Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 30 June 1965


Transcript

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

Recording starts after conversation has begun.
Robert McNamara

—Vietnam, the question is press guidance. I'm inclined to say, when they say, "Is this one of the six we announced a week or ten days ago," that it's not one of the six that were identified as losing out there—even though we didn't identify them by name—it's not one of those six. But rather, because we need six and this was readily available, we're landing it early. We'll decide later when the six arrive whether it's still required.

President Johnson

You just do whatever you think's best.

McNamara

All right. This doesn't commit you to any more than 15: nine plus six. That's the advantage of doing it.

President Johnson

Margaret [Chase] Smith's got a kind of a mean speech on the ticker—says that I'm not going to give them these casualties [unclear] going to regret. And I thought we had a good meeting today. What did you think?

McNamara

I thought it was excellent, just excellent.

President Johnson

I think we've got some—

McNamara

We got some really frank opinion and I think we can use some of that.

President Johnson

And I think it'll be helpful.

McNamara

Absolutely.

President Johnson

I think you've got to sit down and talk to Bobby [Kennedy] [D–New York]. He's getting ready to tour Latin America, and you've got to sell the liberal bloc on . . . you cannot run out there, and you can't stay there without people. You got to back these men so that he doesn't get off on a tangent again.

McNamara

He called me today and I returned the call [unclear].

President Johnson

Well, I think you just got to have a serious talk with him. Go over the figures.

McNamara

I will.

President Johnson

And go over the facts.

McNamara

Show him [unclear]

President Johnson

Tell him that [Maxwell] Taylor has gone up, that you presented with Taylor to [Dwight] Eisenhower. And you presented it to others, and that you just can't find anybody who thinks we ought to leave these boys out there and do nothing, and . . . and we can't give up. And I don't see anything to do except give them what they need, Bob. [McNamara acknowledges.] Do you?

McNamara

Well, I'm—Mr. President, I'm very much of that frame of mind. I must tell you, I don't think others in your government are, however. But Cy [Vance] and I feel very strongly on that point. We want you to be sure that you see the full risk of this, and it is a very heavy risk, but that's my [unclear].

President Johnson

Well, I don't believe it's as big a risk as walking out.

McNamara

Neither do I.

President Johnson

Now, what are the alternative?

McNamara

Neither do I.

President Johnson

And it looks to me like that you—your conscience wouldn't let you just commit them and then not have adequate—

McNamara

Well, if the alternative is to go in on a half-assed basis . . . I think that’s—

President Johnson

[speaking over McNamara] Yeah. Well, I think you could get wrecked doing that. I think you—

McNamara

I went through the Bay of Pigs and I was responsible, in part, for that. And we were wrong not because we did what we did. We were wrong because we failed!

President Johnson

That's right.

McNamara

We went in with too little force. All right, I'll take care of this, Mr. President.

President Johnson

All right.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 30 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-09-8221, 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/4002656