Lyndon Johnson and J. William Fulbright on 17 June 1965


Transcript

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

President Johnson continued to contact key congressmen about the Arc Light bombings of South Vietnam, marking the first time that the B-52 Stratofortresses were used in the air war. He also discussed a proposal by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to broker a peace conference designed to hasten a settlement to the Vietnam War.

President Johnson

We have got 30 B-52s that are—just unloaded their bombs on a mile—square mile in South Vietnam under which there's real—we think, a very likelihood, a concentration of Vietcong that had been giving us all this trouble.[note 1] The targets resided in War Zone D, which was roughly 40 miles north of Saigon. Cosmas, Graham A., MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, 1962–1967 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 2006), p. 231. And—

William Fulbright

That's South Vietnam?

President Johnson

Yeah, South Vietnam, South Vietnam. That's—it's an area that's got 15, 20 buildings underneath a lot of this [unclear] brush and this heavy stuff covering it. And they've got caves and every other damn thing. So no plane we've got could do it except our B-52s, so we brought them in from Okinawa.[note 2] The B-52s actually took off from Guam. See Conversation WH6505-05-8166. And that's about a 4,000-mile round [trip]. We had to circle around to keep from going over any territory; we didn't want to get any permission. We went in about 6:47, and the last plane's just left. And they have a flash that it's successful. I didn't want you hearing about it on the radio and think that I'd started a new war. And I didn't want [Melvin] Laird to denounce me. In other words, I just wanted to give you the information, and I'll ride on your television yesterday morning. I'll just settle for that. [Laughs.]

Fulbright

[Unclear.] The reaction has been very good. The editorial reaction has been surprising.

President Johnson

[with Fulbright acknowledging] Oh, it's been good every place. And we're … I had to kind of pull in on you on the Vietcong thing. We never talked about that. They asked me at my press conference today, "What about the Vietcong?" Some Republican, I've forgotten who it was, raised the question—oh, Senator Clark. Senator Clark. Your friend, Joe Clark. Your protégé, Joe Clark, says that "you'll never get anywhere unless you negotiate with the Vietcong." And I said, "Well, Senator Clark's a very able senator. He wanted to get on Foreign Relations [Committee] a long time—all the time I was leader, and I've observed he's recently become a member of the committee. [Laughs.]

Fulbright

[Unclear.] Well—

President Johnson

[chuckling] I wanted it known that he had became a member after I left. But he—it's his right and it's his duty to give his thought. But you negotiating with the Vietcong—I didn't say this—but my thought was it's about like negotiating [with the] woodsmen in the state of Mississippi; it's not a national government, and they can—if they're interested in negotiating, [North] Vietnam controls them 100 percent, directs them, sends every message to them, provides them with every cartridge, gives them every gun, and they can goddamn sure express their views right quick.[note 3] Johnson had used a similar analogy about negotiating with Mississippi in a conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. See Conversation WH6506-04-8147. That's a new jag going around, kind of. We've been watching it for a month on negotiating with the Vietcong. But we have no indication that they'll talk to anybody. They have no government. They have no organization, except for Vietnam—North Vietnam—and we're anxious to talk to them. The United Nations tried to pull them in, in August. We're trying to pull them in now. I told your friend, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, yesterday—[Harold] Wilson—that I'd applaud him if he'd take Pakistan. And … did I tell you this? Am I repeating?

Fulbright

No.

President Johnson

If he'd take Pakistan and Tanzier, this little—Zanzier, whatever—what is the—

Fulbright

Tanzania.

President Johnson

Tanzania. That's a combination of this Zanzibar, is it? Is that—

Fulbright

Yeah, and Tanganyika.

President Johnson

And he can get [Julius] Nyerere, and Ayub [Khan], and himself, and go around and see who he can negotiate with.[note 4] In a statement made that day, 17 June, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced his intention to engage the countries with stakes involved in Vietnam in an effort to hold a conference to resolve the conflict there. Joining Wilson would be the prime ministers of Ghana, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago. See "Editorial Note," U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1964–1968: Vietnam, June–December 1965, ed. David C. Humphrey, Edward C. Keefer, and Louis J. Smith (Washington, DC: GPO, 1996), 3:15–16. But I'd bet the only goddamn place they'd let him in is here. They won't let anybody else in.

Fulbright

Well, I heard on the radio that he has appointed five of them [unclear] go.

President Johnson

He's appointed [unclear]—Well, he told me that's who he wanted.

Fulbright

Well, I—apparently, they wouldn't go. He's taking Ghana and Ceylon, Nigeria, and they have a couple more. I heard him just interviewed on the radio. I just got home just a little while ago.

President Johnson

Well, he—

Fulbright

But that's all right if he can get any of them to go and feel them out.

President Johnson

They won't see them. I don't know how they can refuse to see Ghana and that crowd.

Fulbright

Jesus, if he takes those that are [unclear], he'll offend all that crowd. They'll put him in a [unclear] if he takes those.

President Johnson

That's why I told him to go ahead. And I told him the day I welcomed it—

Fulbright

I think it's all right.

President Johnson

And I was delighted and I was—so forth. If you will look at my press conference and find anything good to observe, I'd like to have it, because I'm tired of reading these AP dispatches about Fulbright, the voice of Johnson, and the Congress differing with him.[note 5] While it's unclear what, precisely, Johnson is trying to say here, he's making the point that points of agreement between the two on Vietnam were rare. [Fulbright begins laughing.] And you read my press conference tomorrow and find something. If you don't find anything except a little reference down there to the state of Arkansas, say, "I embrace it." Good night, good night.

Fulbright

[Laughs.] Thank you.

President Johnson

Thank you, Bill. Bye.

Fulbright

Thank you.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and J. William Fulbright on 17 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-05-8153, 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/4002511