Before announcing a halt to American bombing of North Vietnam, Johnson met with his National Security Council, then spoke on the phone with the only statutory member of the NSC who could not attend: Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic presidential nominee. The recording begins with Johnson carrying on an off-line discussion with an unidentified person, possibly Secretary of State Dean Rusk.[note 2] The White House Daily Diary says, “The President stopped Secretary Rusk and was talking with him on the side” shortly before he called Humphrey.
—[unclear] if I can. I don't think there's a better employee I've ever had in my life or a better citizen. And wherever I am, when you need money, marbles, or chalk—mostly chalk—why, I'll be there. [note 3] “Money, marbles and chalk” is an expression LBJ used to mean that he was all in, i.e. totally committed. See Jimmy Banks, Money, Marbles and Chalk (Austin, Texas Publishing Company: 1971), p. 22 [Unclear.]
Mr. [Jim] Jones?[note 4] James R. Jones was a special assistant to President Johnson from 1965 to 1969; he succeeded Marvin Watson as one of the President’s appointments secretaries in 1968. Jones also served as a U.S. representative [D-Oklahoma] from 1973-1987, and as ambassador to Mexico from 1993 to 1997.
Oh, Mr. President.
Just a moment.
Get me those notes that [Dean] Rusk left on him the other day.[note 5] Dean Rusk was secretary of state from January 1961 to January 1969. [Pause.]
The President, Mr. Vice President.
Hello, Mr. President.
Glad to hear you, my friend.
I’m glad to hear you, sir.
Hubert, there are two or three things that I would suggest. First, I will speak shortly after 8:00.[note 6] See “The President's Address to the Nation Upon Announcing His Decision To Halt the Bombing of North Vietnam,” 31 October 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=29218.
I just got the Joint Chiefs, all the civilian secretaries, the national security group that normally meets with us. We are waiting on word from [Ellsworth F.] Bunker and [Nguyen Van] Thieu.[note 7] Ellsworth F. Bunker was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam from April 1967 to May 1973. Nguyen Van Thieu was president of South Vietnam from June 1965 to April 1975. We may have—could have disastrous consequences if Thieu, and the Koreans, and so forth don't go with us. They agreed to two or three weeks ago, but there has been a lot of talk out of the campaign that has influenced them and they—just like when you read the papers—what's happening in Minnesota—you get influenced by it.
And in the last few days the China Lobby crowd has been in it some.[note 8] Although Johnson would not disclose the name to Humphrey, he was referring to Anna C. Chennault, a prominent Republican fundraiser who was born in Beijing and became part of the China Lobby, a loose affiliation of Chinese Nationalists and American politicians and activists who blamed the victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution on the Truman administration. Johnson gave the Vice President less information than he provided earlier that day to the top-ranking elected Republican in the U.S. at the time, Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen [Illinois]. The President had used Chennault’s name with Dirksen as he complained of Republican interference with his negotiations to halt the bombing of North Vietnam and get peace talks started. See WH6810-11-13614-13617.
And they've been telling him that if—that Humphrey wouldn't stick with them at all, so they better put off and not let Johnson make any kind of peace because they'll do a much better job. They'll be much tougher. And their ambassador's been sending that word back, and they’ve got Thieu and them upset about the speech that you’d stop the bombing, [no] semicolon, comma, period, you know.[note 9] In a nationally televised campaign speech on 30 September 1968, Humphrey had called for a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. He 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). And they’ve had—we've been watching it very carefully, and I know of what I speak. I’m looking at hole cards.
I know that.
So I had Thieu on board two weeks ago, and he signed up, and we agreed on the text of a joint announcement, and then [McGeorge] Bundy's speech came along, and they decided that they'd have to go back to Hanoi, and they went back and considered it, and [Creighton W.] Abrams won a few more victories, so they decided to go along.[note 10] 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). General Creighton W. Abrams was assistant deputy chief of staff and director of operations at the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations from 1962 to 1963, and commander of the Millitary Assistance Command in Vietnam from July 1968 to June 1972. And when they did, in the meantime, [Richard] Nixon's folks—I don't know whether he had anything to do with it or not. Don't charge that he does. I can't prove it. But some of the people supporting him told Hanoi that they could—he had no connection [with] this war, wasn't involved, and that he could be more reasonable—didn't have any commitments—than somebody that had been fighting them for five years. [Humphrey acknowledges.]
And on the other side of the tack, they told the South Vietnamese that if they just—they don't sell out—let Johnson sell them out here at the conference table and bring them in—the NLF—that Humphrey's going to get beat and they'll have a bright future. So they've just been holding for two weeks.
So I finally took the bull by the horns and got Abrams in, got all the joint chiefs of staff in, got every diplomat, every civilian, General [Andrew J.] Goodpaster, Bunker, Rusk, [Nicholas] Katzenbach, [Clark M.] Clifford, everybody, and they all agree that (A) we should stop the bombing. I'm going to issue an order later tonight to stop it tomorrow.[note 11] 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. Nicholas Katzenbach was deputy attorney general from 1962 to 1965. 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. Clifford served as secretary of defense from March 1968 to January 1969. That's number one. Number two, they have agreed with [Cyrus R.] Vance that they will let the GVN come to the table.[note 12] 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 a U.S. negotiator at the Paris talks with North Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. The GVN is debating now; they don't know what to do. They want to put off, but they can come if they want to. If they don't, why we’ll go on and talk about what we need to. It’d be a very bad thing, though, if a million of their men get out, you know, and if Thailand gets upset and if Korea thinks we're selling them out, white men.
But anyway, the thing they have done that they’ve never done before is allow a prompt, productive discussion they don't take advantage of. Now, they have agreed that these puppets that they said they’d never sit down with, that they can come and sit in a room with them and they'll talk to them. [Humphrey acknowledges.] Now, that is the major thing they’ve agreed to.
The second thing they’ve agreed to is they will not shell the cities and they will not abuse the DMZ. Now, they have not agreed to either, but we’ve told them if they do, we've given rules of engagement to Abrams, and he can respond automatically, [Humphrey acknowledges] and that they couldn't have productive disucussions if they were doing either.
So we may stop it tonight and start it tomorrow night.
And we—I have just said that I'm going to say to everybody, from you to George Ball, to Charles de Gaulle, to North Vietnam, to Mike Mansfield, that you have said to me, “Test their faith and stop the bombing.”
That's exactly right.
Now, I'm going to stop it, but I'm just going to start it just as quick as I stopped it if they take advantage and go to kill my boys.
Well, Mr. President, we've all agreed on that.
And I've told them that. Now, there are three things, then, really. We can't say a word about it in the paper. Now, Rusk is very fearful of your position. He thinks that this is the best thing in the world for America and what's good for America is you, but he said the temptation's going to be—a lot of people will say we did this for you. So for God's sakes, we know, everybody knows we don't play politics with human lives, but we did what's right and we couldn't wait. If we did, we might not have this offer a week from now after somebody was nominated. We don't know and there may be at least 500 killed tomorrow, anyway.
Now, this is the first time. They only agreed Sunday night; Monday and Tuesday we checked it out with the Soviet[s]; Wednesday we got Abrams back; and today I've acted. Now, this is the first time they would give us this assurance. So if I were you, I would let the laurels come to me, but I certainly wouldn't crow about it or say that I've got this done, because then it will look like—they're going to charge it to us anyway, that we're trying to act in collusion. Now, you and I know we're not. You and I know that we're going to do what's right if it runs me out of the race and runs you out of the race.
That's exactly right. I said that last night, Mr. President. [President Johnson attempts to interject.] I'm not going to say one word about this except that I'm grateful.
Well, now, every man there tonight said we back you up, Mr. President, and what I would say, if I were you, I'd say, “We can only have one voice in foreign affairs. Our government has taken the position, and I'm not going to undercut it, and if I am president November the 6th—the president-elect—the President has assured me, and assured Mr. Nixon, and assured Mr. [George C.] Wallace, he wants us to come in and sit down and talk to him about it.”[note 13] George C. Wallace was governor of Alabama from January 1963 to January 1967, January 1971 to January 1979, and January 1983 to January 1987. Now, there's not much you can get done between now and November 6th because that's the first day they're going to meet in Paris. In the meantime, I think it's just as well that we all say a prayer and thank God that we have moved this far.
Let me tell you what I said to George Christian so that—I've been sitting here in my room.[note 14] George E. Christian Jr. was White House press secretary from 1966 to 1969. I haven't left here because I didn't want to go downstairs and even face anybody until I cleared everything. I would say first of all, that if I come down, people know that there's been a lot of talk around the TV and the radio and there was some announcement that you were going to speak some time after 8:00.
It will be at 8:00, and you can tell them that I told y'all I was going to speak at 8:00. [Humphrey acknowledges.] You can tell them that I called you on a conference call, that I repeated to you what I’d said the other day, which you've known for many, many months, since September’s San Antonio speech, that we would stop the bombing as soon as we could have prompt, productive discussions.[note 15] 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. Now, we've got prompt discussions; they've agreed to meet November the 6th. We've got productive; they've agreed to let the government sit in with them, so that meets our standard of productive. We said if they don't take advantage of them, we'll continue them. Now, we don't know whether they'll take advantage or not. You can't tell about the Communists, but we're going to give them a chance and test their good faith. If they take advantage of the DMZ and the cities, the rules of engagement have been given to Abrams and were laid out to him in a 2:30 A.M. meeting here the day before yesterday. He is [to] automatically respond, and they ought to—we will have tested them and they will have failed. If they do act in good faith, then God help us, we make something.
Now, here's what Rusk said: “Special Notes to the Vice President: Ask him to have his men say that the Vice President has been briefed as have all the candidates, given full information, number one. Two, suggest that he not attack other candidates on Vietnam [Humphrey acknowledges throughout] unless the other candidates attack him unmercifully. Three, tell the Vice President not to let his publicity people crow or take credit for his having done this. He should say that the decision was the President's and [has] been in the making for many, many months. [Humphrey attempts to interject.] [Unclear] even before he withdrew in March, the President said in San Antonio, ‘prompt,’ ‘productive,’ ‘that they do not take advantage of.’ Those three words. But he, the Vice President, is joining with the President. He hopes that every American in [sic] hoping that the door is finally open to an early peace and [as] far as you're concerned, whether you're president-elect or ex-vice president, you’ll be in there working for peace.”
Now, he said that'll give us—it'll kind of free us from the charge that we are operating for political reasons, and [at] the same time it'll show that we treated them all alike. This is the thing, though. I told you last, oh, a month or so ago . . . March 31st I concluded [Humphrey acknowledges] that I've got to do this. If I do anything else in my life, even to keeping my family together, I've got to do this because they're out there and I just got to do it right. So—
I know [unclear]—
That's it, but you can say that we had a conference call. You can say what I talked about. Every man at that table the other day I told him is these three things. Now, we cannot tell the press about the DMZ and the cities because if we do, they'll say, “That's reciprocity,” and they'll start shelling them and we'll have to go back.
Well, Mr. President, I’m not—the reason I wanted to—I've talked to Jim, and I've talked to George, and here is the only thing that I wanted to ask you. I didn't want to say anything until after you've spoken.
That's all right. That's all right. I would—what I would say, "I don't know what the President's going to say. He told us, though, that he wanted to brief us, and he briefed us, and you’ll see it at 8:00 and you'll get the same briefing we got.
And I thought that after 8:00, what I would say is simply this: that the President's action is an important new initiative towards peace. I fully support that initiative and I'm sure the vast majority of the American people will support it. Let us hope that the negotiations in Paris will now move [President Johnson coughs] forward and that Hanoi will negotiate in good faith.
Well, the only thing wrong with that—it's not our initiative. They have agreed. Clark wants to put this that we're testing their good faith. We made this last September. What I would try to say, if I could, that it appears that Hanoi has been willing to agree to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to.
Let me just see—all right.
It appears that Hanoi has agreed to the prompt and productive discussions that we asked them last September to agree to. We said we'd stop the bombing if we could have prompt and productive discussions. Well, prompt: they've said November the 6th—that's pretty prompt. Productive: they said the GVN [will] be there, so that's what we wanted. They said they'd never sit down with any of these folks. Now, there's not anything new about this. This is an old one. This is just—it just took them—what's happened, Hubert, they've lost 250,000 men.
And . . . [speaking over Humphrey] so they've agreed to prompt and productive. Now, the whole question's whether they're going to be successful or not is whether we take advantage of them, or they take advantage of us. Now, we've said to them that you'll be taking advantage, you'll bust up the conference if you shell the cities or abuse the DMZ. So—
We're not supposed to say anything about that.
Not at all, not at all. But you can say “prompt” and “productive” and we . . . “if they don't take advantage.” Now, if they do take advantage by doing things that oughtn't to be done, and you'll have to see whether they taken advantage in the next few days. Anybody can read the papers and see. Nobody knows. I can't predict. The Joint Chiefs don't know. Our judgment is that they have already quit shelling the cities, generally. They hit Saigon last night and again tonight to kind of stir us up a little, but they don't have the capability. And our judgment is that they're not abusing the DMZ much because they're taking them out of the country instead of putting them in. But we believe that the correspondents—if I were you—Rusk is going to tell them in his backgrounder. They say “prompt”—that's the 6th; “productive”—that's the GVN; “not take advantage,” well, you'll just watch the paper and see what happens.
On the productive, can we say that the government of South Vietnam—
—will be in the [unclear]?
Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. [Humphrey acknowledges throughout.] They agreed to it. That's what we've insisted on all along, so they've come in. So it's not new on our part. It is new on their part.
Gotcha. Yes, sir.
“It appears that Hanoi has agreed to prompt and productive discussions as outlined in the San Antonio speech [President Johnson acknowledges] of September 19—that was in the month of September.”
And then I can say that just simply—
Just say, “And I hope that they do not take advantage of it, but we'll have to let time tell.”
Mm-hmm. All right. Well—
Now, here's what the men said about it. [John P.] McConnell—well, I read you that.[note 16] General John P. McConnell was chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I told you what they all said, every one of the Joint Chiefs. I've got everybody aboard and as I understood it, every candidate tonight said we'll back you. So—
That’s right [unclear].
So all the congressmen, senators said the same thing. So you go and watch television if you can at 8:00 and you'll get all the details.
Now, as I go downstairs here, because I have a reception.
What [unclear]—you must tell me so that I don't get—I don’t make a mistake. I'm going to have a lot of press down there asking me. [President Johnson acknowledges.] And I—are we to inform—am I to let them know, if they ask me, that there has been a conference call?
Yes. I think that’s certainly right. I'd be candid. I'd say, "Yes, the President told us the other day that he'd keep us informed and we'd be the first to know it.”
“And as a matter of fact he hasn't issued his order—so he called—he told us the other day, any developments we'd be the first to know it. He has called all of us and briefed us.”
“But I'm not going to make any comment until after the President's speech.”
And I—that's right.
And then afterwards—
And I'll just say that he has called all of us [President Johnson acknowledges throughout] and briefed us, and I will withold any comment until the President has spoken.
Yeah. Let me see if that's what Jim's told the others. I think that's what he told them. Just a second. Let me see. [Long pause.] Hello?
Jim says that they hadn't intended to do anything till 8:00, but if you need to, what you'd say is that the President, on October the 15th, told us—let me see if that's the date—October the 16th, conference call at 11:41, that he would keep us briefed. He called us and briefed us again today, but he enjoined us to secrecy about the contents until his television speech at 8:00.
Then at 8:00, I'd say that we all told the President that we'd back him and we'd pray for him, [Humphrey acknowledges] and that this is not a party matter, this is an American matter and I'm glad that every candidate is for it. That way it'll keep them from attacking you for having a fix-it deal. This is dangerous because if they thought you and I were trying to fix something—
Yes, I know.
—it would hurt us. But if you take the position that you've been treated—briefed like everybody else—
That’s exactly right.
That the President has to do this until [January] the 20th and you, and Nixon, and Wallace all told him the other day that you hoped it would come any minute, the first minute the better, to keep [from] killing boys. Now, this is not a peace, this is just a discussion, but it looks like Hanoi has moved and we'll still have a lot of hard negotiations. You'll see that in my speech, though.
I tried to call Muriel [Humphrey].[note 17] Muriel Humphrey was the wife of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. I saw her on television yesterday morning. She was a doll. She was just wonderful. I thought your speech was good last night. I heard it.
Then I had a long visit with Luci [Baines Johnson] after she came in.[note 18] Luci Baines Johnson was the younger daughter of President and Mrs. Johnson.
She was sweet to be [unclear]. I was kind of—
I think I've got an awfully good one for Sunday night on nationwide TV, too.
Well, we've been talking about our programs, Mr. President. I want you to know one thing. If I can do half as good a job as you've done if I'm elected, I'll be a happy man.
Well, you'll be doing good. Have you ever seen my speech last night?[note 19] The Democratic National Committee had purchased time on NBC television to broadcast a speech that had aired earlier in the week on CBS radio. See “Remarks Broadcast on Programs Sponsored by Citizens for Humphrey-Muskie,” 27 October 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=29214. You have never seen the 15 minute TV that—
No, I didn't see it, but I—
Well, I'll get you a film.
—[unclear] words about it.
I'll get you a film. I want you to see it.
I sure want to know it and listen, I've been wanting to call you all the time.
Don't you do it. Don’t you—don't worry about me. You don't have to—
I talk to Marvin [Watson].[note 20] W. Marvin Watson was White House appointments secretary from 1963 to 1968. I keep in touch.
Don’t just—don’t—don't mess with me. You'll get people worried that are not going to vote for you.
Well, God bless you.
Don't humor me.
You’ve done the right thing, Mr. President. Let's hope and pray it works.
I'm trying to.
God bless you.
“Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey on 31 October 1968,” Conversation WH6810-11-13620-13621, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006117