Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 26 July 1965


Transcript

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

Recording starts after conversation has begun.
President Johnson

—I'm going in a meeting at 6:00, and I want to get your judgment on.[note 1] President Johnson held a 45-minute meeting on Vietnam in the Cabinet Room that evening, which continued a three-hour session from earlier that afternoon. "Notes of a Meeting," U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968: Vietnam, June-December 1965 (hereafter FRUS), ed. David C. Humphrey, Edward C. Keefer, and Louis J. Smith, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1996), 3:253–57.

We think that there is a strong possibly that there was a SAM site number 6 and 7.[note 2] The acronym SAM stands for surface-to-air missile. We've known about 5. Photography was taken on the 20th [of July], and was read out in Saigon, but they did not read out 6 and 7. It got in here Friday night, the night they knocked our plane out, and our boys here thought it indicated a SAM site, about 40 miles out, much farther than the others.[note 3] The plane was hit 40 miles west of Hanoi, killing two U.S. airmen. The jet was one of 16 that had targeted a North Vietnam arms factory at Langchi, 55 miles northwest Hanoi. Jack Langguth, "Arms Plant Bombed in North Vietnam," New York Times, 25 July 1965, 1; Langguth, "U.S. Aides Indicate A Red Missile Hit Jet Near Hanoi," New York Times, 26 July 1965, 1. Looks like they're moving them on out, you see, to ultimately bring them on down.

The best guessing, and it's pure guessing, as they study it from day to day, is it was 6 and 7, one or the other, that launched the missile that knocked the plane down Friday night and the drone down last night. It could have been a mobile one in the same general area, but they saw the fire from this same general area, which we got marked on the map, which is about 25 or 30 miles west, I guess, of the others, off to the left. I guess that's where—

Richard Russell

Could have been something like a HAWK.[note 4] The HAWK was an American-made, medium-range, surface-to-air missile. It's a mobile missile.

President Johnson

Yeah. That's what they think. They think it's a mobile—all of them are mobile—but they think it's . . . they say they're mobile; we don't necessarily contend they're mobile. But we think it could be a mobile one or one that we would number 6 or 7.

Now, the recommendations vary. [William] Westmoreland says that they ought to take out everything simultaneously. He's just really a firefighter. He's an old South Carolina boy and I guess he's been out there messing with them long enough he's getting fed up with it. [U. S. Grant] Sharp says take out—

Russell

Who is Sharp?

President Johnson

He is the man in charge of it all at Honolulu, Admiral Sharp.

Russell

Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know him.

President Johnson

He says take out the 6 and 7, if you can find it. Nobody knows whether you can find them, or nobody knows whether you can hit them. And if it's mobile, you don't know that you'll ever get it. [Maxwell] Taylor says take out 6 and 7 at a minimum right away. The . . . [Earle G.] Wheeler and the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] are real tough on taking out 6 and 7 immediately. They'd be glad to take out everything in the whole Southeast Asia. But they really want to take these out; I don't mean to leave the impression that they are limiting their recommendation to 6 or 7. That's what they're recommending, but they'd be happier if you took everything out. [Robert] McNamara thinks you've got to take them out and the quicker the better. If you don't, you'll send a false signal to Russia that she can do this with impunity and she can move on down, and pretty soon we'll have no planes in the air. We can't put them in the air because they'll knock them out.[note 5] The Soviet Union had built the SAM sites ringing Hanoi. Langguth, "Red Missile Hit Near Hanoi". He is very conservative, notwithstanding what people think, and he holds down the military a good deal. Were you of that opinion?

Russell

Yes, I think he's—

President Johnson

Most of them think he's a hawk and that he's always raising hell to go to war.

Russell

No, I think you got the military where they're—they'll somewhat feel circumscribed in expressing themselves freely, but I don't think he's a fire-eater himself, necessarily.

President Johnson

No, they express themselves fully to me. I've had them over here for hours at a time, all of them, and they've gone around the table, each one of them. And some of them are awfully irresponsible; they just scare you. They're ready to put a million men in right quick, and all that—500,000 General [Wallace] Green says, and stuff like that.

Six seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration in accordance with the deed of gift.
President Johnson

So, on the other side, [Dean] Rusk thinks that we ought to go and take these sites out. [George] Ball and some of them have some doubts, particularly Ball and [Arthur] Goldberg, and . . . [Hubert] Humphrey kind of wobbled on both sides. I'm meeting at 6:00. We think that the Russians are manning them. We don't want to say that; we don't want anybody to know that; we hope it doesn't get published; we hope it—

Russell

No, I'd say they're manned by North Vietnamese.

President Johnson

Well, we don't know, but we—

Russell

I don't know, but, I—of course, I think the Russians have got people there showing them how to shoot them, but I would never mention that.

President Johnson

We don't want to put them behind the wall where they got to fight back, if we can help it, and that's why I'm trying to hold down this play.

You see, we agreed with them [the Soviets] when we told what our defense budget was. We said, "Now, ours is 2 billion [dollars] lower; you lower yours," and they did. When we cut out this nuclear production I told you about last year—you wondered why it hadn't been cut out before—it was running out of our ears when I first came in as president.[note 6] In early 1964, in the wake of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the United States and Soviet Union reduced their respective number of nuclear reactors. See Khrushchev to Johnson, 31 December 1963, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, 3 February 1964, 158–63; Johnson to Khrushchev, 18 January 1964, ibid, 3 February 1964, 157–58.

Russell

Yeah.

President Johnson

They cut down theirs. Now, then, I don't want to come up and say I'm just going to have a hell of a lot of billions of dollars because they've just been meeting, and the Chinese people and the Russian people are still together, and they're trying—Vietnam is trying to pull the two back together, and I think if any big dramatic announcement on my part will throw them together, that's what our Russian experts think.[note 7] Soviet and Chinese leaders, along with the leaders of other Communist countries, had gathered in Bucharest, Romania, for a major conference aimed, in part, to help mend the Sino-Soviet split.

So in ten minutes—five minutes, from now, they're coming in here to decide what to do about the SAM site. The weight of opinion is pretty solidly on taking out 6 and 7 tonight.

McNamara just walked—

Russell

[Unclear] you don't know where 6 and 7 are.

President Johnson

No. Well, they've got pictures of them where they are.

Russell

Six and 7?

President Johnson

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. They've got that. Friday night, they picked it up on the 20th [of July]. Last Friday night, which was the 23rd, it got in here, the pictures did; they were in Saigon, on the 20th they were photographed. The 23rd they got in here. We read them out and read the sites. Said, "Hell, here's two extra SAM sites. We've picked up 5; here's 6 and 7." But they're not sure that this firing—although the firing looks like, the boys identified it, if their navigation is right—the firing came from 6 or 7, or a mobile which was at 6 and 7, or in that vicinity. Now, anyway, all of our people want to go take 6 and 7 out.

Russell

I'd take them every one out.

President Johnson

Well—

Russell

I'd take them every one out because if you miss these, and to happen not to get them, you're in a hell of a fix, and I'd at least take out one other that I knew exactly where it was [unclear] knock it out.

President Johnson

If you do, that gets you in the Hanoi area.

Russell

Well, I [unclear]

President Johnson

That gets you in civilians, that gets you in a world [of] upset, and I just can't do that on these others. They're not bothering me and my targets, not a damn bit. These two are right in line with all the targets I've got that's worth a damn, and I can't send my boys up there without knocking them down. The Hanoi ones don't bother me too much.

Russell

Well . . . I'd sure get one other that I knew I could knock, that's so well-known I couldn't miss it. I'd get them all for my part, if I had my way, because if they've got . . . you know, those things got a longer range than you give them credit for. They can shoot you 40, 50 miles away. And I—

President Johnson

Well, the big question I got to decide is do I or don't I on 6 and 7, and you'd say "yes", wouldn’t you?

Russell

Well, I—if the question—"yes." The answer to that would be "yes," but I certainly would get one other one that I knew exactly where—

President Johnson

Well, if I do I go into Hanoi, they're all in a perimeter of 15 miles from Hanoi. And these boys getting off and you're going to hit the goddamn capital and you'll have them all in the war in 15 minutes, in my judgment, when you go to bombing Hanoi. I think they're trying to trap us into doing it.

Russell

Well, our CIA thinks they've moved a lot of the government out of Hanoi.

President Johnson

Well, I'm just telling you what I think about these others. We'll debate that later; this one is right up now.

Russell

Well, I'd say yes, get them tonight if we could. But I'd hate like hell to try to get them and miss them. [Unclear.]

President Johnson

Well, we think we're likely to miss them. We don't think we got anymore chance to get them than the others; the others are mobile ones. Well, these five they got, they may just have strips of ground that look like a landing strip, and have mobile ones that they move in just like a trailer and move out.

Russell

That's just like our HAWK here.

President Johnson

Yeah. OK, that's what I wanted to say and I'll talk to you later. Bye.[note 8] President Johnson ultimately decided to bomb the SAM sites. "Notes of Meeting,” FRUS, 257.

Russell

All right.

President Johnson

Now, what I think I'm going to do on this other thing is I think I'm going to work out a deal where I extend—I give Westmoreland what he needs in about three increments, 30[000], 40,000 each. Send a division right away from down at your Fort Benning, and then—[note 9] Fort Benning was in Georgia, Russell's home state.

Russell

Yes, so you’d strip Georgia first.

President Johnson

—give three or four right quick, and then—I mean, that division right quick—and then do it in two or three increments between now and the 1st of December.

Russell

Well, you'll have one damn good soldier out there named Walter Brown Russell Jr. He's a good'un.

President Johnson

Is he in that crowd?

Russell

Yes, sir. He was wounded in Korea and won all sorts of—

President Johnson

He's knows he's going, does he?

Russell

Oh yeah, they all know it. They're just sitting there waiting for it. [President Johnson acknowledges.] They saw that division was tailored just for Vietnam. [Unclear] it's a light division [unclear].

President Johnson

[speaking over Russell] We don't think that we'll—we don't think we'll ask for much money, because we don't want to blow this thing up.

Russell

I'm with you on that, and I've argued this point [President Johnson attempts to interject] with John Stennis [D–Mississippi] about it, that I didn't see a bit of need of presence of damn [unclear]

President Johnson

We don't think we'll need any legislation. We think we'll tell them to get the reserve plans ready and everything, so if next year we do. Then I'm going to do everything I can with this Jew up at the United Nations and everywhere in the world to find a way to get out without saying so.[note 10] President Johnson is referring to Arthur Goldberg, who was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations that morning in a Rose Garden ceremony.

But if I can't do that—January, I'll have to decide on reserves, but I don't think I'll call them up now. I think it's too dramatic. I think it commits me where I can't get out, and it puts me out there further than I want to get right at the moment. Now, does that make sense to you?

Russell

Yes, if . . . except it adds to old Ho Chi Minh's argument that we ain't going to stay in there, that we're going to pull out. And it may ease the pressure that we might—had hoped that Russia would put on to get him out.

President Johnson

What do you think—

Russell

Call up reserves—they understand that language. They understood it in Berlin. They understand that. And while I'm not—

President Johnson

Well, if I extend enlistments—

Russell

I [unclear]. I don't know what the—

President Johnson

If I extend—if I put 100,000 out there, they'll understand it. [Chuckles.]

Russell

Well—

President Johnson

I'm afraid they'll understand it too much. I don't have to have the reserves to do that.

Russell

No.

President Johnson

And I'm going to step up my draft calls, double them—

Russell

You can't send many more than 100,000 over there [unclear]

President Johnson

[speaking over Russell] No, I'm not, I'm not—I'm not going to try to send more!

Russell

—where it gets below the safe margin.

President Johnson

I'm not going to try to send more; I'm just going to send a little less, maybe.

Russell

[Pauses.] Well, you've been living with it every minute. I just live with it at night.

President Johnson

[speaking over Russell] I never worked on anything as hard in my life. I've had every human being—

Russell

It's just near driven me mad. I just—it's the only thing I've ever hit in my life I didn't have some quick answer to. But I haven't got one to this.

President Johnson

I'll talk—

Russell

I have thought from the time they started those SAM sites there that we ought to knock them out.

President Johnson

Should I have the leaders in? I want to have them in two groups: the leaders first, and then the Foreign Relations, and Foreign Affairs, and Armed Services [Committees], and all that group so I can get them in one room. Then, how much time should I have them before I make my announcement? Do you think I ought to send a message to Congress or just make a statement? I'm not going to need any appropriation or any legislation.

Russell

About what?

President Johnson

About legislation. And I don't need any, and I don't need any appropriation, and . . . about my decisions out there. Couldn't I just give a statement saying I'm going to send 30,000 in the next few days, and 30,000 more, and be a total of 100,000 additional that'll be added? And if I do need anything I'll call you back, and if I don't, y'all can call yourself back if you want to come, and this is all I'm going to do now? I don't want to dramatize it and throw Russia . . .

Russell

I don't see a necessity for . . . if you—that's the way you're going to play it, I'd play it down. But I—

President Johnson

You wouldn't have a joint session?

Russell

[with President Johnson acknowledging] But I wouldn't [unclear] down on the actual fighting, because those people over there are playing for keeps.

President Johnson

Oh, I'm putting 100,000 in there! Gosh, I've moved 150,000 in the last 90 days.

Russell

Has all the 1st Division got there yet?

President Johnson

I don't know. I don't know. All I know is I've got 80,000 there, and I’ve got 100—

Russell

Well, most of them are there, then.

President Johnson

I've got 100,000 that I'm going to authorize.

Russell

I don't know. It has a mighty good psychological effect to call up some reserves. I think this 4th Marine Division has been sitting around expecting it for months.

President Johnson

Yeah, but it upsets the hell out of them, and they immediately go to—they are pressing them for commitments now that they're not getting from Russia, and I don't want to force them.

Russell

Well, of course, God knows I don't. And the last thing I want and the thing that scares me worse is that these damn Vietnamese are just going to say, "Well, here's your war; go ahead and take it," and they'll quit fighting. That's what I've been looking for them to do. That little old mustached fellow who was on the television, he indicates that we ought to fight the war and his troops ought to pacify the villages in the rear.[note 11] Russell is likely referring to South Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Cao Ky. God, that just scared the hell out of me. If they're going to try to fight that kind of war, I'm in favor of getting out of there, if they're not going to really fight. The Koreans fought every inch of the way and increased their personnel from month to month, every month. Even when they were taking staggering losses, they were increasing their units, and their total number as well. And these people are letting theirs run down. They're not making any real effort over there now.

President Johnson

Well, I'm—got to get word out to all my other nations, and I got to get word out to try and get some more help, which I can't get from them. I've got to talk to the leadership. Would you think that—you don't think I ought to have a joint session, do you? [Pauses.] Don't you think—

Russell

No, if I wasn't going to call up any reserves, no, I wouldn't.

President Johnson

I wouldn't. I'm not going to ask any legislation.

Russell

Well, I wouldn't, I wouldn't. I see no occasion [unclear]

President Johnson

Would you send a message at all, then? Just explaining what I'm doing? Or would you just make a television statement?

Russell

I think I'd do it—

President Johnon

Just make a television—

Russell

I think I'd do it through the television. I think to make some of the fellows up here feel like they were sort of on the inside, I'd call in some of the—

President Johnson

That's what I'm going to do.

Russell

—leading members of the committees.

President Johnson

OK. Thank you.

Russell

All right.

President Johnson

Thank you.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 26 July 1965,” Conversation WH6507-08-8399-8400, 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/4002657