Richard Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Henry A. Kissinger, and Thomas H. Moorer on 19 May 1972


Transcript

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

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, back from a trip to Japan, Thailand, and South Vietnam, tells the President that “there’s some remorse” in the U.S. military over limits placed on the bombing of North Vietnam. The President summons Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Oval Office for a dressing down during which he threatens to fire General John D. Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff.

President Nixon

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: [John D.] Ryan has got to get off his goddamn ass or he’s out. I’m tired of him anyway. He’s a soft man. I mean, of course, he should be; I mean, his son killed and all that sort of thing. But let me say, you know and I know, I have ordered that goddamn Air Force time and time and again to do anything, and they can’t bomb, because they say these 4[000]—they need a 4,000-foot ceiling. You know and I know that they do not have restrictions. The only restriction they’ve got is the one within ten miles of Hanoi at the present time, which they didn’t have before and the Air Force didn’t do a goddamn thing for the last three days, as you know. Not one goddamn thing in North Vietnam, because the little bastards were afraid that they might not—they might lose a plane because they couldn’t see. Now, I am tired [pounding desk throughout] of this bullshit! It’s been in every paper in this town. They’re telling the Vice President this. As you know, they’re whining around. Now, never have they had the backing they’ve got today, and I want the military to shape up or there’s going to be a new chief of staff all up and down the line. Now, you go take care of it right now. Is that clear?

Thomas H. Moorer

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

Now, get off your ass. Now, I want you to get that son of a bitch Ryan on the phone. I want you to get [John S.] McCain [Jr.] on the phone.[note 1] Admiral John S. McCain Jr. was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific command. Are you restricted?

Moorer

No, sir, except for this [unclear].

President Nixon

Yeah, yeah. Are you bitching about it?

Moorer

No, sir. I'm not.

President Nixon

What the hell is the matter with these people? Why are they whining? Because they're afraid to go in and do the job that they've been ordered to do? What in the hell is the matter with them now? Are you—

Moorer

[Unclear.]

Spiro T. Agnew

I must say that, for example, that there was a spot where they had taken out some very important rail that they—if they had been able to go back and take it—and really take it out, that they were told they couldn’t go back, so . . .

President Nixon

Now, that is absolutely false!

Moorer

[Unclear.]

President Nixon

That is absolutely false. Not only have they been able, but I have watched every day, and the goddamn Air Force doesn’t go back, because they’re afraid that the weather isn’t good enough. They’ve got to have 5,000-foot ceilings. The goddamned Israeli[s] fly at 1,000-foot ceilings. Now, tell them to get off their goddamn ass and do the job. And I—like, for example, I want some [B-]52s to hit them. Oh, no, Abrams needs them in the South. All right, fine, we’ll keep them in the South, but for Christ’s sakes, why does the Air Force constantly undercut us and bitch when they’ve never been backed as they're backed today? Tell them to do the job. Now, incidentally, I really mean it. Ryan is going to have a resignation on this desk. I’ll fire his ass out of here unless he gets some discipline in that damn outfit. Is that clear?

Moorer

Yes, Mr. President, [unclear] they just finished marking off about 40 percent of the [unclear] Hanoi POL [unclear]

President Nixon

But why are they bitching to the Vice President of the United States that we—the President is limiting what they can do? [pounding the desk] Now, why are they saying that? [Unclear] not true.

Agnew

Well, they are complaining about the restricted areas.

Henry A. Kissinger

There are no restricted areas!

President Nixon

There are none! What the hell is restricted?

Agnew

I guess they’re talking about that ten-mile—

President Nixon

No, no, no, it wasn’t there when you—

Kissinger

The ten-mile limit only goes into effect tomorrow morning!

President Nixon

Tomorrow morning! Tomorrow morning! It hasn’t even been there.

Kissinger

Mr. President—

Agnew

That’s what they’re talking about.

President Nixon

Well, we have—talking about it? Bullshit! They just told you, I mean, you’ve got to get your story a little bit straight here, too. They told you they didn’t get the—they couldn’t go back and get the railroad. There has been absolutely no restriction whatever. There’ll be no limit until tomorrow morning. Now, let’s get this straight, and I want to shape up this goddamn outfit. Now, you shape it up.

Moorer

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

That’s your job.

Moorer

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

And get it done fast.

Moorer

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

Make some heads roll. All right.

Moorer exits. The President complains to Agnew and Kissinger that the Air Force is making excuses.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Henry A. Kissinger, and Thomas H. Moorer on 19 May 1972,” Conversation 726-001 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006746