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Interview with William P. Bundy, 1981

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Summary
William Bundy, brother of McGeorge Bundy, served in the CIA and later as an Assistant Secretary of State under Lyndon Johnson. He recalls Johnson’s early actions towards the South Vietnamese government and his hesitancy to bomb North Vietnam in 1964. Bundy reviews the Tonkin Gulf Incident and the administration’s resulting actions. In addition, he discusses Johnson’s overall strategies in Vietnam and comments on his character as President.
Topics
Offensive (Military science), Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976), Tet Offensive, 1968, Bombing, Aerial, Escalation (Military science), Tonkin Gulf Incidents, 1964, Diplomacy, Summit meetings, Coups d'etat--Vietnam, Regime change, War and emergency legislation, Military history, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, United States--History--1945-, United States--Foreign relations--Asia, United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, United States. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973, United States. Central Intelligence Agency, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government
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Transcript

L.B.J. takes charge

VIETNAM/T885
SOUND ROLL 2629
WILLIAM BUNDY

BEGIN SOUND ROLL #2629
Camera Roll 651
Clapstick.
Interviewer:
What did Lyndon Johnson inherit from the Kennedy Administration on Vietnam?
Bundy:
The picture that confronted President Johnson the very moment, essentially, that he seriously sat down to business the day after the assassination was that there had just been a meeting in Honolulu, ah, at which Secretary McNamara and many others from Washington, including myself, had gone over the whole situation with Ambassador Lodge...
and Ambassador Lodge was coming into Washington right after that meeting so that, in effect, the first serious...ah, substantive appointment that President Johnson had was a meeting with, ah, Lodge on Sunday the 24th of November, 1963, ah, which was...two or three days after the assassination and two days before the funeral.
...Ah, and in preparation for that meeting, ah, we did a memorandum, I personally did it, ah, saying that the consensus at Honolulu had been that the situation had perhaps all along been much worse than we had thought, and certainly was a lot worse now that the was coming apart in the countryside; that the new government, ah, was not showing itself effective; there’d been wholesale changes of...ah, people at all levels; it seemed to be a weakened ineffective government, at least at that stage, ...ah, and that this was a very serious situation, in that there was a need to, ah, the keynote of...what we suggested the President say and what he did, in fact, say to Lodge...
Interviewer:
Let’s pick it up under keynote.
Camera Roll #652 coming up.
Clapstick.
Bundy:
The keynote of what...memorandum I drafted, and that was approved by Secretary McNamara and I think by Secretary Rusk, ah was that, ah, in the face of the much more serious situation as we now perceived it, ah, it was terribly important to pull together the American side of the operation in Saigon and to get the Vietnamese working much more effectively...
...ah, that this was absolutely imperative. The total emphasis, I might add, was on actions to strengthen the South Vietnamese government and the American role within the limits of existing policy—there was no suggestion this time of, of, additional action. But that we had to make the existing policy work, ah...I remember Johnson saying...around that meeting that this is a war in which Americans are involved and already we’ve had casualties, ah...
I think he used the phrase, “It’s the only war we have. No man among you,” he was addressing the group primarily concerned with actions on Vietnam, “should go to bed at night without having asked himself whether he has done everything possible during that day to make this policy work and to bring it out to a successful conclusion.”
Interviewer:
Do you think that Lyndon Johnson saw Vietnam as a major challenge at that stage?
Bundy:
Oh, I have no doubt, I have no doubt that, that President Johnson, right from the first, saw Vietnam as a major challenge, ah, it was not one that he wished or had any, any desire for—his mind was on...the, ah, tax—President Kennedy’s tax bill on the Civil Rights Act. Those were the two foremost pieces of business and getting the budget straightened out...
Ah, he didn’t want, what he regarded I am sure in part, as the distraction of Vietnam, but he realized that it was a terribly serious situation and that it was going to have to occupy a great deal of his personal attention. Ah, and it did from the first.
Interviewer:
What was the purpose of Secretary McNamara’s trip out to Vietnam in March of 1964? Was that a policy change, or did that result in a policy change, or was it more of the same?
Bundy:
There was no policy change involved in, ah, Secretary McNamara going out to Saigon in March ’64. I happened to be one of those who accompanied him. Ah, by that time you had had further indications of deterioration. You had had a team of about a dozen, ah, crack specialists that the CIA had sent out at Mr. McCone’s order, ah, and their appraisal of the situation had, if anything, deepened the sense that things were getting progressively worse.
And you had also had the displacement of the, ah, initial regime that came in after Diem was ousted, ah, by...ah, in effect, a coup—by General Nguyen Khanh...ah, and the United States had nothing to do with that coup...ah, but it faced immediately the question: Do you support this [chair creaks] new man in the fullest sense? And the President said, “You want to go out there and you want to tell this fella,” this is to McNamara, “you want to tell this fella that we’re totally in support of him and you want to say this publicly while you’re there,” which he did, ah, and that was the, the public purpose, so to speak, was to demonstrate strong ah firm American support of the new government in the hopes that it would settle down and that Khanh might turn into somebody as effective as say, Park Chung Hee in Korea.
At the same time the other purpose of the visit was to get an on the spot appraisal of what was really going on; see what could be done to strengthen it, to give the mission further support, ah, ah, look at the whole situation. Now, just before the visit...there had been, set underway in Washington a staff planning operation, under the number two or three man in the State Department Policy Planning staff, Robert Johnson, to look at the possibility of stronger action against the North.
But that issue did not come up...ah, in any significant way during the McNamara trip. The McNamara trip was not to lay a groundwork for that or anything of that sort. It was again solely directed to make the policy work.
Interviewer:
But, in June of 1964 the President authorized a contingency planning for bombing the North. What moved him to do that? Was there pressure from the military to begin to do that?
Bundy:
Well, it was early, the, the beginning of...contingency planning and thinking about the possibility of attacks against the North, it was in February...ah, under Robert Johnson. Then when McNamara came back from Saigon the planning was transferred to John McNorton, who was the Assistant Secretary in the State, in the Defense Department, and had taken my place when I moved over to State, in, ah, the beginning of March...
Ah, and ah, so it was a matter that...was being looked at at the intermediate level. Ah, then it became a front burner ah question. When the North Vietnamese went on the offensive in Laos in the latter part of May, beginning roughly May 17th, and there was a period there where it looked as if the North Vietnamese were going to overrun major central sections of Laos and threaten the capital and all that. And at that time, ah, we thought very hard of stronger actions within Laos, which in fact did result in our using, ah, Naval aircraft for certain limited bombing operations within Laos, and at the same time looking at the possibility of hitting North Vietnam.
Now, by the end of May, and in fact the climactic date was the Honolulu meeting on June 1st and 2nd, ah, when Lodge came in from Saigon...Secretary Rusk, who’d been to the funeral of Prime Minister Nehru in India, ah, had flown the other, ah, flown all the way around the world, actually, to come to the conference, and a large contingent from Washington, including Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler
...ah no, General Taylor it would have been, no General Wheeler, that's right. Ah came in. No, General Taylor it would’ve been, uh came in at that point and we had a very, very serious discussion. Is there a need to move to attacks in the North? Is the situation in the South strong enough to...support whatever North Vietnam might do by way of reprisal, and so on. And the conclusion was that it was not an action that needed to be taken at that time. And that was what was reported to the President. So that there was not the, the, the clear-cut consensus of the President’s advisors in early June was we have looked hard at this; that the situation in Laos has eased, a little bit at any rate; we’ve taken...ah action there, which we think will be a signal to Hanoi that...
...There’s the possibility always of stronger action. Ah, it just isn’t warranted to go ahead into attacks on the North at this time. And that was the decision or the recommendation that went to the President, ah, and I think the President said, publicly at the time, “My advice is no advisor has recommended to me, ah, attacks on the North,” and he was telling the literal truth... Ah, he was perhaps obscuring the fact there had been very urgent consideration of that possibility. But it had been shelved.
Interviewer:
Except for the reprisal bombing after the Tonkin Gulf incident Lyndon Johnson really doesn’t seem to have wanted to go ahead with bombing the North in 1964.
Bundy:
Oh, I think very definitely President Johnson did not want to go ahead. Ah, the advice he got from his...State, Defense, Joint Chiefs...and the ambassador on the spot, at no time did, did the ambassador on the spot, ah, until at least November recommend, ah, even an individual bombing of the North...
Ah, so that the professional advice was, and of course the Tonkin Gulf was an exception, ah so that the professional advice, which was as, as honest as people could make it, ah, was that there was not, it was not, the situation had not reached the point where that was desperately required. I’m really talking here of the period up to the election, ah, because after that there, we entered a new phase...
Ah, but most certainly President Johnson...ah, did not want to get into that...ah, and by the same token he had no desire to see, ah, even the kind of incident that emerged in the Tonkin Gulf, even though as it turned out, ah, it gave him the occasion for a congressional resolution, a show of support. He emerged as, as a coherent moderate ah, but firm position, which was a good position perhaps from a domestic political standpoint. But, no question. He did not want to have to face this decision at any time during 1964, or indeed ever, if it could have been avoided.
Interviewer:
Let me go back again to the spring of ’64. When Taylor and Westmoreland went out there, would you say that he was sending in the first team, that this was a kind of escalation or a reflection of his strong interest in the place and problem?
Bundy:
Oh yes. The, well let’s see, the replacement...when, when, ah...Ambassador Lodge resigned in June 1964, ah, in order to come back and participate in efforts to get, ah by that time William Scranton nominated as the Republican nominee for President, he was opposed to the nomination of Senator Goldwater, and by that time he was enmeshed in Republican politics, so that in all probability it made sense, from every standpoint, for him to come out at that point.
And, no question. The President at that point said, “We’ve got to send the strongest possible man,” ah, I recall at the time that, ah, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, McGeorge Bundy all said, “If you want me to go, Mr. President...uh, well, you’ve but to say the word.” That was the sense of urgency and priority and importance of having a top man or team there.
Interviewer:
Just gotta change the film. It’s going fine.
Bundy:
Is that something you surely have had mentioned by others at having...
Camera Roll #653 coming up, #653.
Clapstick.
[car honk outside]
Interviewer:
Let's wait for the horn...okay.
Bundy:
So, ah, the President was very clear that he wanted the strongest possible team in Saigon. And he did turn eventually, ah...to General Taylor, ah, who of course also had a lot of political experience—had served in tough political situations, notably Berlin, ah, and he...assigned as deputy ambassador.
U. Alexis Johnson, who was a veteran diplomat in all areas of Asia, including having been ambassador in Thailand, ah, so that seemed the strongest possible team. And by then General Westmoreland had become the Commander, ah we thought we had the first team, and I’m sure that, that was certainly the President’s aim.
Interviewer:
How did the administration react when Nguyen Khanh started calling for a march North?
Bundy:
The... It’s important that, it’s important in, in looking at, ah, the...beginnings of thinking about hitting the North to note that...this was, in part, private contingency planning. But it was also...pretty clearly signaled...ah...for instance in a speech in late March, ah, Secretary McNamara said, “We are doing everything we can to, ah, assist the South Vietnamese to beat this thing back, ah, within South Vietnam.
But if the...[honk] help and support and personnel from the North keep coming down, we might have to act against the North at some point.” In other words, he said it in a public speech. Ah, and concurrently, at almost at the same moment in fact, same day, Senator Fulbright gave a speech on the floor, obviously well briefed by President Johnson saying, “This is one of the options that is having to be considered, and we must weigh this very carefully, and there can be no question of backing down on our commitment in Vietnam...
Ah, in other words, there was a, there was a distinct public note that this was a possibility. And, actually I don’t think we’d ever talked about it particularly with General Khanh, but in April, when Secretary Rusk was in Saigon, and I happened again to be with hims...ah, Khanh did take the occasion of some private talk to say that,...uh, we ought, you ought to attack the North. And Secretary Rusk came back very hard and said, "Until you get this situation in much stronger shape, until you get your government in much stronger shape, this is something we...are very, very negative about doing...
"Ah, if you really start to take hold of things, and if it then appears that what the North is doing is a critical element, as indeed it certainly was an important element, central element all the way along, then we might consider this. But, don’t you try to jog our elbow, in effect, on this." ...Ah, and he said, "You just don’t think about that...ah, you get your house in order, and then we’ll talk about whether this is what’s...critically needed."
And the same applied essentially in July when Khanh made a public statement about marching North. Ah, Taylor immediately said, “This is just not gonna happen, ah... The way we see things you’ve got to get the situation moving in the right direction here.”
Interviewer:
I’d like to get into the resolution that later becomes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. How was it first conceived, and how did it go through the, its drafts and eventually become the Tonkin Gulf...
Bundy:
Well, in, in late May of 1964 there was this North Vietnamese offensive in Laos, and there was a really intense period of planning, ah, for all possible contingencies. And it was at that point that, ah, at my level in the State Department, we had the idea that part of this scenario should be a Congressional resolution. And we did a, a very rough draft of a Congressional resolution.
When the idea of taking any stronger action against the North was shelved, not recommended, ah, in early June, ah, the question of whether a resolution would be wise just on general principles came up again in mid June and was rejected by the President on the grounds that Congress had its hands full; that the impact would, might be ambiguous, since it wasn’t accompanying any clear cut action ah, and serious arguments of that sort...
Ah, so that the whole thing had been put to one side entirely by mid July. Now, when the Tonkin Gulf attacks, ah, came up...ah, and when it appeared clear to everybody concerned the policy level that the second attack had taken place; that there had been no, no visible connection with anything that North Vietnam could regard as provocation...
...ah, when the decision was made, in short, for the reprisal, then right away...ah, a part of the...ah, set of actions became urgently, again, a Congressional resolution. But a very important point to note there is that when that Congressional [garbled] resolution was drafted in August 4th, when Abram Chayes, who had been the legal advisor of the State Department had just retired, came down from Massachusetts to work on it, ah, he didn’t actually use the May drafts as his model.
You will find exactly two sentences of the May drafts, ah, in the final text, ah, of the resolution. Rather, he used as his model, the r...the resolution that the Congress itself had initiated at the time when it was thought possible that the Soviets had put missiles into Cuba in late September, 1962 before the Kennedy Administration got clear evidence that was the case, the Congress actually initiated and pushed through a resolution.
And all the key operative language of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, ah, the readiness to take all necessary measures, including the use of force, and so on, ah, came directly out of the Cuba model, the previous model which Chayes personally knew well, which George Ball knew well, which many people in the Department...And the wording of the of the resolution was worked out on the evening of the attack, and at the time of the decision for a reprisal, ah, primarily between George Ball, the Under Secretary of State, and Senator Fulbright—both being familiar with the model with which they were working.
Ah, so that although there had been this previous consideration of a resolution, there is not a, ah, sort of clear linear flow at all. On the contrary, the earlier resolution had been put aside...ah, nobody was just holding it ready to use at that point. We had, the the, common resolve at that point, ah, before the Tonkin Gulf attacks was to...ah, use, do everything possible to go right through as long as we possibly could, ah, without having any further consideration of stronger action.
Interviewer:
Go on to the Tonkin Gulf incident. Where was the Maddox at the time, do you recall?
Bundy:
Well, my recollection is that, ah, the time of the first attack, at the attack itself took place something between 50 and 60 miles off shore. Ah, and...the, ah the Maddox, ah, was on what was called a “DESOTO Patrol.”...And...
Could you ask him not to do that?
Clapstick.
Interviewer:
Let’s go back to where the Maddox was.
Bundy:
Ah...at the time of the first attack the Maddox was, if I recall correctly, about 50 or 60 miles offshore...ah, and, therefore...it seemed to us that there was no, ah...no possible ground, ah...the Maddox had not been, ah, certainly within any three mile limit, which was the then American position on territorial waters...And, uh...at, when the atta, after the, when the attack was sorted out, ah, it took place, as I recall, on a Sunday, August 2nd...
Ah, then...the people, d...people in Washington did...get the reports of the, ah, attack that had been made by South Vietnamese...ah, PT boat types, patrol boats, very small craft, ah...shortly before, ah, and although the Maddox’s course...as we’ve got it, was significantly different from the PT boat, ah, operation. It did occur to people that there might have been...a confusion. And that the South Vietnamese might’ve linked the two...ah...
Interviewer:
Sorry...North Vietnamese?
Bundy:
...North Vietnamese. The, the North Vietnamese might’ve linked the two...
Interviewer:
Start again.
Bundy:
Ah...well, that, the, the, the, uh, reports were that the, uh, 34A operation had been carried out...ah, while the Maddox was conducting the early stages of its patrol.
END SOUND ROLL #2629.
Turn tape over.
BEGIN SOUND ROLL #2630.
Tone.
Hiss for alignment.
This is going to be the tail of Camera Roll #653.
Take 5.
Clapstick.
Bundy:
Ah, then it seemed possible, therefore, that the North Vietnamese might have confused, ah, or linked the Maddox patrol, the first Maddox patrol, with the, ah, 34A Covert Patrol Boat Operations that were being conducted almost at the same time by the South Vietnamese.
Although, I think the distance between them was substantial...So, in giving the orders for a renewed patrol to be carried out by the Maddox and the Turner Joy, by two destroyers, ah, which of course was announced by the President on that Sunday the 2nd. Ah, the orders were, ah, so framed that the destroyers would stay much further offshore and would at no point be closer than, I think, 60 or 70 miles, ah, to the, ah, conceivable target areas of any new 34A operations.
(Technical discussion)
Starting Camera Roll #654, 654 with take one on camera roll coming up.
Clapstick.
Interviewer:
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was a convincing...sorry.
Mark it.
Clapstick.
Bundy:
So when the order was given for the renewed patrol by the two destroyers, ah...it was specified that their course should be at a considerable distance throughout from the coast, and would not bring them closer than, I think, 60 or maybe 75 miles, ah, to the, ah, islands that might even conceivably be attacked if there were any further 34A operations. And that was the picture that President Johnson and his advisors had, ah, on the 4th, when the Maddox reported that it had intercepted ah instruction to attack and then that it had been attacked...
Ah, and at the same time we were getting the, Washington was getting, and, and, Honolulu was getting, ah, intercepted, ah, messages, ah alerting a...North Vietnamese PT or patrol, some, some, some, some kind of naval force for an attack, and then carrying it right through reporting the attack had taken place, and all of that. And that was the, in my own judgment at any rate, the most conclusive evidence, ah, the Maddox did report it had been attacked...ah...
As it turned out, ah, they didn’t have bullet dents, such as they had on the first attack. The physical evidence wasn’t absolutely, ah, nailed down as it was on the first attack, although there were many eye witness claims, and all of that, which were, at the time at least, persuasive. But the most conclusive evidence was the interception of these orders to get ready to attack, and then the report afterwards of what had been accomplished, which were coming into Washington during the day on the 4th along with the eye witness reports. So, ah, the picture that Washington had on the afternoon of the 4th and the afternoon and evening of the 4th seemed absolutely crystal clear.
Ah, and when President Johnson referred to it as “unprovoked aggression,” he was reflecting the utterly honest judgment of Secretary McNamara, of Admiral Sharp up in Honolulu, of everybody concerned. Ah, he had insisted, “Go back over this. I want to make absolutely sure of this.” There had been intense consultation...ah, between the two, and this was the honest and strongly held clear view of the people who made the decision—the President who’d made the decision—and of all who advised him to do it.
Now, there is a, a twist to this, which I unearthed only when I was doing later research...ah, in order partly to satisfy my own mind and partly in case I ever was to write about it. Ah, that in fact, there had been a second, ah, 34A, ah, PT boat operation by the South Vietnamese on the night of August 3rd. Ah, and so, in hindsight, maybe there was a, a second link...ah, and it is, ah, a fact that, ah, as far as I can determine, Washington did not know of that second 34A attack for several days after it had taken place. At any rate, it was not known...ah, at the time of the decision, the time of the major announcements.
And even when it did become known...ah, the administration...at all levels...ah, believed that there was no valid connection, because the physical distance was so very great. Ah, the Maddox, we had the course plotted of the Maddox and the Turner Joy—it had been so far away that we didn’t see how there could’ve been any valid connection of any sort, ah, and so it was dismissed even when became known that there had been the second attack.
So the administration was not holding back anything that it regarded as, as material to the conclusion. Ah, and the fact that there were the 34, ah, A, operations had been discussed with leaders on the hill, Senator Fulbright referred to it in the debate on the Tonkin Gulf resolution, ah...so that, ah, in my judgment, there simply was no, ah...deception of any sort involved in Tonkin Gulf. The matter was presented exactly as it appeared, ah, to the President and his advisors.
Interviewer:
Would you comment on Hanoi’s assertion today that there was no second incident?
Bundy:
I don’t know, ah...today...if anybody in Hanoi claims there was no second attack, ah, I would say...you’d have to look and see whether there was some, um, misplaced timing or repeat on the messages, ah, the intercepted messages to me were remained the very strongest evidence...ah, and they were presented to for instance, the hearings that were held in February 1968 by Senator Fulbright—those messages were disclosed to the Congress at that time.
They had not been discussed publicly at all up that time, because of the obvious security implications of letting the North Vietnamese know we were able to read their traffic, even thought this particular, these particular messages, I think, were in plain text. The fact that we had that capability was obviously a great military asset, and, and...not to be sacrificed lightly.
But when Senator Fulbright wanted to go right through it in February 1968, those messages were...ah, revealed to the committee; and, ah, I think it’s important to note that the committee, ah was not able to frame any clear judgment, ah, to the effect the second attack ah had not taken place at all, even though that was by then being widely asserted.
Interviewer:
Let’s move on to the attack that took place at the airfield in Bien Hoa. At that stage were there plans ready for a reprisal bombing that could’ve taken place?
Bundy:
The, the situation after Tonkin, the Tonkin Gulf incident, was that...ah, essentially in conformity with the resolution... Ah, the decision had been taken, ah, that if there were further serious attacks on Americans or involving American, ah, that, ah, the United States would respond. That was the, the contingent decision, not a final decision. But that was the policy...
Ah, then when, ah, the airfield at Bien Hoa was attacked, ah...very first days of November, just before the election as it happened, ah, that certainly looked like exactly the kind of situation that the policy was designed to cover. However, the President, ah, looked at it very hard. Ambassador Taylor recommended action, ah, but he concluded that at that particular moment, and until he had had a chance to back over the whole situation and see what he might be getting into with a further attack, ah, that he should not do it at that time.
Interviewer:
What about after the attack against the BOQ in Saigon—the Brink’s Bachelor Officer Quarters?
Bundy:
The...then there was a second incident, ah, or, well a second incident after Tonkin Gulf. Ah, there was a terrorist type attack on a, an officer barracks, officer quarters in Saigon called Brinks, ah on December 24th on Christmas Eve. And that, again, might have, ah, invoked the policy of immediate reprisal. And again, Ambassador Taylor recommended action. Ah, the President was in Texas and I’m not personally familiar with exactly what, ah, led him to the conclusion that we should not.
But, I’m quite sure that a major factor, there were two major factors. One, that it was a terrorist type attack. You couldn’t as readily demonstrate, ah, the North Vietnamese were involved, as you could later on at, at Pleiku. Ah, and secondly, that the political situation in Saigon, within the South Vietnamese government, was in a state of chaos at that particular time. So that for the United States to get into a reprisal at that point might have appeared to be a sort of lashing out from despair and not have conveyed the signal of firmness and determination that was needed.
Interviewer:
By November of 1964 the final planning began planning for the Rolling Thunder Operations sustained bombing had been laid and taken shape. Do you recall the deployments that were taking place at the time? Was there movement of aircraft, targeting and so forth, hidden, preparing for the eventuality and possibility?
Bundy:
The November ’64 planning, ah, of course, did not produce any firm decision to go ahead with the bombing program. The President ah said, “This is what we will do if we decide to go ahead,” a measured...gradual...bombing program, as opposed to a sharp intense one. Ah, but...eh, I don’t recall that there were any particularly new deployments necessary at that time.
We, by then we had carriers on station...uh, not that far away...so that we could carry out such attacks fairly quickly in any circumstances...Uh, and I think we also had aircraft in the Philippines...uh, so, uh, I don’t recall any additional deployments at that time, but I could be wrong. I simply don’t know the details.
Interviewer:
At the time of the Pleiku attack, there were naturally meetings on course of actions—taken. Were you at those meetings? Could you describe what happened? How did it all, what was the scenario?
Bundy:
It took place on a Saturday afternoon. And I was present...at...what may have been simply one continued and extended meeting or [police siren outside] two, I now forget. But there was certainly an immediate convening...
Interviewer:
Start again. I'm sorry
(background disturbance)
Okay, I’ve ten feet left, so why don’t we just reload.
Start of Camera Roll #655. Camera Roll #655.
Mark it.
Clapstick.
Bundy:
When the word of the...
Interviewer:
One more time. Everybody quiet and go ahead, sir.
Bundy:
When the word of the Pleiku attack came in, ah the President rather quickly convened...ah, a meeting in the Cabinet Room, ah...and, ah, we had a, as I recall, either an open line or we immediately set up an open line with Saigon. And, ah, I recall that Cyrus Vance, who was then the Deputy Secretary of Defense, ah was on that line talking to...ah, both Alexis Johnson and to McGeorge Bundy, who, of course, was out in Pleiku at the time on a mission, ah, from the President.
Ah, and, ah they reiterated what I think they’d already said by cable that they thought this was so clearly a strong attack and a provocation that we simply had to respond if we were to retain any credibility whatsoever, ah, with the South Vietnamese or the North...
Ah, and so it was their firm determination, firm recommendation to go right ahead. And that recommendation was rather quickly...ah, accepted, pretty, in in fact, unanimously—completely unanimously—ah, by those present. Now, ah, there were...there was one...difficulty that immediately arose, and Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who had been our ambassador in the Soviet Union and was Secretary Rusk’s chief advisor on Soviet matters, was present.
And that was the presence of Kosygin the Soviet Prime Minister...ah, in Hanoi at the time. How was that to be handled? And Ambassador Thompson raised the question of whether we ought to hold off and let Kosygin get out of town, in effect. And the counter argument was that this would, we couldn’t tell whether Kosygin would stay two days, four days...ah, whether he might even postpone his stay, uh, in the circumstances, ah postpone his departure.
Ah and so that you’d be waiting far beyond the time when you could...show that the, that the reprisal was going to be quick and firm and immediate...ah, so that that any idea of waiting was rejected. And I think he accepted that. And then the meeting, which had been a meeting of the President’s ah executive branch advisors, was followed by or perhaps evolved into, I don’t recall leaving the Cabinet Room between the two occasions, ah, by the attendance of Senator Mansfield and I think two or three others from the Congress, but certainly Senator Mansfield.
And at that meeting, which was, had a rather formal character to it, President Johnson went through the situation, the reports, why he’d concluded that an immediate reprisal was necessary...ah, and that this might be followed by other attacks in other incidents, and in effect we were moving through a...
Interviewer:
...start again, go back a bit.
Bundy:
...that ah President Johnson explained...what had happened; explained what he’d believed was essential—the decision to conduct a reprisal and to have a clear cut policy of further bombings as required in circumstances that seemed very likely to arise. In effect, a, a real...change in, in the way we were acting. And I recall, very, very vividly, that he went around the room and asked for the judgment of senior cabinet officers, all of whom said they fully supported what the President said.
And then he turned to...Senator Mansfield and said, uh, “What do you think, Senator?” And the Senator said, “Mr. President, I would negotiate. I would not do what you propose. I would negotiate.” ...Uh...and he didn’t elaborate it. I suspect he had done so in a great many memoranda to the President over a period of time. But, the President reddened just a little bit, and then launched into a very firm rejection of that line of argument saying that would be a terribly weak course; we had no hope of getting any result that way, particularly in this circumstance, and so on.
Ah, it was a very dramatic scene...ah, and one of the few cases I can re...recall apart from later cases involving George Ball, where there was at the table itself, ah, explicit dissent.
Interviewer:
Given the record, given the record of bombing and the bombing experiences of World War II and the limitation, what did you think bombing would accomplish? And really, did it work?
Bundy:
We, we never had...the view that bombing would bring about quick results, certainly not on the, on the...essentially measured scale, not drastic scale that was actually carried out. We thought it would cut down on the amount of the infiltration which was certainly flowing very heavily, that by hitting the supply lines you’d make it much more difficult.
And we thought that...at a certain point, and in conjunction with a situation within the South that was turned around, ah, it would be a decisive thing in getting Hanoi to say, “...alright, we can’t get there now, we will fall back, not abandon the objective of taking over the South, but, but drop it for now...ah, that it would be a cumulative thing...
Interviewer:
Start one more time.
Go ahead.
Bundy:
We, we thought that the bombing would have a cumulative effect...ah, that it could never do the job alone, that Hanoi was inflexibly dedicated to...taking over the South, ah, and not that vulnerable to anything but a, a really...uh...massive type of bombing of a kind that we thought involved all kinds of risks; that China might come in...there would be worldwide condemnation of a sort that would be very serious for all our other policies, and so on.
Ah, so, ah the picture that we had was that the bombing was an essential measure to...ah, initially actually to strengthen the political situation in the South; to demonstrate to the North that we were not going to drop out, ah, and in the end, in conjunction with a improved turned around situation within the South that it, it could be the decisive factor getting Hanoi to pull out.
Interviewer:
But given the limited nature of the bombing, or what you expected from the bombing, did you believe at that stage that American combat troops would have to go in?
Bundy:
At the, at the time of Pleiku that was not discussed or at all clearly envisaged. Ah, we were still hoping at that point that it would not be necessary. Ah, and there had not been almost no serious planning, at least at the Washington level. There’d been all sorts of military contingency plans as there are at any time.
Ah, so that the issue really didn’t arise until I guess it was late February when the, ah, Marine, ah, bases in Da Nang seemed to be threatened, uh, the bases the Marines, the Marines came in to defend the air bases in Da Nang that were being threatened to the point where they couldn’t be used. And that was the most immediate issue.
And then from then on through the spring of ’65 the situation got worse and worse. There were more and more...ah, large scale attacks, very clear cut involvement of regular North Vietnamese units...ah, there’d been individuals long before that, ah, and that situation got to the point where the American on the ground troop strength was progressively increased to the level of roughly 50,000 by the end of June.
Interviewer:
I wonder if you could just say a few details about the deterioration of the situation in the South, the chewing up of the South Vietnamese.
Bundy:
Uh...the...the military situation kept getting worse. Ah, I don’t recall exact details of what took place in, in March or April, but it was steadily downward, and steadily uh...steadily grinding away at South Vietnamese troops. And during June the...uh, the results seemed to take on a whole new, uh, further dimension.
Ah, you had whole battalions that were cut to ribbons or that, that simply disintegrated under pressure. Ah, and it looked as though the South Vietnamese could not possibly stand unless they were strongly reinforced. Ah, I don’t recall the detail of, of particular units, but the dramatic reports of early June were...were definitely moved the whole debate in Washington to a different level—that we had to think not only of, ah, individual American units doing specific spot missions, like the protection of Da Nang. But, that we had to think of ah, a much larger American infusion of, of ground forces if we were going to stop the rot in the South.
Interviewer:
What stage was the commitment made or was the decision made to commit the larger number of American ground troops?
Bundy:
Well, I’ve always, I’ve, I’ve always regarded the, the President’s decision, announced on July 28th, 1965, as the, uh, the critical decision to commit major American forces, uh, in South Vietnam. Ah, and, uh, that decision had a long six or eight week history of intense deliberations within the executive branch followed by a trip by Secretary McNamara out to Saigon, and so on.
And I wouldn’t attempt to say exactly what day the President reached the decision. I would think it was along about July 18th or 20th while McNamara was still in Saigon. A message was conveyed, was sent to him saying, “Bring back your clear recommendation on how many forces...”
Ah, a pretty clear implication that the President had already decided that he had to, ah, do this, ah, and that eh had rejected the arguments that had been very strongly advanced, ah, during the debate in the latter part of June and early July by George Ball to the effect that we ought to just stand pat and seek a negotiating way out, and for a time, by me, that we ought to limit the amount of the increase and and, simply hand on and see how American troops worked.
Interviewer:
Uh, I’d like to pick up that, because that’s going to lead to [inaudible] the last of these narratives...
(tape faded out here)
END SOUND ROLL #2630
BEGINNING OF SOUND ROLL #2631
This is uhm continuation of Vietnam, T-885, interview with William Bundy. On Sound Roll #2631. Starting Camera Roll #656.
Reference coming up. Tone.
Mark it. Clapsticks.
Bundy:
I did urge that we...
Interviewer:
Start one more time. Go ahead.
Bundy:
I did urge in late June 1964, that we limit the increase, not ah, ah ’65. I did, I, I did urge in late June 1965, that we limit the troop increase to a level of roughly 75,000 men. Ah. In order, partly, in large part, to see whether American forces could be effective, whether they would ah, have a very negative effect on the performance of the South Vietnamese who would say let Uncle Sam do it. Ah, how they would operate in the, in the very tough climate and terrain of, of South Vietnam.
Ah. But, that was a view that I held only briefly and by the time the President made the decision on July 28th I, at least, fully supported it ah on the basis ah of the report back of the und...of the, of the just deteriorating, rotting away situation of the South Vietnamese forces, and the state of moral and all the rest, which seemed to require the larger scale of Americ—American forces and then there was, at the time, what appeared to be ah a North Vietnamese effort to move through the Highlands and cut South Vietnam in two, ah, and that, there was every indication they were moving to the larger and larger scales of, of attack ah so that from every standpoint ah in the end I supported the decision. Ah.
And, the President made the decision to go, I think, initially to 125,000 and to go higher as was needed, which in practice meant roughly 200,000 by the end of 1965.
Interviewer:
Let’s look at the end of 1965. Battle of Ia Drang. Battle is taking place. We’ve stopped Communists invading the country. What was your own feeling at the time? Were you optimistic about the future at that stage?
Bundy:
By the end of 1965, you had a situation where we had put in, were moving toward at any rate, roughly 200,000 men, and we’d had by then one major action in the Ia Drang Valley where American forces and I think this was the, I forgot what division it was, had done very well. Now, that didn’t suddenly tell us we’re clearly on the right track, or anything of that sort, but it did give you the feeling that, that, we had something that could be carried through ah if you stuck with it.
Ah. So that, I think, the dominant view at the time was that this will be a very tough fight. Ah. It certainly won’t be resolved in less than eighteen months to two years or brought to the point where Americans could start withdrawing and the South Vietnamese could take over the whole thing.
Ah. But that ah we are, apparently, on the right track and we’re having, the immediate perils we had that American forces just wouldn’t be effective at all, or that the South Vietnamese might quit when we arrived had not been realized so that we felt we were over the first hurdles, but still had a long way to go.
Interviewer:
Do you recall what the President’s expectations were?
Bundy:
Others, he never, the President never said to me at that time exactly how he visualized it, but he did say to other officials in the administration not directly concerned with Vietnam policy but who needed to have a picture for their own planning and thinking about financial policy in other matters, that he thought we would have it, the back broken within eighteen months.
Now, whether he was saying that ah to avoid measures being taken that he thought went too far, I can’t say, but that is what he’s quoted as saying by people that I regard as A-1 sources.
Interviewer:
Let’s—I want to go on to some sort of larger questions here. Given the world situation, (clears throat) at the time concerns about China, Europe and so forth, do you think that Lyndon Johnson had any other option ah any other choice that he took in Vietnam? And, one aspect of this was, (clears throat) what was the role of America’s credibility in, in this whole issue with Vietnam?
Bundy:
Of course, one of the questions that is bound to occur to anybody and certainly occurred to us at the time was, were these decisions absolutely necessary, and if so, why? Ah. We certainly felt they were. Ah. We felt we were justified in defending South Vietnam against what we regarded as aggression from the North. The two were two separate countries for all practical and international purposes, and we felt that it was important to demonstrate that this kind of aggression would be met and beaten back.
Now, ahm, there were those within the top ranks of the administration, notably, Secretary Rusk, who attached great and very special weight to maintaining the credibility of the United States in all the other situations around the world where we had alliances and commitments ah whether it be in NATO or ah in Japan or Korea or in, in those days Taiwan ah or whether, in the case of Iran, where we had at least ah ah highly developed moral commitment or Israel.
Ah. In other words, that worldwide credibility argument weighed very heavily in Secretary Rusk’s mind. Now, there were others of us ah and I would include myself in this category who did not feel that our worldwide credibility would be seriously or irreparably damaged, if it turned out that we just couldn’t make it in Vietnam, particularly if the greatest cause of weakness was the fact that the South Vietnamese just couldn’t pull themselves together.
Ah. Rather, I myself ah laid much greater emphasis on the particular danger in Southeast Asia, which I thought was a combination of North Vietnam taking over South Vietnam and then I thought rather rapidly Cambodia and Laos, which of course, effectively has happened since 1975 ah and that in the other parts of Southeast Asia, the Chinese would be the party that was regarded as the wave of the future, ah, and that they would ah achieve ah something approaching domination of the area. So that it was the Southeast Asian argument.
Ah. I thought we certainly, we might not lose credibility worldwide, but if we pulled out of Vietnam, we would lose all credibility ah in Southeast Asia. This was dinned into us by every leader in the area including people who were neutral like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore ah. It was just pounded in and, and I at least believed it deeply and argued it ah in papers and orally, so that there were, the mix of reasons was different somewhat between ah individuals at the top, but in each case, it added up to a belief that it would be very bad, indeed disastrous really, for the United States, if we didn’t stand firm.
Now, in hindsight. Ah. Would it have been so bad? Ah. I think it would have been a terribly hard situation ever to arrest in Southeast Asia ah and that China would have had a lot of influence there for a while. We didn’t, of course, then know or anticipate that China would go into the Cultural Revolution which had the effect of turning their minds and actions inward for a while.
So, maybe it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as I think. But, I think the damage would have been severe and as perceived at the time, in the particular situation of 1964 and ’65 when China loomed over the rest of Asia in a very threatening manner, President Kennedy said this in September ’63, and certainly the ah that feeling became much stronger in the, in the next two years. The Chinese were linked up with ah Indonesian forces, Cambodia to some degree, Pakistan, ah, they appeared to be more expansionist than they’ve ever appeared before or since.
Ah. That was the way it was perceived. Ah. And, it’s hindsight to say that ah the ah Cultural Revolution would’ve happened, you should have anticipated that. Nobody did. Ah. That Indonesia would turn itself around as it did after September ’65. We might have decided quite differently about Vietnam, if the, if the situation of clearcut rot had presented itself a year later than it did and that was an accidental ah fact that it came up in mid ’65 when concern about China was at an absolute peak.
I’ve never seen how we could have let go of Vietnam at any point along in this period at any rate, without enormously damaging consequences to the whole of our East Asian policy, and some damage, at least, in our policy in other areas of the world.
Interviewer:
Do you think that we might have been (clears throat) more aggressive uh towards the north? Bomb more heavily ah at that stage, or mine the Hai Phong Harbor as ah Nixon did?
Bundy:
Well, the other, the other option, of course, would have been to hit much harder ah against the North from the outset. Ah. To do in 1965 something like what President Nixon did in May of 197...
Interviewer:
...let's start again.
Bundy:
Ah. What President Nixon did in May of 1972 ah the bombing, bombing of Hanoi itself very hard and again ah in December, and Ja—January of ’72, ’73. Ah. Would that have worked? I don’t believe it would have worked quickly in any circumstances. Ah Hanoi was utterly resolved to pursue this and it’s military installations, particularly in 1965 weren’t all that vulnerable ah and couldn’t have been cut off completely.
Ah we had assessments at the time that, that, that they could find other ways to get the stuffs south and so on. There were no great choke points or anything else that you would hit and simply knock them out. Ah. And, at that time in ’65, when we had to look at this situation and decide whether to go for the hard and fast bombing as opposed...
Interviewer:
Cut. Sorry.
How many reels have we shot?
Camera Roll #657 coming up. 657. Clapsticks.
Bundy:
Now, there was one other major consideration that entered in when we were deciding whether to go hard and fast on the bombing or go to much more measured gradual pressure pace and that was the concern that China might intervene. This was absolutely at the front of our minds bearing in mind what had happened in Korea in 1950 where the Chinese had eventually decided that we were really trying to destroy or take over North Korea and had sent in just massive forces and prolonged the war and generally created a whole new situation ah with great many American casualties.
And, this had been a contingency that was looked at very hard right through the deliberations of ’64, ’65, and the feeling was that this possibility could, indeed, become substantial ah if we were seen by Hanoi and by Peking ah as seeking to really destroy the whole industrial base in Hanoi and North Vietnam and, and in effect, create a situation where the regime was overthrown, which would have been very likely seen as the objective ah so that ah whether you assess that chance at 10 or 20 percent, it was a major factor against going hard and fast, particularly when you didn’t see that the results could possibly be immediate in any case.
Another factor was worldwide reaction. Ah. The world was ah a great many elements in the world, including our allies, were very critical as it was. Ah. If we had gone as hard at the beginning as we did in 1972 in response to very specific crises, if we had gone hard in ’65, I think we would have run a severe risk of, of enormous strain ah in our alliances, ah worldwide ah and that this would have been ah very negative. And, we certainly assessed it that way at the time. But, more particularly, as you look back over it, I don’t think it could have worked.
Ah. Militarily, you could have done it. You could have bombed Hanoi to dust or rubble or whatever phrase General LeMay used. Ah, And, the North Vietnamese would have had to lay off in the south, but the cost in terms of the whole structure of alliances ah that are the center and core of American policy ah would have been simply enormous and that risk that the Chinese would have sent a massive army across the border and into the south ah that would have forced us to send, not four or five hundred thousand, but many more, and that was what the planning was in that contingency ah were very great, indeed.
I do not think we could have brought it off in a short enough space of time to avoid the very considerable likelihood of both those consequences for the alliances and for Chinese intervention and, therefore, I do not buy the argument that some men whom I respect who were senior military officers at that time have made that if we’d really gone at it hard we could have won this war.
Ah I don’t think we could have done it on any terms that would have been acceptable just from a foreign policy standpoint, and I think they would have been exceedingly repugnant from a moral ah standpoint as well.
Interviewer:
Let me go on to the Tet Offensive. (clears throat) Just a few questions. If you could give me kind of succinct answers. What impact did Tet make on you?
Bundy:
The North Vietnamese offensive at the time of Tet actually it was carried out in large part by the Viet Cong in the south, but it was plainly ordered and directed by the North Vietnamese, like all the major actions of the war. Ah. Well, it made a very dramatic ah impact on everybody in Washington and Saigon. Ah.
The fact that they could mount this kind of attack, that they could ah achieve this kind of surprise on such a large scale was a great shock to all of us ah from a strictly military standpoint. Ah. It seemed to belie...all the hopes we had that this situation, while far from out of the woods, was at least moving in the right direction, ah, and it was a ...ah terrible reflection on the confidence and intelligence and ah appeal to their own population of the South Vietnamese army and government.
Interviewer:
Do you recall Clark Clifford’s task force that was formed in March of 1968 and its recommendations?
Bundy:
The ah response to the Tet Offensive, of course, had to wait for the situation to sort itself out, but by the end of February, you could see that the immediate offensive had been blocked except for the North Vietnamese holding Hue ah and that ah we needed to look to the next step and it was at that stage that Clark Clifford succeeded Robert McNamara, of course, as Secretary of Defense.
And, his first action on the president’s orders was to convene a task force to look at the recommendation that had by then been received from General Westmoreland to increase the American ah force on the ground by roughly 210,000 men. Ah. So, that task force wa, had a specific job. What do we do about that recommendation? And, I think there were those, in the beginning, who thought, well, we’re...going to be looking at this, we’ll have to give them more forces and so on.
But, from a very early point in the deliberations of that group which included not only Defense Department and the State Department and the Joint Chiefs in the White House, but also ah in the early stages Secretary Fowler of the Treasury was there I know on some key, key, some key early meetings, that we had to look at the whole policy. We had to go right back to square one. What can we hope to achieve no matter how many more men we send. Ah. Is this thing doable on the lines that we’ve been pursing it. Ah.
If not, do we send a very limited contingent which is in fact was the decision reached in late March, and do we accompany that by some effort to open up a negotiating forum which in fact, again, was what President Johnson did ah on March 31st when he ah in effect limited the bombing to the area, southern half of North Vietnam, and that, in turn, prepared the way for the Paris talks. But, those sessions that Clark Clifford chaired were undoubtedly a—a—a—a key turning point.
Interviewer:
How did you yourself feel about the request for additional troops? 206,000?
Bundy:
I was very skeptical of it ah from the beginning. Ah. Actually, that, my...my portion of the job was to look at negotiating avenues more and we tended to leave to the Pentagon the initial assessment of what the troops would involve.
In this case, they would have involved calling up the full, full request would have involved calling up reserves, all kinds of additional measures and costs that fell to others to assess. I doubted very much that they’d have that much impact on the situation. I didn’t think they could add that much to what we were doing.
Interviewer:
When, when Lyndon Johnson called to (clears throat) together the wise men, do you think that he had his opinion made at that stage and ah or did he depend on the wise men and particularly your, your, your late father in law Dean Acheson. Di—or was the wise men sort of confirming an opinion he already had?
Bundy:
Well, President Johnson went through that period of decision from the convening of the Clifford Task Force until the speech of March 31 and he kept his own counsel, as far as I was concerned at any rate, and I think as far as almost everybody else is concerned with the possible exception of Secretary Rusk. Ah.
And, then he convened this group of wise men ah including Dean Acheson, George Ball, Douglas Dillon, Cyrus Vance, McGeorge Bundy, ah Maxwell Taylor ah a whole group, some of whom were, had been very close to the situation before. Others of whom hadn’t. Ah. And, I think he was genuinely surprised when that group of wise men with Acheson and Vance in the lead, as I’ve heard it said. I wasn’t in the room...
...ah, said, you’re not gonna get there on the pra...policy you’re pursuing. You’ve got to change course. I think he was surprised at the, at the vehemence with which they said it. I think he himself much have developed ah serious doubts, and I’m sure by then, Clark Clifford had conveyed to him where he was coming out. Ah.
We already had drafts of the March 31 speech that limited very sharply the increase forces to 20,000 something of that order. So with, the President knew that his advisors ah were not, shall we say, gung ho by this time, but I think it did shake him that the elder statesmen were as emphatically negative as they were on the whole with one or two exceptions.

Personal reflections on the '68 Paris negotiations

Interviewer:
One final question. When, when talks started in Paris in May of ’68, what was your own attitude? Were you optimistic, euphoric about them? Did you think that this was really going to lead to a solution?
Bundy:
I thought that ah when the Paris, when the Paris negotiations got underway in May of ’68, I thought they’d, would not be easy at all, because we were asking the North Vietnamese to ah to accept ah in effect not pushing further, not attacking a lot of things. Not attacking cities, not reinforcing markedly, ah, if we were going to stop the bombing as a whole, an this was made reasonably clear in general terms at the outset and then very specifically clear in July, ah, that this was what we would expect.
Ah. And, ahm, so I thought it, ah they’d be some time agreeing to that. Ah. I never thought they’d, ...they’d be able to get agreement very quickly. I’d worked on the bombing issue by then for three years and ah getting the north to admit what it was doing, let alone to stop it, had ah up to that point been impossible.
Interviewer:
Cut for a second. Did you run through those?
No, I’m sorry...
END SOUND ROLL #2631.

A portrait of L.B.J.

BEGIN SOUND ROLL #2632
This is Viet Nam. WGBH. T-885. Sound Roll #2632. Camera Roll
#658. Clapsticks.
Speed. Mark it. Clapsticks.
Bundy:
Lyndon Johnson was a remarkable man and he...
Interviewer:
Start one more time....go ahead, sir.
Bundy:
Lyndon Johnson was a remarkable man and nobody who worked for him could fail ah to have a tremendous respect and admiration for him in almost all central respects. In the Vietnam decision making, the major decisions, the period of deliberation and then final decision that went on through 1964 and up to the July 28th, 1965 decision to send major ground forces and get in all the way in effect, I thought President Johnson was admirable.
Ah. He listened to conflicting views. He created an atmosphere that invited them. Ah. He was obviously himself deliberating very hard and wanted all the arguments before him ah and I think the process of government during that period worked as well as it can ever be expected to do. I did not feel the same way when it came to the actual handling of the war.
If this had been the Civil War where you had to urge your generals forward and give them the resources and it was a just solid, one directional action, I think Johnson might have been a very effective president, but this was a much more complex war in which you had to ah calibrate and restrain certain actions, partly cause they wouldn’t be effective and partly for moral and humane reasons, ah, and where you had constantly to deal with allies, to deal with the negotiating possibilities and all the rest, he was extremely unsystematic.
Ah. He was in this personal middle of far too much. Ah. And, the whole staff process ah which I’d experienced in the National Security Council over three previous administrations ah was simply not effectively organized for the handling of this war. The so called "Tuesday lunches" where he brought together his senior people around the lunch table ah were a nightmare, at least from the standpoint of someone at my assistant secretary level who had tried to figure out what decisions had come out of the meeting and what you went on and did nex—the next day. Ah.
We had to reconstruct it afterwards ah with great difficulty. There were no systematic papers. There was no systematic agenda, and there was never a clear cut ahhh...guideline on exactly what our strategy or our contingency thinking was, and that was not invited. Ah. So, that I did not think that he was ah a—a really effective ah organizer of a war effort ah in this war.
Interviewer:
Just one last question. Did you ever, did he ever communicate to you what he really wanted in the war? What was his objective?
Bundy:
I think President Johnson was entirely clear that he wanted to get the North out of the South, and that he wanted to have a South Vietnam that stood on its own feet and he hoped certainly, and we certainly tried, ah would be working toward a democratic system. I think he was clear on the objective.
Ah. I think he also felt very strongly the, his own feel of the leaders in Hanoi was that there was no way they would compromise in any real sense. They would either pull out or they’d just keep going, and more likely, the latter. Ah. That there was no thh—I think he had, Iiii—I, my impression as I look back on it is that he really didn’t think there was going to be a negotiated solution to the war.
That he had a deep belief that Hanoi was in there to get the whole thing and that there was ah very difficult to visualize a compromise particularly when the issue was who was gonna run the South. Ah. And ah his judgment may have been right. I think he was always very skeptical about that.
Interviewer:
What made him tick? Let's just, we have a few more minutes on the reel?
Bundy:
Oh, so many, John...Lyndon Johnson was a very complex man and, and ah ah literature is, portrays, no question he had, he had great force and great humanity too. Ah. He cared profoundly about the Great Society Programs that were the hallmark of his administration beginning in 1965, and 1966, and I think that as one looks at the way he handled the Vietnam decisions, particularly the decision of July 1965, and the way he presented it ah you can see a very strong connection between ah that and his resolve to get the Great Society enacted. To get the dozen bills that were necessary for Congress to approve, approved.
Ah. He ah was not ah not betting totally down the line or frank ah with the American people because the decision that was made in late July was, in fact, more far reaching than the words of his announcement, although I think most people pretty much got its significance. But, he didn’t marshal the country for war. He didn’t, he didn’t...want to state precisely what the real estimated costs were for another year thereafter.
And I think the reasons primarily the reason was that he wanted not to have to abandon any part of the Great Society Legislative Program in the authorizing stage of 1965 and then in the actual appropriation of money in 1966. This is an aspect [chair: squeaks] that very few people have ever discussed and I think it’s terribly important and I think it bears exactly on the kind of man he was. He cared ah he wanted, if you offered him a choice between apple pie and ice cream, he’d he’d have it a la mode every time.
Ah. And, that’s what he wanted. He wanted the Great Society ah full. All the Great Society. And, he thought the country could support it and could afford it. Ah. And, he wanted to see the Vietnam War through to a successful conclusion. And, he didn’t see why you couldn’t do both. And, he tried terribly hard to do both.
Ah. In the end, he couldn’t do it as a political matter and partly because he lacked the one other quality of our greatest presidents, the ability to ah reach the American people, particularly in the present era through television. He simply wasn’t an eloquent man to the public at large however persuasive he might be and he was enormously persuasive in a one on one situation or head to head in any circumstances with a small group. He didn’t have the same impact on the country. He did not know how to speak to the country as FDR had done ah in WWII, as other presidents had done at critical points and that, I think, was a, was a major weakness ah in his presidency.
But this was a man who stood for very big things and I think one still comes out admiring him very much, indeed, ah, although I don’t think he was an eff, a, ah, nearly as effective an organizer of a war effort as, I can imagine, some others being...That okay?
Interviewer:
Yes, very good.
Then end of the interview. Gonna get some wildtrack room tone to cover. Rolling
END SOUND ROLL #2632.
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