Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 15 June 1965


Transcript

Edited by David G. Coleman and Marc J. Selverstone, with Kieran Matthews

Robert McNamara

Bob, Mr. President.

President Johnson

Yeah, yeah.

McNamara

Just a brief report on Santo Domingo. There is still sporadic firing going on down there. The U.S. forces at the direction of General Alvin, and with the support of the OAS [Organization of American States] commission, have moved into a 30-block area formerly held by the rebels. This is in order to protect our lines from further firing. The casualties have been high: 2 U.S. killed, 28 U.S. wounded, 1 Brazilian wounded. Not entirely sure of the rebel casualties. Looks to be about 16 kills and 15 to 20 wounded.

President Johnson

Hmm. This is yesterday?

McNamara

Yes, the—well, there's still sporadic firing going on, light, but continued.

President Johnson

Mm-hmm. What do you hear on Vietnam?

McNamara

Everything we thought might happen appears to be happening: extensive action all over the country, some movements of radio nets and tactical headquarters, what we think are regimental headquarters, into the Pleiku area in a way that seems to point to further action up in there. That's that central region hill country. In the Dong Xoai, where that heavy battle was going on since Saturday, it seems to have come to a near termination. As best I can tell, the U.S. troops remain in that area about 20 or 25 miles from the fighting and have not yet been committed. I'm not absolutely positive of this, and I just sent out a check about half an hour ago to be absolutely sure. The casualties last week were very high. The killed in action figures for both the ARVN troops and the VC were high: about 430 ARVN troops were killed, and about 570, as I remember it, VC were killed.[note 1] The acronym ARVN, referring to the army of South Vietnam, is an abbreviation for army of the Republic of Vietnam. That's a much less-favorable ratio for the ARVN than heretofore, and moreover, in addition to the kills of 430 for the government were some 350-odd either missing or captured, we don't know which. So it was not a very good week.

President Johnson

Mm-hmm. When's your press conference?

McNamara

[At] 2:30, this afternoon. I'll keep you informed if anything comes up during the day.

President Johnson

Yeah. Uh-huh. … Your pay bill, now, was reported yesterday—their pay bill—was it what you thought it would be?

McNamara

Yes, except that they did adopt two of the procedures that we wanted: the variable reenlistment bonus, which will help us a lot in attracting men to reenlist in those skills where we're short; and the annual adjustment, which hopefully will keep us out of this mess in the future. In the Senate, I hope I can cut down the total. It's much too high. It's roughly a 10½ percent increase, just about double what we recommended, and that's about what I expected would come through. I think I can depend on Russell and Stennis to cut it back.

President Johnson

What did you-all do, you and Rusk and Bundy? Did you come to any agreements of any kind?

McNamara

We agreed on the Rolling Thunder 19, which is next week's bombing program. I sent out the execute order last night, which was just as I showed it to you briefly yesterday. We discussed the B-52 operation.[note 2] McNamara was referring to a proposed B-52 bombing attack on Vietcong forces in War Zone D, approximately 40 miles north of Saigon. The raid would eventually take place on 18 June and be code-named Arc Light. I told them I had talked to you about it, but that I had pointed out that Dean hadn't had an opportunity to fully consider it. And Dean was in favor of it. He wanted it reviewed with—or, I guess, he wanted the British informed about it, and I think he was right on that, so they did that. We sent out a tentative execute order last night—

President Johnson

Wait just a minute, Bob.

Johnson pauses to listen to a television report that is playing in the background.
President Johnson

That's right, they're just talking about combat veterans in Vietnam. They're going to give them college loans—

McNamara

Yeah, yeah.

President Johnson

—and stuff like that, educational benefits.

McNamara

He wanted [Harold] Wilson informed—he wanted the British informed at least. So he arranged that last night. He sent out a tentative execute order on that B-52 mission to be carried out tomorrow night with the final execute order to go out tonight, and if anything comes up during the day today we can stop it, therefore, by sending out an order tonight. I was in his office when he called you and told you we were all in agreement—Dean, Bundy, and I—on reporting favorable reaction to Wilson's proposed Commonwealth initiative, and I think that's all we did.

President Johnson

That's just a lot of political stuff—

McNamara

Oh, sure.

President Johnson

—for Wilson.

McNamara

That's right. Although, I think that if you … if he starts out on this mission—I don't think anything's going to be accomplished—but if you express your willingness to attend a conference under those—or have a U.S. representative at that conference under those circumstances, I think this will further the peace image that you're pushing. So I think it's primarily for his political benefit, but it fits in with our plans as well.

President Johnson

I didn't see any objection to it.

McNamara

I didn't either.

President Johnson

The Christian Science Monitor this morning [had] harsh writing from London, says that the only thing we can do is draw a line between North and South and protect that line, and keep them from supplying the South from the North. That's not feasible, is it?

McNamara

[with President Johnson acknowledging] No, absolutely not, Mr. President. We've looked at that. We've looked at the possibility of putting a line of troops across the 17th parallel starting at the sea going west across Vietnam and into Laos and across Laos, and it just can't be done. There's jungle through there. You may have remembered that photograph I showed you yesterday—

President Johnson

Yeah.

McNamara

—of the B-52 target.

President Johnson

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

McNamara

That's the way the whole place looks for a hundred miles in there, and you can imagine trying to stop anybody going through that jungle. It's just impossible.

President Johnson

Mmm. OK, Bob.

McNamara

Thanks.

President Johnson

Bye.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 15 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-04-8141, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Lyndon B. Johnson: Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty, ed. David G. Coleman, Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001130