Q. Mr. President, there seems to be, at least in public, some dispute going on within the administration on bombing policy in North Vietnam, with Secretary McNamara’s representatives taking one position and the military another…
THE PRESIDENT. The President is the Commander in Chief under the Constitution. His principal deputy in military matters is the Secretary of Defense. The Joint Chiefs are his military advisers.
The Joint Chiefs are a group of very able men. They are the finest in character and the best trained soldiers and sailors that we have. Their judgment is requested and respected, and certainly always carefully considered.
No two men ever see everything alike. Throughout our history there have been differences among Army leaders and naval leaders, between members of the Joint Chiefs and the civilians, between the civilians and the Congress. That is really the strength of our system….
Very frequently you find that men of strong minds do not always agree. When they do, you have to consider their individual viewpoints and then act in the way you think is in the best interest of the Nation. That is what we have done.
But six out of every seven targets recommended have been authorized. As of now, I think that we are operating effectively, efficiently, and in the national interest.
Q. Has Secretary McNamara recommended to you that the rate of bombing in the North be reduced?
THE PRESIDENT. The recommendations that we get from time to time are to authorize specific targets. When those meetings conclude, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the President have as of now been in agreement with each other.
“Dick Helms’s secret memo shows that, in the fall of 1967, the CIA;s most senior analysts believed we could have withdrawn from Vietnam without any permanent damage to U.S. or Western security. At the same time they were expressing that view, I was stating to the Stennis subcommittee the judgment—supported by CIA/DIA analyses—that we could not win the war by bombing the North. And my May 19 memo had reported that we would continue suffering heavy casualties in South Vietnam with no assurance of winning their either.
"How, in the face of such factors, does one explain the administration’s failure to push harder for negotiations and contemplate withdrawal? The answer is that the Joint Chiefs and many others in the government took an entirely different view of the war’s progress, that influential members of Congress and the public, and that the President was heavily swayed by their opinion."
Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, New York: Random House, 1995, p. 294-295. Photo from 2/7/1968, LBJ Library.
On September 12, 1967, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms submitted to President Johnson a report ….[that] dealt with the impact of the failure to sustain the non-Communist state in South Vietnam. This failure would not come as a result of a complete military and political collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, but would evolve from the likely compromise solution that would result from a peace settlement negotiated within a relatively brief period of time and to the advantage of the Vietnamese Communists.
The risks of an unfavorable outcome in Vietnam were considerable. The authors of the report described the permanent damage that would result to the United States in the international arena, the internal dissension that would follow, and the destabilization that would arise in other areas of Southeast Asia.
They mitigated their conclusions, however, by suggesting that “such risks are probably more limited and controllable than most previous argument has indicated.”
September 12, 1967. Lady Bird hosts a Country Fair at the White House for the children and grandchildren of Members of Congress, Cabinet Members, and government officials. The Fair included cotton candy, hot dogs, pony rides, a carousel, a fortune-teller, and carnival games with prizes.
LBJ Presidential Library photo C5639-22; image is in the public domain.
September 11, 1967, On his way to the ‘67 Expo in Canada, King Constantine of Greece (pictured above between aide Mike Manatos and LBJ) stops for a private visit with the President. In a background paper, LBJ has been briefed on the visit’s importance:.
“The coup of April 21, 1967 took King Constantine completely by surprise. Although he made an initial effort to contact his key military commanders to resist the coup, when it became apparent that the coup leaders had won over or effectively neutralized all major military commands, and that resistance on his part might plunge the nation into a civil war, the King reluctantly accepted the coup as a fait accompli. However, although he agreed to preside over the first Cabinet meeting of the new government, he refused to sign the royal decree suspending certain articles of the Constitution which therefore went into effect without his signature.”
This background paper, along with others prepared for the visit, illustrate the tenuous relationship that King Constantine has with the new military junta, King Constantine’s efforts to push towards a return to constitutionalism, and his hope that the U.S. will support him in this effort.
More about the coup in our earlier posts.
—Paper, background paper for visit of King Constantine, 9/6/67, #43, “Greece, Visit of King Constantine,” Country File, NSF, Box 127, LBJ Presidential Library. Photo #A4751-15; public domain.
September 6, 1967. LBJ announces that he will nominate Walter Washington to be the first Mayor (Commissioner) of Washington, D.C. After advocates for home-rule for the District, including LBJ, finally won their fight, LBJ offered the mayoralty to Washington. The President enlisted the help of NYC Mayor Lindsay and Lady Bird to help Mr. Washington prepare .
Now LBJ announces his mayoral selection—the first African-American mayor of a large U.S. city:
"Three weeks ago Congress approved a reorganization plan to bring modern government to the Nation’s Capital.
"Even this new system can be only as strong and fair as the men who will lead it….
"We have found a man who will be a strong and authentic voice for the people of the District. His name is Walter Edward Washington."
Photo C6814-12, Washington at White House with LBJ on 10/3/67, public domain.
September 5, 1967. Walt Rostow sends this memo to President Johnson regarding the capture of documents showing Cuban support, with involvement by Che Guevara, in the guerrilla movement in Bolivia.
—Memo, Rostow to LBJ, 9/6/67, #105, “Bolivia, Volume 4,” Country File, NSF, Box 8, LBJ Presidential Library.
September 2, 1967. John Walsh sends a memo to Walt Rostow forwarding text from a telegram from Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Health to President Johnson. Walsh also recommends a response to the thank you note for the loan of vaccination guns (pistols of peace) in the use of smallpox eradication efforts in Costa Rica.
Memo, Walsh to Rostow w/ attachment, 9/2/67, #2g, #2i, “PC 3 Medical Assistance and Supplies for Peace,” Confidential File, WHCF, Box 75, LBJ Presidential Library.
This memo from Kissinger includes the Hanoi response. It also indicates some interesting uncertainty surrounding the expectation of a reply to the message.
—Memo, from Kissinger, 9/11/67, #74a, “Vietnam, Pennsylvania,” Vietnam Country File, National Security File, Box 140.
September 7, 1967. In a memo to the President, CIA Director Richard Helms provides background information and an update on the continued attempts at peace negotiations with North Vietnam involving Henry Kissinger as an intermediary.
“Hanoi’s failure to date to respond to the US initiative could well be related to a combination of factors of timing and interpretation, reinforced by its deep-seated distrust of US motives in the area. The tone of the premier’s remarks to the intermediaries in July suggests a greater interest in getting talks started than we have noted in the past. This may represent merely a tactical shift, however, for we see nothing in his private statements or in his recent public pronouncements indicating a significant change in Hanoi’s position. North Vietnamese leaders continue to insist on an unconditional stop to the bombing and a settlement based on their ‘four points.’ They show no sign yet of any readiness to compromise these objectives.”
Read the rest of the memo here. LBJ Library photo # B6275-20a; public domain.
September 3, 1967. Nguyen Van Thieu is elected President of South Vietnam. In an attempt to counteract criticisms that the U.S. government was manipulating the vote, President Johnson sent a mission comprised of Governors, Senators, labor and business leaders, and journalists to South Vietnam to observe the general elections.
Governor Bill Guy of North Dakota reported:
“Too much attention has been placed on the possibility of irregularities, and not enough on the other aspects. These people with great courage came out with a moving and profound example of desire for self determination as much as I have seen anywhere. We visited a precinct at which a bomb went off and killed three and wounded six during the voting. They closed it for 45 minutes and then reopened it for more voting. I was very impressed.”
—Memo, Jim Jones to the President, 9/6/67, #3, “[September 6, 1967 - 11:09 a.m. Meeting with Vietnam Election Observers],” Meeting Notes File, Box 2, LBJ Presidential Library.
August 31, 1967. The Senate Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee issues a summary report on aerial war against North Vietnam.
In its report, the Subcommittee discusses the limitation of air bombing target lists and the difficulty involved in getting targets approved. The Subcommittee argues that the “air campaign has been crucial and vital in saving many American and allied lives in South Vietnam.” In addition, the summary report also points a division between opinions of civilian authorities and military authorities regarding air bombing.
In its conclusion, the report states, “It is high time, we believe, to allow the military voice to be heard in connection with the tactical details of military operations.”
The document above is an example of a request for approval of Arc Light Strike Targets dated August 13, 1967.
—Congressional Record, Volume 113, part 19, page 25179-25182. Document: Message, Request for target approval, 8/13/67, #64b, “ 3 I Targets, 7/67 - 3/68,” Vietnam Country File, National Security File, Box 84.
August 30, 1967. The Senate confirms the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He will serve from 1967 until 1991—a total of 24 years.
August 26, 1967.
- 1 PM. Lady Bird leaves Kerrville, TX, where she has attended the dedication of the Butt-Holdsworth Library.
- 1:30 PM. Lunch at the Ranch. Work with decorators.
- 10 PM. Leave Austin for Washington, DC, with stopover in Dallas.
- 3:30 AM. Land at Friendship Airport (now BWI). Travel to Mt. Vernon, then ferry to the yacht Sequoia, anchored on the Potomac.
- 4:30 AM. “And with a few muffled word of greeting, I sank wearily into bed. It was 4:30 AM, and it was the morning of Lyndon’s fifty-ninth birthday.”
-A White House Diary, New York: Dell Books, 1971, pg 620-621. Photo via Boy Scouts of America, York-Adams Area Council,
August 25 and 26, 1967. LBJ spends two nights on the Presidential yacht, the USS Sequoia. On Saturday the 26th, he spends the entire day on the boat; working, getting sun, napping, and spending time with guests while cruising up and down the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers from the Washington Navy Yard to Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.
Larry O’Brien, who frequently took the yacht out himself in order to lobby Congressmen for the President’s agenda, said in his memoirs that when the boat passed Mount Vernon they always played a recording of The Star Spangled Banner while the crew and their guests stood at attention. On this trip, LBJ braved heavy rains and tornado alerts, and watched films on the upper deck (a savings bond movie, a Navy Film of the Latin Ambassadors weekend at the Ranch, and one reel of “Guide for the Married Man" starring Walter Matthau).
President Carter ordered that the yacht be auctioned off in 1977 in order to reduce the national debt. Today you can hire the Sequoia yourself: if you do, look for the bar that was put in at LBJ’s request and is still in use.
Photos: A833-24a, from July 1965, and A1214-28a,from August 1965. LBJ Presidential Library, public domain.