Lyndon Johnson and McGeorge Bundy on 2 March 1964


Transcript

Edited by Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany, with Ashley Havard High and Patricia Dunn

See the daily introduction for 1964-03-02  [from the Norton edition]

President Johnson

Yeah.

McGeorge Bundy

The Cyprus thing is all set, so we’re going to turn that message in to [Ismet] Inonu into one of thanks and congratulations.

President Johnson

That’s what I thought.

Bundy

And we’ll wait until we got it a little more buttoned up before we actually send it, because—but the Turks have come in very well.

Second, [Washington Senator Henry] Jackson does not want a letter. They’ve already voted to defer this thing, and there’s no point [to] your getting into a fight over it until Senator [Richard] Russell changes his mind anyway, and you can do that better talking with him than if I send [unclear]—

President Johnson

He’s not ever going to change his mind.

Bundy

I gather not.

And third, Mr. President, I’ve got a lunch with Joe Alsop.[note 2] Joseph Alsop was a syndicated columnist, a hard-line cold warrior, and an advocate of an increased U.S. military presence in Vietnam. You got any messages for him?

President Johnson

No, except . . . I—

Bundy

I think I’m going to stay away from Vietnam. I think he really wants to have a little old war out there, and . . .

President Johnson

Well, I’d ask him what his program is. I’d just . . . I’d ask him if he wants to send people in there and start another Korea. He didn’t say the other day in his column.[note 3] In Alsop’s “Matter of Fact” column, he predicted a long war in Vietnam and expressed doubt that the United States could prevail with its current strategy. See Joseph Alsop, “Matter of Fact: The Test in Viet-Nam,” Washington Post, 26 February 1964.

Bundy

No, he didn’t.

President Johnson

He just said that it was really going to wreck me.

But I’d like—

Bundy

Yeah.

President Johnson

Tell him we’d like to have his recommendation.

Bundy

What is your own internal thinking on this, Mr. President: that we’ve just got to stick on this middle course as long as there’s any possible hope and—

President Johnson

I just can’t believe that we can’t take 15,000 advisers and 200,000 people and maintain the status quo for six months. I just believe we can do that, if we do it right.

Now, I don’t know enough about it to know.

Bundy

God knows, I don’t.

President Johnson

I—

Bundy

The only thing that scares me is that the government would up and quit on us or that there would be a coup and we’d get invited out.

President Johnson

There may be another coup.

Bundy

Yeah.

President Johnson

But I don’t know what we can do if there is. I guess that we just . . . What alternatives do we have then? We’re not going to send our troops in there—are we?

Bundy

The one thing that I think you might find, that I think Bob [McNamara] ought at least to look at, is whether a stiffener in the sense of another couple of thousand people would have the psych[ological]—It’s not because they’re needed to win the war, but only because they’re needed to show that we think this damn thing can be done. I think there is a problem not of . . . that is essentially a state-of-mind problem, and that action can affect that.

For example, it may turn out that we want to add to those planes we sent into Thailand the other day and a battalion to go and have a watching brief in Thailand of Marines. We did that once before, and it had quite a striking effect. And we got them out a little later on.[note 4] This paragraph was originally excised for national security reasons. The Joint Chiefs were recommending sending “air strike and air defense units” to Thailand and South Vietnam. In 1962 the United States had sent approximately 4,000 military personnel, including 1,800 Marines, to Thailand’s border with Laos to deter Communist encroachment. “Memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense,” 2 March 1964, FRUS: 1964–1968, 1:112–18.

These are things that we’ve got to go over the checklist of with McNamara and get your sense of what the costs and values are before he goes, so that he has a complete picture of the possible choices.

President Johnson

Why don’t you make up all that and why—

Bundy

I [unclear].

President Johnson

—don’t you get anybody else that you think that’s got any fresh ideas or new ones? I’d ask Joe [Alsop] what he recommends.

Bundy

I will. I’ll just say we’re at a listening stage, and you tell me. Because I don’t want to give him any—anythingto bite on on that area at the moment.

He, incidentally, is all cheered up because he was very wary of [Roger] Hilsman and thinks that this is a—that Bill’s [Bundy] going in there is in itself a sort of solution to the problem.[note 5] Hilsman had resigned as assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, paving the way for William Bundy’s accession to the position. Members of the press speculated that Hilsman’s preference for a more conciliatory Vietnam policy had formed one of the key reasons for his departure. It’s not. No one man is going to solve a headache like this one.

President Johnson

No, but if we can keep him aboard, and he ought to be aboard, but his two or three columns haven’t helped us any.[note 6] In addition to the 26 February column, Alsop had written an article on Vietnam that pointed out divisions between the Soviets and the Chinese Communists and other problems facing North Vietnam, a column on the possibility of a blockade of North Vietnamese ports, and the most recent one on Vietnam’s becoming “Johnson’s Cuba.” See Alsop, “Matter of Fact: A New Phase in Viet-Nam,” Washington Post, 17 February 1964; “Matter of Fact: Viet Blockade Possible,” Washington Post, 24 February 1964; “Matter of Fact: ’Johnson’s Cuba,” Washington Post, 28 February 1964.

Bundy

No. Well, I think he meant them to be helpful because he honestly thinks this damn thing’s about to come apart.

President Johnson

Well . . . his first column was . . .

Bundy

That was not helpful.

President Johnson

Not at all and . . . OK.

Bundy

Right, sir.

President Johnson

Bye.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and McGeorge Bundy on 2 March 1964,” Tape WH6403.01, Citation #2309, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Toward the Great Society, vol. 4, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/9040278

Originally published in

Lyndon B. Johnson: Toward the Great Society, February 1, 1964–March 8, 1964, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany, vol. 4 of The Presidential Recordings (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007).