman: Because we lost—

Nixon: Why?

Haldeman: We lost a base, and everybody was com—and we lost this [unclear] capital,8 and now that’s recognized—that you can lose [Page 469]a capital without the war ending, being lost. There’s a air of optimism, I think, on the Hue thing. Thieu went in there and did a good job, apparently.

Nixon: Did he?

Haldeman: Yeah. Very upbeat, cocky. It cranked him up, and this new General is from a PR viewpoint—I don’t know whether he’s worth a damn as a General—from a PR viewpoint he’s absolutely sensational, because he just—

Nixon: Chews them out—

Haldeman: —just charged in. He said: “Get your asses back here and defend the city. Get the refugees out”—which they’re doing—“and get the troops in.” And then, he built a wall over it, and he says: “That’s the execution wall. That’s where we shoot the deserters.” [laughs] He’s left it there to remind them.

Nixon: It’s the only way to do it.

Haldeman: But, there’s a—and then they went out and opened this road. And they’re billing that as the first offensive action they’ve taken in the war, just the thing—

Nixon: What—where was that, now?

Haldeman: On Highway 13, I think it was.

Nixon: That’s all right. Right. Good. Good.

Haldeman: Highway 14, in the Highlands—their first counterattack of the offensive. The ARVN have reopened Highway 14 in the Highlands. [pause] And then they’ve made a big thing out of more planes and tanks are on the way.

Nixon: Hmm.

Haldeman: And I think this stuff that something new is going to happen isn’t bad at all. I mean, it’s building up to, to an action that—what most of them are talking about is that there’ll be more bombing of Hanoi. [pause] We only lost two dead. Those were ARVN paratroopers, designed to end the isolation of the road to Kontum, and it succeeded. So, they’ve opened the road to Kontum.

Nixon: Um-hmm. [pause]

Haldeman: All the people fleeing to get out of the cities—but hell, we’re not chasing them out, the North Vietnamese are.

Nixon: Okay.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s public appearances and image, the FBI Directorship, the bicentennial, Tricia Nixon Cox, Patrick Buchanan, and the media.]

Nixon: It was really quite an exercise for the Navy, isn’t it? Just think what it must mean to those Navy guys, the poor sons-of-bitches [Page 470]that—who’d love to do something, you know? They get to blockade somebody.

[pause]

Haldeman: These new mines they use are fascinating. They can set those to become active whenever they want them and to become inactive whenever they want them. I mean, they have an “on” and an “off” switch that they can set it on an automatic timing mode.

Nixon: Well, but—but they can’t—they’re not operated from a distance—?

Haldeman: No, no. Once they’ve set it, it’s set, as I understand it. And let’s hope they’re not going to put any “off” switch on it, and they’re going to leave them “on.” And Moorer is a guy—he just, just practically chortles, you know. He’s so—he just loves the mining part, especially.

Nixon: Does he?

Haldeman: Yeah, because it’s, it’s damn effective. These mines, I guess, are much more sophisticated than the stuff we knew about in World War II. They’re all—they go down to the bottom. They go down and just lie on the bottom until something comes over them and then it magnetically it shoots up and hits it.

Nixon: Hmm. Let’s hope one of our own boats isn’t sunk by one. Haldeman: There probably will be.

Nixon: This is war.

Haldeman: Somebody will sail into ’em. Mining is a beautiful thing, though, really, because that—you lay the mines down, and you tell the people they’re there. If somebody sails into it, you didn’t do anything to them, they did it to themselves.

Nixon: Hmm. Well, let me tell you, for a few days after we announce this blockade, it’s going to be goddamned hard. If I were a member of the House or Senate I’d take this on—or a candidate, particularly when you put it on the basis of POWs, and our 60,000 Americans who are in Vietnam, and preventing the imposition of Communist government after we’ve offered everything but that to the North. Correct?

Haldeman: Yep.

Nixon: It’ll be goddamned hard, particularly when a blockade is aimed not at destroying North Vietnam, but preventing the delivery of lethal weapons which are going to be used to kill people in South Vietnam.

Haldeman: Who could possibly—I mean, even—you know, how can McGovern, even, argue that? Nobody can rationally argue the right of North Vietnam to get more arms.

[Omitted here is discussion of the press conference, the Executive Office Building, and miscellaneous small talk.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 720–19. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation, 12:44–1:59 p.m.
  2. See footnote 7, Document 120.
  3. Lieutenant General Ngo Quang Truong.
  4. Mining North Vietnamese harbors, including Haiphong.
  5. May 7. Rogers was in Europe to confer with officials in various countries. On May 6–7 he was to meet with West German Foreign Minister Walter Scheel.
  6. The editorial, an analysis of the President’s April 26 speech on Vietnam (see Document 99) first posited that Nixon seemed to be signaling Hanoi that a deal to end the war was possible. However, the editorial continued: “Mr. Nixon also appears to be telling Hanoi that if it acts in a way to humiliate the United States—say, by imposing a Communist regime in South Vietnam or, more likely, by keeping its troops conspicuously and successfully on the offensive, especially in the provinces alongside the DMZ—then there is no deal, and harsh reprisals might be taken against the North.” (“The President’s War Policy: Hostage to Hanoi,” The Washington Post, April 28, 1972, p. A26)
  7. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger and Dobrynin lunched at the Soviet Embassy between 1:25 and 3:08 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  8. There are several candidates for the base: in MR–1, for example, Dong Ha fell on April 28 and Camp Evans and Fire Support Base Nancy on May 2; and in MR–2, South Vietnamese troops withdrew from Vo Dinh on May 1 and Fire Support Base November on May 2. The capital referred to is Quang Tri City in Quang Tri Province.