jump ahead to the, to the summer of 1965 he
was, in fact, committing American combat troops to, to Vietnam. How did
he see the choices, the options at that particular moment?
(Coughs) Excuse me. I would say that the meetings held by Lyndon Johnson with his
advisors both ah in the White House and the State, Treasury and Defense Departments
and the Congress, were the
most crucial meetings that he held in all of the Vietnam adventure. They
began on July 21, 1965 with the return
home of General Wheeler
and Secretary McNamara
from an on-the-spot inspection trip in Vietnam. They ended on July 27, 1965 and on July 28 the president went to the east room
of the, of the mansion to hold a press conference in which he disclosed
the decisions which emerged from those ah six days of meetings.
mood was one of anxiety, it was one of frustration and I guess I can sum
it up best by saying that one evening, after one of those meetings, I
went back into his office with him and his face was drawn, and I
remember he put his hands in his ah, over his face, leaned back in his
chair and said, “God, we’ve got to find some way to get out of this war.
We’ve got to find some way to end it.” It was ah the expression of a
normal human being who was at the end of a tether just totally exhausted
and frustrated by the s—...the elusiveness of an end to this war.
examined this question from every side and all those six days, he asked
the tough questions. If somebody were agreeing with him, he would take
the other side, the devil’s advocate. If somebody were disagreeing with
him, then he would pummel this man with questions to see how sturdy was
his own reasoning. I remember him turning to Wheeler and he said to him, you’re asking for
ah 200,000 more men now, what happens if in two, three, four, years you
ask me for 500,000 men? A very prophetic statement. What do you expect
me to do? How can I respond to it? What makes you think Ho Chi Minh won’t match us
for every man we send in?
And, another time to the group he said, we’ve got two questions that
we’ve got to answer. Can Westerners fight a war in Asian
jungles and number two, how on earth can
we fight a war under the direction of others whose governments topple
like bowling pins? He said, now, somebody answer these questions for me.
Nobody was able to do it. And, then he asked one of the questions in
kind of a resigned air. He turned to McNamara and Rusk and said, Are we starting something? Are
we getting into something now that we just can’t get out of? Where we’re
going to have no way to extricate ourselves? These questions were asked
over and over again. Yet, the alternatives were equally bleak, as I
said. Ah. Hindsight makes us all very intelligent but at the time those
decisions were being made, how could President Johnson justify a total
withdrawal from Vietnam when no man or woman in America could have
foreseen whether or not he was making the right decision, because, at
that time, ah, nobody didn’t, nobody believed we couldn’t win the war.
It was a question of how we would win it. The idea that a few
pajama-clad guerrillas could defeat the mightiest power on earth was
if he cut and run, as Johnson would say, how could he remedy the situation by
explaining to the American people that he was doing it in their best
interest? Number two, how do you turn tail and let agressors run free in
the world? We’re facing that problem today. And, the alternatives are
very bleak. Therefore, Johnson was listening to the military and when they said a
little bit more and we can win it and get rid of it, it was very