Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen on 31 October 1968


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

President Johnson

Hello.

White House Operator

Senator [Everett M.] Dirksen.

President Johnson

All right. Put Senator Dirksen on. I'm ready.

White House Operator

Right.

President Johnson

I'm in a meeting. Tell him I'm in a meeting [Operator acknowledges], but I want to talk. I missed him when I was [in the] [National] Security Council.

White House Operator

All right, thank you.

President Johnson

All right.

White House Operator

Senator Dirksen?

Everett M. Dirksen

Yes.

White House Operator

The President.

President Johnson

Hello.

Dirksen

Yeah. Are you in a meeting?

President Johnson

Yes, but go ahead. I can hear.

Dirksen

Well, it’s the usual thing. What is the situation?

President Johnson

Everett, we have said to . . . first of all, now, I cannot tell you this if it's going to be quoted, ‘cause I can't tell the candidates and I can't tell anybody else. I haven't talked to a human. I want to comply with it and trust, but I sure don't want it told to a human.

Dirksen

I give you my solemn word.

President Johnson

All right. The situation is this. Since September of last year, we have told Hanoi that we would stop the bombing. We're anxious to stop it when they would engage in—these are the key words—prompt, productive discussions that they would not take advantage of.[note 1] On 29 September 1967, Johnson had described in broad terms his conditions for stopping U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. “As we have told Hanoi time and time and time again, the heart of the matter is really this: The United States is willing to stop all aerial and naval bombardment of North Vietnam when this will lead promptly to productive discussions. We, of course, assume that while discussions proceed, North Vietnam would not take advantage of the bombing cessation or limitation.” See "Address on Vietnam Before the National Legislative Conference, San Antonio, Texas," 29 September 1967, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1970), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28460.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

That is September. March 31, I came to the conclusion that no living man could run for office and be a candidate and have them all shooting at him, and keep this war out of politics, and get peace, so I concluded [Dirksen acknowledges] that I should not run because I'd just prolong the war by doing it . So I said then, we’re stopping the bombing in 90 percent [of North Vietnam]. We will stop it in the rest if there can be any indication that it will not cost us additional lives. [President Johnson coughs.][note 2] See “The President's Address to the Nation Announcing Steps To Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting His Decision Not To Seek Reelection,” 31 March 1968, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1970), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28772.

We got just a lot of procrastination up until October. During October, they started asking questions: What did I mean by prompt? And what did I mean by productive? Now, the facts of life are that they tried two offensives in May and August and they got very severe setbacks. The facts are that they've had 35[000], 40,000 leave the country to refit.

Dirksen

Yes.

President Johnson

The facts are that they're not doing at all well, but they can continue to supply what they need for a very long time. But in October, we started getting these nibbles: What did the president mean? What did he—he said that he had to have prompt and productive and not take advantage. We said that we would consider productive—the GVN had to be present. They said they were just generals, and stooges, and satellites, and Johnson put them in office, and that they would never sit down with those traitors. We said, you've got to sit down with them before we can ever work out the future. We can't settle the future of South Vietnam without them being present. We're not going to pull a [Adolf] Hitler-[Neville] Chamberlain deal.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

They said, well, they'd never do it. So on October the 7th or 11th, I've forgotten, they said, well now what else? Is that all the president wants? If we would sit down with the GVN, what would he do? Now, they made no commitment. They didn't indicate they’d accept it; they just asked the question. But, you know, in trading, when a fellow said, “How much would you take for that horse?” why, you kind of think that means something. [Dirksen acknowledges.] So we followed it up and said no, we don't want to limit ourselves, we—the GVN’s got to be present and we’ve got to have productive discussions, and we think they could be productive if they were present. But we can't have a Panmunjom and say, “Well, we'll do that, but we'll meet a year from now.”[note 3] The President refers to the Korean village where the armistice between North and South Korea was signed in 1953 following two years of talks.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

It's got to be a prompt meeting—a week, two weeks, three weeks, something like that. So they said, “Well, if we could work everything out, we could meet the next day.” So we came back to them and said that if you will let the GVN come in and will meet the next day, we would like to take that up with our government. [Coughs.] They said, "Well, what else do you want? Is that all? You’ll write off that?" And [W. Averell] Harriman said, “No. These are facts of life, and we know you're not going to sell out and engage in reciprocity, and that you're not going to accept conditions; your pride, and your Asiatic face will not let you do that. You've got to save face; we understand that. But we could not sit at a conference table if you were shelling the cities.”[note 4] W. Averell Harriman was an ambassador-at-large and chief U.S. delegate to the Paris Peace Talks under President Lyndon B. Johnson. In other words, if I were talking to Dirksen in my living room and my son was raping his wife, he'd have to get up and leave, and quit trading, and run and protect her. So we just could not sit there if you were shelling the cities, nor could we sit there and have a productive discussion if you were abusing the DMZ.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

So they said, “Well, that's reciprocity and we're not going to pay any attention to it.” And they—about that time, [Richard] Nixon made some little statement about we handled the war wrong, and then Hubert [H. Humphrey] said that he was going to stop the bombing without any comma or semicolon, just period. And then Mac Bundy made a fool speech, where he said we ought to stop it for nothing and pull our troops out.[note 5] Speaking before United Press International editors, the Republican presidential nominee said that as president, he might accept settlement terms that Johnson couldn’t. “We might be able to agree to much more then than we can do now,” Nixon said. E.M. Kenworthy, “Nixon Suggests He Could Achieve peace in Vietnam; Indicates He Might Be Able to Agree to a Settlement Johnson Cannot Accept,” New York Times, 8 October 1968, http://www.nytimes.com (accessed 30 January 2009). Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic nominee for president, had called for a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam in a nationally televised campaign speech on 30 September 1968 and repeated the call two weeks later at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri, adding, “I said period, not comma or semi-colon.” John W. Finney, “Humphrey Taunts Nixon as ‘Chicken,’” New York Times, 16 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 26 June 2012). McGeorge Bundy, who’d been national security adviser when Johnson had first deployed U.S. combat troops to Vietnam in 1965, had made a speech at DePauw University on 12 October 1968, calling for the steady and systematic withdrawal of U.S. forces even in the absence of a truce. The speech broke Bundy’s long silence on the war dating back to his resignation from the White House. Homer Bigart, “Bundy Proposes Troop Reduction and Bombing Halt; Former White House Aide Alters Stand on Vietnam Policy He Helped Make; Defends ‘65 Decisions; But He says ‘Burden’ Must be Lifted ‘From Our Lives’ Beginning Next Year,” New York Times, 13 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 19 September 2009). So they picked up and went to Hanoi, and they stayed in Hanoi two weeks, from October the 15th to right about now—October the 11th, I guess. They come back now, and all this time we have been working with everybody we knew. The governments cannot be named, because it's life and death to them. They may be invaded, but the Eastern Europeans have been helpful, the Indians have been helpful, the Soviets have been helpful, the French have been helpful. We've had them all in and we have talked to some of them nearly every day. And we've told them the clock was ticking and that they could settle this in 30 days. They did in 1954 in 30 days, but that our constitutional processes did not change. We would have a new president. But [Mike] Mansfield and Dirksen would still be leaders, and [Richard B.] Russell would still be chairman of the committee, and [J. William] Fulbright would likely be chairman, and those men would carry on and all of our joint chiefs would be the same, so they needn't to play—even if Humphrey was elected, they're not going to get any better deal.[note 6] Michael J. “Mike” Mansfield was a U.S. senator [D-Montana] from January 1953 to January 1977, and Senate majority leader from January 1961 to January 1977. Even if Nixon, they're not going to get any better deal. Now, this is for your information only.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

We get to the point where it looks like that we might get the GVN in the meeting and they understand thoroughly that they will bust up the meeting. We don't even come back here. [Creighton W.] Abrams is authorized with the rules of engagement to retaliate himself if they shoot across the DMZ [Dirksen acknowledges throughout] by launching bombers immediately, and we’ve told them all that.[note 7] General Creighton W. Abrams served as vice chief of staff of the Army from 1964 to 1967; deputy commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from June 1967 to July 1968; commander of MACV from July 1968 to June 1972; and Army chief of staff from October 1972 to September 1974. Told the Russians, told everybody else. [Coughs.] Now, if that gets in the paper, the deal's off. So that's why you cannot say this to anybody that’s going to get it in the paper, because these folks are the most sensitive people in the world. But we have said this and about that time, some of Mr. Nixon's people come in and tell both sides. Now, I have information about who you had a glass of beer with last night. You don't know it, but I do, and you have ways and means—

Dirksen

I don't drink beer.

President Johnson

You have ways and means. You get my point though, don't you?

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

You have ways and means of knowing what's going on in the country. What—we know what [Nguyen Van] Thieu says when he talks out in Vietnam and we know what happens here.[note 8] The Central Intelligence Agency had bugged the office of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, and the National Security Agency intercepted cables to Saigon from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C. And some of Mr. Nixon's people are getting a little bit unbalanced and frightened like Hubert did when he said, “no comma, no period,” or like [McGeorge] Bundy did. About the time you called me last week, they started going in to the South Vietnamese embassy and also sending some word to Hanoi, which has prolonged this thing a good deal.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

The net of it, and it's despicable, and if it were made public I think it would rock the nation, but the net of it was that if they just hold out a little bit longer, that he's a lot more sympathetic and he can kind of—they can do better business with him than they can with their present president. And in Hanoi, they've been saying, that, “Well, if you won't settle this thing, I'm not bound by all these things, so I’m not—I haven't had this record, and I can make a little better deal with you there.”

Now, I rather doubt Nixon has done any of this, but there's no question but what folks for him are doing it. And very frankly, we're reading some of the things that are happening. So as a consequence, while Thieu and all of our allies are ready to go on a bombing ceasefire—cessation, it just may be temporary. We may be back on it in the next day if they don't follow these two things—if they violate the DMZ or if they shell the cities. We could stop the killing out there. We could get everything we've asked for, the GVN there. But they've got this question, this new formula put in there—namely, wait on Nixon. And they're killing 4[00] or 500 every day waiting on Nixon. Now, these folks, I doubt, are authorized to speak for Nixon, but they're going in there and they range all the way from very attractive women to old-line China lobbyists.[note 9] As the President will make clear later in this conversation, he’s referring to Anna C. Chennault, the top woman fundraiser for the Republicans that year. Chennault was born in Beijing and later was part of the China Lobby, a named used for Chinese Nationalists and American politicians and activists who blamed the victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution on the Truman administration. And some people pretty close to him in the business world.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

I was shocked when I looked at the reports, see? And I've got them and . . . so forth. Now, Thieu has—that's had a little effect on Thieu. He has signed on to this back as early as October, that this is what we ought to do, as have all the allied governments. As have the French, and as have the Russians, and the thing that busted it up is that Hanoi hadn’t and all of our people.

Now, I told Dick Nixon, and George Wallace, and Hubert Humphrey that we had to have prompt and productive discussions.[note 10] George C. Wallace was governor of Alabama from January 1963 to January 1967, January 1971 to January 1979, and January 1983 to January 1987. In order to be productive, the GVN had to be present. In order to be prompt, it ought to be in a matter of weeks, not two or three years. And that they wouldn't take advantage of—that meant that they just wouldn't be blowing up our house while we were trying to eat dinner. They wouldn't be hitting the DMZ and the cities. Now, if they do hit the GVN in the cities, we would have to just come back to bombing the next day. Now, then, the facts are, that as of now, the monsoon has started up there and bombing ain't worth a damn and not going to be for 90 days in the North, so without telling them, we might quit anyway if we had nothing in return, because we need to do it in Laos where it's drying up and where they can really increase their traffic, and we need to do it in South Vietnam where they're trying to mount an offensive on Saigon.[note 11] The President refers to bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, which Hanoi used to infiltrate soldiers and supplies into South Vietnam, and also to bombing Communist forces massed in South Vietnam. So I called in all the joint chiefs and all of them recommended that we stop, and that we take this GVN presence. [Blows nose.] I called in General [William] Momyer, who's been in charge of air force, because I knew I'd have this [Curtis E.] LeMay on my hands and Momyer’s been in charge of it in Vietnam.[note 12] William W. Momyer was deputy commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Curtis E. LeMay, the former Air Force chief of staff, was also a candidate for vice president as the running mate of independent George C. Wallace. He operates from Thailand. He's down at Langley and he explained to me that it wouldn't do any good where I'm bombing now, and if I could get anything out of it, I ought to do it and move it over to the other places. Now, we can't say we're going to move it over, because it'll look like that we're not giving them anything and we're not sincere, that we're given up bombing the North, but we're going to spread more bombs on the South. But he told me that that was it. Every civilian and every military man we have talked to, and Andy Goodpaster, particularly, is very strong.[note 13] General Andrew J. Goodpaster was deputy commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and later served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and commander in chief of the United States European Command from 1969 to 1974. But I decided that I had to talk to Abrams before I reached any conclusion. [Coughs.] He had sent me a cable and said he would do it without the cities and without the DMZ if they’d just let the GVN be present, because in effect he's going to do it anyway.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And he said psychologically, the GVN being present will really wreck the Vietcong, because it'll mean that their supporters, the Soviet[s] and Hanoi, have really recognized them or they wouldn't let them come to the meeting. Well, that's what our folks think. I don't know. We're going to let the NLF come in the meeting so we're not recognizing them, but they think psychologically this will really do them up in the South and [William C.] Westmoreland, and Abrams, and Momyer think they've had them whipped since September.[note 14] General William C. Westmoreland was commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from 1964 to 1968.

Dirksen

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

They think they're whipped. So Abrams came in at 2:30 yesterday morning, or day before yesterday morning, and he drove 24 hours straight time, and he stayed here till 4:00, and he was just as strong as horseradish, and said that this ought to be done. We took this and I went back to Paris and asked Paris how many times they told them that they had to respect the cities and respect the DMZ, and they counted up and they came back. They’d told them 12 times. Now, they've never agreed to it because they will not agree to reciprocity. [Dirksen acknowledges.] But they know that if they don't do it, that Abrams—they’d trigger Abrams’s reaction so it’s just on-again, off-again—just a matter of hours, the bombing will be resumed.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

So then we went back to the Soviet[s] and said we don’t want to deceive anybody. This is close to the election. It’s a very delicate period. I have told Nixon, and Wallace, and Humphrey all the same thing that I’m telling you now. Nixon said, “Do you have to have all three of them?” And I said, “No, I really don’t have to have any if I thought that—I have said if they do nearly any little thing, I would stop the bombing, but I’d like to have all three. And I’m going to try to get all three.” Well, in effect, that’s what we’re likely to get. So I went back to the Russians and said, “Now, we don’t want to be deceitful, and if we should stop the bombing, the meeting's got to be prompt, the DMZ's got to be respected, and the shelling [of] the cities has got to stop. And we know you can't guarantee it, but we want you to be damn sure that you know it because the moment we stop—if you start any of this, you’re going to get hit with interest and we’re going to double the force, and Abrams is—doesn't even come to Washington. He can do it automatically.

Now, we—I, Lyndon Johnson—have grave doubts that they will stop shelling the cities or the DMZ, because if they do, they just admit they've lost South Vietnam. So I went to Mr. [Alexei N.] Kosygin, and he came back and he said, [coughs] “The doubts the President has are unjustified,” that he thinks they want peace.[note 15] Alexei N. Kosygin was chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union from October 1964 to October 1980. So then we went to the Indians, and the Indians came back about the same thing.

Now, that's where we are. We are now talking to our folks here, and talking about the rules of engagement, and what Abrams would do if we stop the bombing, and if they should hit Saigon. And we're trying to conclude that and we're going to try to have [Cyrus R.] Vance go back and talk to them again, and be sure that they don't misunderstand any of the language, be sure they're willing to let the GVN come in the room.[note 16] Cyrus R. Vance was secretary of the Army from 1962 to 1963, deputy secretary of defense from 1964 to 1967, special representative of the president to Cyprus in 1967 and to Korea in 1968, and U.S. negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. Of course, a Communist agreement ain't worth a dime. They might walk out. But you're going to have to some time test it and [Clark] Clifford says and [Earle] Bus Wheeler said you've got to test their faith.[note 17] Clark M. Clifford was a Washington lawyer; adviser to presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson; and chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1963 to 1968. General Earle G. “Bus” Wheeler was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1964 to 1970. Clifford served as secretary of defense from March 1968 to January 1969. They may not mean it. But that's about where it is.

Now, no decision has been reached, no order has been issued. It takes about 12 hours from the time we make a decision until we issue the order. The meeting—no meeting could take place before the election. The meeting would have to take place after the election, but it's my feeling that I ought to, the first minute I can, stop the killing if I can. I’m not—can't justify saying that I quit the race for the presidency to get peace and put peace before politics, and then let some son of a bitch like [Max] Rafferty out here in Los Angeles say, “Well, Johnson's playing politics.”[note 18] Max Rafferty, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in California, had said U.S. negotiators in Paris “aren’t negotiating; they’re just horsing around.” Richard Bergholz, “Peace Envoys Horsing Around, Rafferty Says,” Los Angeles Times, 25 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 4 January 2013). Or—I thought Dick's statement was ugly the other day, that he had been told that I was a thief, and a son of a bitch, and so forth, but he knew my mother and she really wasn't a bitch.[note 19] On 25 October 1968, Nixon made the following statement to reporters: "I am told that officials in the administration have been driving very hard for an agreement on a bombing halt, accompanied possibly by a ceasefire, in the immediate future. I have since learned these reports are true. I am also told that this spurt of activity is a cynical, last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey. This I do not believe." Robert B. Semple Jr., “Nixon Denounces Welfare Inequity, Calls for National Standards—Repudiates Criticism of Johnson Peace Efforts,” New York Times, 26 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 16 March 2009). I mean you set up a statement like that and then deny it, it's not very good, because he knows better, and that hurt my feelings. You damn Republicans get mean when you get in politics, and I think it's cost him a lot of votes. I think he's losing the last few days because of that statement. I've played it clean. I've talked to [Dwight D.] Eisenhower about it.[note 20] Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States from January 1953 to January 1961. I made Wheeler brief him. I've told Nixon every bit as much, if not more, than Humphrey knows. I've given Humphrey not one thing, and up to now, Nixon and the Republicans have supported me just as well as the Democrats and a hell of a lot better than McCarthy, and Fulbright, and the rest of them.[note 21] Eugene J. McCarthy was a U.S. congressman [D-Minnesota] from January 1949 to January 1959, and a U.S. senator from January 1959 to January 1971. J. William Fulbright was a U.S. senator [D-Arkansas] from January 1945 to December 1974, and served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from January 1959 to December 1974. But he got into politics [unclear] this goddamn Mel Laird, he told them the other day that Joe Califano and them were shoving me.[note 22] “Behind the scenes, according to UPI, Nixon aides said the principal pressure for a dramatic peace development in the immediate future came from Secretary of Defense Clark M. Clifford; Cyrus Vance, one of the two chief U.S. negotiators in Paris; Joseph Califano, special assistant to the President, and George W. Ball, who resigned as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to become a foreign policy adviser to the Humphrey campaign.” Peter H. Silberman, “Nixon Reports Cease-Fire Hint,” Washington Post, 26 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 27 December 2012). Well, now, Joe Califano can't spell Vietnam. He's never been in one meeting with me. But that’s what he put out. Now, the men that I rely on are Bus Wheeler, General Westmoreland, Admiral [Thomas H.] Moorer, General [John P.] McConnell, the chief of staff, the general that’s head of the Marine corps, General Momyer, who's down at Langley and been in charge of air, General Abrams, Ambassador [Ellsworth F. ] Bunker, and Dean Rusk.[note 23] Admiral Thomas H. Moorer was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from July 1970 to June 1974. General John P. McConnell was chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I don't pay much attention to any—even the subordinates of any other place. Now, I've been at this five years and if I'd have wanted to sell my country out, I'd have sold it out five months ago and gone on and run for president and got this war behind us and been overwhelmingly elected. But I'm a conscientious, earnest fellow trying to do a job and I'm going to do it and if I can get peace at 4:00 this afternoon, I'm damn sure going to get it, come hell or high water, and woe be unto the guy that says you ought to keep on killing. But I really think it's a little dirty pool for Dick's people to be messing with the South Vietnamese ambassador and carrying messages around to both of them and I don't think the people would approve of it if it were known.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

So that's why I'm afraid to talk. Now, when I make a decision, and we're meeting again this afternoon, and we met all morning this morning, and we're out there and it's 5:30 in Saigon now, and we're waiting probably until 6:30, 6:00 to see what answers they'll give. We had to wait until Abrams got back home. He left and he had to fly 24 hours, so he got in at 3:00, straight through. [Coughs.] When we do, the first thing I'm going to do is call you. If it's five minutes from now, or five hours, or five days, and I never know. I've thought 100 times in the last month it'd be in five hours. But nobody knows when you're dealing with eight countries, with all the folks in Paris, with all the folks in Saigon and here. But I'm going to call you and Mike Mansfield on the phone. I'm going to tell you exactly what I've told you now. I can't add a damn thing to it.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

That if we stop the bombing, they're going to agree the GVN will come to the conference table promptly and productively, and we'll stay stopped if they don't hit the cities, and if they don't go across the DMZ. If they do, we'll be right back at it, and Abrams got his orders when he was here the other day. Now, we'll just test their faith. I don't see that it'll make any difference in the political campaign, because first of all, the conference won't happen until it's over with. [Dirksen acknowledges.] I think I'd be glad to say that all the candidates have cooperated with me and we ought to have one voice in foreign affairs, and while they've criticized my conduct of the war, they have never told the enemy that he'd get a better deal. But this last few days, Dick is just getting a little bit shaky and he's pissing on the fire a little.

Dirksen

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

Now, you ought to guide him just a little bit because they're not running against me, I'm not going to be here, you're going to be my senator, and you're going to represent me, and do whatever I want done. I'm going to be down at Pedernales. But he oughtn't to go back to that old kill tactics, see.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

As a matter of fact, we have a transcript where one of his partners says he's going to play this one just like [Abe] Fortas.[note 24] Abe Fortas was a Washington lawyer and President Johnson’s closest adviser on political-legal matters. He's going to take the Republicans and the Southerners, and he's going to frustrate the President by telling [the] South Vietnamese . . . that just wait a few more days. And he's not connected to this war; he can make a better peace for them, and by telling Hanoi that he's been running this war and didn't get him into it, and he can be a lot more considerate of them than I can because I'm pretty inflexible.[note 25] Alexander Sachs, an economist who was famous for having warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt of Nazi Germany’s potential to build an atom bomb, had warned the White House of Republian interference with the bombing halt negotiations. “He said he had attended a working lunch that day with colleagues in Wall Street. Two were men closely involved with Nixon. One of them explained to the group that Nixon was handling the Vietnam peace problem ‘like another Fortas case.’ He was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’” Eugene V. Rostow to Walt W. Rostow, 29 October 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. I've called them sons of bitches. Now, that doesn't give me—that's not very easy for me to work under those conditions—

Dirksen

No.

President Johnson

—anymore than it is when Hubert says that he'll stop the bombing without a comma, semicolon, but period.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

Now, neither one of them has got a damn thing to do with it between now and January the 20th.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And I'm going to stop it the earliest second I can and I can stop it for nothing if I want to. I have five times before. But I'm not going to stop it unless they agree that the GVN will be at that table.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

I'm not going to stop it unless they understand that if they want that table blown up, all they got to do is hit the DMZ or the cities.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And if I do that, it's complete absolute, 100 percent, all we've asked for since last September.

Dirksen

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

Now, I'd be glad to have any suggestions, or judgments, or advice that you've got to give.

Dirksen

That GVN—you mean the Government of [President Johnson coughs] [South] Vietnam?

President Johnson

That means these satellites, these stooges, these puppets that they've been referring to that they'd never go in a room with. That the people elected president and vice president, [Dirksen acknowledges] Thieu and [Nguyen Cao] Ky.[note 26] Nguyen Cao Ky was prime minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

That's been the thing that held it up. You can't divide up a country, settle it, if you won't let their president come, unless you're Hitler, and Sudetenland, and Chamberlain, and stuff like that.[note 27] President Johnson is invoking the universal symbol of appeasement: the Munich Agreement negotiated by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, which allowed Nazi Germany to take over parts of Czechslovakia referred to as the Sudetenland.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

So, basically, we have said they’ve got to have self-determination, and if you're going to make a decision that affects them, whether it's the '52 [sic] Geneva Accords, or wherever you put the boundary line, they’ve got to be present.[note 28] President Johnson was likely referring to the 1954 Geneva Accords that divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel into northern and southern regrouping zones. They said, "Shut up, we will never let them come in the room." Now they've started asking, “if we would let them come in the room, what else would you make us do?” Now, that indicates to us that we can do it and Vance is talking to him about it right today.

Dirksen

Yeah. [Pause.] So that's it?

President Johnson

Yeah. What do you think about it?

Dirksen

Well, I say we go forward the way you've handled this matter, and, of course, I recognize also that the fellows on our side get antsy-pantsy about this. They wonder what the impact would be if a ceasefire or a halt of the bombing could be proclaimed at any given hour, what its impact would be on the result next Tuesday.

President Johnson

Well, I don't know what it'd be.

Dirksen

I don't know, either.

President Johnson

First, there's not going to be any ceasefire.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

Second, if there's going to be anything, which we have to decide and we're trying this very minute, it would be just stopping the bombing as we've done six or eight times.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

But the big question would be, is what did they stop? If they stop the cities, and if they stopped the DMZ, then there'd be a lot of hard negotiations that would last several months.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

It wouldn't stop the war at all, but it might stop the killing temporarily.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

As a matter of fact, it's been cut down. It's just 100 the last two weeks.

Dirksen

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

And to me when Nixon's saying, "I want the war stopped, that I'm supporting Johnson, that I want him to get peace if he can, that I'm not going to pull the rug out of him," I don't see how in the hell it could be helped unless he goes to farting under the cover and getting his hand under somebody's dress.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And he better keep Mrs. [Anna C.] Chennault and all this crowd just tied up for a few days, because he's got the right formula, and I think he's done well.[note 29] Beijing-born Anna C. Chennault was a prominent Republican fundraiser. At a secret meeting in New York, Chennault had introduced South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem to Mitchell and Nixon. According to Chennault, Nixon told Ambassador Diem to “please rely on her [Chennault] from now on as the only contact between myself and your government.” Anna Chennault, The Education of Anna (New York: Times Books, 1980), 175-176. Johnson was making an obscure reference to the China Lobby, the group of American politicians and activists, as well as Chinese Nationalists, who blamed the Truman administration for the Communist takeover of China. President Chiang Kai-shek was overthrown in the Communist revolution and set up a government in Taiwan. [Dirksen acknowledges.] I think that Humphrey screwed himself up. John Connally tells me he's going to lose Texas just because he shimmied on the war.[note 30] John B. Connally was governor of Texas from 1963 to 1969, and secretary of the U.S. treasury from February 1971 to May 1972.

Dirksen

Uh-huh. [pause] Well, that's it. I'll have to separate this out a little. Of course, he'll call again.

President Johnson

Well, just don't put it in the paper and tell him that the first people—there are going to be two calls I make, and you have to be prepared to get them anytime.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

One of them is going to be to you and Mansfield and the leaders.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

The other's going to be to the candidates.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

Both of you going to be told the same, identical thing.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And the damn man that says that he thinks the war ought to go on under these conditions, we ought to continue to bomb when they say that they'll let the GVN come, and when we tell them that if they bomb the cities, we'll be resuming it in one hour [Dirksen acknowledges throughout], I don't think anybody can justify that. So I'd think that everybody ought to have a statement ready, and ought to say, "Well, they have apparently given the President what he asked for and this doesn't mean we've got peace at all. This just means that we're stopping the bombing and they're going to agree to let us have prompt, productive discussions, which we've been raising hell about since September, so I compliment General Abrams, [unclear] Westmoreland for bringing them to this state of military affairs where they've got to agree to it.”

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

“And I've supported it all along and I thank God in my conscience that I have never pulled the rug out from under my Commander-in-Chief." Now, that's the way I treated Eisenhower and that's the way you've treated me up to now, and don't you get so damned eager for 83 percent vote that you go cutting me out there in the last few days.

Dirksen

[chuckling] You know I wouldn't.

President Johnson

I know you wouldn't do it. I know you wouldn't, but Dick, I don't quite understand his people. [Dirksen acknowledges.] I don't know whether he knows it or not, but the other day he came out here and said, "Now, they say Johnson is a thief, but I knew his daddy and I don't think he's a thief, and they say he's a son of a bitch, and I knew his mother, she's not a bitch." Well, hell he advertised all over the country and he left it and he planted the idea and he knew goddamn well I'd been fair to him.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And I didn't like that and I found out Mel Laird was the one that[’s] operating on it, your friend Mel Laird.

Dirksen

Yeah, I haven't seen him around . . . anywhere.

President Johnson

How's your campaign coming?

Dirksen

Well, it's coming along pretty fair

President Johnson

Well, now, would you do this any differently than the way I've been trying to do it?

Dirksen

No, I wouldn't.

President Johnson

I could've settled this thing and stopped the bombing a month ago [Dirksen acknowledges], but I've been trying to get all of my three things.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

[speaking over Dirksen] You understand, don't you, that they are not agreeing that they will stop shelling the cities?

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

You understand that they're not agreeing that they will respect the DMZ?

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

But they do know if they don't do either, that we're not stopping the bombing, either, so we're right where we started.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

But they are agreeing if we ever pull off the deal, that the GVN can come in the meeting and that's what Rusk says is absolutely imperative.

Dirksen

Yeah. That would be the government, the constituted government?

President Johnson

The elected government of Vietnam [Dirksen acknowledges] that all of these men went out there—you appointed some men to go out from your outfit, and I think Rusk went. I've forgotten.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And they watched the election, when Thieu was elected and Ky was elected.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

And I hope you think this is all right.

Dirksen

Well, I do.

President Johnson

Thank you.

Dirksen

OK.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen on 31 October 1968,” Conversation WH6810-11-13614-13615-13616-13617, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006113