Lyndon Johnson, Tom Dewey, and Gerald Ford on 17 June 1965


Transcript

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

Having briefed the Democratic congressional leadership on the Arc Light bombings, President Johnson reaches out to the Republicans, speaking with House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford of Michigan. Johnson also informs Ford of the briefing that General Andrew J. Goodpaster gave to former president Dwight D. Eisenhower the previous day .
President Johnson

Sorry about your boy.

Gerald Ford

Well, his sister slammed the car door on his finger. It'll be all right. We're just getting it dressed [unclear].

President Johnson

Very bad?

Ford

No. Well, it's pretty badly cut on, you know, [unclear].

President Johnson

Sounds like he's got a Democratic sister.

Ford

[Laughs heartily.] I hope not!

President Johnson

I'm sitting here with Tom Dewey. He's listening to us talk. I called you. We sent 30 B-52s over a square mile area in South, repeat, South Vietnam. They just dropped their last bomb. We found a concentration of Vietcong operations under the brush hidden and we think that it's been the seat of the direction of a lot of their activity. And there'll be some excitement on the television and radio about B-52s. But we—our best advice [is] that's the only way we can get them. The fighter bomber couldn't take an area that big and cover it in the time without getting out. So we moved the 52s in from Okinawa. I sent [Andrew] Goodpaster up before the flight this morning to go over to General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower. He thought that it ought to be done.[note 2] Eisenhower offered a statement of support for President Johnson that day while attending a people-to-people event in Washington, D.C. "Eisenhower Urges Nation 'To Stick With President,'" New York Times, 18 June 1965, 15. He also thought we ought to approve [William C.] Westmoreland's request for these troops up—he needs out there to protect his bases, because we're not going to be able to protect them with South Vietnamese.[note 3] On 7 June, COMUSMACV General William C. Westmoreland requested the deployment of an additional 44 battalions, comprised of 34 U.S. battalions, 9 South Korean battalions, and one from Australia–New Zealand. See William C. Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, part 3, January–July 1965 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 277–78. And it looks like our B-52 raid is a success, at the moment.

Ford

Did they use conventional weapons?

President Johnson

Yes. Yes.

Ford

They did?

President Johnson

[Unclear.]

Ford

The only—I think this is good—

President Johnson

I don't know what's happened to [Melvin] Laird [R–Wisconsin]. Is he off his rocker?[note 4] The previous day, Rep. Melvin R. Laird [R–Wisconsin] had spoken out in favor of aerial attacks on North Vietnam and had put the Johnson administration on notice that military efforts, which sought merely to bring the Vietnamese Communists to the negotiating table and settle the war there, would put American lives needlessly at risk. Tom Wicker, "Perilous Road in Policy," New York Times, 17 June 1965.

Ford

Well, actually, the statement, if it was read in its entirety, I don't think you would disagree with it too much. But they took one sentence out of 20, and I think they distorted it. The one question that I hope we can sit down and talk about before we go any further is: How much are we going to use the ground force? And I think that's the main question.

President Johnson

Only when and if and as necessary to protect our national interest. And presently, we have 12,800 of them up there . . . down there. We will—it takes about a little better than 3–2, because the advisers—we have so many advisers and we have so many services and we're building airports and Sea Bees and everything else. And we got about 7[000] or 8,000 combat air people that . . . in our air operation. We got about 12[000], 13,000 in combat on the ground. We'll move those up—that's out of the 54[000], out of 54,000, roughly, we got 20[000] to 30[000]. We're moving it up to 70[000] to 75[000], and out of that, I would guess we'll get another 8[000] or 10,000 combat.

Now, those combats will go out. We'll try to keep them distance where they can't lob their mortars in for three miles. We'll constantly be on patrol, will release an equal amount of South Vietnamese; we only got 4–1, now, to do the actual fighting. Then when they get caught, when they get in trouble, if they're going to get wiped out, they can call us; we'll come to their rescue. They did that last week. Westmoreland said, "I got the authority to do it. It's an emergency and I'm going to authorize it. If you want to cancel it, you can cancel it."

Ford

Well, I—

President Johnson

[Unclear] him back and said, "Hell no, I'm not going to cancel it, but I just hate to see 1,200 American boys involved. But this is no Sunday school picnic. And you're on the ground and I can't tell a commander on the ground that he's got to let his people get wiped out or let his allies get wiped out. That's why we're out there." So—

Ford

I fully agree with that aspect of it. The only thing, if we're going to do more in an offensive way—I mean, on the ground—then I think we all ought to sit down and talk about it.

President Johnson

Well, I'll be glad to do that if I can stay out of the papers. I don't want to tell either the Vietnamese—North Vietnamese, or to tell China, and I haven't been to a meeting yet today, we don't get something out about what happened. But I don't want them—the damn State Department announcement the other day that we had discretionary authority to protect yourselves, which is . . . emin . . . which is—what's the damn word—[unclear] implied in every operation. You don't send a general out and a bunch of damn troops and tell him that he['s] got to get them killed before he answers.[note 5] On 8 June, State Department public relations officer Robert J. McCloskey announced that U.S. troops would be participating in combat operations with South Vietnamese forces "as and when necessary." John W. Finney, "Johnson Permits U.S. Units to Fight If Saigon Asks Aid," New York Times, 9 June 1965.

Ford

I agree with you, a thousand—

President Johnson

So, we . . . that's all that happened. I haven't issued an order; I haven't talked to Westmoreland. Westmoreland hasn't asked me to issue an order since he went out there. Westmoreland went out there from West Point because he was the best general we had.

Ford

I agree.

President Johnson

His orders, when he went out there, were to take our people and advise those [unclear] resist aggression.

Ford

Right.

President Johnson

Now, he's not going to get in there in the front line with American troops unless he has to. If he does, he's not going to let them get killed, and that's that simple. Now, they ask this damn fool [Robert J.] McCloskey, over at the State Department, they ask you like you're talking about Laird. [Ford acknowledges.] Ask you to quit beating your wife; either way you answer it is trouble. They said, "Has Westmoreland got authority [to] keep our American boys from getting killed?" The answer is, "Yes." "Well, when did Johnson give him that authority?" Well, this damn fool says, "Well, I don't know, but I'm sure he got it and I'm sure he got it before they went out there!" Well, they just arrived, you see, a bunch of them.[note 6] In addition to the 8 June announcement, on 14 June, the State Department indicated that Westmoreland had the authority to commit U.S. forces to the battle at Dongxoai, if so requested by Saigon. "Westmoreland to Decide," New York Times, 15 June 1965.

Ford

Yeah.

President Johnson

So then the headline read, "Johnson enters new phase: Combat war in Vietnam." So when I looked at the damn paper, I called up and said, "Who's smoking marijuana around here? I haven't been in touch with Westmoreland. And I'm supposed to know what's happening. I think I do!" Well, nobody issued an order of any kind. So I came in the next morning and I said, "Here's a statement; I want you to put it in your 11:00 briefing: No orders have been issued. There's no change in the situation. This man has the authority he's always had. And we're not directing anybody into combat. But if anybody needs to combat, they're ready and they'll be prepared to give an account of themselves."[note 7] The statement, which was read by George Reedy, denied that there had been a change in the U.S. mission. John W. Finney, "U.S. Denies Shift On Troop Policy In Vietnam War," New York Times, 10 June 1965.

Ford

Yeah.

President Johnson

So I issued that statement. Then they wrote the story: great frustration, great difference in opinion, the government's right hand doesn't know what the left hand's doing, and Johnson is a dictator. That's what's written. Now, that's the press and they got three stories where they oughtn't to had any. Follow me?

Ford

Don't worry about that kind of criticism.

President Johnson

I'm not worrying. I'm explaining to you so that you're on this team.

Ford

Right.

President Johnson

It's your country. And a good many of these boys, I'm told, are Republican. I don't think they use good judgment in their party, but they have in their country and they're out there fighting, and I think you ought to know the facts. [Ford attempts to interject.]

[with Ford acknowledging] Well, here's a paragraph [from] a confidential memo from General Goodpaster, who briefed Eisenhower last night. "I met with him [for] two hours in his office in Gettysburg. I reviewed with Eisenhower the essential points of Westmoreland's message setting out his concept and his analysis for additional needs for U.S. forces in South Vietnam." Of course, that's combat. "As requested by the President, I went into full detail and gave him all the matters of how they would be involved, the mobile divisions, and how to provide additional brigades for use in the coastal base area." Now, that's this first 75,000; that's an additional 20,000 we've already ordered in. But he's got requests for a good many more thousand that we haven't acted on and we're not. And I'm just getting judgments and Eisenhower has had a hell of a lot more experience than I have. And very frankly, I get about as a good a judgment from him on these matters [as] I do from my Joint Chiefs. And he's always careful, and always reasonable, and I think highly experienced, and I think more so than my own men got. "Eisenhower considered the matter at some length. A first question to consider, he said, is what is the end of all this can be? He commented we have now, quote, 'appealed to force,' unquote, in South Vietnam, and therefore, quote, 'we have got to win,' unquote. For this purpose, simply holding on, or simply sitting passively in static areas is never going to suffice. He added there's no use in building bases if you're not going to protect them and if you're not going to use them. The only reason for creating them is to make it possible to take the offensive and to try to clear as many areas as possible." That's what we did this afternoon. "He thought we should not only support Vietnamese forces in action, but he thought that we should undertake offensive operations ourselves. After some further discussion, he indicated that he believed Westmoreland's recommendation should be supported. He was strongly impressed by Westmoreland's concept of providing security of two kinds: (a) security of the country as a whole from large, well-organized forces; (b) security from the guerrilla, the assassin, the terrorist, the [unclear], the nightrider, the informer. He agreed with Westmoreland's view that U.S. troops can contribute to the former, but only the Vietnamese can finally succeed with the latter. I went into detail on the possible use of [a] force of B-52s against the target area wherein Vietcong forces are located and where they are based and housed in South Vietnam. In response to his question, I told him there were no friendly people within seven kilometers of this target. He then stated that he definitely wanted support operations of this kind and he thought the first one should be carried out immediately or at least as soon as practical.

“Next, I reviewed the patterns of recent operations in North Vietnam. The General asked whether we were assured (sic) against inflated damage estimates. I described the bomb-damage assessment. The [unclear] commented on targets such as bridges and ammunitions and dumps. I pointed out the targets on the list, which should get across to the DRV the idea that there are no sanctuaries, or there are no arbitrary restrictions against working our way further north.[note 8] DRV stands for Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He had no specific comment on the bombing program." Well, you know, we got up there pretty close last night before their MiGs came out and intercepted us [Ford acknowledges] and we knocked two of them out. "I read off weekly the 13 various steps that the United States government had taken to try to reach reasonable, peaceful solutions in Southeast Asia. He indicated he was aware of the strong case that our State Department had made in this regard and he thought the paper should be published immediately. Recent history of United States negotiating efforts in Southeast Asia, dated June 5th, should be published, he thought, by—as a white paper.

“I reviewed the state of affairs in the Dominican Republic, mentioning the Ambassador [Ellsworth] Bunker and his colleagues on OAS, and the idea it would have to be a broadly based government. I covered the outbreak of conflict between the rebels and our airborne forces yesterday, and how they had fired first and we responded 23 minutes later. He was gratified at the firm action that was being taken by the Brazilian general, General Alvine. General Eisenhower inquired to the possibility of removing more of our forces and asked when it would be done. I told him the President had moved it from 21,000 down to 14[000]. And the planning had already [been] done and the hope we'd remove two more battalions [as] soon as Alvine would release them. I mentioned the possibility the Brazilians might furnish another battalion. He indicated he thought this would be an excellent opportunity.

“I asked him if, according to President Johnson, if he would let Milton [Eisenhower]—ask Milton to go on a trip to South America.[note 9] Milton Eisenhower, the former President’s brother, was president of the Johns Hopkins University. He picked up the phone, called Milton, and Milton told him that he did not feel it'd be wise to take the task, that he had such a schedule and such a hard load of work at commencement time.

“Finally, I told the General, the President reiterated he'd like to see him from time to time to talk about matters of prosecuting these problems, and he suggested the possibility of Eisenhower's being in Washington for the next two or three weeks, he'd like to get together a few military people, such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others. General Eisenhower indicated his next visit to Washington would be on the 28th of this month. He indicated agreement as to the idea of discussion with the President, said he would welcome him. He'd be glad to include a lunch or a small dinner such as the President suggests at any time.

There it is.

Ford

Mr. President?

President Johnson

Yeah.

Ford

First, let me say I agree exactly with what you did with the [B-]52s. And I, personally, would prefer General Eisenhower, what he said in this report from General Goodpaster. And as far as I'm concerned, I will in the future, as I've done in the past, you know, I've stood shoulder to shoulder.

President Johnson

I know that and I'm proud of you and your country's proud of you. And the only thing I regret is that you're going to pick up some Republican seats as a result of that kind of forward-looking policy. And I won't be happy with that unless they're like you. And if they're like you, I won't object. But I think you ought to get a muzzler on [Melvin] Laird and make him quit telling me that I can't have ground troops I need to protect my own airplanes. Because I can't bomb like he wants to if the goddamn Vietcong are destroying the airplanes on the ground.

Ford

Well, we've tried to do some talking and keep our comments within the proper bounds. And I hope and trust that this can be done.

President Johnson

Would you consider letting me trade [Wayne] Morse to you for Laird?

Ford

[Laughs.]

President Johnson

Take care of your boy and I'm sorry to bother you, Jerry.

Ford

OK, Mr. President.

President Johnson

Here's Tom Dewey—wants to say hi to you. He's sitting in here trying to get my tail out of a crack. I had to get a good lawyer and if you get enough danger and want the right kind of doctor, you'll even take a Republican.

Ford

[Laughs.]

Tom Dewey

[Unclear] go to the Republicans first, don't you, Jerry?

Ford

That's right, Tom. How are you [unclear]?

Dewey

Fine, thanks. Nice to talk with you.

Ford

It's real nice to talk to you and I'm glad that you're down there along with the President.

Dewey

Right. I hope I'll see you soon.

Ford

All right. Fine, Tom.

Dewey

Bye.

President Johnson

Jerry?

Ford

Good night, Mr. President.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson, Tom Dewey, and Gerald Ford on 17 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-05-8154-8155, 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/4002512